Monterey 350: Hit Record

Get your groove on.

With its angularity and brawniness, the Monterey 350's low-slung profile is striking. After winding up its twin 420-hp Volvo Penta 8.1GXi DuoProp stern drives, I screamed upriver at more than 50 mph, proving the 350's performance more than matches its looks. The 350 walks the walk and talks the talk. But how well will it cruise, party, and stand up over time? Let's take a closer look.

The 350, Monterey's largest boat to date, takes on those questions with solid, straightforward construction, excellent serviceability, and amenities that include most of what I've come to expect from boats in this category. No, you won't find a screen for the companionway hatch such as the one aboard Four Winns 378 Vista ($270,138 with twin 420-hp Volvo Penta 8.1GXi V-drive inboards). You also won't find the higher price tag that goes with other boats. On the other hand, those costlier boats offer standard equipment such as windshield washers, water tank gauges, and a sound shield for the generator.

THIN AND WIN. There's been a lot of hullabaloo recently about a lack of slip space in some locales. Doesn't it seem that every marina you visit has less space between the poles than before? And if the distance across to a facing boat gets any closer, we're gonna need laws banning bow pulpits. Or maybe it's that boats are getting bigger. Whatever. The point is, close-quarters maneuverability is more important today than ever. On a blustery day and facing tight quarters, I stopped, spun, and backed the 350 into the slip without the use of a bow thruster. Credit for this should go to the low windage of its wedgelike lines, its deep-V hull, and stern drive power. Unlike V-drives, stern drives have no prop pockets. That gives the 350 even more stability than most others. All this combines to discourage the 350 from skating around like a leaf on a birdbath.

Due to the gale that was blowing, I had to stay inside the inlet. But after a day cruising St. Augustine's Matanzas River, I can say that the 350 responded to both helm and throttle in fine fashion, accelerating on demand, and leaning and carving through turns without fuss. Acceleration is brisk, so you don't lose sight of the water while attaining plane. However, I didn't like the steering wheel. Instead of being perfectly circular, it's three-quarters round and flat on one side-like an almost full moon-thus matching the racy style of the boat. But as for feel, that flat section was uncomfortable and felt unnatural while maneuvering. Ask for a full round wheel.

The helm is arranged well, with plenty of space for electronics and gauges arrayed so that engine monitoring can be done in an easy scan. It also continues the boat's racy stylistic theme, with its sparkly gunmetal blue color and each gauge installed in its own deep, tubular recess. Problem is those tubular recesses are canted too much, so they hold water. You'll need to mop them out with a rag after rinsing the boat at day's end.

Engine access is through an electric hatch in the sole. A small day hatch for quick fluid checks is also incorporated, and when I tried it, I found I could actually reach the dipsticks, something that can't be said of other cruisers I've tested. I liked that our test boat's vibration-dampening engine mounts were through-bolted to their bearers. Squatting on the wide platform just forward of the engines, I ticked off the list of service points I use to judge accessibility. Dipsticks, filters, seacocks, batteries, oil fills, and tank sending units were all within easy reach. The 350 scores well for ease of service.

The engine compartment is also a great vantage point from which to check out a boat's construction. The 350's rugged, knitted fiberglass reinforcement, backplated deck hardware, and screwed, glued hull-to-deck joint-without any daylight showing through-are proof. What's more, the cockpit drains exit the boat well above the waterline, ensuring self-bailing.

LET'S CRUISE. The 350's topside amenities consist of a large U-lounge in the aft cockpit that converts to a sunpad in a neat way. Just pull out the "drawers" and lay the filler in place. The fiberglass top of the wetbar opens on a gas strut to reveal two poly cutting boards and a sink. Stowage is below, along with the battery switches, so think twice before jamming this space full of gear. The companion lounge seats three comfortably.

The bow is accessed by wide sidedecks, and though there are grabrails mounted on the arch, they were knee-high for me, which is too low. They should be raised, and Monterey says it's already been done on boats in production. Be sure to check for yourself. Ground tackle stows under a lid, and there's plenty of grippy nonslip underfoot. The sunpad accommodates two adults.

Besides the lack of a screen in the companionway hatch, I loved what I found belowdecks. Cherry laminate cabinetry and bulkheads are done in an Italianate style, with bull-nosed trim on the raised panels and cornices. Buttery faux leather covers the headliner, bulkheads, and dinette lounge. In the galley, I found a sparkly-blue granite-look counter with white trim that creates a fiddle rail. Behind the counter is a stainless-steel rail to secure salt shakers and cereal boxes. In the counter itself, a sink and stove hide beneath flush, precision-cut lids. Racks for the lids are provided in the cabinets below. The flat-screen TV and air-conditioner vents both look built in rather than appearing as add-ons.

The head is plenty big and resides behind a cherry door. A grated, teak seat is built around the commode, providing a comfy and secure spot during showers-there is no shower stall-and a snazzy look. More white-trimmed, sparkly faux granite makes up the vanity.

Sleeping quarters are commodious fore and aft. There's standing headroom at the entrance to the midcabin, as well as an Ultraleather settee and illuminated, cedar-lined hanging locker. Inside, you'll find twin berths and a filler that converts the twins to a single queen. That allows you to separate the kids or provide romance for a couple. Reading lamps are well positioned, and a nightstand with a faux-granite top is installed between the berths at the headboard. This is a pleasing, private space, unlike that aboard other cruisers where the midcabin is little more than an alcove off the salon.

Hang your Boating cap in the illuminated hanging locker of the forward berth. Port and starboard steps lead up to the queen-size mattress. A three-drawer stowage unit is built in below. If you look closely at those drawers, you'll see that they're constructed with dovetail joints, much like the drawers of the Cruisers Yachts 370 ($264,929 powered by twin 420-hp Volvo Penta 8.1GXi V-drive inboards). This beats glued butt joints or, worse, drawers made of plastic-hands-down.

EXTRA POINT: The inboard pair of motor mounts features a saddle that connects the mounts of each engine athwartships. This saddle ensures long-term alignment of engines with drives and beefs up the Volvo's already strong installation.