BOAT TEST SEA RAY 370 SUNDANCER
With twin V8 engines hitched to the latest steerable Axius sterndrive legs, and a joystick docking device, this Yankee sportscruiser is ready to rap, writes DAVID LOCKWOOD
Sportscruising. Remember it? Before the double whammy, the spike in fuel prices and the economic downturn, sportscruisers were common boating currency and de rigueur for dashing about our big city waterways. But overnight that 30 to 40-footer market took a big hit and many aspirational boaters who had worked their way out of trailerboats and into 'big' boats thought it time to cut their ties.
Well, there's only so long you can subdue fun, quell the sense of joie de vivre that rides on the summer sun, and the ease of turnkey escapism that comes from sportscruising. While the retirees plod their way along the coast in the latest reincarnated passagemakers, the middle-aged with plenty of get-up-and-go and young families in tow thrill to the just-add-water sportscruiser fix.
Of course, this powerboat penchant isn't peculiar to Australia - far from it, in fact - as America is the sportscruising capital of the world. But while the number of competing sportscruiser marques available here is now a mere shadow of the past glory days, the cream of the sportscruiser crop is still vying for a berth in our big cities.
This brings us to Sea Ray, a big American that has been a part of the Australian seascape for as long as I can remember. Of all the Yankee brands, it's one of just a handful that has stood the test of time, which is resilient enough to withstand a debilitating recession on American soil and a global retreat. And with the Aussie dollar now parked above US90¢, and keen factory and dealer incentives, it's a great time to get back afloat - sportscruising.
For all that's great about American-made boats, it's taken till now for the Sea Ray yard to acknowledge the needs of world markets, especially Australia, by building less parochial boats. We might suffer many aspects of Yankee culture, but when it comes to boating we tend to do things differently. Here, outdoor living counts for a lot. Unlike America, where they tend to draw the curtains and hide below decks on boats tied to marinas, we engage our boating neighbours and party openly aboard.
As if waking from a bad dream, the Sea Ray executives have now realised there is a world of boating beyond their local Great Lake shores. This awakening also stems from the efforts of local dealers, who built up considerable brand loyalty through owners rendezvous, and the Aquapalooza (see www.aquapalooza.com), a nautical shindig billed as the biggest rolling on-water party for any boat brand in the world.
Buoyed by this support Down Under, Sea Ray has taken the kangaroo by the tail and produced some of the smartest new mid-range sportscruisers of all time. The 370 Sundancer tested here, for that is its length overall (a trend you will see a lot more of as boat manufacturers rebadge instead of redesign), is a Yankee sportscruiser with broad appeal (formerly dubbed the 350). You will find big outdoor living areas, on-deck amenities centres, even a built-in barbie to sate the entertainer in us all.
Furthermore, the interior hasn't a closeted ambience from dark, sombre timber joinery, small portholes and lack of natural light. In an effort to compete with the European sportscruiser brands, the Sea Ray 370 Sundancer has a Euro-inspired finish with high-gloss cherrywood joinery, white liners and bone-coloured upholstery, while retaining its American-dimensions that ensure plenty of head, shoulder and girth room.
While the recent tenet in boating circles has been "in plod we trust", no one can deny the driving pleasure of a sporty conveyance, be it a roadster or sportscruiser. Drop the top - if it's a bimini - or scroll-up the clears and smell the salt, feel the wind in your hair, let the eyes water behind those polarised shades, and fang to your favourite bolthole. Such fun.
With twin petrol inboard engines the 370 Sundancer has plenty of get-up-and-go. The sporty performance comes courtesy of a pair of 375hp MerCruiser T-496 Magnum MPI petrol engines - yes, twin V8s with big 8.1lt blocks - with the special Seacore anti-corrosion system and, even better, the latest upgraded Axius fly-by-wire steering and docking joystick.
Axius is actually a standard inclusion on the 370 Sundancer. The computer-controlled brains turn the rear-facing sterndrives into independently steerable units that, with a tweak, twist or lean on the joystick, let you park with aplomb. The moment you engage the ignition, you are making a quick exodus. And in a short while, wives and kid crew will be just as adept at docking. That could come in handy at the end of the day.
Back under the cockpit sole, the twin big-block V8s and generator aren't cramped for space. A push-button hydraulic riser lifts the lid for easy access and at-a-glance checks of the bilge. Besides a surfeit of servicing room, there's plenty of space to store a rolled-up rubber duckie, an outboard on a custom bracket, and a suite of water toys.
But some credit must also go to the local Sea Ray dealers, in this case Andrew Short Marine in Sydney - "Shorty" was still with us when he handed over this boat for testing - who ticked the right boxes in order to turn the 370 Sundancer into more than just a point-and-shoot boat. Should you be having a merry time, which is entirely likely on long, hot summer days aboard this boat, then you can spend the weekend or longer at anchor. With a hot-cold deck shower, the 189lt of water should suffice.
An optional 4kW petrol Kohler generator was fitted to this 370 Sundancer along with air-conditioning for complete climate control and away-from-dock 240V power and independence. The optional inverter lets you run the boat's AV systems without the gennie, so you can recline in bed before a DVD and not bug your neighbours. Use the TV remote, hit off, kill the cabin lights, and drift off to sleep.
Of course, sleep always comes easily after a big day on the water and the Sea Ray 370 caters perfectly for varied activities from watersports and entertaining to the fine art of just hanging out. The pullout lounge with drinkholders built into the transom is a beauty. Being aft facing, you can kick back and take in the views as you swing on the anchor. Then fold it back into the boot quick as that.
The cockpit can seat eight for lunch on a large C-shaped lounge set around a folding timber dinette, with the double-width skipper's seat to starboard and co-pilot seat opposite both swivelling to face the setting. The built-in amenities centre behind the helm seat is impressive, with stainless steel barbie and hood, so there are oven-style cooking options, plus fridge, sink and Toshiba TV for monitoring the cricket. The underwater lights might even encourage a hot summer night's swim.
Importantly, the 370 Sundancer has a moulded hardtop and bimini top, plus full camper covers for sun and weather protection. When that's not a concern, you can step up the dash and walkthrough the centre-opening windscreen to access the optional foredeck sunpad with trick folding backrest and speakers that together create a separate lifestyle zone.
The boat was also equipped with a windlass, anchor wash, spotlight, recessed cleats, and plenty of rails to keep you and crew contained. The premium cockpit sound system with iPod interface will cater for the summer party on deck. All told, you can cater for a dozen in dayboat mode.
BED AND BREAKFAST
Below decks, the open-plan aft cabin doubles as a useful rumpus room or lounging area when not (easily) converted to a double bed using the lounge backrests as infill cushions. A curtain affords some degree of privacy. The saloon, amidships, has a long lounge that, converted, can also sleep a couple. So a family of four can carry a couple of additional kid crew.
Opposite the lounge and dinette is a spread of good galley gear including two-burner electric cooktop, decent microwave oven, fridge with freezer tray, lots of lockers and a deep sink. The counters are generous and upmarket Corian, and I found good locker space for weekend victuals, skylights and opening portlights for natural light and ventilation.
The fit and finish is best described as meeting good quality production-boat standards, but lifted further by the optional maple hardwood timber flooring that, along with the optional central vac, will assist with the Sunday afternoon clean-up.
Meanwhile, ensconced in the bow, the stateroom has an inviting island double bed with clever pushbutton reclining headrest, kind of like a hospital bed, so you can get really comfortable while watching a movie. With the mattress fully extended there's no legroom in this forward cabin, but the Sundancer 370 can't be accused of skimping on space. A 350 in its previous life, it packs a lot into a compact and easily-handled cocoon.
The separate standing-height bathroom includes a hot/cold shower over the Vacuflush toilet - a quasi take on the separate shower stall - but that handheld transom shower is always the best option on a boat of this calibre. And with 946lt of fuel in the aluminium tanks, you should be able to escape in a hurry for your just-add-watersports cruising fix. Such is the convenience, the 370 Sundancer makes a great short-order, on-a-whim dayboat and weekender.
Advance the throttles and the twin V8s respond, sling-shotting the 370 Sundancer to a top speed of 37kts. But you'll find a more relaxed Sunday cruise at 3000rpm and 20kts for a lot less fuel burn, with 3500rpm returning 23kts where the boat is in the smooth cruising groove. Before long you will be anchored at your favourite bolthole and hunkering down, as the Yanks say.
Of course, with twin engines, ocean passages are entirely possible, but the way I see it, this is more your Sunday pleasure cruiser. And with the Axius joystick, the boat is a delight to slip back into its berth. Such is the responsiveness of the system that gentle applications of the joystick bring the smoothest results. After 15 minutes I had the boat on a string and, with clear vision from the helm down the portside, you can dock much like you park a car, that is, without leaving the seat.
In a nutshell, the 370 Sundancer is a great sportscruiser for the long-awaited summer that's now upon us. It will provide turnkey backyard adventure for a young family without guzzling too much petrol or gas. We like the styling, the cockpit, the barbie, the rear flip-down lounge, the double bed and head. And with Axius and big-brand backing, you won't be left foundering, even with a GFC. Turn key and go sportscruising.
Specifications: Sea Ray 350 Sundancer
PRICE AS TESTED
Approx $428,5000 w/ upgraded MerCruiser T-496 inboards with Axius and options
Engine upgrade, generator and air-con, inverter, upgraded AV systems, soft-furnishing upgrades, central vac, underwater lights, refrigeration, barbie, and more
Material: GRP hull
Type: Moderate to deep-vee planing hull
Length overall: 11.43m
Draft: Just 69cm w/ sterndrive legs up
Deadrise: 21 degrees
Weight: 8194kg (dry w/ std motors)
Berths: Four (+ 2 with optional pullout saloon berth)
Holding tank: 106lt
Engines: 2 x MerCruiser T-496 Magnum MPI petrol inboards w/ Axius steerable drives and joystick
Type: V8 petrol
Rated HP: 375 at 4400 to 4800rpm (each)
Gearbox (Make/ratio): Bravo III/2:1
Propellers: Counter-rotating duoprops
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