Looking to cruise at 40 mph? Achieve thrift at better than 1 mpg? Have superior handling in three-footers without taking a beating? Ride Intrepid's 323. This side console cuddy offers high-performance, cockpit seating, and the overnight privacy of a cabin, complete with a disappearing head. A self-bailing cockpit ensures safety and easy maintenance. Superb construction and the tilt-'em-down-and-go convenience of outboard motors bring still more smiles.
The base 323 is exactly that-base. You have to buck up to make it your boat. Customizing, from dive doors to the Ultraleather coaming pads my test boat sported, is part of the deal. Hence, your 323 will probably leave the factory for more than the base price. Maybe a lot more. Finally, hot as the 323 may be, it's not flawless, but its flaws are few and far between.
GO POWER. Jump into the 323. There's no checking dipsticks, blowing bilges, or opening seacocks before heading out. Two-stroke outboards, like the twin 250-hp Mercury Racing OptiMax 250XS engines I ran, are tailor-made for the time pressed. Turn the keys, and you're boating. For the 323, that means cruising with Ninja-like throttle response, a pile of midrange torque, and a top speed of nearly 54 mph with full tanks and a big top installed.
Like all Intrepids, the 323 runs on a single-step, deep-V hull. Unlike other stepped-hull boats that target a higher top end, the 323 is designed to provide increased efficiency without requiring special driving techniques. It also provides no-brainer handling and extends cruising range. Its step isn't too large, ensuring plenty of contact between hull and water-and in the right place along the hull. Even aggressive, lock-to-lock turns resulted in smooth, leaning curves. For moderate speeds, say to tour some waterfront houses, you can run the 323 under 20 mph without the bow pointing skyward. These are attributes I haven't found in other stepped-hull boats, most of which are fast but fickle. Who wants to memorize trim positions at various rpm to make a controlled turn?
Ride quality is stellar. Test day's 25-mph winds allowed me to prove it. In addition to the step, which is positioned so that the proper angle of attack is built-in, the convex forward sections of the 323's hull keep the bow from stuffing into waves. At 37 mph, the 323 lifts easily to oncoming swells and then, instead of launching, simply punches off the tops of them. Soft reentry is attained and assured not only by the 21 1/2-degree deadrise angle at the transom, but by the increasingly higher degree of deadrise measured on the forward hull panel.
All of this helps the 323 fly. I skipped-no, frolicked is a better word given the amount of control I had-across the wavetops. The 323 landed level and tracked straight time after time. Up sea, down sea, cross sea-I simply couldn't uncover a glitch.
EVERYBODY POLKA! You can add rodholders to a cruiser, rip the carpet from a go-fast's cockpit, or jam a head inside a fishboat's console. None of these endeavors comes close to the uncompromising versatility provided by the 323's layout. Forward is a flush deck cuddy cabin with a V-berth, hanging locker, and sculpted fiberglass headliner incorporating hi-hat lights. Hit the switch and the optional porcelain head revolves into play from beneath the companionway like a bookcase in a Vincent Price film. Plus, there's a sink and room for a microwave.
Abaft the companionway hatch is a cockpit seating area. There's room for six on two lounges, each of which sports stowage within. An L-shaped lounge abuts the front of the side console helm. Its backrest opens, revealing batteries, rigging, and electronics. The helm itself deserves it own paragraph.
At the wheel, push a button and raise the electronics pod. It's huge, big enough for two mega-screen displays. And instead of cheaply ringing a gasket around the cutout from which this console pops, Intrepid applied some nifty mold work to keep out the water: The unit's flange interlocks with a deep gutter. Is it tight? Water from the washdown hose couldn't get past.
An electronics console that pops magically from a helm top has been done before-look at Grady-White's Bimini 306 ($128,000 with twin 300-hp Yamaha 300 HPDI outboards). It's a purer fishboat, lacking the 323's seating. But it does offer a sink, hanging locker, and head within its massive center console.
Weather protection for the 323's accessory switches is ensured because they are mounted on a flip-out panel. A 6"-diameter compass pad is molded on centerline. The leaning post travels electrically through 15" for easy adjustment. It also features drinkholders, rocket launchers, and a waist-high grabrail for companions standing behind you. Like the top, the leaning post's metal work is powder coated to match the deck gel coat. It's a skipper's helm station, through and through.
Between the console and the port rail is an icebox, which could be refrigerated. It's 2'6" deep and hides under a smooth glass lid that makes a great snack or rigging table.
Aft of the leaning post is enough room for six anglers to work. There's a deep toekick, rodracks under the gunwales, and a large livewell in the sole. A pair of macerated fishboxes is also in the sole, each capable of holding more fish than most would care to clean. The scuppers are large, at 2 1/2" in diameter, and high above the waterline. That guarantees excellent self-bailing. The Ultraleather coaming pads looked great and felt comfy. Only time will tell how they'll hold up.
EXTRA CREDIT. I don't question the longevity of the 323's electrical system. Terminals are shrink sealed and then coated with liquid vinyl for double protection. You also won't fuss with the optional canvas top. Instead of laces, which need tightening periodically, the top's cover is stretched over its frame and secured with a trim ring. It's tight as a drum; there are no gaps and it looks great.
Nor is the hull-to-deck joint questionable. In addition to bolts and adhesive, stiffening knees are fiberglassed between the hull and inboard deck flange. Service? The huge lazarette hatch aft and the console interior are both big enough to climb into.
The 323 has more attributes than I have space to tell you about. Its flaws easily fit in the space allotted. One, the wires running through the cabin bulkhead weren't chafe protected. Intrepid says they will be. Two, the through-hull fittings weren't bonded. Intrepid says they don't need bonding because the 323 doesn't have shorepower (if you order shorepower, the through-hulls come bonded). I'd rather be safe than sorry and have them bond the fittings, which would add expense to an already costly boat. But even so, the 323 is that rare boat in which you actually get what you pay for.
EXTRA POINT: The 323's fishbox drains are molded fiberglass. They feature a 6"-diameter flange. Nicknamed "drain plates," they screw down like a deckplate. If a hose needs service, access is awesome.