Just when I think that Sea Ray has done everything possible to create a yacht that reflects exactly how the average family actually uses their boat, well, I'm proven wrong. And that's precisely what happened when I saw its new 450 Sundancer.
Sea Ray has always been an owner-driven company, and it spends a considerable amount of time in focus groups with existing owners to see what they like, what they don't like, and what they'd wish for in a yacht. Even more important, the design team actually listens to that input and incorporates the ideas in a process that has continually "improved the breed."
Over the decades that I've been testing all manner of Sea Rays (no, I won't tell you how many!), none surprised me as much as this 450 'Dancer. Quite frankly, I was expecting a styling update of their previous 43 Sundancer, some layout changes, and perhaps new woods or fabrics.
But this is a whole new ballgame.
For one thing, this 450 is a smaller boat than the earlier 43. Eh? It's part of a new "honesty in sizing" movement at Sea Ray, where the model numbers previously bore only little relation to the real boat size. The 43 Sundancer was actually 47 feet, 3 inches, but the new 450 fits in a 45-foot, 6-inch box.
But that's only part of the story. In my mind, the most important feature for the 450 Sundancer is something you don't often see on yachts under 100 feet: A media room. That's right, the 450 has a dedicated media room just abaft the salon, complete with a comfy UltraLeather settee and a 37-inch flatscreen TV with a DVD player and gaming system port. Satellite TV and surround-sound are available upgrades. A pair of movable ottomans have dual-purpose tops: Flip over the padded cushions and they become cocktail tables for drinks and popcorn for the movie. The room even has blue lighting for a theatrical effect.
Sea Ray was able to achieve this addition by using the space freed up by a pair of Cummins MerCruiser Zeus pod drives, and also by repurposing the amidships stateroom found on the earlier 43 and other boats of this size. Removing the bulkhead not only creates this media room, but it also opens up the salon as well.
This doesn't mean that you've lost the ability to take another couple, though, because that settee quickly converts to a full double berth. There's a privacy curtain, a pair of hanging lockers, drawers for clothing, and ports for air and light-great for guests or kids.
The salon has been rearranged as well, with the galley running along the starboard side with acres of counter space, a two-burner black-glass cooktop under a cover, dual-voltage stainless steel fridge/freezer, and enough drawers, lockers, and cabinets to handle the cookware and provisions.
Opposite the galley is another UltraLeather convertible settee with a high-gloss dining table that allows additional seating with the ottomans. If you can't get enough television, a 26-inch flatscreen hinged from the ceiling over the galley is an option.
The forward bulkhead is styled as a shoji screen, with a pocket door to separate the owner's cabin forward. A separate door into the salon provides day access to the spacious head with a VacuFlush toilet. If, like me, you hate head compartments combined with a shower that soaks everything in the area, you'll love the 450 Sundancer. The shower is a completely separate compartment to port and it's a delight, complete with a curtain to keep your robe and towel dry, a seat, a tiled sole, handrails, and stowage areas.
The owner's cabin fills the bow with a fullsized berth with an electrically actuated extension- it actually retracts to provide more cabin space for dressing. Even better, it has a Posturepedic electric backrest so you can watch the 19-inch flatscreen TV comfortably. The berth also hinges up to reveal a cavernous stowage area, and the cabin has a pair of cedar-lined hanging lockers, built-in nightstand drawers, and overhead lockers on each side. Two oversized ports give a picture-window view of the outside world, making this a great place to wake up.
The cockpit doubles as an alfresco living room and, once again, Sea Ray has captured how owners use their boats. There's a wraparound settee to port with a table that expands from cocktail to dining size, and the starboard side is filled with what can only be called an outdoor galley sporting a sink, ice maker or optional refrigerator, and space for the optional electric grill.
The skipper gets a fully adjustable double- wide seat with flip-up bolster for standing, and a double-wide companion seat is opposite. The standard electronics package includes VHF, autopilot, and the sophisticated SmartCraft vessel monitoring system. Our test boat had the optional Raymarine package with E120 monitors combining radar, GPS, chart plotter, and fishfinder.
A well-finished fiberglass hardtop with a huge retractable sunroof covers the entire cockpit and the windshield has twin remote-controlled opening panels for more breeze. If your weather tends to extremes, you can add air conditioning and/or heat for the cockpit.
The entire after section of the cockpit sole, including the big sunpad with two-way back, rises hydraulically to reveal the engineroom. Steps lead to a standing area between the Cummins diesels and, by and large, access is acceptable for normal maintenance with the water and fuel filters nearby and the twin bilge pumps directly below. You can also order the 450 with V-drive gas engines but, frankly, the Zeus diesels are such a great package that they really define the 450. Optional Kohler or Onan generators range from 8 kW to 11.5 kW, depending on the electrical needs.
Getting out, the Zeus joystick makes maneuvering a cinch and, once underway, the electronic MerCruiser DTS shifters and throttles were easy to operate. Power steering makes the 450 handle like a sports car and, with our optional twin 364-horsepower QSB- 380 diesels, we topped out at about 32 knots, although this was the prototype hull and the engineering boffins were still tinkering with props. Notable, however, was the 31 gph consumption at a fast cruise of 27 knots.
No question about it: There are a lot of families who are going to find that the 450 Sundancer is a perfect fit for their boating lifestyle-from the media room, to the owner's cabin, to the great cockpit.
Sea Ray, www.searay.com