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Express delivery

You’ll find better windshield designs, more interior volume and plenty of natural light in the next generation of express cruisers

When you think express cruiser, you may envision a twin inboard production boat with a swollen cabin. You know it’s a speedy vessel (hence the “express”) with cruising capability of around 30 mph and a top speed of about 40 mph, but it’ll likely do a bit of pounding in more than a 2-foot chop.

Center console builder Everglades Boats has jumped into the express cruiser fray with two models - a 35-footer (the 350EX pictured) and a 32.

The windshield wraps around the bridge deck, with starboard-side sit-down helm and the companion seats. A Bimini or hardtop provides shelter, and see-through filler sections (that often wrinkle and yellow within months, decreasing visibility) can be snapped or zippered into place for more weather protection. Since it’s also a “cruiser,” the boat also has ample overnighting accommodations. But the berths, settees, galley and head are often crammed into a cabin that lacks natural light.

Things have changed. The half-dozen express cruisers here — five of the six are new models — offer refreshingly different design and styling elements. These developments help the boats better carry out their missions.

Pod drives are replacing inboards and sterndrives on some models, giving these boats better fuel efficiency, increased interior room and joystick maneuverability. Volvo Penta’s IPS powers the Chaparral 400 Premiere and Cruisers 470 Sports Coupe, while the Zeus system (Cummins MerCruiser Diesel) provides the punch for the Sabre 42 Express.

Now how about smoothing out that ride. Some of today’s express cruisers are built with the necessary deadrise forward to shoulder aside seas without sacrificing cabin space. Case in point is the Chaparral 400 Premiere, which has a relatively narrow forefoot for wave-slicing. But the builder has increased interior space by designing sponson-shaped sections in the bow above the chines.

On deck

An express cruiser’s deck layout shouldn’t isolate the helmsman, says Bentley Collins, vice president of marketing and sales for Sabre Yachts, of South Casco, Maine, which is represented here by the Sabre 42 Express. “There’s a social connection from the helm to the cockpit,” says Collins. “Everyone is together. That, to me, is the epitome of the express boat.”

Collins compares Sabre’s express boats to its sedan models. The sedan’s saloon area, including the galley, is on deck, and the “house” is closed, separating it from the cockpit. On an express, the saloon is below in the cabin, and the house opens to the cockpit.

In this group, the Maine-built Ellis Patriot 36 — specifically the one owned by singer/songwriter Billy Joel — does a very good job of promoting social interaction. Like some Carolina fishing boats, the Down Easter’s helm console is on centerline on the bridge deck, with ample bench seating on both sides. “It’s good for passengers, it’s good for fishing, and it makes sense,” Joel says of the layout (see November 2008 Soundings).

You’ll notice that these express cruisers have been built with large front and side windshields to maximize visibility for both the helmsman and passengers. And say goodbye to those frustrating windshield filler sections. All of the boats in this roundup have windshields that extend to the hardtop, and vents have been cleverly designed into the windshield to keep the bridge deck area cool.

Also, builders are increasing natural light below deck, incorporating large windows into the hull sides to illuminate saloons and staterooms. Again the Chaparral stands out, with its long horizontal windows that bring light to the galley and dinette area. On the Cruisers 470, the aft stateroom and saloon each benefit from six windows — three on each hull side.

Fishing boats

The new high-horsepower outboards, such as the Yamaha F350 and Mercury Verado 300, have helped expand the express fishing boat market. These 4-strokes — and let’s not forget Evinrude’s E-TEC 2-strokes — give the boats the improved speed and fuel economy needed for long offshore trips.

With these big outboards, center console fishing boats can journey farther, too, but they lack the express cruiser’s accommodations and protection from the weather. That’s why some center console builders have added express models to their fleets — for example, Ocean Master (336 Sport Cabin) and Everglades (320EX), both of which are outboard-powered.

“They want a more all-around package,” says Mark Hauptner, owner of West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Ocean Master Boats. “If they’re going to go farther, they need more.”

The Ocean Master also is available with a single diesel, which provides an impressive 2 mpg at 30 mph. And standard power for the Ellis Patriot 36 is a 480-hp Yanmar — the only other single-diesel boat in this roundup — which should provide the same fuel consumption but at a speed of around 21 mph. This group also includes one boat offered with outboard power only, the Everglades 320EX, whose sweet spot is 37 mph.

Styling varies among express cruisers, and the six boats here represent three categories: fishing, New England-style and production express cruisers. Ocean Master is a semicustom builder, and Ellis is a custom builder. The remainder can be considered production builders.

Everglades 320EX

Everglades joins a group of center console fishing-boat builders who’ve made the jump to express boats. In late 2008, the Edgewater, Fla., builder introduced two express boats: the 320EX and 350EX. The 320EX was first.

Powered by twin 350-hp Yamaha 4-strokes, the boat reaches a top speed of 51 mph, which makes it the fastest express in this lineup. At a cruise speed of 37 mph, the 320EX has a range of 274 miles. At trolling speeds, you’ll be getting more than 2 mpg, according to Everglades.

Everglades designed the 320EX to operate in all weather conditions. Tempered glass is used for the front and side windshields, and the front windshield contains three sections that electrically open forward. “A standard built-in enclosure finishes off the back [of the bridge deck] and can be quickly

installed to keep in the warmth or cooling necessary to enjoy whatever marine environment you may be in at any given time,” says Everglades marketing director David Glenn. A 5 kW generator is standard, along with two separate air conditioning/heating systems for the cabin and helm deck, he says.

In the cockpit, twin transom seats fold away when it’s time to fish. An 81-gallon fishbox and 43-gallon live well are housed in a large fiberglass module, and the builder includes toerails along the hull sides to give anglers added balance. Forward, you’ll find tackle drawers to port and a sink and cutting board to starboard.

A raised wraparound settee on the bridge deck will accommodate three to four crewmembers. The gray helm console reduces windshield reflections to improve visibility. The A/C system plays no favorites, with nine vents across the width of the dash so everyone feels the cool air.

Venturing forward, you can grab the rails on the hardtop, which comes standard, along with a spotlight, spreader lights, speakers, nine rocket-launcher rod holders, and six more rod holders integrated into the hardtop underside.

Below, there’s 6 feet, 4 inches of standing headroom in the main cabin, outfitted with an enclosed head with shower, a full galley with single-burner stove and combination microwave/coffeemaker, and a midcabin berth. Base price with the 350s is $369,231.

“The majority of the equipment on our boats is standard,” says Glenn. “Our boats feature very few options to take some of the confusion out of the purchase.”

Ocean Master 336 Sport Cabin

Mark Hauptner started designing and building center consoles more than 30 years ago. During the last few years, some customers came looking for more protection from the weather, a stand-up head and the necessities for overnighting. In 2005, he started building a 31-foot express using the same hull that has been the foundation of his business: the Ocean Master 31 center console, launched in 1974 and the largest boat of its kind at that time.

Now Hauptner has introduced a 33-foot express cruiser. The boat comes in two versions: the 336 Express is designed with a hardtop and windshield that are separate components, while the 336 Sport Cabin has a pilothouse. Hauptner, who runs his semicustom boatbuilding business out of West Palm Beach, says he has sold two Sport Cabin models and one Express so far.

The chines rise progressively from the transom to the bow, providing stability, fuel efficiency and a level ride, says Hauptner, a former raceboat designer and driver. Hauptner vessels are heavily built, with solid glass bottoms and sides. Decks are cored with either pressure-treated plywood or closed-cell foam. Vinylester resin is used for protection against osmotic blistering.

The cockpit, bridge deck and cabin can be outfitted to the customer’s liking. For instance, one of the Sport Cabin owners had a dinette table installed across from the starboard-side helm station, a location typically reserved for a companion seat. The boat can be ordered with a composite aft bulkhead with acrylic doors to completely enclose the bridge deck area. The cockpit can remain bare, or it can be packed with seating. A tower is also an option.

The Sport Cabin’s Spartan accommodations include a 7-by-8-foot V-berth forward, and there’s room for a galley and a dining area. The head is contained under the V-berth, so if you want privacy you’ll have to make sure the companionway door is closed. A separate standup head compartment is an option.

The 336 can be ordered with twin outboards or a single diesel. The latter gets an impressive 2 mpg at 30 mph. The first outboard-powered boat — an Express with twin 250-hp Evinrude E-TECs — gets about 1.25 mpg at the same speed. The outboard-powered boat, which has a bracket for the engines, was designed for twins. Hauptner isn’t a big believer in triples. “You have too much equipment and maintenance, and you burn more fuel,” he says.

Pricing ranges from $254,000 with twin Evinrude E-TEC 250s to $314,000 with a 600-hp CMD diesel (straight shaft or outdrive and jackshaft). The company also offers 300- and 350-hp outboards.

Ellis Patriot 36

The semidisplacement Ellis Patriot 36 was born after singer/songwriter Billy Joel hired Ellis Boat Company, of Southwest Harbor, Maine, to build an express fishing boat that melded design and styling elements of Down East lobster boats, Carolina sportfishermen, and yachts built by Huckins and Rybovich.

Response has been so positive to the semidisplacement 36-footer Ellis Boat Company built for music legend Billy Joel that the Maine builder is offering a semicustom version as the Ellis Patriot.

Joel’s Patriot, Argos, was launched in spring 2008. Since then, Ellis has sold two more. Both are scheduled to be completed this year. Ellis is a custom builder, so the vessels differ in layout, equipment, power and performance.

The addition of the Patriot to the Ellis fleet just sort of happened, says company president Don Ellis. “Mr. Joel came up with a sketch of what he wanted,” says Ellis, whose father, Ralph Ellis, founded the company with Raymond Bunker in 1945. “And as it went back and forth, I started to like the roundness of the exterior. It went away from my traditional roots. My father and Raymond would have never gone for it.” Both the trunk cabin and the hardtop have rounded leading edges, rather than the square shapes of traditional Down Easters.

Joel’s ideas for the bridge deck impressed Ellis even more. With its center console and wraparound seating, the skipper is literally the center of attention. “When my father built boats, most of [the owners] had captains, so the concept of including the captain in the mix wasn’t a consideration,” says Ellis.

As Ellis’ fondness for Argos grew, Joel encouraged him to build more. “He said, ‘I think you could sell some of these,’ ” says Ellis.

The Patriot uses the same hull as the Ellis 36 Express Cruiser, a classic Down Easter powered with a single diesel. A single 670-hp Cummins diesel propels Joel’s boat. But the customer can choose virtually any type of power plant for the Patriot. One of the two Patriots in production will have twin 550-hp sterndrives. “The drives are MerCruisers, but the engine is a Corvette engine, if you can believe it,” says Ellis.

Joel’s boat is an open design with a pair of fighting chairs bolted to the cockpit sole. Other than that, the cockpit is pretty bare. The bridge deck is raised, so everyone has a good view outside the boat. Plus, the windows are large. The console tilts forward for excellent access to the diesel.

The cabin is accessed though a centerline companionway. The galley to port contains a two-burner electric stovetop, stainless-steel sink, refrigerator, microwave/convection oven, and teak drawers and cabinetry. The headliner consists of several removable panels, so the entire surface does not have to be removed for repair or cleaning, says Ellis. The V-berth is more than 7 feet long on each side. The port-side galley and a hanging locker are across from the head and shower. On the sterndrive boat, the owner has opted for a bar instead of a galley.

Argos was built with stitched fiberglass fabrics and a vacuum-bagged core of Core-Cell PVC closed-cell foam. The two new Patriots are being built with the same materials and methods, though the builder will use solid glass if the customer wants, says Ellis.

The Patriot’s standard equipment includes sound-reduction decks and exhaust systems (called the Ellis “Silent Service”), hydraulic steering, washdown system, windlass, bow thruster, compass, fathometer, speedometer, 120-volt shore power, and VacuFlush head. With its semidisplacement hull and a horsepower range from 480 to 670, the Patriot 36 will cruise anywhere from 13 to 32 mph. Joel’s cruises at 32 mph, with a top end of 37 mph. The sterndrive boat may very well reach 45 mph, says Ellis. A single 480-hp Yanmar will power the other Patriot in production. That boat should top out at around 30 mph.

Base price is $550,000. The builder is also offering the Patriot in a 40-foot model. No orders have been taken yet.

Chaparral 400 Premiere

The 400 Premiere takes over as the flagship of the Chaparral fleet. The Signature 350 had been the Nashville, Ga., builder’s largest boat. “We wanted to bring the Chaparral style to yachting,” says Chaparral president James A. Lane Jr. “Chaparral’s expansion into bigger boats is a natural progression, given our history and engineering capabilities.”

Chaparral designed the Premiere to deliver a smooth ride without sacrificing cabin space. The design uses two sponsons built into each forward hull side about a foot above the chines. The sponsons widen the hull and provide the extra volume, and since they’re well above the waterline, they are not a detriment to ride quality. (Boats with full forefoots tend to pound in rough seas.) Chaparral calls this its Wide Tech design, which also is utilized in some of its smaller bowriders.

In the cabin, the end of the queen-size berth in the forward stateroom folds down to increase walking space. There’s enough room for separate head and shower areas in the aft corners of the stateroom. The walk-in shower is on the starboard side and the head is on the port side. A flat-screen television and storage drawers are positioned forward of the head, while a cedar-lined hanging locker is forward of the shower.

Stainless-steel appliances and countertops are matched with wood cabinetry in the galley. Across from the galley on the starboard side is a C-shaped dinette. In addition to a full-size double berth, the midcabin area is equipped with a vanity with sink, a separate walk-in shower and a hanging locker.

Two bucket-style seats are positioned at the helm, as well as a two-person settee that can be used as an aft-facing lounge. The large windshield and side windows allow for excellent visibility. An optional electrically actuated sunroof in the hardtop provides ventilation.

The wet bar between the bridge deck and cockpit includes a stainless-steel sink, pull-out faucet, icemaker and stereo. An L-shaped lounge dominates the cockpit, where an aft-facing settee at the stern folds down and morphs into a sun lounge. Owners have the option of a hydraulic swim platform that can be lowered below the waterline, so you don’t have to move a muscle to get wet.

The foredeck is accessed via side decks, rather than a centerline walkthrough. The sunpad can be propped up to form two settees here. The bow rail is built with a midrail for extra strength.

The 400 Premiere is the first Chaparral equipped with pod drives. The boat can be ordered with twin Volvo Penta IPS500s or IPS600s. With the latter, it cruises at 32 mph and gets about 1 mpg. Top speed is 42 mph.

Sabre 42 Express

The 42 is one of four express boats from Sabre Yachts. The South Casco builder also offers 34-, 38- and 52-foot express models.

Express cruisers are evolving into smoother riding, more nimble, better laid out boats, like this Sabre 42 Express with Cummins MerCruiser Diesel's Zeus pod drive system.

In 2001, Sabre designed the 42 Express as a traditional inboard vessel, but last year it began installing Cummins MerCruiser Diesel’s Zeus pod setup. At press time, the builder was putting the finishing touches on its 10th 42 with Zeus power. (Sabre has sold 68 with conventional diesels.)

Sabre worked with CMD naval architect Cotty Fay to determine how the Zeus components — 425-hp diesels, transmission and twin pod drives — should be installed in the 42 Express, according to Collins, the vice president of marketing and sales. What they came up with was a hull insert that provides the flat surface necessary for the installation, he says.

“The impact of Zeus can be seen in four areas,” says Collins, “better maneuverability, increased interior space, a reduction in engine noise, and improved high-speed fuel efficiency.”

The pod-drive setup helps the boat better execute its mission of serving as a comfortable long-range cruiser for a couple and two guests for extended cruising, he says. The boat performs equally well with the lower-horsepower Zeus package (425-hp engines) or twin 540-hp setup, says Collins.

Guests can sit in the L-shaped settee that begins on the port side of the bridge deck and extends inboard, or in one of the aft-facing settees in the cockpit. The captain and companion sit in Stidd pedestal seats. After dropping the hook, they can rotate the seats and face their guests. Large forward and side windshields provide excellent visibility. Sabre uses varnished cherry window frames, and the underside of the hardtop is also accented with cherry.

Side decks lead forward to the classic-looking trunk cabin and the anchor locker, with its standard windlass and ground tackle. The bow rail begins at the step up to each side deck, so you’ll always have something to grab on passages to and from the bow.

The varnished cherry interior and teak-and-holly sole give the cabin a warm, comfortable feel. Sabre has placed the two staterooms at opposite ends of the cabin, which maximizes privacy. The master stateroom is forward, while the guest stateroom is in the aft starboard corner, across from the galley. (The Zeus engine package requires less installation space, which allowed the builder to increase the guest cabin berth from 45 by 76 inches to 60 by 80 inches.) A single head with separate shower stall and vanity can be accessed via the forward stateroom or saloon.

Price is $679,500 with twin 425-hp Zeus pod drives.

Cruisers 470 Sports Coupe

You could say the 470 Sports Coupe from Cruisers Yachts belongs to a subset of the express cruiser design. Essentially, the express cruiser and sports coupe serve the same purpose: delivering crew and guests to their destination in fast, comfortable fashion. Upon arrival, they can enjoy all the creature comforts of home.

The hardtop/windshield design separates the two types. The coupe’s windshield, side windows and hardtop are one integral unit, with the window framing joining the hardtop on three sides. The conventional express cruiser’s hardtop and windshield are separate units, connected with the aforementioned see-through canvas and plastic panels. With these panels removed, everyone enjoys the sea breeze.

“We’ve evolved and eliminated the canvas,” says Tony Martens, director of product development and engineering for Oconto, Wis.-based Cruisers. “The canvas has always been a sore spot for boaters. Now they don’t have to fight with it, and we have the opportunity to climate-control the area.”

The coupe brings a more modern look to the genre, with its aerodynamic shape. It relies on an opening in the hardtop — or a retracting hardtop — for natural ventilation.

The first 470 Sports Coupe is scheduled for completion this summer and likely will be on display for the first time at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in the fall. The boat will be offered only with Volvo Penta IPS pod drives. This engine package has allowed the builder to increase the size of the master stateroom, which is under the helm deck. Three hull windows on each side welcome in natural light. And this stateroom will have 6 feet, 6 inches of headroom. A head and separate shower and a vanity with sink are on the port side, while a queen-size island berth is to starboard. You’ll feel even more at home with the optional washer/dryer combo unit and a 26-inch LCD flat screen TV/DVD player.

Moving forward, the port-side galley includes all the essentials and more – a microwave/convection oven, electric stove, large refrigerator/freezer, double sink and a lighted liquor cabinet. A dishwasher, wine captain and trash compactor can also be ordered as options.

The forward stateroom also has an island berth. The head and vanity with sink is to starboard and the shower to port. The head can be accessed via the saloon.

Like the Chaparral, the Cruisers has an aft-facing seat just forward of the swim platform that folds down into a sun lounge. Access the cockpit via steps to starboard. The immense cockpit settee wraps around the port side of the cockpit and extends across the stern. Two tables can be mounted here for dining. To starboard, a wet bar with solid surface, refrigerator, sink and faucet, along with plenty of storage, are standard. An inboard-facing settee extends along the helm deck’s port side. The helm comes with a single pedestal seat or twin seats with flip-up bolsters.

Cruisers will offer the 470 with IPS500s (370-hp diesels), IPS600s (435-hp diesels) or IPS550Gs (375-hp gas). Pricing was unavailable at press time.

See related story: "Express Cruisers Boxes"

This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue.