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Let’s Rodeo

Four Wild Fishboats. One All-Around Cowboy.

March 30, 2007
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Today’s anglers want to run faster, harder, and farther than ever before. Lucky for us, boatbuilders have been staying ahead of the curve to give us what we want. A few years ago dedicated center console fishboats longer than 30′ were few and far between, but now triple-engined mega-monster center consoles have joined the lineup of most companies and are on the way to becoming commonplace – well, almost. There are plenty of models to choose from, but which one is worth the considerable investment? Which will let you blast past and outfish the competition? Which gives you the most amenities and is built to take the punishment? We picked four popular models, took them apart, fished them, ran them hard, and put them back together to get the answer. So saddle up and let’s go dancin’. ****

Triple Your Pleasure

A row of three outboards strung across the transom of a 30′-something fishboat looks crazy. We all know that singles are more efficient than twins, so won’t triples be even worse than twins? We thought so, too, until we started comparing numbers. The oddity first cropped up after testing the Fountain 38 CC. We noticed that through most of the rpm ranges, it had better efficiency than the same hull with a pair of – get this – twin diesel stern drives with less total horsepower. This got us curious, so out came the calculator and a stack of old tests.

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What we found was a revelation. The average fuel economy of all the twin outboard boats between 34′ and 38′ we tested during the last two years was 1.28 mpg at 35 mph. The average for triples was 1.30 mpg. So, astonishing as it may seem, rigging with triples isn’t crazy at all. ****

****DEEP IMPACT 36 OPEN**** 305/627-9394 www.deepimpactpowerboats.com

With triple 250-hp Mercury OptiMax outboards on the transom, this boat shot off to 65.8 mph, riding on its twin-step, 24-degree deadrise hull. Handling is nothing short of sports car-like, with the added benefit of this also being the smoothest running boat of the bunch. Its economy isn’t great, however, with a middle-of-the-pack 1.1 mpg at a 4500-rpm, 47.9-mph cruising speed. And throughout its power range, economic results weren’t up to snuff.

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PERFORMANCE

Deep Impact goes well beyond the norm: All resins are retarded vinylester, which provides extra flexibility and prevents stress cracking. Stringers come all the way up to support the deck. Every piece of hardware, right down to hatch hinges, is backed with aluminum plates. All the fiberglass is vacuum-bagged, and there’s a layer of Kevlar in the hull and deck. The hull-to-deck joint is laminated shut. Misters, which shoot a cooling spray of water, are integrated into the T-top. Through-hull lights attract fish from the deep, and hull, upholstery, and motor cowl graphics are custom.

CONSTRUCTION

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All of the must-haves are included: the T-top w/spreader lights, a livewell, gunwale-mounted rodholders, three integrated fishboxes, fresh- and raw-water washdowns, and a tackle and bait-prep station. But the list of standards is short and you’ll have to pay extra for such important items as macerators in the fishboxes or a livewell and tackle center in the leaning post. The most distinctive feature is the fold-down motorwell cover, which turns the motorwell into a small aft deck. This makes it possible to get out behind the transom and work fish around the outboards-an unusual ability in this class of boat.

FISHING FEATURES

One of the best built boats on the planet. Detail work and custom graphics can’t be beat. A flip-up transom seat provides quick and easy access to all of the valves and pumps. Love those misters on a hot day.

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HIGHS & LOWS

Disappointing fuel economy. There’s a spring strut on top of the rigging station, which should be upgraded to a gas-assist strut. A lot of gotta-haves are optional.

STANDARDS

$246,500 (w/triple 250-hp Mercury OptiMax outboards) Hydraulic trim tabs; hydraulic steering; Ritchie compass; T-top w/spreader lights; livewell; 4 gunwale-mounted rodholders; 3 integrated fishboxes; battery switch; fresh/raw-water washdowns; bait prep station and sink; electric commode.

DONZI 38 ZF OPEN 941/727-0622 www.donzimarine.com

PERFORMANCE

With a 64-mph top end, this boat came in third in these speed trials. But it earned a respectable 1.3 mpg at a 4500-rpm, 43.9-mph cruising speed with our triple 275-hp Verados. It rides on a stepped hull, which has the added benefit of minimal bowrise when coming onto plane-my clinometer remained nearly flat through the powerband. Its handling was Porsche-like, and that cushion of air running under the hull seems to soften the ride.

CONSTRUCTION

The hull-to-deck joint uses an adhesive/sealant, with fiberglass lamination at high-stress areas. Resins are vinylester. Wiring has Packard connector plugs wherever possible to provide watertight connections. Hardware is stainless steel with aluminum backing plates; bolts are secured with locking nuts. The switch panel is protected by a clear flip-up cover so you won’t hit switches by accident and to keep water out-a unique touch. Upholstery matches the hull graphics and is 32-ounce vinyl, which has a longer lifespan than the more common 28-ounce vinyl.

FISHING FEATURES

Donzi excels in this department. This boat was clearly designed with the tournament kingfish angler in mind. Livewell capacity is a huge 60 gallons. There’s a 204-quart mega-cooler under the leaning post. The rear integrated deckboxes will hold a dozen 50-pound kings, and the forward box is big enough for six 100-pound tuna. It’s a 6’9″ reach around the outboards, so you can forget about working around them. The transom has flush-mount rodholders, however, which should help you add an extra line or two to your spread.

HIGHS & LOWS

The largest fish-hauling capacity (both live and dead). Nine standard rodholders-yee-hah. Love the protected, yet accessible, switch panel. Console has 5’6″ of headroom and is exceptionally roomy inside.

Speed is a tad behind most of this competition. There are flimsy drippy plastic hatches over the battery switches. The insulation in the aft end of the forward fishbox is lacking. There’s no center cleat on the bow for anchoring.

STANDARDS

$212,064 (w/triple 275-hp Mercury Verado outboards) Bait prep station w/sink; 60-gal. livewell w/light; raw-water washdown; 4 gunwale-mounted rodholders; 5 transom-mounted rodholders; battery switches; recessed bow grabrail; 2 removable coolers; Zero Effort controls; compass; locking electronics box; 3 integrated fishboxes; enclosed compartment w/shower and sink; portable MSD; illuminated switch/breaker panel; K-planes; 4 under-gunwale rodracks; helm bolsters; tacklebox.

FOUNTAIN 38 CC 252/975-2000 www.fountainpowerboats.com

PERFORMANCE

Powered by a trio of 275-hp Mercury Verados, this Fountain hit a top end of 72.5 mph and would be the first of our fleet to arrive at the fishing grounds. Even more amazing is its fuel economy. Set the throttles to 4500 rpm and you’ll be running at a speedy 49.1 mph while burning 33.6 gph. That’s 1.5 mpg, which would be considered good for a twin-screw boat running 10 mph slower. Credit goes to a tricked-out hull with twin steps, a V-pad, transom setback, and notch. Looking at our test archives, this boat gives an 8 to 15 percent increase in speed and efficiency over a stock-issue V-hull.

CONSTRUCTION

The hull is supported by a foam-cored, molded-grid stringer system. Fountain intelligently designed the stringers to butt up against the sides of the fishboxes, where they can act as insulators. Cleats lift up to eliminate line snags, the T-top is powder coated, the hull-to-deck joint is fiberglassed, and the keel, strakes, and hullsides are cored to maximize rigidity. Fabric and hull colors are coordinated, and finish work is excellent.

FISHING FEATURES

Coaming bolsters, a raw-water washdown, under-gunwale rodracks, T-top rocket launchers and spreader lights, a livewell, and four large integrated fishboxes all come standard. The 10’6″ beam is on the wide side for a boat with so much focus on speed, but it works. Plus, it has an advantage when the lines go over the side-wider multi-line spreads are easier to deploy, and double- or triple-header hook-ups will be easier to fight, but as usual, there’s little chance of working fish around the engines and transom.

HIGHS & LOWS

Runs faster and burns less fuel than competitors. Helm coaming bolsters keep the captain comfy. Anchor locker is well thought out, with a large rack and enough room to hold hundreds of feet of line.

Some wires running under the gunwales weren’t chafe protected. Spring struts on the electronics box should be upgraded to gas-assist struts. When open, the livewell hatch rests against the hinges, which could bend if someone leans against it.

STANDARDS

$272,009 (w/triple 275-hp Mercury Verado outboards) Hydraulic steering; raw-water washdown; T-top w/spreader lights and electronics box; gunwale and T-top rodholders; under-gunwale gaff/mop/rodracks; circulating livewell; hydraulic trim tabs w/indicators; 3 batteries w/switches; 25-qt. forward console cooler; lift-up cleats; 4 integrated fishboxes; locking rodbox; glovebox; locking electronics flat cover.

WELLCRAFT 352 TOURNAMENT CC 941/751-7838 www.wellcraft.com

PERFORMANCE

Our only contender armed with E-Tecs hit 51 mph. Despite its disappointing top-end speed, the Wellcraft accelerated quickly, a two-stroke trait, which made the boat feel light and airy, and the sharp entry and aggressive flare held its own against a stiff bay chop. Thrown into a hard turn, this boat grips the water and banks like an Olympic skater. Economy came in at a comparatively low 0.9 mpg at a 4500-rpm, 40.4-mph cruise.

CONSTRUCTION

Both construction and finish work on the Wellcraft are good, with foam-cored stringers, backing plates behind the hardware, and abundant use of polyboard for drawers and hatches. There are gas-assist struts on large hatches and the fishboxes drain directly overboard. But some hatches aren’t finished as well on the inside as one would expect from a boat in this class. Nevertheless, we particularly liked the anchor locker’s design, which incorporated dedicated stowage for fenders and lines.

FISHING FEATURES

Wellcraft did the anglers right, with such touches as an optional leaning post ($5,235) that has tons of stowage compartments, a circular 40-gallon livewell with clear lids, a sturdy grabrail, two rodholders, and comfortable flip-back helm bolsters. There’s a second livewell in the transom, next to a transom shower and slide-out fiberglass bucket inserts. Fishboxes are 6′ long so they’ll hold the biggest smoker kings in the ocean. There’s also a bulk stowage area belowdecks for your rods.

HIGHS & LOWS

Relatively inexpensive. Love the anchor locker design. High gunwales provide a feeling of security. Dual livewells allow you to keep different species separate.

Relatively low speed and fuel economy. Hatch bottoms need to be cleaned up. Drains in some stowage compartments and hatch gutters aren’t flush, so there will always be some water that stays.

STANDARDS

$172,395 (w/ triple 250-hp Evinrude E-Tec outboards) Integrated swim platform; 40-gal. livewell; transom livewell; cockpit coaming bolsters; 6′-long fishboxes; insulated drinkbox; T-top w/electronics box and PFD stowage; molded sink w/shower; battery charger and switches; compass; shorepower w/cord; hydraulic dual-ram steering w/ tilt wheel; trim tabs.

Which of these center consoles is the hottest?

Easy to ask, but not so easy to answer – especially when you consider overall value as well as the hardware and performance.

The Deep Impact 36 has an ace up its sleeve when it comes to construction. No one – but no one – can honestly claim to build a stronger, tougher boat. And when it comes to looks, it’s a hands-down winner. Both detail work and graphics are impeccable. But they don’t come cheap. Plus, Deep Impact excludes many must-have items in its standards. This gives the buyer a long list of options that customize the boat but send the price soaring. Also, its speed and efficiency numbers are well behind the leader of the pack.

Although its sticker price is great, the Wellcraft 352 Tournament CC was held back by lackluster speed and economy. On top of that, the other three contenders had a level of finish that extended belowdecks, into the hatches and compartments that aren’t normally seen. If you’re looking for the least expensive way to get into the triple-outboard fishboat game, this is your pick, but otherwise keep looking.

The Donzi 38 ZF Open is a serious contender, scoring high for flash as well as fishing features-livewell and fishbox capacities are unsurpassed. It also provides excellent bang for the buck. But the boat ran slower than we expected. With power equal to that of the Fountain, it lagged by 8.5 mph, even though the Fountain is beamier with nearly identical displacement. Also, the plastic battery box door and poor forward fishbox insulation are letdowns on a boat that otherwise is built with top-notch quality.

The numbers posted by the Fountain 38 CC are nothing short of stellar. Who would have thought you could bolt 825 horses on a transom and get the fuel economy you’d expect from a diesel inboard traveling at less than half the speed? Construction and detail work are excellent, fishing abilities are good, and although the price seems high, after considering the comprehensive standard features list and overall quality level, it’s more reasonable. That’s why Fountain’s 38 CC topped the competition, and would have scored even higher if that under-gunwale wiring were better.

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