Sea Ray's 43 Sundancer has more bells and whistles than the coast of Maine. It's powered by Zeus pod drives with joystick docking. A solid-enclosure hardtop with electric vents, skylights, and windows provides climate control without the hassle of canvas. The aft cockpit seating converts to a sunpad without impeding lazarette stowage. And those are just the biggies. Like any good boat, there's a lot of cool stuff to be found in the details, and as my test proved, the 43 Sundancer is no exception. Anything here not to like?
Well, considering that the boat's platform is 20" above the waterline, its three-step transom boarding ladder needs another rung. Nonetheless, the 43 Sundancer is a great boat, as accommodating to day trippers as to those who cruise for a weekend or more.
Until recently, cumbersome canvas, tangle-footed cockpits, and anxious docking were typical challenges taken for granted by owners of express cruisers. Now, curvy deckhouse hardtops, pod drives, and shape-shifting seats aboard such high-quality expresses as the 43 Sundancer have eased those concerns. Some builders have done cool things with cabin plans, too, such as Four Winns with its new V408 ($612,308 with twin 370-bhp Volvo Penta IPS 500s), which we featured recently ("One Big Winn," February). Another example is this new Dancer.
Step through the companionway. This centerline entry is the key to why this cabin feels so big and its layout works so well. Entering in the middle makes the aft stateroom more private by creating a short passageway to port, instead of having the space open to the salon. This passageway allows the 43 Sundancer to have a longer galley. The galley's length precludes the need to curve the counter to make enough workspace. Opposite the galley, the salon lounge is squared, instead of crescent shaped, so it seems to take up less floor space. The effect in the salon is tangible. I taped the open space between the two bulkheads, the galley, and the lounge at 72 square feet -- about the footprint of a pickup truck. That's plenty of room for the comings and goings of crew and to mill about and chat. Two large skylights, the translucent companionway hatch, and a multitude of other hatches, ports, and deadlights add to the effect, as does a large, strategically placed mirror.
Let's get down to details. Sea Ray installed the big-screen TV so it flips down from within the headliner -- it's recessed, not surface mounted. Giving the cherry flooring a matte finish and applying gloss to the cabinets and bulkheads defines the space well and contributes to the big feel. "Heavy" items, such as the lounge and the galley counter are light gray, a shade darker than the beautifully tailored headliner. The pocket door to the forward stateroom is fitted with Japanese-style shoji panels.
Slide it open and enter. You'll find the door to the master shower to starboard and the door to the master head to port. This split arrangement allows two people to perform different activities simultaneously with privacy. Each sports tile flooring, ventilation, and light, lots of function without sacrificing style. There's even a linen closet in the shower area, although its door needs gaskets to keep the towels dry. The master berth, which is an island queen, lies farther forward. Two hanging lockers and two glass-fronted cabinets provide ample stowage.
The aft stateroom also has the head en suite, but it's a more conventional commode/shower combo. Located at the end of the passageway, abutting the engine bulkhead, it lacks for little. Instead of cramming the vanity in here, it's located in the passageway, immediately to port as you enter, similarly set up as Formula's 45 Yacht ($962,880 with twin 435-bhp Volvo Penta IPS 600s). There's standing headroom here. The berths comprise two twins athwartship, above which you'll find generous headroom while you sit. A filler cushion converts them to a single queen.
I liked most everything on the deck of the 43 Sundancer -- from the anchor locker, which can be accessed through two large hatches, to the dual chaise lounge bow sunpad to the cockpit arrangement, which allows traffic to flow easily. Instead of a euro-style island sunpad aft, Sea Ray puts a portside transom walkway into service, retaining more seating in the U-lounge. Push on the backrests of that lounge. The aft section is center hinged, opening like saloon doors, to create a three-person tanning station out of what was comfortable upright seating a moment before. When closed, guests can sit in the cockpit and face forward to chat with passengers sitting on the platform side and facing aft -- ingenious for its simplicity and utility. My tester had the cockpit TV ($3,333), electric grill ($3,000), and a teak sole ($7,500) installed in the upper cockpit. I wouldn't cover the lower cockpit in teak ($10,833), unless you cruise in a cool climate. Good looks and nonslip properties aside, teak gets too hot in strong sun.
I'd opt for it in the upper cockpit, however. The 43 Sundancer's hardtop is one of the better designs I've tested, including electrically opening side windows, a powered windshield vent, and two retractable sunroofs. Naturally, you'll want the cockpit air conditioning/heating ($9,333) to make the most of the top and truly create an alfresco salon.
Although Zeus is the Greek god of thunder, the propulsion system bearing his name didn't rumble aboard this boat. As I depressed the levers, the 43 Sundancer accelerated smoothly and quietly over the hump, creasing the lake with a broad, white wake. The boat kisses 40 mph at the top end. More important, it gets nearly 1 mpg at any speed between 20 and 35 mph. So cruise as fast as conditions and time allow.
In the marina, let go the levers and grasp the joystick. Shove it in the direction you'd like to move and the boat gratifyingly responds. The coolest thing about joysticks and independently rotating drives isn't directional control, it's the control of the boat's aspect. The precise ability to angle, twist, and slide dead abeam is a great asset while docking when you get buffeted by a gust or rolled by a wake. Zeus is the only power choice with the 43 Sundancer, but because it provides so much comfort and convenience, what's not to like?
MSRP: Standard power - $833,333 Test power - $849,586
Contact: 800.772.6287 www.searay.com