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Big open boats take center stage

Welcome to the era of the outboard-powered dayboat. Although that may not be breaking news, the two new 40-plus-foot quad-outboard boats (yes, that means four 300- or 350-hp 4-strokes) introduced at the recent Fort Lauderdale show are signs of where things are headed. And there are more to come.

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This new generation of open boat appeals to folks who are stepping down from larger boats, strapped for time or looking for a big all-purpose craft with good performance — maybe all three.

Cruising is not going away, but in a world where time is becoming the new currency, there is a market for boats that get you out and back quickly. And, increasingly, people want to do it in style and with more comforts.

The great versatility of the center console has long been one of its strengths. You can fish it at sunrise with the boys and take the family to the sandbar in the afternoon. Tube, dive, soak up some sun or put the throttles down and run to a waterfront bistro. They’re at home in shallow water, and the larger ones certainly hold their own offshore.

Not to be overlooked are the significant advances in outboard reliability, durability and horsepower, which is a big driver of the current trend. And even larger outboards are on the way. Count on it.

The latest class of large center consoles is raising the luxury and technology bar for the open boats that will follow. Leading-edge builders are creating a new category with ingenious layouts and seating, impressive electronics displays, digital switching, slow-speed maneuvering systems, inventive use of space beneath the consoles, side and transom doors, flat-out performance and more.

Two new boats that racked up a lot of gawking time in Fort Lauderdale were the Boston Whaler 420 Outrage and the Everglades 435cc. The Outrage is powered by four 300-hp Mercury Verados, giving it an estimated top speed of 52 to 54 mph and a cruising speed in the mid-30s.

Boston Whaler president Huw Bower called it the “largest, most complex, most innovative Boston Whaler ever built.” The big center console will be the first Whaler with “dynamic running surface” technology, which automatically adjusts the trim tabs for increased control, performance and efficiency. Cool boat.

The new 43-foot flagship from Everglades is powered by four 350-hp Yamahas, which translates to a top end of nearly 60 mph and a cruising speed of about 38 mph. “If you left Fort Lauderdale, you could be in the Bahamas in two hours,” says Bryan Harris, vice president of sales and marketing for the builder.

The open boat with the most ponies at the boat show was Intrepid’s new 475 Panacea, which had four Seven Marine 557-hp outboards hanging off its tail. With that power, the boat has a top speed of 73 mph and a cruising speed of about 60. The more common setup is quad Yamaha 350s, which will push the Intrepid to about 63 mph.

“It is indeed a panacea — a solve-all boat,” says Intrepid president Ken Clinton. “It’s a boat you can fish on, cruise on and entertain on. You have a cabin below with all the amenities. There is no compromise — you have a totally open center console with lots of seating and a cabin.”

There are at least three other builders — Sea Hunter, Hydra-Sports and Yellowfin — producing center consoles larger than 40 feet. More company is coming. Scout Boats intends to launch its new 420 LXF luxury fishing boat at the Miami boat show in February.

A boat that caught my eye in the advanced concept stage at Lauderdale was the Sagitta 45 from Camper & Nicholsons Yachts. It’s a very stylish open boat that rides a C. Raymond Hunt deep-vee hull. The custom day cruiser is available in three configurations: sport cruiser, sport fisherman and sport diving.

Powered by twin Volvo Penta IPS 500s, the Sagitta 45 is the only non-outboard boat in this column’s lineup. The builder calls it a “true chameleon” because it’s designed to be easily transformed for diving, cruising or fishing by reconfiguring movable deck modules. We should see the first one at next year’s Fort Lauderdale show.

Many of us have owned center consoles and other open boats, but this next generation is a whole new kettle of fish. They are fast, sophisticated and capable of doing more and going farther in all kinds of conditions than their earlier, smaller brethren.

They haven’t been your father’s open boat — or, come to think of it, perhaps even yours or mine — for some time. Welcome to the new world.

“I may be hopelessly wrong in my opinion, but I believe that the difference between riding out a storm and scurrying off for a strange harbor in the dead of night is just this: When you’re getting a drubbing off soundings the worst is yet to happen, but when you miss the entrance to a harbor and find yourself in the breakers your cup is full and running over.” — Alfred Loomis

January 2015 issue