Intrepid 350 Walkaround

Owners know Intrepids are worth waiting for. Here's why.

Intrepid 350 Walkaround

FAST WALK: Word of mouth on Intrepids keeps them in short supply; the 350 Walkaround should be no exception.Forest Johnson

Getting one's hands on a new Intrepid for a sea trial isn't easy. Yes, Yachting has the inside track and brings you the latest the earliest-and of course the folks at Intrepid are anxious to see their creations reviewed on our pages-however, there is a stronger force in the universe. I'm talking about enthusiastic owners who have waited months for the new 350 Walkaround.

Given the above, I felt pretty lucky when I managed to shoehorn a sea trial aboard a new 350, minutes after its launch and 24 hours before its delivery. And she was worth the wait-as I am certain her new owner agrees. While Intrepid doesn't like to talk about how long the queue for one of its new models is, it is safe to say that its customers must either possess or cultivate those higher qualities that include patience. So popular is the boat that many Intrepid owners simply order a new model when it's announced-sight unseen. When the new boat is delivered they list their old one in a brokerage market that shines on pre-owned Intrepids.

Far from being a result of poor planning or disorganization, the wait is due to the semi-custom approach Intrepid takes to the design, prototyping and construction of its boats. The 350 follows the successful 348 that I reviewed in 2002. Instead of simply redressing the design's proven tooling, John Michel, Intrepid's owner and creative force, designed and built completely new tooling. "After the last 348 came out of the mold we destroyed the tooling for the hull and cap," says Mark Beaver, Intrepid's vice president of quality control. This decisive approach encourages new thinking and as Intrepid's model cycle runs about three years, its tooling remains fresh-which results in higher quality parts.

This is not, however, an "out with the old and in with the new" approach. Michel's ambition is to refine and improve his products, not reinvent them. Beaver describes the process as "old school," explaining, "We have computers and modeling programs but we tend to do a lot of sketching at meetings. At the end of the day the final cut is confirmed with a mockup on the shop floor." The 350's flawless molded fiberglass parts tell the story. Our test boat's dark blue hull had a mirror-like finish-something of an achievement as dark colors highlight imperfections. Intrepid molds its hulls with gelcoat and then preps them and applies an Imron finish. Pretty much anything goes as far as color.

Intrepid has no dealer network, maintaining a sales and service center in Ft. Lauderdale. Beaver feels that this allows better communication between the customer and their production facility in Largo, Florida. "We refer to a boat by the customer's name not a number," says Beaver. This environment personalizes the construction process and ultimately the boat. In fact, Intrepid's option list is a work in progress. Hullside dive doors, custom seating, bowthrusters, color-coordinated motors-the list keeps growing. I noted 36 items on the 350's standard features list including the obvious such as navigation lights. There are more than 50 items on the options list, so it is unlikely any two boats will ever be quite the same.

As it happened, our test boat was a fairly straightforward example of an "almost standard" boat. The 350 is 8 inches longer than the 348 and the additional inches were used to lengthen the cockpit area-useful space whether fishing or cruising. Those familiar with the 348 will likely notice the 350's new transom design, which features a slight reverse and includes an integral motor well and a transom door. There is a dive platform and a cockpit shower connected to the 350's pressurized freshwater system. Hearty stainless steel hardware is fitted and the cockpit hatches are guttered, gasketed and have positive latches. There are two in-sole fish/storage boxes and bilge access in the cockpit. There is an additional in-sole storage locker forward as well as an insulated well.

As the 350's model designation suggests, her "Walkaround" design allows easy access fore and aft. Steps lead from the cockpit to a side deck around the forward cabin. The integral molded bow pulpit has an anchor chute and there is deck access to the rode locker. Our test boat was fitted with an anchor windlass which is hidden in a shallow self-draining well beneath a deck hatch. This feature, together with the pop-up stainless bow cleats and flush hatches and skylights, leaves the foredeck clean and uncluttered.

The 350's helm console and forward seating area remain virtually the same as the 348's, which makes sense, as the 348's layout is hard to improve on. Instead of a simple molded part, the console is built in a complicated three-piece mold and then hand finished. The shapely result is something of an Intrepid trademark. There is a large area for electronics and a drink box that can be refrigerated. A clever hinged breaker/switch panel tucks away neatly and the main battery switches and breakers are centralized in a cabinet. I would choose the console windscreen option or an isinglass drop curtain, as the low-cut forward windscreen, while looking great, provides little protection at the helm.

A pocketed fiberglass sliding door leads below to the cabin-an improvement over the 348's acrylic door. Our test boat had a simple interior finished in fiberglass with vinyl trim; again, the options list is open. For example, obtaining wood trim and custom soft goods is no problem. A seating area converts to a double berth and a push of a button allows access to a storage area within. The galley is fitted with a standard stainless steel sink and a dual-voltage refrigerator. An enclosed head/shower comes equipped with a stainless steel sink and an electric head hidden within a molded seat. Air-conditioning is fitted; there is space aft in the bilge beneath the cockpit for a generator.

Intrepid has long favored a single transverse-step hull design. Hull steps must be positioned with an eye for dynamic balance and trim and they must be properly ventilated. Given this they can deliver a comfortable and efficient ride. The 350's hull form features Intrepid's latest thinking on the matter. "The 370 and now the 350 incorporate what we refer to as our generation-two step design," says Beaver. While Beaver is not willing to share the design details, he suggests that the tweaking was done with the goal of increasing comfort. Stepped hulls, particularly those with multiple steps, are typically stiffer longitudinally in a seaway. The 350's forward sections are deep, designed to soften head seas; the after planing surface is approximately 22 degrees-rather deep as well. I found the result to be a dry and comfortable ride in the 3-foot seas offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

We conducted our speed runs in the Waterway. I recorded a top speed of 43.4 knots at 5800 rpm. The Mercury electronics indicated a fuel burn of 55.4 gallons per hour. Easing her back to 4000 rpm reduced the fuel burn to 22 gallons per hour and I recorded a speed of 29.0 knots. This was my first experience with Mercury's new Verado outboards and I must admit I was very impressed. First, as is typical of four-strokes, they were exceedingly quiet; in fact, dockside I did not even notice they were running. Unlike some four-strokes I have tested, the supercharged 250 hp Verados are quite responsive. I advanced the electronic and the 350 rose evenly and steadily with no significant flat spots or excessive trim angles.

The 350's stepped hull also deserves credit in this regard. "One of the key benefits of a single-stepped hull," Beaver says, "is that the after section generates significant lift aft of the center of gravity, which minimizes trim angle at transition (almost planing) speed." That said, the 350 and the Verados seem a perfect match. Intrepid's position on engine choice is simple: Customers call the shots in terms of powering and the 350 is rated for up to 600 hp.

While performance (speed) has always been a focus in this market, comfort (ride) now seems to share an equal billing-particularly for folks used to larger yachts. Beaver suggests that this is the case whether customers are downsizing or adding to their fleet. "Intrepid's demographic is split roughly down the middle," he says. "A lot of our owners have had large inboards but are attracted to the simplicity of operation and maintenance that our boats offer; others with large yachts and professional captains keep our boats as tenders, as they are versatile and fun to drive." The 350 wears these caps well; she has a style and pedigree that is truly unique.

Contact: Intrepid Powerboats, (954) 922-7544; www.intrepidboats.com_._