Four Winns Vista 348 April 2007 Boat News, Review & Advice

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Four Winns 235 SD boat

Four Winns Vista 348 (April 2007)

Four Winns’ Vista 348 sportscruiser has a heart of gold, writes David Lockwood

I went searching for a Four Winns sportscruiser to test as it had been years since I had driven anything bigger from the American boatbuilder than one of its mainstream bowriders. In the interim, the brand changed hands in Sydney. Where it was sold by a Riviera dealer as a feeder into the family, it is now offered by an expanding Pittwater-based boating outlet as its premier brand.

This is integral to this story. You see, Pittwater is about 30-odd kilometres north of Sydney Harbour via the Tasman Sea on a less-travelled ocean road along the northern beaches. The relatively close proximity of Pittwater prompted the new Four Winns dealer to offer to bring the boat to the harbour for testing.

When the boat arrived I noted its skipper was beaming, still visibly high from the trip down the coast. One never wearies of it but it was special this time because he had encountered a pod of frisky dolphins.

The boat delivered for our test was the Four Winns Vista 348. The 2007 model is now known as the 358, however, but for a section of mock-timber flooring instead of carpet around the galley and an iPod or MP3 jack, the re-badging is the biggest change I’m told.

As the agent demonstrated, what makes this sportscruiser so appealing is its ability to roam beyond local ports to nearby harbours, bays and rivers. This is made possible by a deep-vee hull designed by the famed Raymond C. Hunt and associates, but also the security of twin 320hp MerCruiser 6.2lt petrol inboard engines with DTS (fly-by-wire digital shifts) and shaft drives rather than sterndrives, which are an option.

You also get a generator, air-con and the agent-added extras such as decent Raymarine electronics, including radar for serious coastal cruising. However, the boat comes with lots of standard goodies in a package that, cruise-away, will cost you $372,000. Not bad value.

FOUR WINNS OF CHANGE

Michigan-based Four Winns is the flagship sportscruiser brand of Genmar Holdings, the American multinational marine giant with a dozen different marques from bass boats to motoryachts.

Building about 9000 boats a year, the Four Winns boats range from 18 to 41ft and, mostly come fully-cocked at factory level leaving little by way of options. All up, there are 26 models of which the Vista sportscruiser range spans eight boats from a 248 to a 378.

Besides building ever-larger boats, the big thing for Four Winns is its signature styling. The boats have distinctive lines derived from a good dose of reverse sheer in the bow, which aids visibility, and a rakish or swooping sheerline aft. There are various hull colours and waterline stripe options too. The 348 is a pretty boat. Setting foot aboard, it became apparent to me that it offers a boatload of comforts for entertaining and heading away with at least a family of four. The seating and sleeping plan is generous and, importantly, there’s good deck space for kicking back.

On the construction front, the running surface, with 19 degrees of deep-vee aft, is fashioned from solid fibreglass but the sides and deck are balsa-cored composite. All up, there are 16 layers and a lifetime limited warranty on structural components of the hull and deck.


Computer-aided design is responsible for the ergonomics, but Four Winns adds polish by way of premium vinyl, moulded toe rails, intermediate wires on the bowrail, plush clip-out carpet, generator and air-con, even a coffee machine… although an aftermarket cappuccino maker would be better.

The 871lt fuel supply will cater for long weekends away from the marina, as will the 193lt of water, providing you’re smart about showering and flushing the Vacuflush toilet. The 113lt holding tank is quite accommodating in this respect and should see you through three days with a family aboard.

OUTDOOR LIVING

I came aboard via the oversized boarding platform, which has two handy recessed wet lockers for togs, a super-deep reach four-step swim ladder with rubber tread steps, and an aft boot with fender storage, plus the usual American shorepower and dockside connections. There is also a hot/cold handheld shower. The owner had a rubber ducky and outboard motor stowed aboard, but it would be easier to carry it on the transom on some aftermarket snap davits.

The 348 has a trick lighting plan from boarding platform to cockpit, but everyone is asking for underwater lights these days, which are an option. There is an aft remote for the Clarion marine stereo, aftermarket aft rodholders and decent aft cleats from which, I’m told, the owner rigs a bridle and tows his kids on tubes.

A portside door leads into the cockpit and, thanks to the standard-issue generator, there’s a 240V barbecue on the rail and, therefore, no need for a gas bottle. Cockpit steps lead to the sidedecks and around to the foredeck, but the safest route is via the moulded steps in the dash and a big grabrail leading through the walkthrough windscreen.

Four Winns gets top marks for the intermediate wire on the bowrail, the flat non-skid deck traced by a toe rail, and the twin sunpads on the foredeck with tracks at their foot to keep cushions in place. The Maxwell windlass is well placed, too.

The rakish windscreen with twin wipers adds to the styling. It had optional upgraded stainless steel capping that will last better than the standard powder-coated frame. And good to see stainless steel windscreen struts and side-opening vents.

Cockpit seating is on a U-shaped lounge to starboard that is big enough for six or seven to do lunch around the moulded cockpit table. There is an optional infill to convert it into a daybed, but, really, that should come standard.

The seating is shaded by the extended canopy attached to the GRP targa arch that, unlike some sportscruisers, has a vertical drop on the camper covers. This way you can still use the seating with the covers up and, with the optional infill, create a sleepout for the kids in summer. The covers include insect screens.

To port, the amenities centre has a sink, but with cold water only, an icemaker (in lieu of fridge), storage locker, and garbage bin. I also noted 12V/240V and aerial outlets and stainless steel drinkholders.

The carpet underfoot is thick and rubber-backed with a small step defining the cockpit and bridgedeck which has a lounge to port for three people that can double as a chaise lounge. There is a good amount of storage under all the seats.

ACCOMMODATION

Below, through the cabin door with insect screen, is accommodation for four – plus one on the convertible saloon lounge – at either end of the boat. There is an option of a full bulkhead as per the test boat to create a private stateroom forward or an open bulkhead that gives the impression of more space. The latter is preferable for couples, the former better for a small family.

Either way, the bow is taken up by a large offset double bed with, in this case, an optional innerspring mattress. It’s a truly luxurious cabin for a 30-something sportscruiser, considering that big bed, the head room, his and hers cedar-lined hanging lockers, storage lockers, air-con, TV, and more.

The timber shutters, reading lights, light cherrywood joinery and natural hues of the manmade suede lounge upholstery and bedspreads created a timeless finish. Four Winns is proud of its cabinetry, and rightly so.

The lift-out carpet will assist post liveaboard cleanups, while all the hatches and opening ports are designed to maximise natural ventilation and have fly and insect screens. Then there is the reverse-cycle air-con.

The aft cabin is different. It’s open, without a bulkhead, and has a second dinette in the centre of some U-shaped seating. It can be used as an aft lounge and separate dining area for the kids when living aboard.

There’s a television that you could link to a PlayStation and the table could be used for board games. Needless to say the aft lounge converts to a double bed with privacy from a curtain.

The saloon features a portside lounge upholstered in manmade suede that can seat five people before the main solid cherrywood dinette, with folding leafs, which converts to an impromptu berth.

The Corian counters, which don’t have fiddle rails, and top joinery, with oodles of storage including in a pullout spice rack, are features of the galley across the way. Amenities range from a two-burner stove to small Tappan microwave oven, and a decent 12V/240V fridge for stowing long term provisions.

Plenty of thought has been given to the ventilation but the barbecue up top is bound to get the most use.

The head has at least 1.8m of head room, a big mirror, Corian counter, a stainless steel sink with mixer, and mock tiled flooring. A bi-fold door separates the combo Vacuflush head/shower area from the vanity and drying space. It’s a pretty decent shower by my reckoning. There is a holding tank gauge in the head and a water gauge at the AC/DC panel outside.

SPORTSCRUISING

The double helm seat, with flip-down armrests and a flip-up bolster, makes for a social drive. The helm side of the seat has an electric push-button fore and aft adjustment. There’s a tilt sportswheel and DTS throttles, plus an automotive-style low-glare grey dash.

All the engine gauges are from Faria, re-badged as Four Winns, while the Raymarine C80 with radar was flush-mounted centrally. The 348/358 comes with a bowthruster, Clarion helm remote, VHF radio and spotlight, trim tabs and integrated switch panel. There’s a handy helm storage pocket for personal items, too.

Fast or slow, vision is excellent due to the reverse sheer in the bow. This was just nice to drive, with great handling that can be considered sporty even with the shaft drives.

Four Winns 235 SD boat

Annoyingly, the cabin door rattled and rolled when chocked open, but I think this was a pre-delivery quirk. The boat has a hydraulic strut that raises the cockpit floor for engine access. I could perform at-a-glance checks of the coolant reservoirs and filters and see the oil dipsticks. The moulded liner will help keep things clean.

Underway, the twin 6.2lt MerCruisers were smooth, thanks also to an insulated engine room, and sounded in perfect harmony with the synchro mode on the DTS. There’s plenty of muscle to get this family chariot out of the water, even when loaded for a big holiday away.

With full trims tabs the boat planed at 12.5 to 13.5kts and, thanks to the reverse sheer in the foredeck, offered good vision. Low speed cruise was better at 3500rpm and 19.5kts. At coastal and family cruise the twin MerCruisers sounded sweet at 4000rpm and 22.5kts, and very smooth at 26kts at 4500rpm.

Top speed is 30kts at 4800 to 5000rpm, which isn’t that fast for a sportscruiser. But the motion of the hull was great, vision perfect for ocean work and comfort levels high for all. And the Vista 348 looks good.

Add all the gear and shaft drives, plus 300-hour servicing intervals on the 6.2lt MerCruisers, and you have a sportscruiser that has a lot of get up and go. And the dolphins like it, too.

HIGHS

Low-maintenance shaft drives, generator, air-con and mod cons make for a self-sufficient sportscruiser

Hull and petrol MerCruisers run smooth and the boat seems seaworthy for passagemaking

Good fuel, water and storage capacities for weekending

A good spread of amenities above and below decks

Top finish and plenty of comforts

Well-established premium brand

Great styling

LOWS

Infill to convert cockpit lounge into sunpad should be standard

Cold water only to cockpit sink

Cabin door rattles in the open position

The flash finish and trim will require regular maintenance

A timber floor before galley will be welcome on future 358s

Aft cabin is, really, just kids’ quarters

FOUR WINNS VISTA 348

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