Boat of the Year: MasterCraft MariStar 280 VLD

The MariStar 280 VLD lets MasterCraft take its inboard runabout experience into a new market.

This boat company understands that emotion is a big part of a successful design. It's not enough to build a solid boat, you have to put some passion into it, too, and few builders are as passionate about its boats, its sports, and its owners as MasterCraft.

The latest expression of the MasterCraft fervor-and our 2003 Boat of the Year-is the MariStar 280 VLD. This boat lets MasterCraft take its inboard runabout experience into a new market. The 280 VLD is not a skiboat. It's more than 28' long, with a beam of 9'6", and it redefines the concept of a big-water dayboat. With its outstanding construction and V-drive inboard power, it's ideally suited for intracoastal salt water. It offers the elbowroom and amenities (such as a head compartment) that make deckboats so popular with families. And it presents a stylish profile that's equal parts American swagger and European chic, new school and retro, practical and outrageous.

The pickle-fork bow is its signature. The boat's designer, Peter Granata of Granata Designs in Hilton Head, South Carolina, says the shape of the bow was originally drawn for the MasterCraft X-Star wakeboard boat.

"MasterCraft wanted to increase the room in the X-Star and wanted a look that I would describe as sinister-to appeal to the youthful wakeboarding market," says Granata. "I call it a cat on a V-hull, because it's not a tri-hull shape as you'd find in a deckboat. The broad bow gives you more space forward and a boarding platform at the peak. And the look is great." The bow seating area is as big and as deep as a hot tub.

The boat's curving, teak-trimmed stern offers an interesting contrast to the twin-pronged bow. The hullsides wrap around to meet the transom like Cadillac tailfins. Plus, there's a fixed boarding platform executed in fiberglass colored to match the adjoining hull stripe. The helm is sprinkled with eye-catching aluminum details-the throttle knob, the steering wheel center, the bezels of small instruments-each machined from billet stock. And then there's the fantastic X-Pod, a trio of bullet-shaped nacelles, each holding a major instrument and executed in machined-and-anodized aluminum suspended over the helm console on thin fins. Buck Rogers goes boating.

Finally, there's the optional towing tower, which shimmers in the sun like the Gateway Arch. Its massive main hoops rest on CNC-machined pads the size of dinner plates. The aft braces are cut and drilled from flat-stock aluminum and incorporate board racks and a suntop. You might own this boat for a month before you notice the beautiful CNC-machined bracket on top of the hoop that doubles as a running light and towline hook.

Inboard power means this boat's top speed is modest given its standard 385-hp Indmar 6.0-liter V-8, which requires premium fuel. But MasterCraft holds to the theory that pulling power and agility are a greater measure of performance than top speed, and in this regard the 280 VLD is the big brother to a ProStar slalom specialist.

The MasterCraft MariStar 280 VLD is a runabout built to yacht-quality standards, visually exciting and fascinating in its detail. Every builder should try this hard.