Sea Ray 280: Sundancer Kid

You've got a friend.

Two dinettes? Have you ever seen a 28' cruiser with two dinettes? Neither had I until I tested Sea Ray's new 280 Sundancer. True, most of the time you'll never need more than the single four-seat, portside dinette, but having a spare available that sets up in the V-berth beats jamming your guests into the head when a sudden rain drives the party belowdecks. Two dinettes are just one of the many cool, boatworthy features on the new 280 Sundancer. A close inspection of the boat reveals thoughtful attention to detail. And the ride? Test day conditions were perfect for sizing up handling and performance.

OBEDIENT TO COMMAND. Cruisers similar to the 280 Sundancer include the Regal Commodore 2760 ($94,023 powered as our test boat) and Formula's 27 PC ($101,600 also powered as our test boat). Although all three boats are designed for overnighting with your family, they will still see plenty of service as the runabout from which you're probably trading up. You can tow skiers, haul the gang on inflatable dragons, or just tear around with abandon when the mood strikes.

THE HIGHS: Your choice: two dinettes or two berths. Solid handling. Solid performance. Safety features include lots of grabrails and an angled swim ladder. Hidden a/c vents are a nice touch.

THE LOWS: If you're standing next to the skipper at the helm, watch your step. Should have a better-grade surface for the galley counter. A manual engine hatch cover on a $100,000 cruiser?

Toward that end, Sea Ray engineered the 280 Sundancer with a hullform that has 21 degrees of transom deadrise and a length-to-beam ratio of just under 3:1. This design, along with the lift and push provided by twin 210-hp MerCruiser stern drives, proved its worth during the test. Fighting a 20-knot breeze, I headed the 280 Sundancer into Government Cut during the Miami Boat Show, running it through the wakes of every kind of boat you can imagine. Conditions, to say the least, were sloppy-with a capital S. But the 280 Sundancer took it all in stride. Its sportboat-like handling and gentle ride made for a fun afternoon. Seeing a stretch of tight three-footers, I pushed the throttles forward. At 3400 rpm, you could pour a drink. At 4000 rpm, the hull was still tracking straight and soft. I cranked the helm over into a tight turn and the 280 Sundancer shouldered aside quartering waves without slamming or pounding. Minimum planing speed, a criterion we use to judge all cruisers, was achieved at 2600 rpm and 15 mph with the stern drives trimmed under and the trim tabs deployed in the full down position. This is good for a cruiser of this type, especially one with a deep-V hullform like the 280 Sundancer. It will allow you to maintain maneuverability when longer stretches of choppy seas take the fun out of wave busting at cruising speed. Not only does this boat get you there, it allows you to enjoy the ride along the way.

During your test drive, give the salesperson the wheel, and stand where your mate usually would. (The 280 Sundancer's helm chair allows room for only the skipper.) But watch your step. There's a deep well in front of the companionway, designed to ensure that the cabin won't flood.

The accessory panel is worth a good look. Instead of a series of separate switches and breakers, all accessories can be energized from a single, multipurpose, waterproof touchpad that's nicely backlit. I found it confusing at first-the accessories are identified by symbols rather than labels-but I soon got the hang of it. Plus, consider the advantage of having fewer wires hanging behind the helm. Just a single cable runs to the all-in-one waterproof panel. This reduces the pile-of-pasta clutter typical of midsize cruiser wiring. The time you save troubleshooting a problem will easily overwhelm the time you spend memorizing the symbols.

THE INSIDE STORY. Step down the companionway and into the cabin. The headliner is neat and tight. The paneling is a cherry-ish laminate. The upholstery is plush-a tufted mix of fabric and leather that's as easy on the eye as it is on the butt. Also, you won't see any vents for the optional 10,000-Btu air conditioner ($4,200). Why? As on Sea Ray's large boats, these vents are cleverly hidden beneath the woodwork and valances.

Take hold of the grabrail at the galley counter. Pull hard. Pull harder. It's mega-yacht hefty. Plus, the counter has a drip catcher routed into its perimeter. Look below and you'll find a rack in a cabinet to stow the lift-off lids from the sink. The counter itself is fiberglass that's been made to look like granite. But it's a too-faux granite. I'd prefer to see a true solid-surface countertop, such as the one Regal uses on its Commodore 2760. It resists burns better, is easier to repair, and adds more luxury. A trash bin sits beneath a hatch in the companionway stairs of the 280 Sundancer. Remove the bin and you find access to the shower sump pump.

Forward, the stowage below the V-berth can be reached from the sides of its base as well as from the top-a neat solution to the problem of having to remove gear from under-berth stowage, especially when what you're looking for, as always seems to be the case, is at the bottom of the bin. Overhead, the translucent deck hatch features a screen and shade that slide and retract, which eliminates the inevitable fumbling and bumbling with typical removable screens.

Aft, the mid-berth has a screened vent port, mirrored stowage, and enough headroom to sit comfortably. Plus, there's plenty of snooze room for two adults. The head is basic, perhaps a bit small. It includes a spray-head shower and two solid grabrails that can support you when you need them to. The commode is a vacuum-flush model. The feature belowdecks that I rate as too cool is the previously mentioned V-berth that converts into a dinette. This one-and-a-half, adult-size berth converts into a dinette that seats four, upping the cabin's total seating capacity to eight.

OUT AND ABOUT. Topside accommodations include especially deep companion and aft lounges, and aft-facing seats that fold and convert into a sunpad. The cockpit is self-bailing, of course, and nonslip has been placed everywhere, including gunwale tops. To starboard, the wetbar features dedicated stowage for a removable cooler, a grabrail, and a poly lid for the sink.

Anyone for a swim? The standard 2'7" extended swim platform-the reason for the 280 Sundancer's 31'1" LOA-is accessed via a poly boarding door, instead of a fiberglass one, which I would prefer. The ladder is a three-step, recessed job, angled to port so swimmers stay clear of the drives. A grabrail? It's within easy reach.

Engine access is through a hatch cover that's lifted manually. Although the cover has gas struts and lifts easily, I'd prefer a motorized unit, such as the one on Formula's 27 PC. The engine installation is solid. All service points are easily reached. The compartment is gel coated for easy cleanup, too. All in all, a tidy, complete package that proved to be exceptionally competent.

LAST WORD. More than meets the eye. A lot more.

LOA.......31'1" ****

Beam.......9'5" ****

Draft.......2'9 5/8" ****

Displacement (lbs., approx.)....8,000 ****

Transom deadrise ....21º

Bridge clearance ...6'11" ****

Minimum cockpit depth......3'7" ****

Max. cabin headroom....6'2" ****

Fuel capacity (gal.)......100 ****

Water capacity (gal.)......28 ****

Price (w/standard power) ..........$93,984 ****

Price (w/test power) ..........$100,851

STANDARD POWER: Single 320-hp MerCruiser MMX 6.2L V-8 Bravo Three gasoline stern drive.

OPTIONAL POWER: Twin MerCruiser gasoline stern drives to 420 hp total; twin MerCruiser or Volvo Penta diesel stern drives to 520 bhp total.

TEST BOAT POWER: Twin 210-hp MerCruiser 4.3L EFI Alpha V-6 gasoline stern drives with 262 cid, 4.00" bore x 3.48" stroke, swinging 133¼4" x 21" props through 1.62:1 reductions.

STANDARD EQUIPMENT (major items): Extended swim platform with ladder; windshield wiper; Bimini top; gas-assisted engine hatch; cockpit 12-volt DC and 110-volt AC outlets; hot and cold transom shower; wetbar w/sink and carry-on cooler with dedicated stowage; enclosed head with shower and vacuum-flush commode; CO detector; AM/FM/CD stereo w/6 speakers, amp, and cockpit remote; convertible dinette with table; microwave; dual-voltage refrigerator; single-burner stove; V-berth table; compass; depthfinder; electronic switch console; dual battery switch; 30-amp 110-volt shorepower w/cord; water heater; dockside water inlet; trim tabs.