Welcome to Weekend on the Water. With so many of us who call Tampa Bay home passionate about spending time afloat, this new regular column – it’s in addition to Weekend Wheels – looks at some of the coolest new powerboats around. We kick things off with a test drive of Sea Ray’s new Sundancer 370 Outboard.
Ever wondered how Sea Ray got its name? Maybe a play on sting ray, or manta ray. Ray of sunshine for the sea, perhaps? Good guess. But wrong.
It all goes back to Cornelius Nathaniel Ray III. In 1959, the native Detroiter founded Ray Industries in Oxford, Michigan, cranking-out small, zippy family runabouts.
So, using C-for Cornelius, and his last name, it was an easy step to Sea Ray. By 1986, when Connie Ray had sold his company to the Brunswick Corporation powerhouse, Sea Ray had grown to be one of the world’s biggest boatbuilders.
One of his many strokes of genius was seeing a gap in the market for a family-focused express cruiser. Forty-five years ago, he built the first Sea Ray Sundancer and the rest, as they say, is history.
Despite a rocky few years over the past decade during which time Brunswick even pondered selling-off the Sea Ray brand, the Sundancer is back. With a vengeance.
The brand new Sundancer 370 Outboard not only marks the introduction of a new Sundancer family, but also pretty much sees the reinvention of Sea Ray itself. Yes, it’s that big a deal.
Brand new from the keel up, it’s a design masterpiece from any angle. While the hull profile has styling cues from Sundancers past, it’s that towering, glass-filled hardtop and huge windshield that’s guaranteed to spin heads.
To see how this new Sundancer performs, I recently got to spend a fun-filled morning putting the new 370 through its paces across Sarasota Bay. I came away thoroughly impressed at what it manages to pack-in to 37 feet.
While we all remember Sundancers of old, with gas-guzzling V8s powering through stern-drives, the 370 designers wisely opted for outboards. They’re quieter, smoother, easier to maintain and way more space-efficient.
The first boats out of Sea Ray’s Merritt Island facility come with triple 300-horse Mercury Verados, with the option of mighty Mercury Verado V12 600s. With three 300s, top speed is close to 50mph, with easy-peasy cruising in the mid-30s.
Step on to the wide swim platform and into the cockpit, and the feeling of space is terrific. There’s seating for seven or eight for dinner on the U-shaped sofas. And rather than having the galley down below, there’s an electric grille, sink, fridge and freezer right here.
Step through the port-side windshield door and there’s seating in the bow for five. And the beauty here is the height of the walkway sides; they give a great feeling of safety and security.
But it’s that mile-high, hardtop that is design genius. The sheer amount of glass is astonishing, giving superb all-round visibility from the helm. Nice touches include the power-sliding sunroof, air conditioning, and power rear sunshade which glides out of the hardtop.
Up at the helm there are twin seats on either side, while the control panel could easily have come out of a fancy Mercedes. Twin 16-inch Simrad displays on our test boat integrate pretty much all of the boat’s major functions.
Down below, the cabin is flooded with light courtesy of huge hull windows. Up in the bow there’s an L-shaped sofa that, at the touch of a button, creates a queen bed. Mid-ships, beneath the cockpit, there’s another “L” that creates a double.
Out on Sarasota Bay, this new Sundancer leaps on to the plane and punches to 45+mph with ease, even with six adults aboard. While there’s not much in the way of wave action today to test the Sea Ray’s poise, it slices through other boats’ wake, with any rock ‘n roll quelled by the optional Seakeeper3 giro stabilizer. Joystick control makes docking a breeze, even in a breeze.
You’ll pay around $860,000 for a 370 with triple Mercury 300s. Want those twin V12s, add another $125,000.
With this new 370 Outboard, Sea Ray definitely builds on the Sundancer legacy with a boat that’s sleek, sexy and a lot of fun. Connie Ray would have been proud.