The Houston International Boat, Sport & Travel Super Show is the largest indoor show in America. I visited the show to see some new models and check out other boats that caught my attention.
The Emergence of Forward Drive Sterndrives
The growing popularity of wake surfing has led to a new innovation in boats featuring forward facing sterndrive engines. This design moves the propeller safely under the boat but also provides the efficiency and maneuverability of a sterndrive engine over a true inboard because you can trim the drive unit. Essentially, this gives you a versatile boat that you can comfortably cruise and wake surf with. Several, traditional “runabout” manufacturers introduced wake surf models in 2016 that were on display at the 2017 Houston boat show.
2017 Chaparral 244 Sunesta Surf – features Malibu’s Surf GateTM technology
Chaparral first introduced the 244 in 2016 and currently has 5 models in its “Surf” lineup. The unique thing about these Chaparral models is that they have licensed the technology from Malibu to enable you to customize the wake. Also, according to a local dealer representative, one big advantage of forward facing drives is that you need less ballast since you can point the drive downward to help bury the rear of the boat and create a bigger wake. Plus, they are evidently much more fuel efficient and maneuverable in reverse and at slow speeds – an issue with traditional inboards.
Key features of the Chaparral 244 Sunesta Surf:
- Uses Malibu’s Surf GateTM technology for a highly customizable wake.
- Enclosed head which is handy for long days on the lake.
- Large “back patio” area with aft facing seats making it easy to gear-up or simply relax on the water.
- Walk-thru transom for easy access to the swim platform.
- Medallion Viper II digital display that is easy to view and provides a convenient way to control the boat speed and wake characteristics.
Another thing I like about the 244 model is that it is based on Chaparral’s Sunesta deck boat hull. Besides being attractive, this hull design with its “pickle fork” front end provides a very spacious bow area.
Packaged with a Volvo 5.3L 350 HP Forward Drive, the 2017 Chaparral 244 Sunesta Surf was boat show priced at $89,995.
2017 Four Winns TS 242
Another entry in the Forward Drive “Surf” boat segment is the Four Winns TS (Tow Series). First introduced in 2016, the TS resembles the Chaparral Sunesta Surf in that both are based on a deck boat hull to give you a spacious bow, and each also has an enclosed head and walk-thru transom. However, while Chaparral uses the Malibu Surf GateÔ system, Four Winns uses trim tabs (what they refer to as “Wake Enhancement Tabs”) to help shape the wake.
One thing I like better about the Four Winns layout is that it has an extra bench seat behind the driver instead of a dedicated sink and counter top. This gives you more room to comfortably accommodate guests. But this is a matter of personal preference. If you plan on doing a lot of food preparation on board your boat or tend to go out with fewer passengers, then the Chaparral layout may be better suited for you.
Another minor difference is that the Four Winns has a movable backrest for the front passenger seat, rather than a swivel bucket. Both enable you to comfortably sit forward while driving to a destination or backward to catch the action. While the bucket configuration might feel slightly more secure or comfortable, the movable backrest enables the passenger seat to turn into a lounge area. Nice when catching some rays or relaxing after a “hard day” of cutting it up on the water. The color accented seats and snap in carpet of the Four Winns are also tastefully done.
With a Volvo V8 – 350 HP Forward Drive, trailer, premium audio system, cover and other upgrades, the Four Winns TS 242 had a boat show price of $99,000.
A video review of the product can be found here: http://www.boattest.com/review/four-winns/3579_ts242 . Boating Magazine has also provided some test results (http://www.boatingmag.com/four-winns-ts-242) or you can check out the Four Winns website for complete details.
2017 Regal 2300 RX Surf
Regal, a company known for premium runabouts and cruisers, also entered the “Surf” market in 2016 with their RX Surf series featuring the Volvo Forward Drive. For the 2017 model year, the company offers three different Surf models – the 2100, 2300 and 2500. In contrast to the Chaparral and Four Winns, the RX Surf is based on runabout style hull rather than a deck boat. This gives it a sleeker look but also sacrifices some space in the bow. Also, the 2300 does not have an enclosed head. To get that feature, you would need to step up to the 2500 model.
The interior layout is a little different too. They have what they call “Arena seating” which has a rear facing passenger seat/lounge area – much like a conventional ski/wakeboard boat. This is fine if you spend most of your time doing watersports. However, if you do a lot of pleasure cruising, your “first mate” might not like the fact that he/she needs to sit sideways (toward the driver) or face aft instead of looking at what’s ahead.
However, I like the fact that the walk-thru transom is in the center rather than off to one side since the corner seats tend to be more secure (you have support on two sides) and are conducive to a lounge area (i.e., have a bench to stretch out on).
The size and location of the wake is controlled by the RegalVue touchscreen display which adjusts the ballasts and trim tabs among other things.
Other unique features of the RX Surf:
- PowerTower hydraulically raises and lowers with the push of a button. A handy feature if you need to lower your tower often.
- FasTrac hull design reportedly delivers faster speeds and greater fuel efficiency.
- Wave indicator lights on the back of the boat, similar to turn signals on your car, to indicate to the surfer the direction of the wave transfer.
- Center transom walk-thru.
Packaged with a Volvo V8 300 HP Forward Drive, the Regal 2300 RX Surf was boat show priced at around $90K.
A video review of the product is available here http://www.boattest.com/review/regal/3426_2300-rx-surf or visit the Regal website for complete details.
2017 Cobalt WSS R3 Surf
In the super-premium segment, Cobalt introduced a new line of boats back in 2016 called the WSS Surf. Three models are currently available: R3, R5 and R7. Featuring the Volvo Forward Drive, these boats combine the extreme quality and luxury of the Cobalt brand with a boat that is well suited for wakesurfing and other watersports activities. Some unique things I like about this Cobalt Surf line are as follows:
- Huge surf tabs to help create and direct the wake
- Automatic surf control system provides convenient control with the touch of a button
- Fold down swim step – boaters I’ve spoken to love this feature. An easy way to get in and out of the water or a comfortable place to hang out on a warm summer’s day.
- Beautifully styled interior and upholstery as you would expect on a Cobalt
- Convertible seat backs – adaptable for either cruising or watching the action behind the boat.
- Walk thru transom for easier and safer access to the water.
Similar to the Regal RX Surf, the Cobalt WSS Surf line is built on a traditional runabout hull. A bit more stylish than a deck boat platform but not quite as roomy in the bow.
The WSS R3 Surf model was boat show priced at around $104K, excluding trailer.
A video overview of the Surf series is provided here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iy-3BmLkAo
Additional details are available on the Cobalt website. Reviews of the larger, R5 model, are available at Boating Magazine (http://www.boatingmag.com/cobalt-r5wss-surf ) and Wakeboarding Magazine (http://www.wakeboardingmag.com/surf-cobalt-r5-wss-surf) .
2017 Sea Ray 230 SLX-W
Not to be left out of the wakesurfing craze, Sea Ray entered the “Surf” market with their 230 SLX-W in 2017. However, unlike other “sport boat” manufacturers, Sea Ray went with a more conventional V-Drive inboard motor instead of the Volvo Forward Drive. This is not surprising, however, considering that Sea Ray’s sister company, Mercury, does not currently offer a forward-facing sterndrive option.
One unique new feature of the SLX-W is its optional joystick control. This makes docking and slow speed maneuvering (such as picking up a fallen surfer) a breeze and is something that is typically reserved for larger boats.
In addition to the quality, style, and luxury that Sea Ray is known for, other interesting features of the SLX-W include:
- Integrated Dynamic Display – a touchscreen interface that enables the captain to easily adjust the wake and other boat functions.
- Preset modes for cruising, wakeboarding, and surfing to optimize the speed, ballasts, and tabs for your usage.
- Digital throttle and shift for smooth and precise speed control.
- Large storage compartments throughout the boat and even in the bow. After all, you can never have too much storage.
- A submersible step on the swim platform to help get in and out of the water easily or to provide a refreshing place to relax after a hard day.
- Convertible backrest on the port side to enable the co-captain to watch the activity behind the boat or face forward while cruising to the next destination.
- Optional heater vents for added comfort on cool days.
Equipped with a MerCruiser 6.2 L TowSport V-Drive Inboard, the SLX-W has a starting price of around $97K.
Check out the video walk-through of the boat here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gLddwCVhMA) or visit the Sea Ray website for additional details. A more comprehensive overview of the product is also available on the Boating Magazine website (http://www.boatingmag.com/sea-ray-slx-w-230#page-6 ).
Regal 26 Fasdeck – all new model for 2017
If wakesurfing isn’t your thing but you want a spacious boat for pleasure cruising and other watersports, then the brand new Regal 26 Fasdeck may be worth a look. Built on a deck boat hull, this boat has a spacious bow that could comfortably hold three passengers. Other things I like about this boat include:
- A full-size enclosed head which is handy for long days at the lake.
- Reversible backrests (what they call “social seating”) enables you and a buddy to face forward or aft, depending on where the action is.
- Walk-through transom for easier and safer access to the water (don’t have to climb up onto a seat or sun pad).
- An abundance of storage.
- The Regal “PowerTower” that can be a raised or lowered with the push of a button. Handy if you need to move it often since most towers are pretty heavy and can be difficult to maneuver.
Packaged with a Volvo Dualprop and various options, the Regal 26 Fasdeck on display had an MSRP of $103K but was listed at a very attractive price of $79,998, excluding trailer, at the boat show.
Additional details are available on the Regal website.
To see other highlights from the 2017 Show, click on the links below: