We were this close to postponing our test of the new 345 XSF. The forecast called for an un-Floridalike 44 degrees, sustained winds of 23 mph with gusts to 30, and three- to four-foot seas even on the lee side of a Gulf island. But the likelihood of a storm was zilch, and, well, we just needed to man up to the real-world conditions for this boat and its potential owners.
The foul-weather gear our five-person crew donned to ward off any blizzard-cold spray turned out to be overkill. The 345 XSF has far-reaching acreage forward of the helm, with a rising sheer line and Carolina-flared bow, all of which kept the cockpit dry as we ran through sporadically spaced waves. It also helped that we were able to duck into the cabin, three and four at a time, to relieve purpling flesh. Technically, this is a center console with a reasonable amount of casting space. But because the head migrates into a forward berth, the entire complexion of the boat is changed above and belowdecks.
Scout had been designing the 345 XSF for two years before we took our first look. The goal was to find a bit of crossover between the fishability of a straight center console and the accouterments of an express. Grady-White beat Scout to the punch when it introduced the Canyon 366 in late 2009. The Canyon has a lower sheer line forward and an upright seat rather than a lounger. It’s also longer by 13 inches and carries nearly a foot and a half more beam than does the XSF (retail on the Canyon is $366,400 with identical power), but it is still the closest competitor.
To differentiate the 345 XSF, Scout’s engineers used traditional tools like tape measures, strings and planers to create the mold by hand, without relying on computer-assisted design (CAD). Interesting, but they prefer this longer process so they can literally keep their hands on every phase of development, from first sketch to preproduction water test.
Much of the spotlight falls on the boat’s wide shoulders and multifaceted bow, where the beam hits 10 feet 9 inches. If you compare the 345 XSF to a no-frills center console, then, yes, the lounger and bow seating do compromise forward fishing space, but when we removed the seat pads around the bow, we were able to stand atop the bases for a better perspective over the playing field. In calmer water, we could have stood on the 28-inch-wide gunwale cap to spot fish.
The wide gunwales along the bow eventually meet at the anchor locker, which is more like a locker room. On top is a compartment for the windlass, and the controls are within arm’s reach in case nobody’s available at the helm. When lifting the bow cushion insert we found a separate compartment for the anchor rode. It’s so cavernous that our test boat carried more than 200 feet of line and chain that looked like a few coiled spaghetti noodles at the bottom of a gigantic punch bowl.