Coastal Craft 400IPSBy Capt. Bill Pike Photos by Neil Rabinowitz
West Coast Cachet
Coastal Craft Uses Its Commercial Roots To Build An Exceptional Welded-Aluminum Cruiser.
While taking a look at Coastal Craft’s new 400IPS for the first time in the midst of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show last year, I was struck by two exceptional attributes. First, her welded-aluminum exterior was flawlessly finished, thanks in large part to the skill of the welders at Coastal Craft and the aluminum-friendly, pulsed-MIG welding techniques they employ. Indeed, the boat’s Awlgrip-painted exterior surfaces were so uniformly smooth, unblemished, and carefully radiused that a couple of folks who were tagging along during my inspection mistakenly took her for a curvaceous fiberglass vessel, not a welded-aluminum one.
The second attribute’s a tad less concrete but equally important. The 400’s styling very attractively expressed a certain angular hardiness, a sort of tough, businesslike West Coast cachet you’d be able to both recognize and appreciate virtually anywhere. And why not? For more than 15 years now, Coastal Craft’s been building commercial vessels (crewboats, commuters, and water taxis mostly) in Gibsons, British Columbia, virtually all of them constructed of heavy-gauge aluminum and designed to thrive under the harsh sea conditions encountered in the Pacific Northwest. Why wouldn’t a new yacht from such a company be fashioned in much the same way, with an extended flying-bridge overhang to protect the cockpit, an array of rock-solid Diamond Sea Glaze windows and doors, and a gutsy windshield sporting a seawater-shedding forward rake?
I liked the 400 a lot and arranged to meet her again, only this time just a few weeks ago at the Royal Palm Yacht Basin in Dania, Florida. She was docked stern-to in a narrow slip between three sets of pilings that could barely accommodate her 14-foot beam. I swear, there were a couple of inches of clearance on either side, not a cat’s whisker more. And as I approached that sweet, flag blue, reverse-shear transom, emblazoned with the name Midnight Sun, I frankly wondered whether returning the boat to her slip after the sea trial might be rather like squeezing a cork into a bottle. “Should be interesting,” I told myself as I stepped enthusiastically into the cockpit.
Departing the slip was way easier than I’d expected. The two 435-mhp Volvo Penta IPS600s were so thoroughly synched into the 400’s many design parameters that she moved with extreme responsiveness and exceptional precision. (One thing I’ve noticed while test driving and maneuvering vessels of all sorts over the years is that not all pod-type systems are equally integrated into the vessels they propel.) While Coastal’s president Jeff Rhodes eased our test boat into the fairway using the IPS joystick at the lower helm station, I patrolled the deck, guarding against bumps and scrapes (unnecessarily, as it turned out), feeling nary a through-shift clunk, noting no rocking motions whatsoever, and seeing virtually no turbulence on the surface of the water from the churning pods down there in the depths.
Conditions offshore were mild, with two- to three-foot southeasterly seas. Our test boat’s performance was anything but subdued, however. I’d been expecting desultory handling in open water and a leisurely top speed of, say, 20 knots (23 mph) or so—primarily because I’d been thrown off by the 400’s trawlerish looks and the ease with which she’d puttered the Intracoastal Waterway at 8 knots (9.2 mph, for a running efficiency better than 5 mpg) en route to the coastal Atlantic. But wow! Hammering the two electronic throttles produced a surprising average wide-open velocity of 36.3 knots (41.7 mph), a vivacious number even for a relatively light, planning-type aluminum vessel.
And cornering? Thanks again to the 400’s precisely synched IPS system, it was so tight and raceboaty I was reminded of driving muscle-bound go-fasts back in the day. What’s more, the two beefy skegs that Coastal installs on doubler plates just ahead of each pod (to protect the forward-facing propsets from waterborne debris) seemed to have no negative effects upon turning response. And they seemed to improve tracking on the straightaway as well.
Other insights arose as the trial continued, of course. Visibility was excellent, not only from the upper helm station but also from the lower one. Rhodes touted the size of the Diamond Sea Glaze windows in the helm/saloon/galley/dinette area as one reason for the latter virtue and cited the area’s absence of sightline-blocking cabinetry above the level of the Corian countertops as another. The standard-issue E-Plex control panel on the dash kept me constantly enlightened. (E-Plex is a multiplex network that lets an owner or operator monitor and control virtually all onboard systems, including pumps, tanks, lights, electronics, and mechanicals, not only via dedicated control panels but also from virtually any Internet connection, anywhere in the world.) And the ride was quiet, particularly at slower speeds, thanks to Coastal’s use of Soundown noise/vibration-reducing tiles, Mascoat Delta dB sound-damping paint, Noxudol 3101 vibration-reducing coatings, and Nidacore sound-insulating coring in bulkheads and floors.
That last point’s worth elaborating on here. Before we’d departed Royal Palm, I’d taken the time to examine the 400’s
interior layout. With a helm/saloon/galley/dinette area on the main deck and on the lower deck, a master forward (with split head: MSD to starboard and shower stall to port) and a guest aft, it looked cruise-comfy and roomy enough. But what impressed me more than anything else was the fit and finish. Although there were sound/vibration-abatement materials concealed inside or behind much of the urethane-varnished cherry joinery, the stuff nevertheless looked as perfect as the vessel’s flawless aluminum exterior. They do some sweet carpentry up there in British Columbia, make no mistake.
Returning the Coastal Craft 400IPS to her slip at sea trial’s end turned out to be more fun than eating a barrel of conch fritters. After using the joystick at the upper helm station to rotate the boat at the mouth of her slip, I leisurely descended the flying-bridge ladder to the cockpit and activated the joystick there. Then, with Rhodes on deck guarding against bumps and scrapes (again unnecessarily, it turned out), I merely backed ‘er down with my normal docking care.
But check this last bit out: When we were about halfway home, I discovered I had to zooop us sideways or otherwise pinch a fender between the port rubrail and a piling. Not only was I able to walk the boat one measily little inch to starboard—and then move her back once the fender was clear—I did it without even breaking a sweat.
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.