When I was told last year that Carver was going to build an entry-level, inboard-powered, flying-bridge cruiser, I wondered. In the 1990's it offered just such a boat, a 32-foot convertible with twin 270-hp gasoline inboards, and in the 1990's it sold a ton of 330 Mariners, a similar design. Both boats succeeded because of Carver's knack for making a small boat feel bigger than it actually was.
But since then Carver has turned its attention away from the entry-level craft on which it built its reputation and focused on ever-larger boats, culminating with the Italianesque 59- and 65-foot Marquis motoryachts. The move is understandable—after all, big boats are where the big money is. The question in my mind was whether the guys who created the Marquis and hired Porsche Design to help polish the look of their boats could still build an entry-level cruiser that could suceed in a brutally competitive market.
I bet Carver dealers wondered the same thing, too, for as I learned later, they were the ones who pushed for this boat, mostly so they could capture owners of small express boats. They also demanded that this new boat have plenty of standard features and equipment and be competitively priced.
As I approached the quay at Trio Marine Group, Carver's Palm Beach Gardens, Florida dealer, my first impression of Hull No. 3 was positive. It wasn't a bad-looking boat. Flying-bridge boats in this size range often look—and often are—top-heavy, and while no one will mistake the 33 SS for a Marquis, her lines are well-proportioned given the constraints of the package. Carver's trademark elongated side windows help compensate for a short foredeck (the full-length, three-piece sunpad there is only five feet long), despite a waist-high, long bowrail, elevated side decks (to create more cabin space), and 2'4"-high (inside measurement) cockpit bulwarks. Carver designers obviously made the judgment that safety trumps style here, and considering the 33's target audience—young families—it seems like a smart decision.
The quay was slightly lower than the 33's side decks, which have no boarding gates, and the cockpit coaming and standard, PWC-capable (3'2"-deep) swim platform were well below, so I had to hurdle the rail, a feat admittedly unnecessary on a floating dock. Five steps down and I was in the cockpit, seven feet long from sliding saloon door to transom, although the molded-in side deck steps occupy a lot of that. Still, there's room for a few chairs and even a small table. Our boat had the optional Sport Package, which includes an above-deck baitwell forward and to starboard in front of the fixed portion of the door, four rocket-launcher-style rod holders on the flying bridge, four more in the gunwales, a 2'10"Lx1'8"Wx1'2"D fishbox cockpit lights, and reinforcement for a fighting chair and outriggers. There's stowage under the port stair; presumably there is under the starboard one as well, but the baitwell blocks access to it. A 1'10"-wide transom door of half-inch Starboard leads to the platform, while a shower and cabinet for shore connections inhabit the transom. A 2'x2' hatch to port gives access to the area beneath the cockpit sole—even under the fishbox—nd forward up into the engine space.
Primary engine access is through a centerline saloon hatch just 1'3" wide. Inside, there's good engine access, even outboard and forward, where the standard 10-amp Charles battery charger lives, but no lights. Two battery switches and the main fuses are on a horizontal plywood panel that spans the catwalk, so you can reach them from above without entering the space.
At just over six feet long and with 6'8" headroom, the saloon is also well-proportioned. A partition that separates it from the galley-dinette area forward, a step down, holds the electrical distribution panel and a deep locker, while the TV resides in an aft-port cabinet. Big side windows, a full windshield, and the sliding glass door flood the room in light. Primary seating on our boat was a pair of starboard-side recliners. A sofa bed is optional and, with the four-person convertible dinette and V-berth, provides sleeping for six—assuming everyone is chummy.
Although a step down, the port-side galley feels like part of the saloon and has abundant stowage, a large NovaKool refrigerator with separate freezer on the bottom, Corian counters, and a Kenmore Brew/Wave combination microwave/coffee maker. The wood here and elsewhere is the same cherry found on larger Carvers, and the composite-wood sole is the only area inside except for the head that is not carpeted.
It's two more steps down to the head-V-berth level. With 6'6" headroom and a separate shower, the former is big. That headroom is maintained as you enter the forward stateroom, although it dwindles to 2'6" at the forward end of the berth, so you could bump your head if you sat up quickly—again not uncommon on a 33-footer. Part of the reason that the berth is 3'4" off the sole is to make space for two drawers below. There's more stowage in port and starboard hanging lockers accented with cedar backs, and small cabinets on either side of the berth. A round hatch has an integral screen and shade. There is no mechanism for holding open the head or stateroom door.
Of course, one of a flying-bridge boat's most crucial areas is the bridge, here accessed by a wide, molded-in stairway. Placement of the helm console is key, and Carver takes no chances, offering two versions, one with the console aft and seating forward and the other the opposite. Ours was the former and functioned so well, the alternative seemed unnecessary.
This was just one of the factors that made the 33 fun to run. Others were a top speed of 30.5 mph and brisk acceleration. A bigger factor was a lack of tenderness, a characteristic common on what are basically tall, short boats. I can't comment on rough-water performance, as seas were flat on test day, but I did note significant bow rise in the midrange, requiring a touch of tab.
The 33 SS reminded me of that 32-footer Carver built back in the 1990's, but better finished, with a lot more standard equipment, and costing more, although maybe not adjusted for inflation. That's an accomplishment. Times change, but getting maximum boat out of minimal LOA is still what separates the winners from the losers in this category, and with the 33 SS, Carver proves it still has the knack.
18,000-Btu A/C; 7.3-kW Kohler genset; Maxwell Freedom 800 windlass w/ anchor and chain; spotlight; 20" TV w/DVD player; AM/FM/stereo with satellite radio and single CD player; Jabsco electric MSD; Kenmore microwave/coffee maker; saloon chair; 2/saloon recliners
central vacuum; freshwater washdown; full canvas w/ carpet; internal sea strainers; monitor package; hot/cold transom shower; foredeck sunpad; Sport Package; towels and sheets; 6-disc CD player; 15" TV and DVD player in master
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/375-hp Crusader 6.0 HO MPI gasoline inboards
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF/2.70:1
- Props: 22x22 4-blade nibral
- Price as Tested: $275,975
This article originally appeared in the June 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.