It took us hours of nasty infighting to narrow our choices for Boat of the Year down to two, and then the phone rang. "Stop the presses, throw out what you've got, here's the winner!" After what we'd gone through? Not likely. If we were going to change our minds at this point, it would have to be for a boat that exceeded our standards of breaking new ground or redefining a category. It had to be something special.
And this boat is. Which is why, for the first time, a last-minute candidate has been chosen as Boat of the Year. A boat so new, its test hadn't appeared yet in the magazine. So here's the review, and our reasons why the Chaparral 400 Premiere beat out all the rest.
The most obvious feature that sets this boat apart from the other 150 or so we tested over the past 12 months is what goes on up front. The graceful pointed bow found on most boats is there to give a smooth ride by gently splitting the water. Unfortunately it's also a space robber -- shrinking the cabin as it tapers forward. It's just another one of those compromises in boat design you have to accept. Until now. The 400 Premiere challenges that concept with a new type of bow for cruisers that adds room forward without sacrificing the quality of the ride.
Sponsons have been added on each side of the bow about a foot above the chines. This adds width where the interior needs it most -- between the sole and deck -- giving the 400 Premiere the largest forward cabin of any available cruiser of similar length.
Chaparral calls it a Wide-Tech Bow. Viewed from above, it would be easy to label it a picklefork. Don't. The boat's chine beam is 12'8", which is typical for cruisers this size. From the waterline down, it's a smooth-riding V. The sponsons only protrude from the topsides, well above the waterline, appearing as a three-pronged shape on the foredeck with two false stems. Besides the added room, this shape should also knock down spray and add reserve buoyancy if the bow should dig into a big roller. In all, a clever idea.
The bow isn't the only reason to cheer the 400 Premiere. It has a coupe top with an integral windshield and optional electric skylight ($10,000), providing all-weather comfort on the helm deck. Its cabin decor is unique to the production cruiser market, too. Powered by Volvo Penta IPS, it provides great efficiency, performance, and docking. Plus it's finished, fitted, and equipped like the best cruisers out there.
Go, Baby, Go
Our test boat had a crew of five and half-full fuel and water tanks, plus it sat in the water, bottom unpainted, for two weeks -- so it sported some growth. All of which slowed it down. Still, 40-plus mph is plenty fast for a 10-ton cruiser and in line with other boats in this class, such as Cruisers Yachts' 420 Sports Coupe ($629,910 with IPS 500s) and Formula's 400 Cruiser ($656,310 with IPS 500s). The 420 Sports Coupe weighs 500 pounds more and tops out at 37 mph. The 40 PC weighs 500 pounds less and hits 42 mph. The difference in horsepower between IPS 500s and 600s is 66 bhp, so it's safe to conclude that the 400 Premiere's Wide-Tech Bow doesn't markedly affect speed.
Does the hull's shape affect handling? Grab the wheel, depress the levers, and smile as the 400 Premiere whooshes onto plane without black smoke, noise, or vibration. The bow rides a little high until you exceed 20 mph. The 400 Premiere responds decisively. There are no speed-and-tab combos needed to dial this boat in. It delivers exactly the performance you'd expect from a well-designed cruiser.
Except for some harbor chop, test conditions were flat, so I can't attest to its rough-water ride. However, Chaparral's head of engineering Mike Fafard says that because the wider bow doesn't touch the water, it doesn't slam and keeps you dry. What I can say is that with the tabs fully deployed, the 400 Premiere stayed on plane and maintained its directional stability down to 11.9 mph. Any boat that can do that will gently bring you home when the wind kicks up.
The use of uncommon finish materials in the cabin's interior design blows away the competition. The cabin sole is a dark, grainy hardwood. Doors and cabinets are rich walnut, opt for a brushed stainless-steel counter ($4,686). The cabin is illuminated by portholes and deadlights (that's fixed windows to the nautically challenged), as well as by skylights and hatches in the deck. At night, a combination of direct and indirect LED lighting provides warm illumination.
Now let's prove how much volume the Wide-Tech Bow hull adds to the cabin. The 400 Premiere has two heads. Forward you'll find separate toilet and shower rooms, and aft is a single head with a shower stall. Although the decor is cool, the real surprise comes when you open a cabinet. There's enough depth to stow folded towels, not rolled ones. And when you open the head door, it swings wide so you don't need to slip through it sideways. The hanging locker is huge and cedar-lined. The 400 Premiere cabin is bigger than the cabins I've seen on some 45' cruisers.
Topside, bow access along the sidedecks and the wide working space on the foredeck are, again, best in class. Cockpit action centers around the wetbar abaft the helm. Its bilevel counter, with a 11⁄2" reveal, incorporates a stainless-steel sink, icemaker, and 20" retractable LCD TV. The helm deck is on one level, which I like better as a safety factor (one less thing to stumble over) than boats that force you to step up and down. Aft is a lounge that converts to a sunpad transom bench. This lounge also lifts electrically to reveal the engine room.
Here, I reveled. White fiberglass bilges reflect light so well that you can spot the tiniest drip. Seacocks at the foot of the ladder make for no-reach access. Batteries stowed on a rack on centerline are easily replaced. However, according to ABYC, the charger shouldn't be directly above them lest acidic charging fumes cause corrosion. Chaparral says a shield will be installed. Both cabin shower drains are plumbed to a sump here, so the smell of mung won't infiltrate the cabin. They even fitted the hydraulic pump for the swim platform with a manual handle. Sorry to repeat myself so much, but this is the nicest engine room in its class. Then again, so is almost everything else on this boat, which is why its our 2008 Boat of the Year.
Pricing: Standard power - $614,667 Test power - $634,607
Contact: Chaparral Boats, Inc. P.O. Drawer 928 Nashville, GA 31639 229.686.7481 www.chaparralboats.com