Sea Ray 43 Sundancer

Zeus drives and a sensible layout make the Sea Ray Sundancer 43 comfortable and easy to maneuver around the dock.

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It doesn't matter how many gallons of salt water you've wrung out of your socks or how many boats you've owned, every time you approach a dock, you experience a little tingly feeling reminding you that this is when things can go wrong. Badly wrong. Pros like tugboat captains and the skippers of charter fishing boats may look nonchalant as they grease into slips seemingly too narrow for their vessels, but, in the back of their minds there's always the memory of when things came unglued. Pleasure boaters don't dock a dozen times a day, so it's even worse. Stir in a crosswind or current and you have the makings of a fine show for all the spectators on land. That is, until now.

The Sea Ray 43 Sundancer gives even an absolute novice such precise and sure control over the boat that you may find yourself looking for those tough downwind or cross-current slips just to test yourself. The secret is right there on the console next to the helm seat: a seemingly insignificant little joystick. It's the tip of the iceberg-and one way to control the standard Cummins MerCruiser diesel Zeus drives. Those azipods provide both the power and control of the 43 'Dancer, and they let that joystick take the fear out of boat handling.

The Sea Ray 43 was designed specifically to take full advantage of the Zeus drives, from the underwater shape to the interior layout. The result is a truly delightful yacht. The drives are computer controlled and each swivels independently, giving the ability to move sideways, spin precisely, or crab forward at an angle. You can steer with the wheel and use the shift levers as with a conventional drive system, but why would you? And for something really cool, engage the Skyhook feature and Zeus will hold you exactly in place, regardless of wind or current.

The rest of the 43 Sundancer is equally innovative, with features such as a pair of individually controlled, retractable sunroofs above the enclosed bridge. Want fresh air? Open them up and push other buttons to deploy the side windows and hinge up the forward windshield panels. Too hot or cold? Button up the bridge and use the climate control to set the perfect temperature.

The cockpit is the primary living area and, as such, it's just as comfortable as you'd expect from Sea Ray. The wraparound settee to starboard has high backrests and is comfortable whether you're enjoying cocktails or sprawling for sun. Opposite is an L-shaped outdoor galley, with barbecue grill, sink, Isotherm fridge with ice maker, and plenty of counter space.

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Just forward is the helm area with a dual-purpose companion seat with an aft-facing recliner, while an electrically adjusted double-wide seat with bolsters is behind the wheel. Two notable touches are the built-in chart tube under the helm seat, and a similar locker for flares and emergency devices.

The efficient dashboard features twin Raymarine E120 screens, neatly labeled rocker switches, a tilt steering wheel, easy-to-see compass and, of course, the all-important joystick behind the Cummins ETS shifters. The Smart- Craft digital engine gauges are backed up by analogs, and a diagnostic system with the Vessel View monitoring display, are all standard. There's great visibility in all directions, helped on damp days with defrosters beneath the windshield.

Down the stairs is the salon, with maple flooring, though carpet's available. Our test boat had the optional ultraleather settee that converts to a berth. The flatscreen TV swings on hinges down from the overhead.

The galley is to port. When not in use, all the appliances are concealed. There is a full suite of appliances, including a stainless steel refrigerator/ freezer, two-burner cooktop, microwave/convection oven, and a coffeemaker.

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Behind a space-saving pocket door forward is the private master stateroom with a thoughtful split-head arrangement: sink and toilet compartment to port, a tiled-floored shower stall to starboard. It would have been nice to have a second sink in the shower for added flexibility, but it might have cramped the built-in seat. The stateroom has a queen-sized berth, a pair of cedar-lined hanging lockers, drawers under the berth, and a 19-inch flatscreen TV with DVD player.

Abaft the salon is the guest cabin with a solid door rather than the usual privacy curtain. Well lit from twin portholes on each side, the cabin has twin berths that convert to a queen that spans the space. To port is a sink and vanity just outside a private head and shower compartment, again with a tiled sole. This is a comfortable cabin with full headroom, and no guests will feel slighted with these quarters.

When it comes to systems, Sea Ray has it figured out. The AC and DC panels are at eye level next to the galley, a pleasant relief from other builders who put them out of the way or at knee height.

The engineroom is reached by tilting up the entire after section of the cockpit, including part of the settee, with electric/hydraulic rams, granting clear access to all areas around the engines and drives. Generator options include 9.5 kW and 13.5 kW Onans, depending on power needs and the choice of 120V or 240V systems.

The 43 is a delight from the moment you use the Zeus joystick to ease her out of the slip to the moment you return her-perfectly!-back to it. Our test boat had the standard 425-horsepower QSB diesels-480-horsepower Cummins are optional-and posted a top speed of just under 32 knots. She jumps onto plane without fuss and, once there, can linger as low as about 2000 rpm.

The real fun of the Sea Ray 43 Sundancer is showing off around the dock with those Zeus drives. The only downside: It's going to take all the sport away for shoreside spectators waiting for docking disasters!

Sea Ray, (800) 772-6287; www.searay.com