Express Yourself

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Traditionally, the term “express cruiser” has been applied to a boat with a cabin and windshield, with a soft canvas top providing protection and plastic filler curtains closing the gap between the Bimini and the windshield.

Read the other story in this package: Express Cruiser Specs

“Express” implies a certain level of sporty performance, and “cruiser” denotes some degree of liveaboard capability — if only for a short duration. There’s also the “express sportfisherman” that has a similar layout forward, but the cockpit deck is usually lower to the water and designed for fishing instead of just cruising.

Express cruisers are typically powered by sterndrives, or either V-drive or inline inboards. The sterndrive and V-drive configurations place the engines aft and open up more room for accommodations below the bridge deck. An inline, or straight-shaft, inboard has its engine room below the bridge deck, and this would be the typical express sportfish layout, since it allows a cockpit to be low to the water for improved fish handling. And, of course, with pod power from Volvo Penta (IPS) and Cummins MerCruiser Diesel (Zeus), there are new possibilities for larger cruisers and sportfishermen, as we’ll see.

Lately the term express cruiser has morphed to include a wider range of designs and styles, and the eight boats we’ll have a look at here — with a variety of missions and functions — illustrate just how widely it’s being applied. The outboard-powered sportfishing boats from Southport, Regulator and Everglades all represent the upper strata of the market. They are very well-built boats that are well-suited to fishing and, with their comfortable accommodations, are able to range farther offshore or even stay out for an overnighter on the fishing grounds or a long weekend’s cruising.

Even if you don’t fish a lot, these boats are worth your consideration if you want an offshore cruiser. That’s because with their deeper deadrise, high chines forward and fine entry, they are capable of running faster and more comfortably in rough water than most family express cruisers from the major builders.

It’s also interesting that these three models have come to market so close together. There’s obviously been a demand for these boats to supplement the hard-core center consoles these builders all specialize in — open boats that offer few creature comforts. Apparently even die-hard anglers are now looking to stay dry and warm, with a place to take a nap and warm up a can of beans (or a little surf and turf, with their fancy galleys). Frank Longino, a managing partner at Southport Boat Works, says what’s made these big, fast outboard express boats possible is the advent of high-horsepower 4-strokes. These engines make possible the improved speed and economy needed for long offshore runs.

The Riviera 48 comes to us from well-known Australian builder Riviera Yachts. In fact, Riviera is the largest boatbuilder Down Under and a growing presence in the United States, which is good news for people who are looking for something a little different and, in some cases, a little better (in my humble view). Its express model can stand on its own merits, of course, but the builder’s convertibles are superb offshore machines that offer not only great seakeeping but also things like windshields — so you have lots of light and can see where you’re going below — and molded stairs to the bridge, which are a lot more civilized and safer than a ladder.

It seems that unless we’re prodded by new ideas we fall into a rut, which is what I see among a few (but not all) U.S. boatbuilders these days. Along with the increased U.S. presence and bigger product range presumably comes a bigger, better sales and service network.

Monterey is the lone family express cruiser representing the big American production builders, and a couple things make it unique. It’s Monterey’s new flagship, and the builder has invested a lot of thought and sweat in it. Also, it’s powered by Volvo’s IPS, the builder’s first boat with this propulsion, which makes the accommodations a lot bigger and the boat a lot more efficient to own and operate — to say nothing of taking all the “fun” out of boat handling. (A 12-year-old could drive it after 45 minutes of instruction probably a lot better than I, who grew up in 60-foot, single-engine draggers and wooden lobster boats and such.)

The Tiara 3000 is included for some pretty obvious (to me, anyway) reasons. Tiara has long been building its Open series of express cruising/fishing boats, and this model is a good representative for the line. Among S2 Yachts’ brands, Pursuit makes the fishing boats that cruise, Tiara the cruising boats that fish. The 3000 Open does both well. The cabin isn’t quite as big as that of, say, a 30-foot Chaparral, but it’s a comfortable cruiser and a capable fishing boat. It also has an offshore hull design that lets it roam and run in big waves without beating you silly.

Tiara has been incrementally improving its models — for instance, you don’t have to fool around with filler canvas anymore on this boat. That brings up the point that it’s hard to categorize many boats these days with much rigor. The original Tiara Open models were definitely express-style boats — open boats with windshields and canvas tops with side curtains, then hardtops with side curtains. Now they’re more what used to be called a sedan, with the windshield joined to and partially supporting the hardtop. But “sedan” lacks the sizzle of “hardtop express,” and that’s what the emerging marketing-driven boating vernacular reflects.

The Cranchi is in the mix because of its unique personality. It’s very much a Euro/Italian boat, and these are designed to appeal foremost to the heart and then maybe, if at all, to the head. The styling appeal will be obvious and immediate for many people (but lost on a few traditionalists on this side of the Pond), but I like that it looks good in its own way, and it’s also practical in many ways. Consider that under the helm is a stand-up master stateroom, for starters. The drawback is that you can’t stand at the wheel without opening the power sunroof, but I can think of a few 50- to 65-foot American yachts that have the same problem, and much worse helm station visibility to boot.

But not being able to stand with the roof closed will be fine with many Cranchi owners. Also appealing to the Cranchi 43 owner’s head (as opposed to heart) will be that it’s another Volvo IPS-powered boat. (There were 29 of them from a wide range of builders at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in October, which should tell you something.)

Last but not least is the Marlow 375 Open Prowler. I’ve known Marlow boats from the Pilothouse Motoryacht line, but now the builder takes basically the same ABS-class engineering and scales it down to a couple 37-foot Evinrude-powered models. I’ve often looked at Marlow’s engineering specs and thought that’s how I’d build a boat; they simply are very well-built and well-thought-through, a lot like a Dettling in that sense.

Express Sportfish

Southport 28 EX

Southport Boat Works, of Leland, N.C., is a relatively new builder with a wide and deep heritage. Executives with long experience in the industry run the company, and the boats are designed and engineered by C. Raymond Hunt Associates, an excellent naval architecture firm. The 28 EX is the builder’s latest offering and its first express model, based on its center console hull of the same length. The builder touts the hull as being designed specifically for the largest 4-stroke outboards, which calls for more buoyancy and dynamic lift in the stern for the outboards’ weight.

The 28 EX will be ideal for the hard-core angler who wants to be able to spend the night on board or bring the family along on a cruise. It’s also a good boat for the cruising family that wants an offshore boat that can keep moving along when the wind starts blowing. This boat will walk away from the average family-oriented express cruiser in a stiff open-ocean breeze.

The Southport 28 is well-equipped for serious fishing, and the helm station to starboard is ergonomically laid out. Down below is an enclosed head with VacuFlush marine head, a well-equipped galley, V-berth forward, a second berth below the bridge deck and secure rod storage. Air conditioning, a transom seat in the cockpit and power steering are a few of the options available. Fit and finish is impressive throughout.

Southport goes into a lot more detail about construction methods and materials on its Web site than most boatbuilders, a clue that it’s engineering driven (a good thing for the owner who cares about substance) and proud of the way the boats are built. I’ll take the engineering-driven builder’s boat any day.

Southport uses hydraulically operated molds that allow them to be positioned for more accurate and consistent part lamination. The solid glass hull skin is supported by a single-piece, female-molded grid. The grid contains all the wiring and plumbing chases and the fuel tank cell, and is bonded in place to the hull with a high-strength adhesive. Polyethylene fuel tanks, like the one used in the 28 EX, will never corrode. The voids between the hull and deck are filled with foam, making every Southport unsinkable. Twin Yamaha outboards to 350 hp each are available.

Regulator 30 Express

Regulator Marine, of Edenton, N.C., has been building high-end center consoles (23 to 32 feet) since 1988, and the company has established a solid reputation for producing high-quality, smooth- and dry-running offshore fishing boats. Regulator for a time even produced a 26-foot express — it was my favorite Regulator at the time, but I’m not a hard-core fisherman — but low demand for this kind of boat dictated dropping the model.

Times have changed, and express fishing boats are all the rage, as you can tell from the number of fish/cruise models here. Regulator’s dealers are obviously asking the builder to come up with a serious fishing boat that customers also can use as a family-oriented weekender, and the 30 Express is the result.

Regulator hulls are designed by the multitalented Lou Codega. They have true deep-vee bottoms (24 degrees of deadrise at the transom, fine entry forward) and aren’t lightweights. This combination of hull form and mass produces a very comfortable ride in rough water, which means you can venture farther offshore and get back in less time when the wind picks up.

The 30 Express is powered by a pair of bracket-mounted Yamaha 350-hp outboards, which gets the engines, noise and fumes — already pretty low — out of the boat, opening up cockpit space. Its solid fiberglass bottom is supported by a one-piece molded grid that presents a flawlessly tooled bilge surface when one of the close-molded hatches is opened. Hull sides and decks are stiffened with Divinycell foam coring.

The 30 Express has a big cockpit, well-equipped and ready to fish, with all the bells and whistles, including a 35-gallon live well. There also is plenty of seating when in cruise mode, including mezzanine seating, like on a big Hatteras or Viking. Forward and up a few steps under the hardtop is the centerline helm. It’s designed for ease of operation, and there’s plenty of room for a pair of 10-inch electronics displays. Power steering is standard — as it should be, with 700 horses to keep in control — and a 5-kW gas genset is optional.

Below, the cabin has an enclosed head, fully equipped galley with Corian counters, a convertible dinette/berth, and an aft cabin with room for two to sleep comfortably. This boat is well worth considering, either as an extended-range sportfishing platform or rough-water family cruiser.

Everglades 350 LX

Like Regulator and Southport, Everglades is a specialist in upscale outboard sportfishing boats, with its own story to tell. Everglades was founded by Bob Dougherty, famously the chief designer and engineer at Boston Whaler for 30 years. Dougherty decided that, yes, there was a way to build a better mousetrap and eventually set out on his own to do just that, starting with Edgewater Boats and then Everglades.

Dougherty builds all Everglades boats to resist IEDs — or at least very big waves at high hull speeds. His process is known as RAMCAP, which involves fusing the hull, deck/liner and structural foam core under high pressure. The technique produces a very strong, rigid and unsinkable structure. The hull has an aggressive deep-vee running surface with high chines and fine sections forward; this should be a great running boat in a blow.

Topside, the 350 LX’s big cockpit has all the fishing essentials, including an oversized fishbox across the transom, three removable insulated coolers, storage for 10 rods and a pair of fold-out cockpit seats. There are U-shaped seats up on the bridge deck, along with an intelligently arranged helm. The hardtop does double duty as a deck for the half tower, which is well proportioned for this 35-footer.

Everglades has always impressed me with innovations like adjustable center console windshields, and the details impress more the closer you look. This company is obviously run by engineers. In fact — and I mean this in the most positive sense — it’s hard to come away after spending a few hours poking around one of these boats without the feeling that they’re built not so much to sell, but so some mad genius in a back room in Edgewater has a place to put all the gizmos (folding seat mechanisms, power beds, retractable windshields) that no one has ever quite figured out what to do with.

The 350 LX gives most of its LOA to the cockpit, but it still has a cabin that sleeps four comfortably and six in a pinch with a whiz-bang electric table. There also are granite countertops, a stand-up head with shower, fully equipped galley and air conditioning in the cabin and topside at the helm.

Riviera 48 Open Express

The latest model in Riviera’s lineup, the 48 Offshore Express, is the first open sportfisherman offered by the builder. Designed to go head-to-head with the likes of Viking, Rampage and Cabo, this ruggedly engineered boat is a strong contender with a lot to offer. Both hardtop and open Bimini top versions are available, as are tower options. The cockpit is well-equipped for tournament fishing, including a tall live well integral to the transom, and a hydraulic swim platform will be a handy option if a small tender is carried.

The center helm is raised for an excellent view through the fiberglass-framed, well-vented windshield, which is intelligently designed to minimize obstructions to visibility. Long pantograph wiper blades (not the cheap automotive 24-inchers you see on some boats) keep much of the glass clear, aided in a saltwater environment by freshwater washes. The great thing about the substantially raised bridge deck is the improved visibility that results, as well as the additional headroom in the roomy, well-lit, carefully engineered engine room below. And like any open design, the helm’s proximity to the cockpit — a few feet aft and down a couple of steps — is a big advantage when fishing short-handed.

Creature comforts are addressed comprehensively in the attractively finished, two-stateroom, two-head cabin. Amenities include an L-shaped lounge (with Pullman bed above) that’s covered in genuine leather, a 32-inch television, plenty of secure rod storage, liquor cabinet, two undercounter drawer fridge-freezer units, VacuFlush marine heads, and beautifully crafted cherry woodwork throughout. This boat will turn you into a real softy.

The Riviera 48 should also be a very good offshore performer, based on a proven oceangoing Frank Mulder hull form taken from the builder’s 47 convertible. Propeller pockets reduce draft and shaft angles for improved efficiency and shoal-water capability. Underwater exhausts, not often seen on this class of boat, reduce topside noise and fume levels considerably when fishing. Cummins QSM11 660-hp inboard diesels are standard, and MTUs and Caterpillars to 825 hp are available as options. Fuel capacity with an optional auxiliary tank is nearly 1,200 gallons, extending range and time on-station. Volvo interceptor plates help dial in trim for best efficiency or ride quality by adding lift at the stern. Judging from the builder’s display at the Fort Lauderdale show, Riviera is intent on substantially expanding its presence in this market.

American Express Cruisers

Monterey 400 SY

Monterey Boat Company, of Williston, Fla., produces a variety of bowriders, cuddies, deckboats and express cruisers. The 400 SY is the new flagship, and the boat seems to me to be the product of much thought and experience in this market. It’s also the first Monterey to be powered with Volvo IPS 500 pod power, around which the boat was designed. IPS provides benefits for the builder — it’s easier and quicker to install, for instance — but it’s also great for the owner. The compact dimensions open up a lot of extra living space below.

Monterey has taken full advantage of those compact dimensions, creating the accommodations of a 45-footer in a 40-footer. Below are two suites — private staterooms with heads — finished in finely crafted cherry woodwork. A convertible sleeper lounge is provided in the saloon, finished in attractive cherry with an easy-to-maintain faux teak-and-holly sole.

Aft is a big swim platform with two pairs of stern cleats for improved mooring versatility, a sunpad with fore- or aft-facing backrest and a tall railing aft for added safety, lots of cockpit seating, an entertainment center with fiddle rails (a thoughtful detail), grill, sink and refrigerator, a clever fold-out table to port, and excellent access to the engine room through a hinged, hydraulically powered deck. A free-standing, arch-supported hardtop provides sun and rain protection, with canvas-and-plastic filler curtains sealing up the bridge deck in inclement weather.

The boat has wide side decks, a wraparound bow rail and a sunpad atop the foredeck. At the helm is room for flush-mounted electronics and a comfortably positioned wheel, engine controls and IPS joystick. A dark dash treatment minimizes glare off the low windshield, improving visibility. The Monterey has a modified vee bottom with 17 degrees of transom deadrise, and it’s built using a vinylester resin skin coat to protect against osmotic blistering.

Tiara 3000 Open

Tiara Yachts, of Holland, Mich., builds a range of cruising and cruise/fish yachts from 29 to 58 feet. The Sovran series are pure cruisers, while the Open models are designed and equipped to do both quite capably. The 3000 is the newest model in the Open series, and like its 29- to 42-foot stable mates, it delivers a well-proportioned blend of cruising and fishing capability.

A full-featured fishing cockpit is aft, and it converts from fish to cruise orientation with an optional folding transom seat. In a nod to long-term ownership, the cockpit deck sections are removable for access to the fuel tank and bilges, a detail many builders leave out. Molded steps lead to the wide, flat side decks, and all hatches and doors are smooth on both sides, built using closed-mold infusion processes.

Forward on the raised bridge deck is the helm, with a two-person seat and a raised L-shaped lounge opposite to port. A two-piece windshield with large glass sections and narrow mullions provides good horizon visibility all around. The windshield extends all the way to the hardtop, so there are no filler curtains to contend with — a big plus — and there’s still plenty of ventilation through opening vents. This is boating as it should be.

Below the bridge deck is the engine room, accessed either through a day hatch or by pushing a button to raise the whole affair on hinges. Inside we find Tiara’s typical engineering and attention to detail. The 3000 Open comes with gas inboard power standard, and it’s available with diesels for improved range, economy and cruise speed.

The big cabin has an enclosed head with standard VacuFlush marine head immediately to port, a nicely equipped galley opposite and, in a unique arrangement, an oversized U-shaped athwartship-oriented lounge with dining table that converts to a large berth using cushion inserts. This creates a saloon that’s family friendly and practical. Just forward of the lounge is a raised berth in the bow, and there’s lots of storage space in case you want to spend a few days on the water.

Strongly built, the 3000 Open’s hull, bulkheads and stringers are balsa cored for stiffness at moderate weight; the balsa also adds acoustic and thermal insulation. The hull-to-deck joint is bonded with death-grip adhesive for a high-strength, waterproof seal. Tiara has built a name for practicality of design, operation and long-term ownership, and well-proven construction materials are part of the reason.

European Express Cruisers

Cranchi Mediterranee 43HT

There’s no mistaking the Italian heritage of the Cranchi 43 Hardtop — all those curves and sweeps and the optional passerelle in the stern for Med mooring stern-to. But it’s good to see that some of those curves are at the service of practicality, as well. For example, this all-weather hardtop model is a follow-up to the original open layout, and the big side windows and windshield expanse provide an excellent view outside the boat from the raised centerline helm.

At the same time, the curved glass helps to soften the height of the hardtop. That raised helm also provides a good view ahead as the boat comes up on plane, an important consideration in any single-station yacht. A power sunroof above gives the feeling of being outside rather than in a pilothouse, and when open it lets you stand at the wheel to drive.

Back aft is a large, optional TNT hydraulic teak-covered swim platform, practical and good looking, with port and starboard entrances leading to the comfortable lounge seating in the cockpit. This shapely yet utilitarian design philosophy continues with molded steps, wide side decks and tall, stiff bow rails. The futuristic helm also works quite well ergonomically, with panels and controls angled comfortably toward the skipper. Just slide back the sunroof if you want to stand up and drive. Hull construction is solid fiberglass supported by molded grids bonded in place, and a deep-vee hull design delivers a smooth, dry ride in a chop.

One of the remarkable things about the Cranchi’s finely crafted accommodations is their sheer volume. This well-proportioned 43-footer has a private suite — stateroom and private head — aft in the cabin below the bridge deck, effectively making it a two-deck yacht. In the bow is a second private stateroom and head with three hanging lockers; either stateroom could be the master.

The saloon has an L-shaped lounge to port, and the galley, set at an angle to keep things aesthetically interesting (and to make room for the forward head), is opposite. The boat’s power — Volvo IPS — is what makes all that interior room possible, and it delivers good range and economy. Situated below the aft cockpit, a pair of 375-hp IPS 500s are standard, and 430-hp IPS 600s are optional. All systems are designed for ease of access and maintenance. Fabrics and joinery fit-and-finish are top drawer throughout.

Hybrid Express

Marlow Prowler Open 375C Outboard

Marlow is probably best known for building large, high-end, fastidiously engineered and constructed pilothouse motoryachts from 53 to 78 feet. Starting in 2005, however, Marlow also has been producing a couple of express models, including a twin- or triple-Evinrude ETEC outboard express called the Prowler 375 Classic. (A diesel version is also available.) This boat is genuinely remarkable for a couple reasons: One has to do with construction, the other is the layout.

The Prowler has a large cockpit with integral engine well. Forward is the centerline helm station, with helm and companion seats, protected by a free-standing, arch-supported hardtop. Forward of the helm console, and just abaft the enclosed cabin, is an L-shaped lounge. A cabin is forward, with a big U-shaped dinette that converts to a berth, a galley to port and an enclosed head and hanging locker opposite. The Marlow has a warped-vee bottom with a sharp, deep entry transitioning to a low-deadrise (3 degrees) bottom aft.

Built in mainland China at the Norseman Shipyard, the ABS-certified Prowler is built using resin infusion in a closed-molding process, producing an ideal resin-to-glass ratio and a structure that is 100-percent primary bonded. Epoxy resin is used throughout the laminate. This process combines the ideal lamination process with ideal resin. Core-Cell foam used in the hull skin and bulkheads produces a stiff, lightweight structure, and carbon fiber and Kevlar are used for added stiffness and impact-resistance. A one-piece fiberglass grid reinforces the hull. The fuel tank is made of vinylester/fiberglass, and the bilges are mirror smooth and finished with Awlgrip polyurethane paint. It doesn’t get any better than this structurally.