The Sundancer 355 is the latest addition to the extensive Sea Ray Sundancer range and now brings their Sport Cruiser line up to eleven models.
While Sea Ray offers close to 50 models, from 5.94m to 19.84m the 355 Sundancer is one of only two Sea Ray Sport Cruisers that comes with a full hardtop. All other models feature a solid GRP hardtop with clears, making the 355 Sundancer especially practical and suitable for Kiwi boating conditions. The integral hardtop provides greater weather protection and amazing visibility through the virtually seamless windshield.
Sea Ray is one of the few US brands that have survived the test of time as far as enduring the tough and somewhat critical Kiwi market. In the early years, when US brands arrived on our shores, they were bagged for their ‘lake-like’ attributes and unsuitability for local boating conditions.
While that was certainly true of a lot of the earlier bowriders, the whole market has changed over the years and the boats we see today from the big US builders are generally well suited for our boating lifestyle. This is especially obvious with dedicated offshore fishing boats such as Boston Whaler and Grady White that are 100% blue water fishing machines well matched to handle anything you’re going to find off the Kiwi coast.
Sports Marine has been importing the Sea Ray brand into New Zealand for many years and is also one of the few factories authorised builders of some Sea Ray models. While making a big impact on the trailer boat market, especially with the bow rider and runabout ranges, Sports Marine have also enjoyed reasonably steady sales in the cruiser market, especially in the Sea Ray Sport Yacht range.
Their latest arrival, which turned up in Auckland just in time for the 2017 Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show, the 355 Sundancer is a particular model that has all the right attributes for the Kiwi boating lifestyle.
Pillie & Chardy
I call it the “pillie and chardy” boat. In other words, there is a big enough area on the large boarding platform to set up a seriously practical fishing station with bait board, rod holders and fish bins (the pillie section) and a comfortable cockpit lounging and entertainment area to partake in a few cold Chardonnay (the chardy section). Gives you the best of both and dedicated space to satisfy your particular passion.
The particular model I reviewed was getting a custom-made overhead rocket launcher and full bait station fitted. Stainless steel staples across the rear of the platform will be added to mount the bait station and extra rod holders.
Of course, when it comes to the cockpit, Sea Ray has done everything to make it party central. The aft section is all about seating, with a wrap around starboard side lounger, complete with a folding table that converts to either a full dining or coffee table option. There is storage in the moulded seat base, which also doubles as a great sun pad. The entire aft section is raised on hydraulic actuators for access to the engine room.
Power options are either twin MerCruiser petrol or diesel stern drives, with our test boat running a pair of MerCruiser TDI 3 litre @ 265hp each. Other choices are MerCruiser 350 MAG @ 300hp or MerCruiser 4.5L MPI TS @ 250hp. All power choices are matched with MerCruiser Bravo 3 stern drives.
The forward area is all under the protection of the solid GRP hardtop, complete with a soft fabric sliding sunroof to let in extra light, fresh air and ventilation. To port is the well-equipped galley with refrigerator and bbq, Corian countertop, Teak cutting board, sink, plus three drawers and one large storage area under the sink.
As you would expect on all Sea Ray models, the dash is superbly designed for functionality as well as looks. Aesthetics are an important part of the Sea Ray culture and it shows. From the twin helm seats, that both slide fore and aft and flip up to form bolster seats, everything is well thought out and applied.
At the helm, all the instrumentation and controls are easy to view or at hand and the pillarless front screen provides exceptional visibility. During our time on the water we had a few heavy rain squalls and the wipers proved their worth.
Our boat was well equipped with a Raymarine Hybrid Touch e9, SmartCraft instrumentation and engine management, trim tab and winch controls.
Closed Off Cabin
One thing I liked in particular about the 355 Sundancer was the way the forward accommodation and lower lounger could be cut off completely from the open cockpit. A sliding and lockable door recesses behind the helm, with a short staircase taking you down to the enclosed forward spaces. You can leave the cockpit party if you want some quiet space for yourself.
Sea Ray has again made great use of the available space with two cabins, a central lounger and separate head/shower compartment. The forward berth features a double island-style berth with large storage area beneath, hanging locker, horizontal storage shelves, all finished in matt finished Walnut. A Shoji door offers some privacy from the saloon.
The mid cabin is recessed under the cockpit sole and surprisingly there is standing headroom beside the berth, with adequate sitting headroom on the double berth. Again, the interior is finished with walnut wood interior and accents.
Both cabins share the same ensuite with an enclosed shower, Corian benchtop and raised ceramic bowl, all hidden behind a Shoji door.
The saloon between the two cabins is unexpectedly spacious and not as confined as I was expecting. There are not only port lights either side there is also twin overhead clear panels offering plenty of natural light. The lightly coloured wall panels and lounger contrast with the Walnut timbers and again help to bring a feeling of space into this under deck area.
There’s a vanity unit with a sink unit and fridge under, plus there is enough space on the vanity for a microwave. The port side lounger, complete with a fold-out table and forms a second dining area. The lounger is big enough to double as a ¾ berth, although if you need to sleep six overnight, the cockpit seating can be converted to another double. A full canvas package with side and aft curtains off the hardtop can enclose the cockpit and extend the undercover living area immensely.
The 355 Sundancer is based on an 11.02m hull, with Sea Ray’s specially designed Quiet Ride hull, featuring their Tuned Transom. The two systems together are designed to reduce noise, vibration and harshness by up to 50%, so conversations are easier, fatigue is reduced and concentration is enhanced.
My experience with the 355 Sundancer was an extremely rough Auckland Harbour with a strong wind, confused sea and heavy rain squalls. Not the greatest weather for doing a video or taking photos, but ideal to test a boat. How did it go? Well in a word…awesome! Having that all over protection, great seating and a comfortable driving position meant I could really push the 355 Sundancer a bit harder than you would normally in such a sea state. Flat out with the tacho on 4000 rpm and the speedo nudging 35 knots the boat ran across the water effortlessly and predictably.
It’s a boat that likes to be driven hard and if you watch the video we did on the 355 Sundancer you can see clearly how well it runs at speed. It holds a reasonably flat angle of heel in the tight turns and is very easily manoeuvered at low speed. The optional bow thruster is a good option to have, especially when docking in a bit of a breeze.
The MerCruiser TDI 3 litre is an ideal partner for the 355 Sundancer. The low weight of these diesels results in exceptional power-to-weight ratio. Combined with great low-end torque, the end result is rapid acceleration, low planing times and ultra-smooth performance. The result is better litres per nautical mile mileage and longer range.
Overall a very versatile and practical sports sedan and ideally suited to the Kiwi market.