Cruisers Yachts builds a better mousetrap by reimagining the fundamentals.
There must be a lot of blank parchment floating around boatbuilders’ offices these days because it seems that every new boat I’ve been on of late purports to have sprung from “a clean sheet of paper.” To be fair, the Great Recession has forever changed the way new boats are conceived. Before it, builders could get by with making a few cosmetic changes to an existing model—couple that with a change in designation (sometimes by altering a single numeral), and you could squeeze a few more years of life out of it. No more. Today if it isn’t really new, buyers are probably going to ignore it.
But even so, to claim the provenance of a clean sheet of paper legitimately means having reexamined everything, right down to the basic design principals, something not all builders have the inclination, talent, or resources to do. Nevertheless, 3½ years ago Cruisers Yachts decided to do just that when it was time to refresh its line of express yachts. It recognized that there had been a seismic shift in boaters’ attitudes towards this genre: To put a fine point on it, they wanted to be outside more than inside, and so were demanding more on-deck space while refusing to compromise on a spacious, workable cabin with comfortable, family-grade sleeping amenities.
The problem is there are only so many ways you can divvy up a given length of hull; if you expand one area you must contract another, or at least that was the conventional wisdom. In grappling with this conundrum the folks at Cruisers actually did start from square one—or to be more accurate, they started at the windshield. They discovered that if they moved it forward, basically everything abaft on the main deck could be larger. Of course they couldn’t move it too far or they’d ruin the aesthetics.
Just how far they could go ultimately depended on the length of the boat. One decision that had already been made was to power the new model with either stern drives or IPS, both of which would shove the engines well aft and open up the lower-deck area, making room for a relatively spacious full-beam amidships cabin. To keep the price low, the base engines would be gasoline. Since 40 feet was the threshold at which most boaters believe a boat is too big for stern drives, the LOA was set at 39. Based on this figure, Cruisers’s designers figured they could move the windshield 3½ feet forward and still maintain a pleasing profile. That yielded a main deck with a remarkable 157 square feet of usable space on the boat that was ultimately designated the 390 Express Coupe.
The next step was to maximize the utility of all this space, and one way of doing that was by employing innovative cockpit seating—the largest in its category, says the company. Seating is on a large L-shaped settee in either aft corner, a layout that leaves plenty of space to move around and to dine at the standard fold-out table. But the portside settee is on hidden tracks that allow it to move toward the centerline, creating a tighter, more congenial, dining and lounging space. Order the optional sun-lounge package and you will get a dining table that can drop down to create a large sunpad (see previous page) and seat-back cushions that electrically flatten out to expand the sunpad even further. What’s more, flip-up panels on the fore/aft cushions allow them to become chaise longues.
When the port settee is inboard, it also leaves a walkway that connects the swim platform to the port-side deck and beyond, to the foredeck. I had the chance to test the practicality of this configuration when I had to bring some lines from one of the two aft-facing transom seats/lockers to the foredeck for docking, and I can tell you that it makes getting from platform to foredeck in a hurry simple and safe.
Just as much innovative thought went into the helm area. As you might suspect, there’s plenty of glass here. Either side is windowed FRP but the aft bulkhead is three isinglass panels that weatherproof the area (it is air conditioned) and can be removed quickly. The center panel—the door if you will—slides to starboard instead of being hinged, saving space and hassle.
Of course, a windshield farther forward means the helm is as well, and this imparts the impression of driving a much smaller boat—one enhanced by the nimble handling granted by stern drives that can be controlled with an Axius joystick. In short, the 390 turns on a dime and gives you back change. Planing is relatively gradual and humpless, thanks to the C. Raymond Hunt Associates-designed 15-degree deadrise running surface (also derived from a clean sheet of paper), and the brisk acceleration makes it hard to remember that you’ve got 10 tons of boat under you. Sightlines are great, too, thanks to all that side glass and isinglass and a windshield that has no center mullion.
So what about the cabin? Thanks to those aft engines, it’s pretty roomy. Besides being full beam, the amidships cabin has enough headroom that a 6-footer can sit on the bed without banging her head. The port and starboard glass here extend well forward, and brighten up the area—and for that matter the whole lower deck. The other sleeping area is in the forepeak: a settee with table that lowers to create a V-berth. Frankly if this were my boat I’d leave it as a berth all the time and do all my dining up top, either under cover or out in the cockpit.
In theory moving the windshield forward was a stroke of genius, but I’ll bet you’re asking yourself two questions. One: is there enough foredeck space to allow for a workable sunpad? The answer is yes. Because the windlass is recessed and the anchor goes through the stem, the sunpad can easily accommodate a pair of 6-foot-plus individuals—and it also has flip-up backrests. The other question concerns aesthetics: Does the “cab-forward” configuration create a boat that in person looks front-heavy and chunky? Well, there’s no doubt that the 390 looks like it’d be at home moored to the Jetson’s dock, but to me the proportions feel right and the overall look is pleasing.
In fact I like just about everything about the 390, but I especially admire the gamble the folks at Cruisers took with this design. It has paid off with a boat that’s truly different and eminently practical. Not a bad accomplishment when you consider that a clean sheet of paper can just as easily end up covered in mistakes as in strokes of genius.
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Noteworthy Options: Black, CCP Composites gelcoat on hull; hardtop w/ full enclosure; foredeck chaise longue; interior dinette w/ flip-up bunks; cockpit seating with power backrests; teak cockpit table; 7.3-kW gasoline genset; central vacuum; Amtico cabin sole; cockpit A/C; anchor washdown; electric cockpit grill and refrigerator; premium stereo; underwater lighting; additional windshield wiper; VHF; Mercury Seacore anti-corrosion system. Prices upon request.
Better Boat: Here Comes The Sun
The 390 Express Coupe from Cruisers has plenty of oversized components for a boat in this range, but perhaps the one you’ll enjoy most is the sunroof. It can slide back to give the 390 a class-leading 42 square feet of nothing but blue skies and cool breezes overhead, so it’s a nice option for the guy who needs shelter for the kids but still wants the feel of the wind in his hair. That’s a nice, not-so-little detail on a boat that was clearly designed with the concept of open space in mind. Just don’t forget your sunblock. — Kevin Koenig
Warranty: 5 years on all structural components, three years on blistering, one-year on remaining components
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 70°F; humidity: 65%; seas flat
Load During Boat Test
88 gal. fuel, no water, 3 persons, min. gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/430-hp Mercury 8.2 HO gasoline stern drives
- Transmission/Ratio: Bravo 3X/2.2:1 gear ratio
- Props: Quicksilver XR 24 propset
- Price as Tested: $596,000
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.