Boston Whaler's new 345 Conquest is so damn big that, even with a six-line trolling spread, it looked like we weren't fishing. There were two rods in each gunwale, plus another pair of lines running through the long riggers from one of the three wing rocket launchers on each side. That left two empty rodholders per side, plus three along the transom. Want to pull a dozen ballyhoo from an outboard boat? Then this is your ride.
To run a boat this large out to bluewater takes gobs of power. The 345 Conquest delivers, thanks to triple Mercury Verado 250s on the transom. Worried about the triple-screw fuel consumption? Hah! Cruising through the inlet at 32 mph, we burned 38.5 gph. That equates to better than 0.8 mpg while pushing 14,200 pounds of boat plus four guys, full gear, and fuel and water. And if you start feeling frisky, you can juice it up and run close to 50 mph. Want power of a different kind? Whaler includes such big-ticket items as an 8kW genset and a 4kW bow thruster. Other goodies that make the list include cockpit and cabin air conditioning, a windlass, the hardtop with wiper/washers, spreader lights, integrated speakers, a power vent, and rocket launchers. Make sure you crunch some numbers before doing a price comparison, because many other builders charge extra for these items.
Take the Hydra-Sports 3300 Vector. It lists for about a quarter mil with twins, but its standard equipment list is much shorter. The Hydra-Sports goes faster with equal power and lists a 61-mph top end, but it weighs several thousand pounds less and has a 10'4" beam, which makes for less fish-fighting room. Grady-White's 330 Express puts more emphasis on the fish and less on speed. Rigged with twin 250-hp Yamaha four-strokes and measuring the same as the 345 Conquest, it also costs about a quarter mil with a long list of standards, but the bow thruster is an option. The 9,500-pound Grady-White isn't available with triples, but performance doesn't seem to suffer too much-it achieves a 35.2-mph cruise and a 44.1-mph top end.
It makes sense that Whaler would come out with its largest outboard boat ever this year, the company's 50th anniversary. And these days, outboard boats just keep getting bigger. The benefits go way beyond fishing, too. Check out the berth. On most outboard boats, you stuff some pillows under your head to watch the tube. But on the 345 Conquest, you click a button, and the electric backrest integrated in the queen-size berth tilts up to prop you at the perfect viewing angle for watching the 20" flat-screen TV. On most outboard boats, you crawl into the bilge to check the genset, tanks, pumps, and through-hulls. But on the 345 Conquest, you lift the enormous center deck hatch, which raises on a single gas-assist strut, to easily access everything-no cramping or contortions necessary. On most outboard boats, you light up the single-burner alcohol stove and pray you don't burn to the waterline. But on the Conquest 345, you pop the hatch on the portside cockpit module and fire up the integrated electric cockpit grill. Hmmm…maybe size really does matter?
The Conquest 345 is still a fishboat, and it holds its head high in that regard, too. There's a 40-gallon lighted livewell, a molded transducer pocket in the hull, and a dial-up refrigerator/freezer in the cockpit to keep your baits chilly or rock hard, as you choose. Other Whaler-esque fishing features are present and accounted for: toerails, downrigger ball holders, cabin rodracks, rigging station and tackle drawers, and a foldout transom bench.
The sheer bulk of this boat allows for some unusual accessory designs. Check out the compartment below the grill. Grab the tray at the bottom and pull, and a cooler slides out. Extra special cooler bonus: There's a cushion on top, so you can use it as an aft-facing bait-watching seat. Another neat trick is the starboard-side passenger seat. It slides horizontally, so you can tuck it up next to the inwale and create tons of walkthrough room to the starboard-side cabin entry. On most outboard-powered boats you'll find either a fixed passenger seat or a four-man lounge to port of the helm, but not both. Speaking of the lounge-have you ever lain down on a couch while watching the spread? The forward section of the 345 Conquest's lounge is angled and padded, creating a great backrest, so you can kick all your buddies into the cockpit and "fish" like a king.
Most boatbuilders change construction methods when they build a supersize outboard boat. Not Whaler. It built the 345 Conquest with its "Unibond" construction system-a fiberglass outer shell, high-density structural foam, then another layer of glass for the inside shell. The glass-foam-glass sandwich deadens sounds, vibrations, and wave impacts. Cleats and hardware are backed with phenolic Whaleboard backing plates, hatches are finished on each side, and wiring is tinned copper.
I could feel the solid construction underfoot as we cruised and trolled. Unfortunately, the fish weren't as impressed-only one sailfish rose to the bait all day. It looked to be about 50 pounds. But behind the 345 Conquest's massive transom, the fish looked strangely small. The unexpected bright side to all this room? You have an excuse to go buy a dozen new rods and reels.