Boat Review - January 2015
Last summer the generous folks at Sun Country Marine in Oakland lent Ty Mellott and myself two brand new Sea Ray Sundancer's to put through the paces on San Francisco Bay. My review of the 410 Sundancer Sport Yacht with Cummins diesels and Zeus pod drives was published in the September 2014 issue of the Bay & Delta Yachtsman and this month is my review of the 350 Sundancer Sport Cruiser with the optional twin 380 HP Mercruiser 8.2L DTS with AXIUS drives. Not only does the Sundancer feel like a rocket with the huge Merc's, but the AXIUS drive system makes maneuvering the twin-outdrive-powered boat simple and easy.
Having just wrapped up running the 410 Sport Yacht, and being quite impressed with her speed and agility, I am past ready to see how the 350 Sport Cruiser compares. We decided that it was calm enough in anchorage 9, just south of the Bay bridge "Charlie" tower, to trade boats.
I brought the Sport Yacht to a stop and engaged her skyhook mode for the second time today while Ed sterned the Cruiser next to me. I had been through the 350 earlier in the day with Ed to go over the basics of the vessel operation, so I was ready to get going and see how she handled away from the dock.
It is always kind of fun to start out a sea trial with a wide-open throttle (WOT) launch and I did just that, leaving Ty and Ed still getting settled in on the 410, skyhooked in place, and wondering where the hell I was going. What a launch it was: up on plane is less than 8 seconds, north of 25 knots in under 12, and in short order hit my WOT speed of 35.7 knots while still fiddling around with the drive trim.
In just a few breaths, I have made the three-quarter mile run over to the ferry building before coming to a full stop and only then looking back to see where the camera boat is. I am not surprised to see them still a half-mile back and sprinting my direction.
With the calm winds and light commercial traffic I figured that I would just wait here, a few hundred yards or so off the ferry building, for Ty to get a few still shots before I made more high-speed runs to check performance while making a few hard over turns.
Having all the still shots we need, and while I made a few more adjustments with the trim tabs and drive trim, Ed powered the Sport Yacht toward Yerba Buena Island and took up station just southeast of the lighthouse, providing a perfect target for me to make a few high-speed donuts around.
Passing in front of the camera at a sedate 26-knot cruise, I put the helm hard left and carved a few 75-foot diameter circles around the stationary Sport Yacht. The power-assisted steering and Digital Throttle and Shift system (DTS) that provides single lever control and engine sync makes shifting the helm to hard right and keeping my speed for a few more tight circles in the other direction easy, and I leave a respectable amount of disturbed water and wakes for both of us.
My 350 Sport Cruiser powered through the wakes showing her composure with little pounding and with respectable stability while the stationary 410 pitched and rolled and the boys were holding on with both hands. Not sure how Ty manages to get all these great shots in those conditions, but he always manages to, and never says anything negative about my wake!
Performance By The Numbers
I could do this all day, but we need to collect a little hard performance data before returning to the dock at Jack London Square. Heading into the Alameda Estuary is a good place to collect fuel consumption data using the onboard computer and GPS.
Based on my data, the fuel economy, or miles per gallon, is almost the same from 3000 RPM to 4000 RPM as our speed goes from just shy of 20 knots to 30 plus knots with a burn rate of a respectable three-quarters of a mile per gallon. The best high-speed cruise is 3500 RPM with our Sundancer Sport Cruiser scooting along at nearly 26 knots.
The least efficient RPM and speed was 2500 and 12.8 knots returning just 0.64 nautical MPG. A little more time setting the drive trim and adjusting the trim tabs might improve that a bit, but the data is consistent with similar boats running just barely up on plane. All data was collected with one person onboard, the boat lightly loaded with gear, and fuel level at approximately one half.
A big plus with the 380 HP power option is it's designed to run on unleaded regular 87-octane gas with 10 percent ethanol.
One of the great advantages of a knowledgeable boater ordering a boat from inventory is that they know what options to select. Our 350 has several desirable options, including the extended swim step and the transom gourmet center.
These options put the outdoor cooking space outside of the cockpit, away from guests, while still remaining in conversation range of the guests just forward. Our optional grill and sink do not take away from the large transom storage space beneath.
After stepping onboard via the extra long swim step, you pass into the cockpit through a starboard stainless steel framed acrylic door where we have the wet bar to starboard, which includes a stainless steel sink, solid surface countertop, and trash receptacle over a built-in combination refrigerator ice maker. To port there is a large L-shaped lounger.
There is a removable table between the transom seating and the L-lounger and large storage spaces under both. When not in use, the table and pole are stored out of the way under the engine room hatch.
With the optional cook center, this is a well thought out cockpit that is sure to be the entertainment center for guests. The lounger and aft bench provide seating for six and the helm seat just forward and to starboard is doublewide and rotates around to provide seating for two more to join the cockpit party.
Not only does the helm seat rotate, we also have dual flip up bolster along with arm rests for both skipper and navigator. At the top of the helm station we have the traditional analog gauges with two stainless steel cup holders just below. Between the cup holders are the spotlight control and a covered storage bin.
Open the cover to the watertight compartment and you will find a USB charging port for your mobile phone, nice touch. A bit lower is the Raymarine C-wide series multifunction display to left, SmartCraft display in the center, the engine start/stop controls and trim tabs to the right.
To the left of the leather-wrapped polished stainless steel wheel are the commonly used DC switches and to the right are the electronic engine throttle and transmission controls. The AXIUS joystick control is perfectly placed for the skipper's right hand.
If there was not already enough seating for guests, directly across from the helm station, far to port, is the aft facing lounger with convertible headrest. Overhead is the arch with canvas forward that provides protection from the sun for the skipper. Our test boat also had the aft extended canvas bimini that covers two-thirds of the cockpit leaving the transom gourmet center in the open air.
Push a button to activate the hydraulic engine room lift and we get easy access to those large twin 8.2-liter powerplants. Kudos to MerCruiser® for making all of the major engine service components on top of the engines. Checking levels of the cooling water, lubricating oil, and gear oil are easily accessed from the top, and if they need to be topped up, those are on top as well.
Fluid reservoirs are in translucent containers for instant checking. The cooling reservoir is easy to replace if necessary, the drive lube reservoir is large and has an audible alarm for low level, and all of the filters are in easy reach for service. We even have the optional 5.0 KW Kohler generator snuggled in here within easy reach for checking those vitals.
The fixed fire extinguishing system, bilge pumps with high-water alarm, various batteries and chargers round out the gel-coated engine room.
Access to the cabin is via a centerline companionway secured by a sliding door. Down four steps puts you right in the middle of the cabin with galley to starboard, the head to port, and a cabin both forward and aft. The light wood cabin sole, bright solid surface countertops, and numerous port lights make the cabin feel open and inviting. Sea Ray offers three different cabin layouts: standard is the forward convertible dinette, the optional forward V-berth, and an enclosed mid cabin.
Our test boat is the optional forward berth that has a V-berth angled into the bow, another berth aft, and the living area between the two. A curtain provides privacy for the forward berth that when open makes the cabin interior feel enormous. There is storage under the berth, the mirrored bulkhead forward conceals the chain locker, and there is ample storage in both the port and starboard hanging lockers.
Just aft is the dinette with solid wood table to starboard, L-seating that converts into a berth, and a large settee opposite to port.
To port just aft of the settee and forward of the enclosed wet head is the entertainment center complete with flat screen HDTV and DVD player.
The starboard galley has the convection microwave oven over the two-burner stove. The stainless steel sink is surrounded by a large amount of solid surface countertop and the entire gourmet galley has storage everywhere. The dual-voltage, 12/120, combination refrigerator freezer is under the cooktop. The entire mid-cabin area is bathed in natural light from the overhead hatches and hull ports that have pleated shades for privacy when wanted.
VacuFlush is standard in the enclosed wet head as is the low maintenance teak sole, simulated wood solid surface countertops, opening port light and opening vent. Our test boat has the full-length mirror attached to the back of the door.
The wood-trimmed mid cabin has convertible twin berths that convert to a single double berth via the slide-out base and filler cushions. This cabin is complete with a hideaway privacy curtain, mirrored bulkhead, flat screen HDTV, and several storage drawers.
The interior of our Chestnut-finished beauty is heated and cooled with a 12,000 BTU reverse cycle heat/air conditioning system and the cockpit has its own auxiliary climate control blower. Access to the foredeck is via a walkthrough windshield as there are no side decks on the 350. Up front we find the optional sun pads with stainless steel deck runners, beverage holders, integrated speakers, and headrests.
For anchoring we have an upgraded stainless steel anchor attached to our chain rode and windless. Access to the anchor locker is via a gas-assisted hatch.
After another day running new boats around San Francisco Bay, and having sterned the 350 Sport Cruiser back to the dock next to the 410 Sport Yacht, it is time for me to kick back and enjoy a glass of port and a fine cigar. I have my eye on the large aft lounger on the 410 but as we are wiping down the boats, Ed comes walking down the dock with a perspective buyer that has many questions. The port and cigar are going to have to wait.
Sea Ray has positioned the 350 Sundancer as a premium Sport Cruiser. With the performance, fit and finish, and execution of design, this is one compelling Sundancer.
If you want to see more of the Sea Ray 350 Sundancer or any of the other new Sea Ray or Meridian Yachts, contact Ed Bancroft at the Sun Country office located at Jack London Square in Oakland. Sun Country is the new Northern California Meridian Yachts and Sea Ray Yacht and Sport Cruiser dealer.
It is January and time for the big San Francisco Boat Show Jan. 22-25. I will be there conducting several seminars over the weekend, so point your bow toward San Francisco, drop anchor and stop by and say hello. The seminars are included with your boat show admission.
And, while you're at it… bring me a good story or send me an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.