Déjà vu. That’s the feeling I got when my husband, Gary, and I jumped aboard the Formula 380 Super Sport Crossover (SSC) Outboard at Keystone Point Marina in Miami. A year earlier, we had come to the same marina to sea-trial a boat that was nearly identical to this one in every way—from bow to transom, that is. Where that 380 SSC culminated in a huge swim platform that hid twin 520-hp Mercury Racing sterndrives underneath, this one carried its brawny propulsion package above the waterline: triple supercharged 450-hp Mercury Racing 450R outboard engines.
As we pulled away from the dock, Vic Spellberg, a longtime Formula captain who had served as the guide for our 380 SSC Sterndrive adventure, was back at the helm. (Déjà vu again.) That day, under the threat of afternoon storms, we’d only had time to make it as far south as Boca Chita Key in the middle of Biscayne Bay. But today, our plan was to run to Key Largo, about 67 nautical miles away, and tie up for lunch at Gilbert’s Resort Tiki Bar. Not only was the weather better, but the added distance we’d need to cover to get to Gilbert’s would not be a problem because, Vic informed us, the 380 SSC Outboard has a significantly higher top end than the sterndrive model. How much faster? We decided to do a performance trial after lunch to find out.
As we headed south along the ICW to Baker’s Haulover Inlet, we passed a handful of small islands ringed by boats at anchor. Most of those boats’ transoms bristled with outboards, which prompted me to wonder why Formula had introduced the new 380 SSC Outboard after the sterndrive version rather than first.
A call to John Adams, longtime designer of Formula boats, cleared this up. When he began design discussions for the new 380 SSC with Thunderbird Products, Formula’s parent company, “We were in the outboard frame of mind,” he said. “But then, we thought about Formula’s loyal customers.” This new model would be the logical next step up for owners of the popular 350 Crossover Bowrider, but that was a sterndrive-only boat until 2017. Thunderbird wasn’t sure that sterndrive owners would go for an outboard model, so that’s why the company had opted to introduce the 380 SCC Sterndrive first. “We felt we owed it to those customers,” Adams said.
Both versions of the boat share Formula’s race-honed high-performance deep-V hull with a 21-degree deadrise aft and two steps. The 380 SSC Outboard’s hull had to be tweaked slightly, however, in order to accommodate all the heavy metal that shifted from the engine compartment to the transom, opening up huge stowage space where the engines formerly were housed. The swim platform was also modified on the 380 SSC Outboard. It has “wings” that extend out on either side of the motors in order to provide a little more surface for launching water toys. Our boat also featured Formula’s new, optional Sport Station, a padded rail with drinkholders just forward of the outboards that makes a pleasant place to stand and enjoy a beverage while taking in the view.
After leaving the inlet, we ran outside in the Atlantic for a few miles in ideal conditions: 1- to 2-foot seas and a light breeze. I was comfortably seated on the three-person helm seat, which has a flip-up bolster and a nicely positioned molded footrest. The sightlines from the starboard driver’s seat were excellent. We kept the massive electric sunroofs open overhead and opened the side vents as well, but we also had the option of air conditioning at the helm.
Running at 24 to 26 knots past the iconic hotels of Miami’s South Beach, I took a decibel reading of 85.7 dB-A, which showed how quiet the Mercury 450R outboards are while underway. They give off more of a “whoosh” than a roar.
We turned west into Biscayne Bay, running past the few houses on pilings in the flats that are all that’s left of Stiltsville after a couple of hurricanes took out the rest. Picking up the speed to 43 knots, it was an easy run, skimming across the calm bay waters the rest of the way to Key Largo.
Just two hours after leaving the dock in North Miami, we pulled up to Gilbert’s, which, with its thatched Tiki roof and guitar player strumming mellow tunes, was the epitome of laid-back. Tied up at Gilbert’s dock, the Formula attracted plenty of attention from patrons and passersby. First of all, docking the boat was a snap, even with triple outboards.
The Mercury 450Rs came with Joystick Piloting, which ties them together for precision control at slow speeds. In fact, the system will turn the outboards in sync or split them two versus one in order to maneuver the boat at the exact angle you’ve indicated using the joystick. Thanks to this technology, gone are the days of cringing while trying to pull a boat into a dock ‘n’ dine with all eyes in the restaurant glued on you.
While we enjoyed Gilbert’s signature Rumrunners, conch fritters and fish tacos, we watched a steady stream of people walk up to the Formula and ogle its many striking features. Designed to be a luxury day boat, it has an easy-to-transit, flush-deck layout. Forward is a large, deep bow. Instead of the typical walk-through windshield to provide access forward, however, the 380 SSC has an actual sliding glass door, which Adams says was trickle-down engineering from the larger Formula 400 SSC. The aft cockpit is served by a port-side refreshment center with a sink, fridge and stowage. It’s ringed by seating, and the aft settee’s backrest flips forward to create a large, rear-facing sunlounge.
What the gawkers on the dock couldn’t see was the console cabin, which though compact, houses a head, TV, microwave, sofa, and a double berth large and comfortable enough to allow the 380 SSC to accommodate passengers for a weekend aboard.
After consuming our last bites of tasty Florida Keys fare, we re-boarded the Formula and “walked” the boat sideways off the dock with the same ease as before.
As soon as we hit open water in Biscayne Bay, we ran the boat through the rpm range in opposite directions to account for any current. With four people on board in calm seas, and the fuel gauge reading 70 percent, we recorded a top speed of 56.9 knots at 6000 rpm. The year before, on the 380 SSC equipped with twin 520-hp Mercury Racing 520 Bravo Three XR sterndrives, we had clocked 43.2 knots at 4200 WOT.
So, while triple outboard power is the more expensive option, if you have a need for speed, the 0utboard version of this Formula could be the boat for you. Even so, whether you are an “outie” or an “innie,” the new Formula 380 SSC is a classy ride that is equally at home on offshore or inshore waters, or looking pretty at the dock in front of your favorite dock ‘n’ dine.
Weight: 21,200 lbs.
Fuel: 300 gals.
Power: (3) 450-hp Mercury Racing V-8 outboards
This article was originally published in the December 2020 issue.