Sea — America’s Western Boating Magazine

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Monterey 253 Explorer

Real-World Value

Posted: January 1, 1996 | Boat Type: Express Cruiser

The Monterey 296 Cruiser comes ‘loaded’ — at a base price

By: Chris Caswell

There are two kinds of prices that you’ll see when you look for a boat — and it’s very important to understand the difference.

The first, and the most easily found, is a low base price.

Take this baby home for just 50 grand! is how salespeople tout some boats. Sure, it’s a great price, but once you get the boat home, you won’t be able to do anything with it, because it’s almost completely stripped-down. You get an engine that’s barely powerful enough to stagger onto plane, a couple of bunks with paper-thin mattresses and a countertop — but nothing else — for the galley.


The second type of price you’ll see when shopping for a boat — after you’ve heard the sales pitch — is a realistic one that reflects what it really costs to own a boat. Usually, there are many extra-cost add-ons.

In the real world, you’ll want a Bimini top, to keep from frying on those sunny days; and a cockpit enclosure, so you won’t freeze on the cool ones. You’ll need cushions that are thick enough to keep you from feeling the bottom of the berth, and you’ll want pillows under your head.

Unless you’re really into fast food, you’ll want a stove and a refrigerator, not an icebox, in your galley — not to mention pressurized water. Then, of course, there are all those items that make for lengthy option lists with most companies: shore power, so you can run a blender; a battery charger, to eliminate jump starts; a coffeemaker, to jumpstart the skipper in the morning; a sunpad, for that lazy afternoon; a depth sounder, to avoid embarrassingly sudden stops; plus windshield wipers, a stereo system, trim tabs and a Halon fire extinguisher system.

If you’ve been looking at the Monterey 296 Cruiser, however, you’ll find that the first price is also the second price. In other words, the base-priced Monterey includes all of the stuff listed above that you’ll need to actually go boating.

With a list price of $60,000, the least expensive version of Monterey’s flagship comes with a hearty MerCruiser or Volvo Penta V-8 engine in the 300 hp range — complete with a dual prop stern drive, for peak performance and control.

Our test boat, which carried a list price of $65,000, had a pair of 5.0 liter Volvo Penta engines putting out 190 hp each, as well as counter-rotating DuoProp stern drives. Our sea trial would prove that this twin-engine package provides sportboat speeds and great maneuverability in tight spaces.

A Closer Look

Monterey’s 296 Cruiser is a good-looking boat that, on the outside, doesn’t appear to be as large as it is. But step inside, and you get the full benefit of the nearly 29 foot hull and 10 foot beam.

The cockpit has plenty of space for family and friends, with a foldaway transom seat, a fore-and-aft settee to port with an ice chest underneath and an adjustable helm bench seat that’s large enough for two.

Our test boat, provided by Ray Guy of Action Boats in Huntington Beach, California, was a delight to run, despite the lumpy and random seas we encountered off Newport Beach.

Pushing on the single-lever Volvo Penta throttles popped the boat onto plane quickly, without the usual bow climb. We were soon cruising along at 30 mph — at 3,000 rpm — which is the kind of speed that can eat up the miles to Catalina or Orcas Island, helping make the most of an afternoon cruise.

We reached a top speed in the mid-40 mph range despite the choppy seas, proving that performance is truly one of this boat’s strong points.

Handling is fingertip light. You can crank into a tight turn even at 30 mph and never drop off plane or hear any cavitation from the DuoProps. They bit solidly throughout our sea trial.

There’s enough V to the hull to slice easily through the seas, but not enough to give the boat that wobbly feeling you sometimes get with deep-V hulls on boats that are top-heavy with cruiser amenities.

The helm is both comfortable and efficient, with tilt steering for the sporty wheel and a complete array of highly readable black-faced analog gauges, including twin tachometers, a speedometer, a trim indicator, a fuel level meter, plus voltage, oil pressure and water temperature indicators. A Lowrance digital depth sounder is standard equipment, as are trim tabs and a Halon fire extinguishing system.

A dedicated electronics panel, to port of the helm, is a bit small for anything beyond a VHF radio and perhaps a GPS — but that may be all many skippers will want. The dash area is sand-colored, so the skipper isn’t blinded by the usual white gelcoat here.

An Acrilan Bimini top is standard, along with a full cockpit enclosure and aft cover, with a camper version optional. Even better, there’s plenty of storage in the cockpit under the seats, plus a built-in fender rack just outside the transom door on the swim platform.

When you’re buttoned up in the Bimini enclosure, there are a pair of vents in the aluminum-framed wrap-around windshield to provide fresh air and prevent fogging.

Monterey 282

Access to the foredeck is through an opening windshield and a couple of molded steps from the cockpit, although there are small sidedecks. A built-in sunpad is at midforedeck.

The bow platform has an anchor roller. Nearby, the opening forward hatch provides a secure niche for safe anchoring and mooring.

Inside Comfort

Cabin access is to port, with bifold doors and a clever hatch that swivels out of sight. A standard AM/FM cassette stereo system is located just inside the cabin door, for weather protection.

To port is a dedicated dinette with ample storage underneath, while an enclosed head is to starboard, complete with a portable toilet, a sink and a shower. Despite the sleek lines of the cabin, you’ll find more than 6 feet of headroom in the cabin.

The galley is a one-piece modular component with a bullnose edge and the look of a Corian or granite countertop. There’s excellent storage, as well as pressurized water, a Norcold dual-voltage refrigerator and a two-burner Origo stove.

Forward is a large berth which, despite having multiple sides that can complicate sheet and blanket purchases, is quite spacious and even has a built-in cabinet for a television that can be rotated for viewing from the dinette.

Tucked under the cockpit is a midcabin, with a pair of facing settees that can be used as a mini-cocktail area with a folding table, or converted to a large wall-to-wall double berth. It’s more likely that you’ll put the kids here at night, or perhaps visiting guests.

Our test boat had the optional Weekend Package, which upgrades the stove to a combination alcohol/electric model, replaces the portable head with a manual toilet and a holding tank, and adds a hot water heater, cockpit carpeting and a built-in battery charger.

The fiberglass construction of the Monterey 296 Cruiser is not exotic, but certainly is well-proven, with AME-4000 skincoat for blister protection, backed by four layers of alternating 24 ounce woven roving and 1.5 ounce mat. All bilge areas not being used for storage or fuel tanks are fully foamed and marine plywood is used throughout.

All deck hardware is stainless steel and is through-bolted. The bowrail enclosing the foredeck is welded, rather than screwed, for added strength.

Wiring is loomed neatly and the three separate engine hatches in the cockpit provide either a single opening for quick checks of fluid levels or complete access to all sides of the engines for maintenance.

The cockpit hatches have large gutters and overboard drains, to carry rain or washdown water away from the engine compartment.

All in all, the Monterey 296 Cruiser provides a pleasant blend of performance and space, at a price that belies the list of standard equipment and the quality of the finish. Put this one on your must-see list, if you’re looking for an express cruiser in the 30 foot range.

Monterey 296
Monterey 296
Monterey 296
Monterey 296
Monterey 296
Monterey 296
Monterey 296
Monterey 296

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