The proposition went something like this – two sleek new Sea Rays, a billiard table-flat Port Phillip Bay and a magnificent late summer Melbourne day. That’s all it took to get us out of the office and onto the water. Honest. You might think us a bit ‘easy’, but with a magazine just sent off to the printer, it seemed the least we could do to accept an invitation from local Sea Ray dealer, BayMarine, to sample two of the latest offerings from its luxury Sundancer line-up.
Greeting us at the Sandringham Yacht Club marina was BayMarine boss, Brian Andrews, together with Sea Ray’s Australian representative, Michael Ross. The sun was already burning a hole through the brilliant blue sky, with the city skyline perfectly reflected on the mirror-like surface of the bay. And just to make the morning complete, parked nearby was a glistening 44 Sundancer from Sea Ray’s Sport Yacht line-up. Keeping it company was a similarly resplendent 290 Sundancer from the Sport Cruiser fleet. Our mission was to peruse both boats, before sampling their behaviour out on the water.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” I thought to myself, only to be proven wrong a little later as we cast off the lines and headed away from land. But first we were given a tour of both craft.
A Brunswick Group subsidiary rated the world’s biggest producer of pleasure craft, USbased Sea Ray packs a lot into its boats and the 290 Sundancer is a good example. The recently redesigned model is built in the classic American cruiser mould, with plenty of space aft for lounging around and relaxing in the open cockpit. Access is provided by a generously proportioned swim platform, with the transom door to starboard. Relaxation is provided in the form of a transom lounge to fit three, with another smaller ‘conversation lounge’ to port, mid-cockpit. A quality folding teak cocktail table fills the gap, making for a great outdoor entertaining area when it’s time to open the wine and bring out the nibblies. To starboard is the wetbar, incorporating a stainless steel sink and fittings, with adequate bench space and storage underneath – including an optional cockpit fridge on our test boat. Quality drink holders are spaced around the cockpit for added convenience and there is plenty of in-laid cushioning where it’s needed. Useful items and playthings can be hidden away under both lounges, as well as in the transom storage locker.
Skippers are more than looked after with a well laid-out helm, offering plenty of space to move about. The Mercury analogue-style gauges are stylish and well-placed and the fully adjustable helm seat affords room for two, albeit a little squeezy. The targa top and optional cockpit canopy/bimini offered good protection, with the quality stainless ball and socket canopy mounts a testament to Sea Ray’s attention to detail.
Forward access is via moulded-in stairs in the middle of the helm bulkhead, hence through a folding window in the windscreen. It’s an easy-touse feature that affords quick and handy access to the bow.
At the pointy end, a windlass (with optional all-chain anchor rig) offers secure and convenient anchoring, while a remote search light makes life easier for night time activities.
Recessed into the portside of the bulkhead is the step-down access to the cabin via a lockable door. And it’s inside the cabin where the build quality and clever design of the 290 is most obvious. For a boat of its size, the 290 offers plenty of cabin headroom – enough for a six-footer to move around comfortably. Directly to port as you enter is a two-seater lounge, while taking pride of place up front is a full-beam double berth that converts easily into a lounge to add seating to the saloon. Natural light filters in via the large cabin hatch over the master berth, with two smaller ceiling hatches aft. Quality cherry wood finish abounds throughout the cabin and there is an abundance of cleverly thought out storage within easy reach. The starboard galley is compact, but very functional, with nice touches like bordering ridges to prevent spillage on the corian working surfaces. It incorporates a single-burner stove, under-bench fridge and overhead microwave, all within easy reach and well-placed to avoid clutter. Directly aft of the galley is the head/shower, with enough room to move about for average-sized crew. Speaking of which, tucked directly under the helm in the aft cabin is a second double berth for crew/guests. It’s an alcove-style berth that still manages to offer enough sit-up space, without seeming too cramped. A Sharp flatscreen TV and DVD player complete the interior. The overall impression of the cabin is of well utilised space, with plenty of thought put into making the most of the available room. Top marks all around.
Beneath the aft lounge lurk 12 cylinders of abundant power in the form of twin 4.3-litre, 220hp MPI Bravo III sterndrives, with access provided by the electrically-operated engine hatch. While twin V8s are also an option, the more compact V6s allow plenty of room to swing a spanner, should the need arise. We’d see how they performed once we’d taken a guided tour of the 290’s formidable stable mate, the 44 Sundancer.
Whereas the 290 impresses with its efficient use of space, the majestic 44 overwhelms with its sheer opulence and luxury appointments. Space, above and below decks, is in abundance and the overall impression is of style with a capital ‘S’. This is an exotic beauty, oozing a level of class and sophistication that would see it looking right at home on the Riviera or exploring the islands of the Caribbean – or the bays and inlets of summertime Melbourne, for that matter.
Stepping aboard the 44 via the vast swimming platform puts you in instant party mode. There is enough space in the aft entertainment area and cockpit to host an episode of Dancing with the Stars and the large storage compartment in the transom would provide ample room for costume changes (or for fender, rope and water toy stowage, for the more practical).
Seating for the entire cast and crew is available courtesy of the large, U-shaped lounge to starboard, while the portside wetbar, complete with fridge and generous stowage, will ensure no one goes thirsty. A removable cocktail table stows under the lounge when occupants are in the mood for a little dancing.
The skipper could spend hours at the helm without becoming bored. The dash is well presented, with all gauges, switches and controls within easy reach. And there’s plenty of room for more gadgetry, such as a radar screen or TV should the urge grab you. The skipper’s chair wouldn’t look out of place on a jumbo jet and is fully adjustable with arm rests. Next door is a companion lounge with seating for two. Forward visibility is excellent, standing or seated, and helps take the work out of keeping things on the straight and narrow. And if things get a little heated behind the screen, it’s just a matter of flicking a switch for the screen vent to allow cooling air to flow into the cockpit – that’s if you don’t want to bother with the boat’s air-conditioning system, which is plumbed for both cockpit and cabin cooling. It’s reverse cycle, too, to cope with those balmier days out on the bay.
One thing I particularly liked about the 44 is the thoughtful placement of hand holds everywhere you’re likely to need them as you move around the cockpit. The same goes for the decking, with the sturdy handrails either side of the hardtop making forward access easy and safe, aided by the three-quarter-length bowrails. And if you are heading forward, you might want to grab the bow cushions for a spot of sun bathing on the deck. Sea Ray isn’t shy about drink holders, either, with no excuses for spilling a drop as they’re placed handily throughout the cockpit.
All surfaces are beautifully finished and edging, where it’s needed, is quality stainless steel.
When you’re all partied out and want to escape the world, Sea Ray has come up with the perfect place to unwind. Below decks is a five-star sanctuary, with nothing left to chance. Access to the cabin and saloon is via the portside doorway and stairs. So you want to get a little shut-eye? You’ve got a choice of the master suite up front, guest stateroom aft or a foldout double in the saloon. The master has its own sliding door, while the guest suite can be sealed off from the saloon by a lockable, bi-fold door. And each is self-contained, with their own heads and showers; in the case of the master suite, they’re separate, with the head on the port side and the shower cubicle to starboard. The aft suite also doubles as a day room, its berth converting into an L-shaped lounge. In between both is a sumptuously appointed saloon and galley/bar that has enough bells and whistles for a symphony orchestra. Every cooking appliance you’re likely to need is either within easy reach, or stowed cunningly out of sight. Quality cherry wood and lush creamy leather are everywhere, with curved corian bench tops flowing around the galley. Features include a flatscreen TV, which folds down from the ceiling, a vast amount of cabinets (all with their own interior lights), plenty of natural lighting flooding the galley workspace and saloon, a sliding cabinet that conceals an elaborate coffee maker and a wine rack for the real necessities of life. The interior finish is pretty much flawless, no matter where your prying eyes may roam, including under seats and inside lockers and cupboards. Basically, if you can’t mellow out and relax down here, you’re simply too far gone to bother.
Powering this palatial craft is a pair of SmartCraft-compatible Cummins MerCruiser QSC 500 diesels. Access is gained via the electrically-operated hatch, which lifts most of the aft cockpit floor to reveal a suitably cavernous engine room.
With Melbourne continuing to do its best impersonation of a sun-soaked marine paradise, we decided to spoil ourselves by pointing both Sea Rays away from land, powering out into a near-deserted Port Phillip Bay.
With the benign conditions entirely unsuited to testing each craft’s sea-keeping abilities, we were left with running each up onto plane and getting some performance figures, while testing handling and steering as much as prevailing conditions would allow.
The 290 Sundancer proved to be an agile performer, and once we’d adjusted the trim tabs it remained level and stable, while turning effortlessly at any speed. Planing was achieved at around 2600rpm at 25km/h, and in the ideal conditions we managed a WOT of 67km/h. There was plenty of power available from the twin V6s and engine noise was moderate, although I’ve been on quieter boats. Overall, though, the 290 is a great package for those wanting a smaller luxury cruiser that is absolutely packed to the gunwales with features that are typically found on much bigger craft.
Speaking of which, the 44 absolutely lapped up the bay, rumbling up onto plane effortlessly and belting out 2700rpm for a WOT of 56km/h – not bad for a close to 12-tonne boat fully loaded. The Mercury controls were a pleasure to use, in particular the gear shift, which was pretty much seamless in operation and feel. An important consideration for close quarters manoeuvring was the provision of a slow idle function, which brings revs down to a sedate 550rpm, making docking a less daunting task in crowded waterways. Handling was gentile for such a big boat, with plenty of real estate needed for sudden course changes, even on perfectly calm waters. Not a criticism mind you; just an observation underlined by having spent some time on the 44’s more nimble stable mate.
Fundamentally, the 44 Sundancer is a spectacularly stylish platform for making the most of quality time away from business and domestic concerns. Its finish and presentation is superb and there’s little risk of running out of room in the entertaining areas. Our optioned-up test boat (including, among other things, the twin Cummins diesels, air-conditioning, bow-thruster, Raymarine electronics and power-steering) came with a price tag of $801,228, which, in my opinion, represents pretty good value for money considering how much pampering the boat bestows on those lucky enough to experience it.
For more information on both boats, contact BayMarine on (03) 9772 1800, or call Mercury Marine on (03) 9791 5822 for the location of your nearest Sea Ray dealer.
Sea Ray 2900 Sundancer Sports Cruiser
LOA: 9.47 metres
Beam: 2.9 metres
Draft: 1.14 metres
Displacement: 4195kg (unladen)
Power: 2 x 4.3l, 220hp MPI Bravo IIIs
Fuel: 473 litres
Water: 106 litres
Price as tested: $199,000
Sea Ray 44 Sundancer Sports Yacht
LOA: 13.72 metres
Beam: 4.27 metres
Draft: 1.06 metres
Displacement: 10,205kg (unladen)
Power: 2 x MerCruiser Cummins QSC500 diesels
Fuel: 1268 litres
Water: 378 litres
Price as tested: $801,228
Agent: BayMarine, Vic. Ph (03) 9772 1800. For other dealer locations, call Mercury Marine, (03) 9791 5822.