The trend in the design of boats with flying bridges is leaning toward fully or partially enclosed entertainment areas beneath a hardtop. Designers who don't go that route end up with aft seating sections that are either fully exposed or covered with a flapping Bimini top. Then there's the Carver 44 Sojourn, which has what can be described as the first indoor-outdoor flying bridge.
The aft section of the 44 Sojourn's bridge is a 5' sunlounge with space for two to stretch out beneath the sun's rays. There's also a three-person bench and an entertainment console that can be outfitted with an optional icemaker and electric barbecue grill ($4,890).
Move forward beneath the hardtop and there are facing lounges in the aft section. Ahead to port is a convertible backrest that can be configured to accommodate one lounger or two sitters across the passageway from the helm seat. Forward is a glovebox with a fiddle rail and an MP3 dock.
To starboard, the helm has only a single bucket seat. But I prefer this setup because the skipper won't get distracted while driving, even though it may be a bit lonely. A gray-paneled finish for the instrument panel prevents glare when the sun sneaks through. Twin Volvo Penta LCD screens keep you apprised of engine health. Accessory switches are on the port side of the wheel with analog fuel gauges to starboard. Gunwale trays on each side are perfect for stashing your car keys, wallet, or cell phone.
Just aft of the controls are half of the optional joystick controls ($11,500). The other half is directly across to port, but neither will help you see through the aft lounge when you're docking. That's the downside to the extra accommodations on the aft end of the bridge. They create a huge blind spot whether you're docking or running through a crowded waterway. The solution is to place a second set of eyes aft. Another solution for easier docking might be to replace the joystick station on the portside with one in the cockpit.
Blind spots aside, the 44 Sojourn responded well to its joystick. In open water, it completed turns in tight circles and felt solid while I ran it back through its own wake. As is typical with most IPS boats, it didn't achieve plane until 2400 to 2700 rpm, but the ride angle never exceeded a comfortable 5 degrees.
If you prefer a more traditional flying bridge layout, take a look at the Silverton 43 Sport Bridge ($640,740 with twin 370-bhp IPS 500s), which has conventional access to starboard and no hardtop, not even as an option. It does, however, have a flying bridge wetbar standard. New for 2009, Meridian is powering its 441 Sedan with MerCruiser Zeus pod drives ($653,000 with the 480-bhp system). It has starboard-side bridge stairs and comes with a standard Bimini top. The full hardtop costs another $10,000.
If you like the extra space of the extended flying bridge, you'll love the 44 Sojourn's engine compartment. Normally, I don't gush about a hatch, but this one is more than 6' across. It opens on a pair of gas struts that are installed with L-angles and backing plates that look strong enough to secure a six-cylinder engine to a runabout's stringers. With the IPS units exiting straight through the bottom of the boat, it's easy to move about the compartment. Getting to separators and strainers couldn't be simpler. With the hatch closed the cockpit feels wide open, and I liked the two-person rumble seat that folds out of the transom. All utility connections are in lockers in the starboard passageway, which closes with a gate.
As if the extra-wide hatch in the cockpit didn't provide enough access, the stairs in the salon raise to give you a look at the front of the engine compartment. However, they raise on snap springs, which are a little too snap happy for my taste. Folding kickstands work better. Need to access your batteries? Aboard the 44 Sojourn, it's easy. Lift a removable hatch in the salon sole and there they are. Perfect. Another in-sole hatch pulls up to reveal large lockers that could be customized for outstanding capacity.
The salon itself looks comfortable with a dinette that includes a horseshoe-shaped lounge that converts to a double berth around a table aft to starboard. To port is an L-shaped lounge just aft of a wall unit with a flat-screen TV.
Forward to starboard, Carver got the galley countertop half right. The side that butts up against the upholstery for the aft lounge is fiddled, but the side that opens to the galley sole is not, so spills will wind up on the sole. There's good space for food prep, plus the usual selection of appliances.
Belowdecks accommodations feature an aft cabin with twin longitudinal berths that have good overhead clearance, a hanging locker, and a Jensen flat-screen TV. Drawers in the base of the berth are a much easier way to access stowage than having to lift up mattresses. Forward, you enter the portside day head, which has a one-person shower. The closed-off locker under the sink looks good because you don't see the plumbing, but the tradeoff is difficult access.
Rather than take the easy way out and put the master head on the same side of the boat (it would have facilitated rigging and plumbing), Carver positioned the master head to starboard. This permitted a two-person shower and facilities that resemble those you'd find on a 50'-plus boat.
In the master quarters is a queen island berth with stowage drawers in the base, plus two full-sized hanging lockers. That's another unexpected surprise on a 44' boat, kind of like an indoor-outdoor flying bridge.
MSRP: Standard power - $493,995 Test power - $607,770
Contact: 920.822.1600 www.carveryachts.com <!--pagebreak-->