BOAT TEST: BAYLINER 320 CRUISER
MerCruiser’s sterndrive docking system gets a test run in a Bayliner 320 Cruiser
The revolution in powerboating that is fingertip-controlled sterndrive docking systems has a third player in the market, MerCruiser's Axius. David Lockwood found it a worthy rival to its peers in a run on the 2008-model Bayliner 320 Cruiser
There are some things in life that you can do without. Docking with an audience, for example, especially when faced with a challenging berth - and berths are getting tighter as demand increases for marina space - in adverse wind and weather and, moreover, with a crowd of judgmental onlookers watching your every move waiting for some action.
Suddenly, the heart is pounding, the fingers are trembling and you're knees knocking while attempting the desperate task of docking. Such is the potential for calamity at Sydney's Darling Harbour aka Cockle Bay marina that you could very easily make a meal of it and, well, be the talking point of hundreds of lunch-goers making a meal of it.
Take it from me, the all-concrete floating amenity in Darling Harbour is unforgiving. Not only does it have an appetite for fibreglass swim platforms, but it sits before a string of thronging bars, restaurants and cafes, plus a boardwalk as busy as Pitt Street at rush hour. There is also surge from ferries, swirling winds whistling through the office blocks, and a huge audience. Always an audience.
So it is with open arms and an air of self-assurance that we test drove MerCruiser's new Axius docking system on the 2008-model Bayliner 320 Cruiser at Darling Harbour Marina. By now, many other sterndrive-powered sportscruisers (the software is individually tailored for each different boat) will have hit the market. Axius was reputedly subject to more than 25,000 hours of testing and, like the Zeus system for shaft drives that we tested last issue, it comes with big claims.
But I'll admit it, I was smitten after just a few seconds of toying with the joystick, docking and decamping on the inside berth at Darling Harbour Marina. The assembled crowd seemed dutifully impressed, too, for they didn't look up from their steak and chips for more than a fleeting moment. Just another Axius driver, they may as well have quipped.
Meanwhile, the new Bayliner 320 Cruiser was no less of a good host. A typical family sportscruiser, built by the world's biggest boatbuilder, the boat has mass-market appeal and teams a sociable cockpit and generous outdoor living areas with accommodation for four that, with genset and plenty of good gear, tips it into the weekender league.
The 320 Cruiser also looks smart thanks to the blue king plank or hull sides that conceal the boat's high volume. The upside below decks is a terrific sense of space and abundant natural light without needing to resort to ugly windows. Oh, Bayliner's eagle-eye windows are there, but sleeker than those used in the past.
It's also our considered view that performance is greatly improved on the 320 Cruiser. Axius claims 30 to 40 per cent better fuel consumption, up to 30 per cent faster planing, and 25 per cent better top speed compared with similar motors with shaft drives.
Of course, petrol inboards with shaft drives aren't that popular here, but we do note with convictions that the boat had snappy acceleration and sporty off-the-wheel steering, And, of course, the joystick was a godsend for close-quarters manoeuvring (See box hereabouts for more on MerCruiser's new Axius piloting system).
As is par for the course, a button on the dash activates the electric hydraulic lift that raises a large section of the cockpit sole for access to the MerCruiser 350 MAG MPI 5.7lt petrol engines. There appears plenty of room for maintenance, as the Axius system is primarily electronic and doesn't take space.
I noted a pretty clean bilge, no coolant or oil leaks, and that a Kohler generator was provided to power the air-con, microwave and other AC devices and outlets. There is a hot-water service, batteries and charger, too.
However, I couldn't find any separate primary fuel filters for the engines -presumably the screw-on secondaries are all the MerCruisers need - and, strangely, the boat hasn't got a gauge for its 132.5lt water tank, which should suffice for a weekend after which you need to find a marina somewhere. Maybe I was mistaken, but the agent couldn't find the holding tank gauge either.
The Australian Builders Plate states the Bayliner 320 Cruiser has a 10-person capacity. This seems a lot to us, though, upon further inspection the cockpit has been designed with most of the seating around the edges. It's open-plan, free flowing and, as such, it makes the most of its floor space.
The lounge on the portside could indeed seat eight, with two more on the clever swivel helm bench seat that swings around to face the inboard side of the drop-in GRP moulded dinette. The table and base are stowed in a slot under the engineroom lid when not in use. You can use the shorter pedestal base to create an aft sunpad if there's no crowd aboard. And with camper covers, the sunpad can double as a daybed or sleepout should you have teenagers.
The moulded amenities centre, meanwhile, is a slimline number that didn't impede that generous legroom, yet it included a useful fridge, sink, solid counter, grabrail, and concealed garbo in a storage hatch. You might notice the drinkholders and that one can hold a bottle of bubbly. The gas barbie is presumably an aftermarket extra.
There are also padded cushions to make sunpads on the bow, accessed through a walkthough dash. That will appease crew not fond of teetering around the side decks, which aren't that wide on the 320 Cruiser. However, there is a decent step in the cockpit, moulded toerails, a reassuring bowrail, a good grade of non-skid and handrails to help with security under foot.
The transom, meanwhile, is big enough to sit on and watch the world drift by. Of course, there's a swim ladder, hot/cold deck shower, and a big boot in which to store fenders, lines, fishing and dive gear. I noted the Shorepower connection and battery management panel. The hatch lid appears to be produced using RTM or a closed mould for a better finish and less weight.
I often find the size of the mooring cleats on these Bayliners are on the small side, especially if you find yourself in a raft-up. Also, the aft cleats are outboard of the transom and best accessed from the swim ladder, which isn't where you want to be during docking manoeuvres.
Otherwise, we're seeing big gains in outdoor living space, but not at the expense of seating or amenities. And for that Bayliner appears to have built a better entertaining boat. After all, outdoor living is what it's all about in a sportscruiser.
Bayliner has also applied the open-minded design principle to its interior, where the key double bed in the stateroom forward gains privacy by a curtain only. But you wouldn't have it any other way in a boat this size and, while there is the option of open forward lounge or V-berths around a dinette, owners have a sleeping arrangement like that shown hereabouts.
The décor is, as touched on, more European in flavour, with blue-and-white striped mattress covers and high-gloss mock cherrywood joinery.
Along with being brightly lit, there's a decent 190cm of headroom, by my reckoning, and nice soft-touch cream vinyl liners, beige carpet and a vinyl timber-look flooring in the work area before the galley.
The galley has a good amount of cabinetry, a solid Corian or similar counter, and big sink. Thanks to the generator the two-burner electric Origo stove and small Tappan microwave can be used away from dock.
Air-con assists with ventilation below, too, which otherwise comes via a big forward escape hatch, and side hatches in the head and above the galley. The 12V Norcold fridge has a freezer tray for holding a BBQ worth of steak or the frozen prawn bait.
I measured the L-shaped lounge before the dinette and guessed it able to seat four. It also converts into a three-quarter double berth, boosting accommodation to 4 + 2 (kids).
I noted a Jensen sound system with iPod
jack and a dedicated mounting spot for a
flatscreen LCD TV. A DVD player is the only thing missing from the aft cabin, which gains privacy by being tucked behind the saloon. There's a surprising amount of storage in a longitudinal cabinet, two opening portholes, and mattress that sleeps two adults.
Last but not least, the WC is one big moulded module with handheld hot/cold shower, electric head, sink and storage. A deck hatch helps ventilation, and, by virtue of the size of the compartment, family will be inclined to head away in comfort.
The low-glare dash was fitted with must-have windlass and spotlight controls, a bank of switches for things like the single wiper and engine-hatch lift, plus trim tabs. Then there are the DTS throttles, sports wheel and spread of Axius gear - the VisionView SmartCraft multifunctional screen, integrated autopilot and the joystick.
Time to start the twin 300hp V8 MerCruisers.
Sufficiently warm, the lines are cast next. Then a simple push sideways of the joystick and the boat jumps off the dock. Note to self: small movements are all you need.
Within minutes we have decamped - easy as that - using nothing more than the joystick. Since it works up to fast displacement speeds or about 1800rpm, I don't need to reach for the throttles yet. A one-second push forward and the boat proceeds to the end of the dock. I swivel the knob on the top of joystick and the boat pivots on its Axius. Another forward movement and we are sauntering before the Darling Harbour crowd.
Nothing more to it, though I will add that if you don't push the joystick exactly 90º but, say, 75º, which isn't hard to accidentally do, the boat will move diagonally. Soft, slow movements are the key.
Beyond the confines of Darling Harbour, Bayliner 320's alter ego emerges. Though the bow rises for a few brief moments during the transition to planing speed, the sportscruiser is eager. It planes at 3000rpm and about 8.7kts, settles into a low-speed cruise of 15.6kts at 3300rpm and cruises smoothly at 21kts at about 3600 to 3700rpm.
Fast cruise was 25.2kts at 4000rpm, while WOT of 5000rpm produced 31kts. But the steering off the wheel was the exciting bit, the boat arcing around excitedly and, with a touch of trim tab, the 320 Cruiser dealt with some messy harbour conditions, pesky ferry wake and wind waves, better than expected.
So, if you want to escape the crowds, Bayliner's new 320 Cruiser has the grunt and the gear to do it. Go for a weekend if you want. But with Axius, you can park like a pro, too, win the confidence of your crew and go unnoticed under the nose of the waterfront crowds. After which, we retired for lunch. Darling Harbour Marina isn't so bad after all.
Type: Moderate-vee monohull
Length overall: 9.91m
Deadrise: Approx 19º
Weight: Approx 4979kg (dry w/ std motors)
Holding tanks: 114lt
Type: V8 injected petrol engine
Rated HP: 300 at 4800 to 5200rpm
Gearboxes (Make): Bravo Three sterndrive
210 Silverwater Road,
Silverwater, NSW, 2128
Phone: (02) 9737 0727;
Originally published in Trade-a-Boat magazine, 2008.
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