For residents of islands from Scandinavia’s Baltic Sea to those of the Maine coast and Salish Sea in the United States, boatbuilders have developed seaworthy, fast boats with pilothouses set in the center of open cockpits. They’re tough, all-weather boats that serve as cargo haulers, ferries and fishing boats. The Barracuda 9 (9 meters length overall) is a new take on this breed. Powered by twin V-6 four-stroke outboards, it cruises in the high 20 mph to low 30 mph range with fuel burn in the range of 15 to 20 gallons per hour. That’s good performance for a boat that displaces more than 7,500 pounds.
The secret is her Air Step hull, a proprietary Beneteau design in which a forward-facing scoop on each side of the pilothouse forces air through a hose to an outlet at the keel, about 40 percent of the way forward of the transom. It flows over a pair of steps to build a cushion of air for the aft part of the hull to ride on. Unlike stepped hulls on go-fast sport boats, which are designed to vent air, the Air Step hull holds the air with specially formed channels inside the chines but does not impede the flow of solid water to the outboards’ propellers.
Test day brought a steady breeze and a nasty 2- to 3-foot chop, just right for showing off the Air Step. Our test boat rose quickly onto plane with minimal bow rise and rode easily even at high cruising speed. We confess to grinning broadly, because we were piloting it from its (optional $5,000) flying bridge, settled securely within its molded sides as the 9 played in the seas.
The Barracuda 9 offers seating for five in the pilothouse, two on pedestal helm and companion seats — with flip-up bolsters for standing — and three side-by-side against the aft cabin bulkhead. Fold-down tables mount on the pilothouse sides, and there’s a small galley with a sink and a stove with a single gas burner. Headroom is 6 feet 6 inches. Air conditioning and heat are optional, as is a bow thruster.
Belowdecks, the Barracuda 9 offers a V-berth and an enclosed head. On deck, there’s comfortable seating in front of and on the aft side of the pilothouse, plus a full-width stern seat.
Comparable model: Minor Offshore 28