A few months ago when I did a sea trial and article on the new Cantius 41 from Cruisers Yachts, the photo boat that we used was the new Cruisers Yachts 350 Express. That article appeared in the January 2013 issue.
When we do sea trials we always have a second boat that is used as a camera platform and is usually relegated to either drifting while I do high-speed passes and wake the bejesus out of them, or they just try to keep up as I do high-speed runs all around the Bay.
While doing some wide-open throttle tests on the Cantius 41, we reached a maximum speed of 34 knots with the twin Volvo IPS500 power plants. Now, 34 knots is a respectable speed in just about any family cruiser and I certainly didn’t expect the camera boat to keep up with us, but it did.
On our two-and-half-mile runs from Yellow Bluff to Ayala Cove, as hard as I tried I could not shake the 350 Express; she kept right with us all morning. When we got over to Angel Island, we sterned the two boats to each other and made a new plan for Ty Mellott, co-publisher and photographer, to trade boats with me and we would take a few more hours and do a sea trial on the 350 Express. Here is my report on the new Cruisers Yachts 350 Express.
By the time we traded boats, the morning fog was long gone, the sun was out, and it was starting to get warm; no more jackets required. After we finished moving equipment between boats, while drifting around Ayala Cove, I am now onboard the 350 with Rob Newman. We take a few minutes for Rob to show me around the boat and the helm controls before heading out.
When I boarded the 350 Express, what strikes me first is the large cockpit that looks just perfect for entertaining. This boat has the optional aft sun lounger with flip back seat at the centerline; there is fender storage to starboard, and a walk-through boarding gate to port.
Just forward of the boarding gate there is an entertainment center to port with a refrigerator/ice maker, hot- and cold-water faucet over a stainless steel basin, and tons of counter space. The cockpit layout and the latte-colored upholstery make a nice first impression when boarding this boat.
As I walk through the cockpit to the helm area, I take a quick seating count. There is room for nine to sit comfortably back here and if you put the table up there is room for everyone to rest their cold adult beverages. The access hatch to the engine room is in the center of the cockpit, but we will play with that later.
At the helm we find well-padded captain and navigator seating to starboard and a curved lounger large enough for three to port. In case you have lost count, there are seats for you and 13 of your closest friends here in this area.
At the helm station there is a blank panel in the center that looks large enough for a 12-inch navigation multi-function display. The left panel houses the Axius® engine display behind a well-placed cup holder and stereo system control panel.
The steps leading to the bow, through the windshield walkway, are just to the left of the navigator’s seat and on the centerline. The electronic throttle controls are mounted to the right of the unique and classy-looking steering wheel that is leather-wrapped stainless steel.
Not only is the wheel leather wrapped, but the dash area also has matching leather accents. This is a very nice-looking helm. The helm seat is double wide with individual bolsters for skipper and navigator, very comfortable when seated or standing with the bolster up, and there is a fold-down arm rest for the navigator’s left arm and one for the skipper’s right.
After getting the basics of the engine control system down, we are ready to get back underway and will have more time at the dock to look over the rest of the boat. After getting clearance from the camera boat, we idle out of Ayala Cove and immediately hit the throttles when clear of the no wake area. Our 350 Express jumps on plane without the use of the trim tabs and only using drive trim.
Heading through Raccoon Strait and toward the Golden Gate Bridge, I ease the power up to wide open, the tach’s top out at 4600 RPM, and our speed over ground according to the GPS is north of 40 knots.
I look back and see the gap between us and the camera boat getting wider every second. Perhaps Reinhard Boost, Silver Seas Yachts general manager, doesn’t drive as fast as I do, or he knows we only have a quarter tank of fuel and will have to turn around before long, and just gives up the chase.
Once we get a pretty big gap and it looks like the Cantius 41 has slowed, I put the helm hard over to the left, make a sweeping turn and line up for a close high-speed pass port to port so that Ty can get a few good shots of us at high speed. The 350 Express responds nicely to the rudder input and leans into the turn; I don’t detect any slip as we carve a perfect 180.
After we speed past the 41 Cantius, we back off the power to a sedate cruise speed of 26 knots at 3100 RPM, make a hard turn to the right and line up for another pass. Our 350 passes over our own wake with hardly a bump and maintains composure as we knife through the distributed water. It does not appear that the guys on the camera boat fared so well as I look back and see our second wake has them pitching and rolling. Such is the life of a photographer…
At our cruise speed, the engine management computer indicates we are burning just 28 gallons per hour for efficiency of just about 1 nautical mile per gallon. This is quite a bit better than the respectable .67 MPG we were getting at 40 knots.
At a 26-knot cruise and the outdrive trim adjusted up just a tad, the 350 Express rides pretty flat and provides good 360-degree visibility from the helm along with a stable and comfortable ride. Messing around with the engine trim and trim tabs only made the ride worse and our MPG lower, so with just two persons onboard you can pretty much leave the trim adjustments alone and just enjoy running the boat.
Take a good look at the photos and notice the large hardtop. With the opening overhead hatches, we have all the advantages of the hardtop and still have lots of bright light.
Having confirmed that the 350 Express is quick and comfortable, it is time to head back to Sausalito and play with the Axius joystick around the dock. Having someone finally developing sterndrive power with joystick docking that doesn’t rely on bow and stern thrusters is a major feature of our test ride and I am anxious to see how well it works.
Around The Dock
But, first, I want to learn how the joystick system operates before we get around unmovable objects that could scratch our shiny new boat. Rob gives me a short course on operating the Axius system out in Richardson Bay where I can experience how easy it is to twist, turn and move sideways.
The camera boat takes this opportunity to get a few photos of us not making way and apparently just playing, but I’m not playing, I am learning. The Axius joystick responds to both the direction you move it and the pressure you apply, providing smooth and accurate control at your touch.
To move to the left, push the joystick to the left. To go faster, apply more pressure. Twist the Axius joystick to turn the boat within its own length. Move the Axius joystick to the left, right or at any angle to move your boat in that direction. Move the Axius joystick toward the bow or stern of the boat to move directly forward or backward.
It didn’t take long to get the feel of how the boat responds to the joystick. It’s kind of impressive that you get this much control over the boat with basically traditional outdrives and no thrusters.
After a few minutes I am ready to head to a dock and practice. Today we don’t have much wind, but we are now in the middle of the ebb and the docks around the Sausalito Yacht Harbor have a bit of current making it just a bit more fun for docking practice.
First I bring the boat into the dock port side to, with the current pushing off the dock, the traditional way without the joystick. First time docking this boat and I find the handling very predictable and we come right up to the dock. Backing away was easy as the current was helping to push us off the dock.
Now it is time to try the joystick after bringing the boat within 10 feet of the dock. A push left and we start moving left with the bow moving a bit faster than the stern. A little right twist and more left pressure and the boat flattens out and I make a perfect landing. Man this is easy.
Undocking the boat, twisting 180 degrees and bringing her to the dock starboard side to, in our length, was a snap. I could get used to this. After a few more dockings and undocking at other docks, with different current direction, and I am satisfied that this Axius system works pretty well.
But the guys on the Cantius are waiting for us at the Silver Seas docks so we can go through the rest of the boat. Docking practice is over and we head back to our slip.
Once we are secured at the dock, I want a look into the engine room. Our test boat has the electric hydraulic engine room hatch lift that makes access to this space easy with just a push of a button.
Nestled in a fairly large engine room are two Mercruiser 8.2L V8 380 HP sterndrives. Even with these enormous engines there is plenty of room to move around to check fluids. Servicing also looks straightforward with easy access to filters and water pumps.
A 7.3KW Kohler generator and the hot water heater are also nestled in here and are easy to get to. The engine room has a nice clean design with easy access and plenty of space to move around. Whoever gets to do the service on this boat will be happy.
Climbing out of the engine room and back into the cockpit we make our way forward to the cabin. This is my first time stepping down into the interior of this boat and peering in I get a feeling of wow, what a beautiful interior. This boat has the dark Wenge interior, light colored seating material, and light maple decking. The contrasts of the surfaces and colors make for a stunning interior.
The cabin is accessed by going down three open steps into the main saloon. Behind the stairs and under the cockpit deck is the mid cabin.
This area is open to the rest of the saloon and has lots of comfortable seating. If desired, the settee will convert to a berth, but its main purpose appears to be a conversation pit or a place to kick back and read a magazine.
Turning around and facing forward we find a large settee to starboard with a high/low table and just opposite, on the port side, is the galley. Cruisers has thoughtfully installed three opening portholes behind the settee for light and fresh air as desired.
Facing the galley, we find a refrigerator under the large Corian® countertop to the left, a microwave oven above, a cooktop in the center, a stainless steel sink with designer faucet to the right, and a flat screen TV mounted on a cabinet door above the sink. By opening the cabinet door you can easily watch TV from the forward berth.
There is an opening overhead hatch and three opening ports behind the galley to let more light or air into an already bright and airy cabin.
Forward is the centerline queen island berth with port lights on both sides, another hatch overhead, and storage underneath as well along both sides above the berth. On the port side just aft of the berth and forward of the settee is the head.
Here we find a nicely appointed wet head (shower in the same area) with VacuFlush®, mirrored cabinets with tons of storage behind, a stainless steel basin with designer faucet and storage underneath. An opening overhead hatch is provided for ventilation as needed.
Having been all through the cabin, it is time to take a look at the foredeck. From the helm there are three steps up, then a walk through the center opening windshield, and then up to the foredeck where we find the dual chaise lounger sunpads with independently adjustable backrests.
Lifting up the hatch at the bow we find a Maxwell anchor windless and chain locker with the windless foot control just behind the hatch. At the top of the rail there is a polished chrome spotlight rounding out the front of our boat. If this were my boat, I would definitely change out the galvanized anchor for a polished stainless steel plow that is more in line with the beauty of this boat.
I started out the day excited about running the new Cantius 41 and ended up not only impressed with that boat, but discovered a great midsize family cruiser in this 350 Express. Cruisers Yachts has built one of the best-looking expresses that I have seen in a long time and, combined with the performance and ease of handling of the Axius, this is a great package.
The 350 Express has a few power options: Volvo packages from 260HP to 400HP with the OCEANX joystick and two Mercruiser inboard options of 320HP or 375HP. The AXIS is a sterndrive power package that uses twin individually articulating Bravo 3 sterndrives.
With the exception of the 310 Express, the 350 Express is Cruisers’ smallest yacht and with the Axius control system it is one of the most maneuverable boats I have been on and makes moving up from a smaller boat easy.
Want to go just a little larger? Take at look at her big sister, the 380 Express, also available with the big Merc’s and the Axius controls or you can opt for the Volvo 550G gas IPS drives or the Volvo D4 diesel IPS. Cruisers seems to offer something for everyone looking for a gorgeous midsize family cruiser.
Silver Seas Yachts is new to Northern California, but the personnel are not. The company started in San Diego, opened up the Sausalito office in May 2012 and expanded to Newport Beach and Phoenix, AZ., this past summer. In Sausalito, you will be working with veteran Northern California boaters.
To arrange for your own Cruisers Yachts experience, contact Silver Seas Yachts, 400 Harbor Way, Suite E, in Sausalito at 415/367 4022.
If Cruisers Yachts doesn’t offer quite the boat you are looking for, Silver Seas is the new boat dealer for Carver, Marquis and Four Winns.
The Mercruiser Axius system uses a joystick to control steering, throttles and shifters at the same time, offering complete boat maneuverability with one hand. Here again is another new-to-me propulsion system that warrants a few words. The Mercruiser Axius system is installed in place of standard sterndrives; no special hull design or modification is required.
The computer takes its inputs from the joystick and sends the commands to each drive independently. The usual tie bar between outdrives is missing, so each drive can rotate in different directions as commanded.
If your biggest challenge is docking your boat, and for most boaters it is, then the Axius was designed for you. Axius-powered boats are able to move sideways, at an angle, or turn in a tight circle by just twisting the joystick control. Boat builders don’t need to make any special modifications to install the Axius system; they just install the standard Alpha, Bravo One, Bravo Two or Bravo Three sterndrives.
Other advantages of the Axius electronic control system are auto sync of the engines, shift protection, multiple helm capability, and none of those troublesome mechanical cables that get stiff and wear out.
Want more? The Axius Premier takes state-of-the-art joystick docking capabilities and adds several innovative and easy-to-use new features. Among these are Skyhook, which electronically anchors your boat via GPS regardless of wind and current, and Auto Heading, which automatically keeps your boat on course.
As we wrapped up our day in Point Richmond, I was told that Passage Yachts has received a new Beneteau GT 38 and GT 44 and that they are in the yard now being commissioned and that if I’m interested they would be available in a few weeks for a sea trial. I don’t know, more running around San Francisco Bay in a couple of fast cruisers that use the same Air Step Hull technology as our Barracuda 9. I suppose that might be fun!
2012 Cruisers Yachts 350 Express
with drives down
Air Clearance 10’ 3”
Fuel 232 gallons
Water 40 gallons
Waste 30 gallons
Displacement 16,500 lbs.
Maximum Measured Speed 41 kts.
Power Mercruiser 8.2 MAG
BR3X AXIS CAT 380hp