May 16, 2011
An exclusive photo tour of hot new outboards, as tested recently by FS Editor Jeff Weakley.
A 350-horsepower four-stroke outboard? And it weighs 800 pounds? What on earth . . . ?
I overheard more than a few people ask variations on those questions during the Miami International Boat Show last February. I had some ideas of my own, after watching the dramatic unveiling of this innovative powerplant.
This summer in Bridgeport, Alabama, I had the opportunity to test the new Yamaha F350 (among other engines) on several boats. We were visiting the Yamaha Motor Corp. semi-secret test facility on the Tennessee River. It was an unusual place to see a 36-foot Contender with three outboards on the transom, one of which probably outweighs the average river boat in this woodsy corner of the Deep South.
The Contender measures 36 feet, 3 inches, with a beam of 10 feet, 2 inches. Dry weight, according to the Miami manufacturer, is 6,000 pounds. As pictured here, she scales close to 12,000 pounds, powered with the big 350s and loaded with T-top, four passengers and just over half her 500-gallon fuel capacity.
The three F350s at work. The center engine has a 30-inch shaft, the others 25-inch, which is why they're on a level playing field, so to speak. You see some triple setups with the center motor mounted lower to accommodate identical shaft lengths.
These are big motors, weighing 822 and 804 pounds, respectively. They're mounted to the transom with six bolts, instead of the usual four. The powerhead is a 5.3-liter V-8, with 32-valve double overhead camshaft and variable camshaft timing. . . a class of engine you might find on a full-size SUV. List price: about $27,000.
Performance tests edged just over 70 mph; I caught 67 on my camera. . .
. . . which evidently was plenty fast enough for Alan Jones of Boating World magazine. Fuel burn, predictably, is considerable; best cruising range was 3,000 rpm at 33.2 mph, for 1.29 miles per gallon. On the other hand, those will undoubtedly be comfortable miles.
One compelling application for the F350 is in powering larger express-type fishing boats and cruisers. Here is a 36-foot Grady White Express, which weighs over 20,000 pounds fully loaded--definitely not a trailer boat.
Yamaha marketing folks tout a few advantages, such as creating more room aft, where that inboard drive system used to be; lower package price; less draft; improved speed.
Another benefit, brought up by my travel companion Rick Ryals, of FS Live! Radio, was dry storage in a boat barn. Inboard drives commonly don't sit well on racks.
We tested a Regulator 32FS, a clean offshore fishing machine built in Edenton, North Carolina.
The 32FS was rigged with twin F350s, turning in a top end just over 60 mph, and an optimal cruising range of 3,500 rpm at 30.4 mph, delivering 1.4 miles to the gallon.
The Command Link Digital Electronic Control for the F350 has some sweet features. For one, it will automatically synchronize the rpm for twin or even triple engine configurations. That helps improve fuel economy and minimizes headaches and constant throttle adjustments.
With the trips, as on that big Contender, Command Link automatically pulls the center motor out of gear for close-quarters docking. Nice.
At slow-trolling speeds, you can make subtle adjustments in 50 rpm increments.
There's that loud clunk! of huge gears engaging--seems ever more abrupt over the car-like hum of the four-stroke--but shifting and throttling is unbelievably smooth.
Synched twins on the 32FS, at a pretty efficient rpm.
A 25-foot Grady White Advance 257 with the single F350 was a great performer, with innate seaworthiness, but handling like a much smaller boat. This is a 50 mph package.
And what's this? A 45 mph pontoon boat? Yep. It's a 25-foot "tri-toon" from G3 Boats, powered by the new F225 four-stroke. This is the same engine featured in Casting Off in the July 2007 issue of Florida Sportsman.
Yes, that's the editor of one of the world's largest saltwater-oriented fishing magazines. On a pontoon boat. And loving it.
Somewhat more our speed, the K2 Marine Blackjack 224. This is a bayboat, the kind of ride many Florida anglers use to ply inshore waters and occasionally venture offshore. Power is the F225 four-stroke. Top end: 55.5 mph. Best cruise: 24.2 mph at 3,000 rpm, for 5.26 miles per gallon.
I decided to take a closer look at the Blackjack. Nice uncluttered deck. Four stainless steel rodholders on each side of the console; none of those screw-on plastic jobbies. Foredeck houses rod lockers, and there's enough freeboard left over for secure footing while cast-netting or fishing in choppy seas.
Good-size console, with stainless grab rails, high windshield, and space for electronics.
Aluminum leaning post with rocket launcher rodholders, removable backrest, cooler space, and grab rail for passengers standing aft.
Storage compartment and bow livewell.
Closer look at the aft livewell, showing gelcoated underside of hatch (nice!) and rubber O-ring (quiet!).
Ahoy matey! Methinks the Blackjack cuts a nice profile on the river. . . Carolina flare entry and 15 degrees of deadrise.
Not too shabby at the dock, either. Aft spray rail seems to be more cosmetic than anything, but it looks cool with that transom line and yachty tumblehome.
No engine test is complete without a ride on a speedy bassboat. That's a 20-foot Skeeter with the new 225-horse VMAX Series 2. Yamaha is committed to maintaining a line of 2-strokes for the diehards. This one's a 3.3 liter V6 with the proven HPDI fuel induction system.
The F225 4-stroke on a Ranger Z20 Comanche. Tech guys tell us some bass pros still seem to favor 2-strokes for speed. This boat topped 63 miles per hour. Fast enough for us!
Yamaha test facility at Bridgeport, Alabama. Guys here spend all day zooming around a long island in the Tennessee River, putting new engines, different boats and various props through grueling tests. Not a bad way to make a living, but there's not much to fish for, except big ugly catfish and some weird freshwater drum. Nice place to visit, but . . .