A novice can stand aboard most boats and state with certainty what those boats can't do well. Sportfishing? Not aboard an aft cabin cruiser. Wave-hopping performance? Not aboard a typical express cruiser. Cruising comfort? Not aboard that low-slung go-fast. Seeing the improbable requires little experience.
But what if you, an experienced boater, hop aboard a new model and can't figure out what it can't do? What if the cockpit were large, self-bailing, and included a livewell? What if the cabin had cherry trim and included a galley, berth, and head with shower? What if the area between the side-console helm and the cabin bulkhead provided cushy seating for eight? And what if the boat sported a double-stepped, deep-V hull and three honkin' outboards on the transom, resulting in 60-mph performance? What could the experienced boater say this vessel just wasn't good at?
That's the question I asked myself about Fountain's 38 LS. My answer? The 38 LS cruises, fishes, and performs in equal measure. It's built like a tank, runs like a deer, and powered by outboards, provides ease of ownership, shallow draft, and excellent fuel economy. Compromises? Sure. But for the general habits of most boaters, the 38 LS proves near ideal.
COPY RIGHT. The accommodation plan is the star of the 38 LS' show. Its construction, ride quality, and attention to detail, although good overall, are mere supporting players. Its versatile layout, which caters to boaters of every ilk, is what will make the 38 LS a surefire hit.
Fountain didn't originate this three-in-one concept. Intrepid Boats has long specialized in fisher/cruiser/performance boats powered by outboards and featuring a large side-console helm, well-equipped cabin, and capacious U-lounge between that helm and the cabin.
For comparison, then, inspect Intrepid's 377. As a base boat, it'll cost you $239,283 powered by triple 225-hp Mercury 225 OptiMax outboards. But Intrepids usually leave the factory with such customer-added options as hydraulic dive doors, electric seacocks, Ultraleather coaming pads, and space-saving heads. Bolt on the Mercury Racing 250XS outboards powering our test boat, throw in the custom goodies, and you'll pay more than base price. You'll also wait more than a year for your boat.
The 38 LS is a production boat. Fountain will accommodate customer wishes when possible, but the idea is that factory standard should fill the bill. That speeds up the assembly line. The wait for a 38 LS? Months, perhaps only weeks. Another reason it'll be a hit.
BUILT TOUGH. The backbone of the 38 LS is a fiberglass stringer grid, featuring wide flanges that distribute loads better than simpler edge-set stringers. They also have a larger surface so they adhere better to the bottom and topsides. Its hull-to-deck joint is glued, bolted, and finally fiberglassed so it's strong, durable, and watertight. Open the inwale trash bin and remove the can. Peer inside and you'll be able to see the stringers and joint.
The hull laminate is a combination of knitted fabric and hullside coring. The bottom is solid glass. All is laid up with pricey, blister-resistant vinylester resin. Fountain used to core the bottom, but because these bottoms failed when the Navy Seals decided to drop military-rigged Fountains from airplanes, it switched to solid glass bottoms. Since the change, there have been hundreds of drops-outboards wailing on the way down-and zero failures. Try to beat up this boat. Just try.
THE GOOD PART. For maximized performance, rig the 38 LS with the triple 225-hp Mercury OptiMax outboards I tested. The result is gobs of thrust and torque. click the controls forward and you're gone, running fast and stable to nearly 60 mph. Drop back to an easy 40 mph and there's plenty of power for dealing with big seas, breaking inlets, or some hotshot who mistakenly thinks he has you beat. It's not just ponies. The 38 LS' hull features twin steps, a keelpad, and a notched transom. Respectively, these increase lift, provide a stable planing surface, and allow the outboards to be mounted higher for decreased drag.
So how does it handle? Normal turning is…well, normal. For kicks, throw the wheel hardover at 50 mph. The 38 LS tracks around like a standard V-hull, sliding slightly before carving around without nosing in. Peculiarly, the same maneuver performed at 30 mph results in the boat heeling well over, more than is comfortable in my view, unless the outboards are kept at neutral trim-their antiventilation plates level with the bottom. It's the only anomaly I discovered and one that the overall speed, soft reentry, and dry ride provided by the 38 LS makes up for. This is, after all, a boat that can take a crew of anglers to the canyons, the family across the Stream to the islands, or a gang of friends out for some wave-blasting hijinks in speed and safety.
From a cruising perspective, the cherry-trimmed cabin with large V-berth and enclosed head with shower offers comfortable digs for two. Kids could berth in the cockpit lounges, under the half-tower, with sleeping bags. There's the requisite sink, refrigerator, microwave, stove, hanging locker, and TV/DVD belowdecks. Topsides, you'll find an L-lounge forward of the console to port and a wedge-shaped lounge to starboard. Plus, there's an aft bench and the doublewide, electrically adjustable leaning post. The cockpit seats 10. When you want to anchor, a windlass is at the ready.
Anglers will love the insole, insulated, and macerated fishboxes. I stretched out in one and didn't fill it. Notice a lack of locking rod stowage? Fountain will install a rack inside one of these boxes for you. There's a 50-gallon livewell, tackle drawers, and a transom door to port. I counted 16 rodholders in the gunwales, transom, leaning post, and half-tower.
I didn't like the 38 LS' lack of remote oil fills, which are standard on the Intrepid. Nor was I fond of the small deckplates used to access the anchor rode. Windlasses inevitably snarl line, so better access for untangling is required. Access to through-hull intakes for the generator and livewell is poor enough to make the Intrepid's electrically actuated seacocks appear practical rather than frivolous. Fountains says it'll redesign the plumbing. Finally, the hardtop, though robustly built, is a bit too wide. I had to lean outboard when going forward along the sidedecks. These compromises are little, considering how well the 38 LS suits so many needs. Plus, the wait for one is blissfully short.
EXTRA POINT: Fountain's metal fabrication is awesome. For instance, check the corner gussets on the leaning post's legs.