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Center Consoles - Stretching the limits

Bigger, faster and with more features than ever.

Bigger, faster and with more features than ever, the new center consoles are expanding boating horizons. The $64,000 question is, how big can they get?

On a late-October afternoon at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show last year, Everglades Boats threw a party to celebrate the introduction of its 350cc center console. At any given time about 15 people shared deck space on the new 35-footer, while more party-goers inspected the other assembled center consoles in the Everglades tent and milled around a long table of appetizers.

Two things became apparent standing on board the 350: People weren’t there just for hors d’oeuvres and beer, and, more significantly, there’s a lot of elbow room on this boat.

“As far as I know, this is the largest piece of cold-molded fiberglass ever built,” says Everglades president Stephen Dougherty, referring to the 350’s hull. “We were able to pack a lot of really nice features on the boat.”

“Watch this,” says Brian Floyd, warranty claims manager — and temporary tour guide — for the Edgewater, Fla., builder. With the touch of a button the boat’s casting platform rises to become a table, the forward fishboxes serving as seats. It’s pointed out that there are no flush storage boxes in the foredeck.

“You’re actually standing on top of a berth,” says Floyd.

The boat’s console provides access to the berth, which extends forward beneath the foredeck. It’s just one of the elements that establishes the latest model from Everglades as part of the new generation of large, innovative center consoles. And while the Everglades has some features that separate it from the pack, there is a burgeoning crop of big center consoles — 35 feet and up — that are taking the extra on-board real estate and running with it. In addition to berths, a growing number of these boats are being equipped with interior galleys and include large amounts of storage space while offering the inherent seaworthiness of a longer, heavier boat.

For some, a big center console is the best of both worlds, combining the seakeeping ability of a mid-size vessel with the speed and convenience of a smaller outboard boat. “These boats will do everything from a performance standpoint that a yacht will do,” says Peter Truslow, president of EdgeWater Boats in Edgewater, Fla. “[Boaters] want to go farther offshore and faster, and do more in a day than they could before.”

Truslow expects the new EdgeWater 38 CC, due out early this year, to draw owners of larger yachts looking for a dayboat alternative, as well as boaters moving up from smaller center consoles. EdgeWater also has a new 268 CC. It wasn’t too long ago that a 26-footer was a pretty big center console.

Todd Albrecht, vice president of sales for Jupiter Marine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says the majority of Jupiter 38 buyers come from larger sportfishermen, something like a Viking or Hatteras in the 60-foot range. Of those, half are stepping down and half want to use the center console in addition to the convertible. The 38-footer obviously requires less maintenance and prep than the larger sportfisherman, and it typically can handle rougher conditions than a smaller center console.

Perhaps an owner has a four-day window and wants to head to the Bahamas. “They don’t want to wait for calm weather,” says Albrecht. “It gets to the point where a 30-foot boat can’t get you there in certain sea conditions.”

While the hull of a big center console is responsible for its ride, the added size also opens things up on deck. “Bigger is always an easier design,” says Lou Codega, a Smithfield, Va., naval architect whose designs include the Regulator 26 and 32 center consoles. “People don’t get bigger and fish don’t get bigger, so it lets you put a lot of fishing features in them.”

The center console’s open layout has always provided ample passenger space, and as the boats grow, that space, of course, increases exponentially. “They’re great fishing boats in the sense that there’s a lot of room for a crowd to fish,” says Codega. “It’s a relatively inexpensive way to get out pretty far. For a pretty hardcore guy that isn’t concerned with the amenities of an express or walkaround, it’ll get you a long way from shore at a good rate of speed — and now I’m not going to say they’re cheap — at a relatively affordable price.”

Horses and hulls

Center consoles are primarily outboard-powered boats, and we seem to have arrived in a new golden age for outboards. No longer vibrating on the transom, belching and coughing blue smoke, today’s outboards have gained a reputation for quieter operation, reliability and performance.

“With the new 4-stroke engines you can get incredible performance with reasonable fuel efficiency,” says EdgeWater’s Truslow.

The improved fuel efficiency and dependability of this latest generation of outboards, combined with the sizable fuel tanks installed in 30-plus-foot center consoles, are bringing long-range adventures within reach. “The center console fishing market is going to larger center consoles because of the desire to go farther offshore to catch bigger fish,” says Dean Burnett, vice president and general manager of Century Boat Company in Panama City, Fla., in an e-mail to Soundings. “These big centers have gas tanks that start in the 300-gallon range, and this gives serious offshore anglers the ability to get offshore and stay there until the job gets done.”

“People are just doing more on their boats, whether it’s running to the Bahamas or going fishing way offshore,” says Truslow. He says Floridians are venturing to the other side of the Gulf Stream to fish, and Northeast boaters are taking big center consoles to the canyons 100 miles offshore.

At this point, engine manufacturers haven’t met boaters’ demands for horsepower, even if the relatively fuel efficient models are in part responsible for the flood of big new boats. “The big outboards are pushing the outboard market up into bigger boats,” says John Deknatel, president and co-founder of Boston-based design firm C. Raymond Hunt Associates. “The 300- and 400-hp outboards are coming, and [boat] companies are designing for that.”

Suzuki has a 300-hp 4-stroke outboard, Yamaha has a 300-hp HPDI 2-stroke, Mercury’s 4-stroke Verados are available up to 275 hp at this time, and Mercury Racing offers a 300-hp high-performance OptiMax outboard suitable for center consoles. In the not-so-distant future, however, you might see a pair of 350s on some transoms rather than triple 250s. “You don’t see any kind of letdown in the speed/horsepower race,” says Deknatel.

By the time you read this, in fact, there might be big news in the outboard world. Prior to the Miami International Boat Show in February, the industry was abuzz with speculation over what would be unveiled this year — specifically, how big will the new 4-strokes be? A significant introduction or two could raise the bar for big center consoles even higher.

“Frankly, we don’t know where the appetite for large center consoles ends,” says Paul Perry, vice president of sales and marketing for Pursuit Boats of Fort Pierce, Fla. “You’re going to see outboards challenging inboards right up to 40 feet.”

Florida’s Intrepid Powerboats builds arguably one of the most exotic outboard boats on the market, a 47-foot sport yacht powered by quadruple 275-hp Mercury Verado supercharged 4-strokes.

“Seeing a quadruple-engine center console is not a rarity now in the Bahamas or Florida,” says Perry.

However, he says that with three engines on a 30-plus-foot boat, there’s little to improve on. “In fact, twins work really well,” he says. “You start putting triple engines on the back of a boat and running 60 mph, you want to make sure it’s a strong boat with a stiff transom.” Most builders, he says, are up to the challenge.

There is reason to exercise caution when supersizing a center console, though. “It gets to a point where it gets so large and requires so many engines, that you need more fuel, and the increased fuel capacity adds weight until you might need another engine,” says Jupiter’s Albrecht.

Most of the boatbuilders we talked to agree that outboards are the only thing limiting center consoles from growing even larger. “From the boat standpoint, there’s really no limit, just what people’s imaginations are,” says Codega. He says weight distribution makes it difficult to put multiple inboards or sterndrives in a center console. It is especially difficult to keep a flush deck.

“It’s a design problem,” says Deknatel. “Where do you put the engines?”

The next question is how big a boat can be built with, say, twin 350-hp outboards that will still run faster than 50 mph. The answer, according to Deknatel, lies with lighter, stronger materials.

EdgeWater, for example, uses a construction process called Single Piece Infusion to make a lighter, stiffer boat. “We have a 31-foot boat that runs in the high 50s with twins and cruises effortlessly at 40 mph,” says Truslow. “That wasn’t really available five years ago.”

With SPI, vinylester resin is vacuum-infused into the boat’s grid structure and hull laminate at the same time. The result is a strength-to-weight ratio that makes a 38-foot center console feasible, says Truslow.

“We wouldn’t have gone into this 38 market without SPI,” he says. “If you just build a boat conventionally, it’s not worth it.” He says twin outboards will be enough to power the 38, though it will be available with triples.

“We think 38 feet is the magic size because you can power it with either two or three engines and get that great performance into the 60s of speed,” says Truslow.

Innovative, creative designs

Traditionally, the open area forward of the console was walkaround space. With a big center console boat there might be 15 feet forward of the console. “To carry that kind of horsepower it has to be long,” says Pursuit’s Perry. “So is it usable space? I don’t think they care; they want the performance.”

Yet boatbuilders are finding ways to use that space. A lot of big center consoles include a forward cuddy in lieu of a traditional open design, blurring the line between typical boat classifications. Others are trying to work with the traditional center console layout and look while adding hidden amenities.

“More manufacturers are becoming ingenious with what they put under the deck,” says Perry.

“It still has the go-fast sex appeal of a center console machine, with all the amenities tucked away,” Hunt’s Deknatel notes. “They have better head access than a cuddy boat already.”

Stamas Yacht of Tarpon Springs, Fla., has introduced its new take on the center console with the 340 Tarpon Center Console Cabin. “It’s a huge center console with a surprise underneath,” says George Stamas, director of advertising and personnel. “It just looks like a center console on steroids, but the outside appearance belies the useful space down below.”

What lies below is a cabin complete with a galley, head and berth. “It’s just the evolution of things,” says Stamas. “We just keep moving up to satisfy those who can’t get enough center console. The size of this thing really makes sense when you pick up the utility of a cabin down below.”

Although the 340 can be equipped with inboards, the outboard configuration creates a large cockpit storage area abaft the leaning post. The lazarette space measures about 147 cubic feet and can be fitted with a storage box or freezer box, arranged to store diving equipment or customized with a number of options.

At 36 feet, 2 inches overall and with a beam of 12 feet, 6 inches, the 340 Tarpon CCC can handle a crowd. “There’s just so much room for a fishing party,” says Stamas. “You can just line up people all around the edge — forward, amidships and aft — and people have plenty of elbow room. It’s like having your own private head boat. … Undisturbed acreage, I call it. It’s just a beast.”

The philosophy at Everglades Boats is to build boats the way customers want them, and customers apparently want them loaded with standard equipment and creative solutions.

“We design the very best boat we know how to build, without any regard to what the price is going to be, then when we’re done the price is the price,” says company president Dougherty. He says they were able to include many features in the 350cc because they didn’t think about its price until it was finished. “It gives us a lot more freedom,” he says.

The list of equipment on the Everglades 35-footer includes a refrigerated bait well, freezer and tuna tubs; a flip-down fighting chair on the bait station, which also serves as the first step in a ladder to a crow’s nest atop the T-top; three plush, bucket-style forward console seats; and the previously mentioned berth in the console and actuated bow table. The company also is tooling up a 35-foot center console cuddy, and Dougherty promises a lot of features on that one, too.

Bigger and bigger

Yellowfin Yachts has a hull in the mold at its Sarasota, Fla., plant that should make a sizable splash this year. At press time the company planned to introduce the Yellowfin 42 at the Miami International Boat Show.

Is 42 feet of outboard-powered center console fishing boat the biggest yet? Company owner Wylie Nagler believes it is, at least as far as production boats go. “I have seen some one-off stuff to 45 feet, cuddies, but ours will be the biggest to date in a true center console layout that I know of,” he says. “We are seeing a lot of people downsizing from big sportfish to center consoles, and they still want some big-boat features. It’s just a pure fishing machine. For the light tackle guy, you won’t be able to beat the speed and fuel economy.”

The Yellowfin 42 has a 12-foot beam, carries 600 gallons of fuel and will be powered by either triple or quadruple outboards. “We are not trying to reinvent anything,” says Nagler. “It is very similar in design to our other boats but will have a really nice cabin inside.”

While the latest Pro-Line center console is no 42-footer, the Crystal River, Fla., builder’s new Grand Sport class is relatively big compared to the Pro-Lines that have come before it. The builder already had a 29-foot center console in its line — the builder’s biggest — but the recently introduced 29 Grand Sport is a bit longer, deeper and beamier than previous models.

“The big-boat feeling you get in this thing is amazing,” says Pro-Line president Johnny Walker. “This is a bigger, beefier boat [than the Pro-Line 29 Super Sport]. When you want to go to the Bahamas and put some serious miles on it, this is the boat you want.”

The 29 Grand Sport rides the same hull as Pro-Line’s 29 Express, introduced last year. The company, which builds express models to 35 feet, will continue to offer its Super Sport and Sport center consoles.

The Albury Brothers 27 also might not be the biggest boat on the market, but it’s the Bahamian builder’s largest boat yet. The 27 joins a 20 and 23 already in the line. Willard Albury founded the Abaco-based company in 1952 and is still at it today; the new 27 is his most recent creation. Albury and his sons formed a partnership a couple years ago with Jeff Lichterman, who heads up the family-run company’s U.S. boatbuilding operation in Riviera Beach, Fla.

We’ve included a roundup of new center consoles from 20 to 35 feet here, as well as a look at some venerable builders who are entering and re-entering the fray.