Sea Ray 235 Express Cruiser
Sea Ray's 235 Express Cruiser is the latest New Zealand-built, American-designed cabin cruiser to carve it up in local waters. Steve Raea hitched a ride on Wellington's storm-tossed Port Nicholson Harbour.
Wellington Harbour is well known for its ability to break boats, particularly when northerly gales sweep down the Hutt Valley and unleash storm force winds that quickly whip up steep and breaking seas.
It is not uncommon on such days for Cook Strait ferries to be brought to a standstill at the Wellington Heads where they sometimes disappear from view in the northerly swells marching down the harbour and out into the open straits.
Thursday, May 23 was one such day. Forty knot winds had built up an angry sea that crashed over waterfront seawalls where commuters battled their umbrellas as they trudged to work.
It was hard to conceive, therefore, why Wellington's Sports Marine manager Rob Webley was still prepared to put to sea in the new Sea Ray 235 Express Cruiser.
But who was I to argue. This was Rob's patch and Rob's boat and boating we would go, regardless of the conditions that could fairly be described as punishing.
The Sea Ray 235 is the fourth model in the American Sea Ray range to be manufactured locally by Christchurch-based Raeline Boats using imported moulds and components from Sea Ray's American factories. Raeline is the only manufacturer and New Zealand the only country outside the United States to to build what is arguably the world's most respected name in fibreglass bow rider and cuddy cabin boats.
Raeline Boats began producing the Sea Ray 180 Bow Rider in 1999, building both an inboard and outboard model for the New Zealand and Australian markets. The Sea Ray 190 Cuddy Cabin soon followed.
Managing director Peter Rae says the contract to build the larger 235 Express Cruiser was effectively a vote of confidence in Raeline's ability to emulate the same exacting standards required of all boats carrying the Sea Ray badge. Peter Rae says the first completed boat of each model is shipped to America for inspection before production begins. To date Raeline has built about 240 units of the 180 and 190 and is currently laying up hull number 10 of the 235 model.
The boat is based on the American-built 215 Express Cruiser with the addition of a stern swim platform giving an overall length of 23'5" or 7.10 metres. The only other difference between the US and New Zealand product is the exclusion of a built-in head in the cabin. Peter Rae says local dealers opted to forgo the head, thereby maximising interior volume and overnight accommodation. An enclosed head, however, remains an option.
The 235 is marketed as a weekend all rounder which is a label that fits comfortably given that the boat has enough creature comforts to allow a couple to head away overnight without sacrificing room in the cockpit for fishing or lounging about in the late afternoon sun.
From the outside the 235 has the same low cabin top profile associated with purpose-built sports cruisers and yet has an internal volume that belies the boat's overall dimensions. That volume has been achieved by sacrificing side decks which has allowed the designers to take full advantage of the boat's generous beam. The 235's style is further accentuated by the steeply angled imported glass windscreen which follows closely the exterior lines of the hull. Again, elongated teardrop windows complete a picture of symmetry. The boat's two-tier swim platform and full width stern contributes markedly to the overall feeling of space and size that might reasonably be found on a 27 footer.
The cabin is light and airy with an overhead hatch and windows to port and starboard. The ceiling and cabin walls are lined with frontrunner with upholstered side pockets running the full length of the cabin on both the port and starboard side. The squabs are thick and wide and form a generous V berth in the bow. With sitting headroom of 950mm and a length of 2.55m, there is ample room for a couple and two children to spread out below without climbing all over each other. In standard trim, the boat provides good overnight accommodation for two adults. A couple of kids could also be squeezed in with the addition of an optional infill and squab. It is worth remembering too that in warmer months a couple of kids could be thrown into the cockpit where seating arrangements provide two good sized berths.
Internal cabin stowage is generous with dry lockers under each of the three squabs. A small galley sink has been built in against the companionway bulkhead to port with a self-draining icebox tucked in behind the sink. A pressurised cold water tap is fitted over the sink and can be pulled out to extend into the cockpit for washing fish, the cockpit sole or for showering.
The galley unit has limited bench space but generous storage underneath accessed through a padded locker door. A cassette player or optional CD player is housed over the galley unit and can be operated remotely from the helm station or manually below deck. There is no hob and realistically little room for one. There is, however, no shortage of space in the cockpit for a marine BBQ and 12 volt fridge which would give the boat added weekend appeal.
The carpeted cabin sole has an aluminium recess in which a small table stored under the forward berth can be dropped into, providing a stable platform for below deck dining. The same table fits into a similar recess in the cockpit for happy hour sundowners. The cabin is well lit with 12 volt light fittings port and starboard on the aft bulkhead.
A carbon monoxide/battery monitor panel is also mounted on the starboard bulkhead as required under US maritime regulations. While the cabin is everything you might expect in boat of this size there remain two considerations - cooking and ablutions. Both of these needs can be catered for by either electing to have an enclosed head built in - an optional extra, or by carrying a portable chemical toilet under the forward V berth. While the built-in head will reduce accommodation it would, for my money, be the more practical if slightly more expensive option.
The cockpit, however, is where Sea Ray's designers have thought of everything right down to the large plastic fish bin securely stored under the cockpit sole. The Express Cruiser is a beamy boat by anyone's standard and nowhere is that more evident than in the cockpit.
Sea Ray have given a lot of thought to how best to cater for varying interests and tastes by providing a number of cockpit options from the sole up.
For serious fishers, owners might elect to have a fully moulded one-piece sole that can be hosed out while others might elect to go for the classical look of flexi-teak as fitted to our test boat. Other flooring options include button down polyprop carpet that can be removed when fishing and replaced later for cocktails in a secluded bay. The Express Cruiser's seating plan includes a fixed bench seat on the drivers side large enough for him and her with single back to back seats on the passenger side which fold down into a sun lounger. The passenger seat also slides forward, giving more space aft and, conversely, more legroom up front if required. The padded engine box across the stern seats two with twin drop in seats either side that provide another full-length sun bed. The drop in seat on the port side provides easy walk-through access to the rear swim platforms via a small hinged door that clips back when not in use.
There is limited storage under both front seats but there are two deep padded lockers in the port and starboard combings that include clever bits like rod holders at the aft end of each.
The side pockets on the test boat carried two life jackets and two good sized fenders on the port side and two skis, a knee board and a tow line on the starboard side with plenty of room left for tackle and the like. The engine box tilts forward giving easy access to the 240hp 5.0 litre EFI MerCrusier inboard. At 850mm from the cockpit sole and 100mm wide, the cockpit combings are a perfect height for fishing and wide enough to sit on for extended periods without going numb in the rear. They are also high enough to contain the most rowdy of passengers, regardless of age.
The upholstery is Sea Ray's trademark white UV-stabilised vinyl embossed with the Sea Ray logo in gold. The standard of finish is excellent right down to the rear cup holders.
The cockpit floor has two lift out panels giving easy access to the plastic fish or ice bin which is set over the boat's plastic fuel and water tanks. This also gives access to the bilge and fresh water pumps and plumbing circuit.
The helm station is typical Sea Ray with everything falling to hand as you would expect. The imitation walnut dash houses a full package of instruments that includes fuel, oil pressure, water temperature, rev counter, speedo (mp/h), amps, trim and digital hour metre. A 12 volt socket is set under the wheel with the remote control for the stereo set further to port. Dash switches include horn, electric bilge pump, nav lights, anchor light, bilge blower and water pump. A cup holder and compass recess completes the picture.
The 235 is a boat designed to be driven in a seated position and the wheel, instruments and windscreen have been designed with this in mind. One of the more clever features of the boat is the sliding cabin door which, when closed, provides a two-step ladder onto the cabin top. From here it is simply a case of hinging a panel in the windscreen back to gain access to the foredeck and chain locker. The bow area is all non-skid, but the camber is such that care is required when venturing forward in the wet.
The 235 has one of the more generous chain lockers seen on a boat of this size and incorporates a clever fitting designed to hold the flukes of a Danforth anchor firmly against the inside of the locker. The test boat wasn't fitted with a windlass but this remains an option.
With the bimini extended and the clears in place, we launched from the relative but short lived calm of Seaview Marina. The wind and rain gathered fury until we were in a full gale nudging our way alongside Wellington's northern motorway. Despite horizontal rain finding the odd gap in the clears, we stayed relatively dry as we ran back and forth, clocking a top speed of 42.8 mp/h at 5000 rpm on a handheld GPS.
The boat, which is no lightweight, lifted onto the plane at about 2500 rpm and found its niche at about 3700 rpm which gave a comfortable and economical speed of about 35 mph.
The power steering made light work of the small chop close inshore and the twin planing strakes and wide downward chine did a good job deflecting spray away. Trimmed down, the Express Cruiser was a willing partner as we pulled tight turns this way then that, digging her chine in with no apparent want to slip out as some heavier boats can have a want to do. Satisfied with her inshore ability, we headed out into the rough and before long found ourselves leaping off the tops of breaking seas in white water. With the boat trimmed up and power on, we felt more than comfortable pushing on despite conditions that could reasonably be described as marginal.
While there were times the entire hull climbed clear of the water, the boat landed sweetly with a reassuring stern-first attitude and willingness to power on without hesitation.
And while there was the odd bone-jarring crash, we were of the opinion that the 235 was extremely forgiving, even when placed beam on to the seas. While somewhat out of my own comfort zone, Rob Webley was in his and he wasn't afraid to show it, pushing the boat hard as we turned and took the seas head-on. Despite near whiteout conditions, the boat tracked purposefully across the face of the seas and felt very safe and sure.
We summised that the 235's generous beam, stability and weight were instrumental in her sea keeping qualities. No dodger or spray skirt, however, could keep a crew dry in these conditions and the decision was made to retire to the safety of Seaview Marina.
While it could said that only the foolhardy would put to sea in a Wellington gale, it was a valuable exercise for both boat and crew.
As we know, conditions in this part of the country can and do change quickly and unpredictably. It is comforting to know, therefore, that with sensible management and experience, the 235 Express Cruiser is one boat that will get you safely home. While directed at the luxury end of the market, the 235 is no powder puff and is more than capable of meeting the demands of serious anglers who are of the belief that sport and pleasure should be able to be accommodated for in a single package.
Keep up to date with news from Trade-A-boat or liking us on Facebook!