With conventional shafts turning the props through V-drive transmissions, Meridian's 441 won't make the same speeds or net the same fuel efficiency as similar boats powered by pod or tractor drives. But the 441's conventional propulsion has other merits. The aft placement of its V-drive configuration allows space for a utility room beneath the salon. Although it's large enough to serve as a crew stateroom, I envisioned using this space to stow four bikes, a deflated dinghy and outboard, six deck chairs, spare props, cases of beverages, and more -- invaluable to boaters who spend lots of time onboard.
The ease of docking argument proffered by pod proponents is largely muted by a new docking system installed aboard the 441. Called "Total Command," this integrates engine controls with bow and stern thrusters. Use a joystick to move the boat in close quarters. It doesn't provide the diagonal movement you get with pod drives, but it precisely delivers orthogonal (fore, aft, port, starboard) motion. Even so, twin inboards, especially diesels, are easy boats to dock, and may especially appeal to those who've been around the dock a few times.
If you run aground, the shear-off feature of pods and tractors protects you and your boat better than con-ventional shafts and rudders. But most groundings aren't usually catastrophic, and fixes involving conventional power are relatively inexpensive and easier because parts and service are more readily available.
Sea How She Runs.
Meridian claims that the 441 tops out at over 33 mph with the larger 474-bhp Cummins MerCruiser diesels installed. My tester's twin 420-bhp QSB 5.9s delivered 30.1 mph at full throttle with four people aboard, the optional hardtop (price n/a at press time) installed, its bottom painted, and fully laden. I wouldn't want more horsepower. The 441 planed readily -- in fact, with less inclination than what I've experienced aboard many pod-powered boats. I'd attribute this to the down-angle thrust delivered by conventional props and shafts. (Note: This same feature is largely what diminishes efficiency and speed once on plane compared to the "flat" shaft angle of pods.) At 22 mph, the engines burned 33.4 gph, producing 0.6 mpg for a range of 257 miles. It held plane at 11 mph, identical to the minimum planing speed I recorded during my test of Silverton's 43 Sportbridge ($654,078 with twin 435-bhp Volvo Penta IPS 600 tractor drives and joystick). That's a great attribute when the wind comes up in your face and you want to proceed in control but without dropping off the crests of waves and slamming. These speeds, though slower than boats powered by pods or express boats of any ilk, are acceptable to me. Why? Because a sedan such as the 441 is about the destination, rather than a means to a destination.
The engine installation is impressive. Thanks to a hatch in the utility room, servicing the fuel filters is a snap. Within the engine room, I could easily check the oil, swap out a bilge pump, change a genset filter, or drain the water heater for winter storage. Electrical connections were neatly routed and sealed. I squawked to Meridian senior personnel about the genset's raw-water seacock, which I couldn't close because its handle hits a bundle of cables. Manufacturing will fix the installation, rotating the valve so that it's fully operational. The 441 sported the first application I've seen of Cummins MerCruiser's Vessel Interface Panel (VIP). VIP moves most onboard engine electronics and circuit breakers to a remote panel, mounted here on the bulkhead. This makes engine electrical troubleshooting easier. It also provides a way to interface the engines with the SmartCraft engine and boat systems control and monitoring system, which allows you to oversee vital functions at the helm.
Look How She Shines
Although a lower helm station is offered (price n/a), standard command of the 441 is from the flying bridge. Here a swiveling captain's chair to starboard serves a huge console with room for all your gadgets. A double companion bench is to port. Visibility backing into the slip was fine. I wish the electronics access panel had a strut to hold it open. As is, you must prop it open with something or work one-handed.
Aft of the helm is a large lounge served by a fiberglass table. The table drops to form a reclining sunpad. A faux-granite-topped wetbar is abaft the helm. Purchase the optional four-zone air-conditioning (price n/a) and put up the canvas, and you have a second, climate-controlled salon, deliciously separated from noisy passengers in the salon below. Blue courtesy lights create slick ambience. The bridge stairway is protected by a hatch, not a simple chain. The hatch reduces noise considerably, although the underwater exhaust makes the 441 quiet to begin with.
Head down the steps and into the cockpit. Enter the salon through a massive, screened, stainless-steel slider. Two tiers of large, longitudinal windows, some of which open, provide light, ventilation, and a view of the harbor from every seat. Ultraleather covers the sofa, and chairs are upholstered in fabric. The headliner is a fiberglass inset with wood. Look close: The insets are actually air-conditioning diffusers, eliminating cold spots. Cabinets are frosted glass and lit from within.
Forward is the dinette, which seats six, or it can be set up as the second helm. Forward of that is the galley. An up configuration, this fully equipped, hardwood-floored cooking area provides room for what awaits belowdecks: a guest stateroom that runs full beam amidships. Here, hidden stowage behind the headboard is a great use of dead space. Private access to the day head? Natch.
Enter the master stateroom in the forepeak. The island berth sports an innerspring pillowtop mattress. A private head, cedar-lined lockers, and tons of architectural detail put captain and mate in the lap of luxury. You'll be as relaxed here as you will be using the Total Command joystick to dock the 441 in a crosswind.