Docking’s a big deal to me, mostly because back when my wife and I were living in Connecticut and I was struggling to learn how to dock midrange cruisers, parking the darn things scared the livin’ daylights out of me. Not that merely driving out of a slip engendered fear—I seldom experienced difficulties going straight ahead. It was close-quarters maneuvering that gave me fits. I can still recall the wicked anxiety I used to feel Sunday evenings, coming back to Milford Boat Works after a day on the water, praying nobody’d be around to see yet another docking drama. And I can still recall the intensification of the anxiety when, as invariably happened, a crowd was already gathered for the show.
Things are different today, of course. But because I can so clearly remember the way they used to be, and therefore so empathize with readers who’d love to purchase midrange cruisers if only the specter of docking them didn’t haunt their dreams, I decided to pay special attention to the subject when I tested Meridian Yachts’ All-New (so named because she replaces an existing model with the same designation but different layout) 341 Sedan Bridge.
I began at a marina in LaConner, Washington, with the test boat moored starboard-side-to, along a dock bordering a narrow fairway, with the bows and sterns of other boats protruding from the fairway’s opposite side. One brand-new motoryacht was tied up ahead, and another was tied up astern. Typical situation, actually.
I sat comfortably at the helm station on the flying bridge—no optional interior helm station on our 341—fired up the mains, and watched as a Meridian rep tossed our lines off and jumped onboard via the broad swim platform. Disregarding reliance on the standard D.O.C. (Docking On Command) dual-thruster docking system for the time being, I started walking the boat to port in the conventional manner. Specifically, since I needed to “twist” the stern away from the dock while I got the bow moving in the same direction at the same speed, I simply shifted the outboard (port) engine ahead, the inboard (starboard) engine astern, and occasionally pointed the bow of the boat-shaped plastic D.O.C. control on the instrument panel to port, thus deploying the bow thruster only. With a little extra juice from the starboard engine to compensate for its comparative inefficiency while turning backwards, I sallied the 341 out into the fairway with no-fuss-no-bother aplomb. Once there, I gave the D.O.C. system a whole-hog workout—meaning I took the engines out of gear and used stern and bow thrusters exclusively, first to sidle back into the dock, squish our fenders, and then sidle right on back out.
In addition to being easy, satisfying, and fun, these maneuvers told me oodles. First, although our gasoline-fired powerplants were not as low-end-torquey as diesels, our test boat had maneuvering oomph up the ying-yang, thanks to a deep 2.8:1 gear ratio and props with lots of diameter and pitch. Benefit? You can easily use just the clutch levers to dock the boat—throttle levers are seldom necessary. Second, the Sidepower thrusters were powerful and far enough below the waterline not to ventilate. Benefit? No need to worry about overheating and inadvertently shutting down a thruster in the midst of a dicey docking situation. And third, D.O.C., while not necessary much of the time, makes a magnificent, bacon-saving backup. Combine the effects of both bow- and stern thrusters by pushing the D.O.C. control in the direction you want to go, and even in a tight spot, the 341 moves.
The boat performs offshore just as nicely as she does dockside. I did my open-water testing on Skagit Bay, where a light rain was falling on a dark, fog-bound washboard of two-foot seas. Despite the dreariness, I had a blast. Top speed was rousing: 30.3 mph. Acceleration was smooth and sporty, with no stalls or soft spots in the test curve. Cornering was good, with no hooked chines, hopping in extreme turns, or other disconcerting surprises. And tracking was steady. Moreover, visibility from the helm was superb, all the way around. Faria gauges are sensibly set up for easy, at-a-glance reading, and the Bennett tab indicators proved useful, although I didn’t bother with them for anything but cross-wind correction. After the trial, I returned the test boat to a slip in LaConner using the engines only—look, Ma, no thrusters, and big bows protruding from across the fairway! It was the ease with which I accomplished the maneuver that set me to reminiscing about my struggles in Connecticut. If only I’d had a 341 to drive back then.
Despite chilly temperatures outside, the reverse-cycle Marine Air air-conditioning system did a cozy job of warming up the test’s interior. There’s a beamy master forward, a voluminous guest amidships (separated by a port-side head with large, separate shower stall), a split galley to port on either side of the companionway that leads below decks, and a stretch-out-and-relax saloon all the way aft. Finish on the cherry joinery throughout is good, and the creature-comfort quotient is high.
Construction and engineering details are equally solid. The hull-to-deck joint’s secured with Bostic urethane adhesive as well as stainless steel bolts. Lamination is conventionally done with a vinylester barrier on the hull and a limited ten-year warranty on the hull and the deck. Access is excellent to both the engine room (via hatches in the saloon sole) and the lazarette (via hatches in the cockpit). Noteworthy particulars in the latter include a profusion of six batteries and a BEP smart-charging system that, among other things, nixes chances of draining the starting batteries, which are isolated from nonstart functions as long as the system maintains 12.8 volts or more.
A user-friendly feature? Yes, and totally synched with the underlying theme, too. Take it from a guy who knows—Meridian’s All-New 341 Sedan Bridge makes everything easy, especially for the skipper who’s a bit nervous about moving up to a midrange cruiser.
D.O.C. system w/Sidepower stern and bow thrusters; Lewmar windlass; Danforth compass; Faria instrumentation; Origo 2-burner cooktop; teak and holly Wilsonart galley flooring; Karadon solid-surface countertops; Samsung microwave oven; Norcold undercounter refrigerator; Diplomat leather upholstery; Flexsteel double incliner; VacuFlush MSD; P.Y.I. dripless shaft logs; 11-gal. Atwood water heater; 40-amp Truecharge 40+ amp battery charger; 2/Trojan golfcart-type house batteries; 4/GP 31 engine-start/thruster batteries; 6/Rule bilge pumps w/auto. float switches; Bennett trim tabs w/dashboard indicators; canvas bimini, seat, windshield, and cushion covers
foredeck sunpad w/rails; Raymarine ST40 depthsounder, Ray53 VHF, ST6001 SmartPilot autopilot, and SL70CRC color radar/plotter; 30,000-Btu Marine Air A/C w/extra 50-amp shore-power connection; premium canvas package w/cockpit enclosure and exterior carpeting; Norcold bridge refrigerator; 7.3-kW Kohler genset w/soundshield; Sea-Fire FE 241 auto. fire-suppression system
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/320-hp MerCruiser MX 6.2 MPI Horizon gasoline inboards
- Transmission/Ratio: Velvet Drive 20-01-006/2.8:1
- Props: 22x22 4-blade nibral
- Price as Tested: $300,140
This article originally appeared in the February 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.