Just as a physicist sees the universe in a single atom, so you can tell a great boat by the composition of the details. Take a close look at Formula's 290 SS. It's chock-full of higher-quality fittings and fixtures, installed in a more robust manner than aboard most boats. Overbuilt, which too often means overweight and overdone, isn't what I'm saying. This athletic day-boat-cum-overnighter is built right. From hinges to hull, every element is physically up to the demands required, as well as executed in a way that makes it most convenient for the most important person at any boat show: you.
Inspect the cockpit seating. Padded with drifast foam, it doesn't hold water like ordinary cushions, and the backing is rot-free StarLite XL, perforated so that moisture running through the foam can't pool. These seats never wheeze a dribble of water when guests take a seat. Upholstered in fauxleather treated with PreFixx - a coating that prevents scuffing and shiny spots from time and wear - it is so resistant to stains that marks from a ballpoint pen can be cleaned off it. Try cleaning ink off ordinary vinyl.
If you lift a seat, you'll find it swings on through-bolted hinges - a good feature, but not an uncommon one. It's the hinges themselves that are above and beyond. Double-action, these are designed by Formula to allow the cushion to hang vertically when open, freeing both hands to rummage for gear, instead of a) needing one to hold the lid; b) being relegated to the relatively narrow opening of a lid supported by struts; or c) having to remove the cushion entirely and displace the crew while you get out the barbecue grill.
Open the electric engine hatch. You'll find excellent service access, as you will aboard Cobalt's 303 ($202,869 powered like my test boat) and Sea Ray's 290 Sunsport ($199,597 with twin 320 hp MerCruiser MX 6.2 Mpi bravo three stern-drives), both of which are beamier boats than the 290 SS. But look closer and you'll discover details like batteries secured by racing-style boxes. Open framed to allow for service without disassembly, these are retained by threaded rod and nuts, easily surpassing the ABYC recommendation that batteries move less than 1 inch when a lateral force of 90 pounds is applied. (I pushed with both legs and they didn't budge.) Try that with a strapped plastic box.
That battery installation is no surprise, as the 290 SS's hull form screams its performance-bred heritage. Narrower than competitors to more easily cleave through wakes and chop, it also boasts considerable flam - convex curvature - in the topsides. This shape provides more buoyancy than flare and so resists plunging better at higher speeds. There is no sudden "fetching up" during re-entry. This less-dynamic wave-to-wave transition is a fact I appreciated while running in the Atlantic. With 2-foot swells and a moderate chop, the 290 SS was comfortable to run at 40 mph, the twin 320 hp MerCruiser 377 mag MPI Bravo three stern-drives turning 3,700 rpm.
It runs dry too. The strakes of the 290 SS remain proud all the way to the stem rather than diminishing. This, coupled with the fact that they are reversed, or turned down, deflects much of the spray climbing the hull back into the sea. The 290 SS's soft ride makes it drier as well: Most days, you can run the 290 SS fast enough and comfortably enough that loose water making it past the bottom is behind you before it can blow across the boat. Running beam-to the wind during my test confirmed this.
The hull shape, particularly the flam, also lends the 290 SS great sociability by providing greater width lower in the boat. That's space where you can use it, evidenced not just in the aforementioned engine room, but elsewhere as well. Check the built-in stowage outboard of the helm and companion seats. Note that the depth of the cockpit seating allows comfortable slouching yet retains knee and foot space between the wet bar and seating opposite. Check out the width of the convertible aft lounge. Wide enough for two to tan, there's still room for a more generous than average passage to the platform.
Belowdecks, it's equally easy to forget you're aboard a boat with a 9-foot beam. Though the 290 SS's sleek, low lines would be marred by the standing headroom of a tall cabin, when I perched on the head and shut the door, my 6-foot frame didn't feel cramped. The convertible ultraleather dinette allows sitting across the highgloss table from your mate without knocking knees and provides enough width to sleep, when arranged as a berth, without absolutely having to snuggle. So this thrilling and luxurious day boat, picnic boat, cottage commuter or sport boat - call it what you will - serves admirable overnighter duty too. That's a big-picture mission statement, but details are what set the 290 SS apart.
Contact: 800-736-7685, www.formulaboats.com