Some of the more underwhelming boats I've tested were express cruisers powered with V-drives. The aft position of the engines coupled with the loss of buoyancy due to shaft tunnels can result in a boat that runs as if it were dragging a heavy tow. A steep climb out of the hole is followed by a high running angle, inelegant turning, and the need for lots of throttle and wheel work. The quality of your ride may not be the most important characteristic when shopping for a cruiser, but it ranks high for most boaters.
Sea Ray's 350 Sundancer is an exception. During my test, it planed readily and assertively, never causing a loss of visibility over the bow. It ran with grace and felt balanced on all points of sea. When I spun the wheel and quartered the wind and waves, a move sure to produce a wet ride aboard most boats, we all stayed dry even in 3' to 4' seas. With the tide ebbing, the ride back through the inlet inspired confidence: The 350 Sundancer never felt as if it were slipping backward as we climbed the rollers. I was pleased with the twin 370-hp Mercruiser 8.1S Horizon V-drives that powered my test boat. For the unconvinced, the 350 Sundancer is also available with stern drive power.
A standard hardtop, a split windshield, sidedeck access to the bow, innovative seating, and an inventive layout deserve at least as much praise, especially because cruising is this boat's mission.
Broaden Your Horizons
If the boat you're trading in is more than five years old, welcome to a new world of cruising. The 350 Sundancer comes with a composite hardtop. Say bye-bye to your arch and that clumsy, rattling Bimini top. Large hull windows let the sun pour in belowdecks - no cave feeling here. A neat transom seat folds out of the lazarette, allowing you to sit and watch the kids swim. For dockside entertaining, the double helm bench and the companion chair swivel to face aft, effectively converting your cockpit into a conversation pit. By augmenting the standard wetbar's sink, refrigerator, and solid-surface top with an optional electric grill ($2,500) and ordering the optional cockpit TV/DVD player ($2,042), you effectively create a boat that has a topside salon. With the filler cushion inserted in the aft lounge, you can kick back to watch the game, while nursing a cold one that's beading water on the standard teak table.
Belowdecks, my test boat was equipped with the optional teak cabin sole ($5,500), an option I'd recommend. The hard, satin-finished surface provides warmth, eases cleanup, and looks posh. And the 350 Sundancer's hull windows and two fixed skylights, plus a deck hatch that opens up, brighten the area even more.
You'll also be struck by this cabin's size. Compare it to the 340 Sundancer, Sea Ray's most popular model, which the 350 Sundancer replaces. With 6'7" of headroom, the 350 Sundancer adds 4" to that of its predecessor. It seemed to me that the 350 Sundancer's cockpit was a bit shorter, which would add length in the cabin. (Yet with its ingenious cockpit seating, the 350 Sundancer gives you more usable space topside.) But there's more afoot here than a tape measure can tell.
Notice how the companionway steps on the 350 Sundancer run straight down? Those aboard the 340 Sundancer were curved, which ate some sole space and narrowed the entrance into the aft lounge. Also check out the 350 Sundancer's dead straight salon settee. Again, this provides more sole space than the crescent-shaped settee aboard the 340 Sundancer. Other benefits include the secret stowage compartments behind this lounge and behind the galley counter backsplash.
Now, you may be deciding between a leftover 340 Sundancer and a new 350 Sundancer. If your shopping horizons are wider, check out Formula's 37 Cruiser ($447,860 with twin 420-hp MerCruiser 8.1S HO V-drives). The hardtopped Formula 37 is available with stern drive power, as is the 350 Sundancer, plus the Formula offers Volvo Penta's IPS tractor drives with joystick control. The 350 Sundancer is also available with a joystick if you choose to fit it with MerCruiser stern drives and the Axius System.
Thorns and Roses
There are two ways to get to the bow aboard the 350 Sundancer. Either take the molded steps through the windshield or use the generous side-decks. Although I liked the wide open access to the anchor rode locker - many boats don't provide such access - I was disappointed to see the windlass wiring crossing part of the space. It should be run tight to the bulkhead and secured along the underside of the deck to connect with the windlass.
You'll be pleased to find a total of three refrigerators aboard. Between the drawer and built-in units in the galley, and the one at the cockpit wetbar, you won't need to haul a cooler. There's a separate stall shower in the head, but I was disappointed when I saw that the towel ring protruded at hip level beside the vanity. It's sure to bruise someone.
In the aft cabin, I was tickled at the headroom and stowage, and the way in which the aft sofa seat cushion slides out to form a berth. However, the privacy curtain's valance gets in the way of fully deploying the cushion.
The forward master cabin's berth is equipped with an electrically adjustable recliner. It's easy to get in and out of, and reading lamps are strategically placed and wired with three-way switches so that they can be controlled from either the salon or while lying in the berth. Luxuriating here is the ultimate in self-indulgence. But it leads me to the biggest problem I discovered while testing the 350 Sundancer - deciding whether to kick back here or in the cockpit. All the comforts are available in both locations.
EXTRA POINT: To prevent crabbing and counteract the effect of counter-rotating transmissions, Sea Ray installs props with slightly different pitches (20" and 20.5").