My first Rampage encounter occurred more than a decade ago in Bimini when a friend invited me to fish aboard his 31 Convertible during the Bacardi Billfish Tournament. That experience confirmed the brand's solid reputation for rugged performance and practical fishability, and the latest expression of those trends comes in the form of the new 34 Express with Volvo IPS power.
At first glance, the IPS boat looks very similar to its inboard diesel predecessor. The biggest difference is the absence of side exhaust vents, because IPS engine exhaust dissipates underwater. The drive pods, powered by twin 370 hp D6 Volvo Penta IPS 500 diesel engines and connected via jackshafts, are tucked into longitudinal tunnels along the hull. Twin 435 hp IPS 600 diesels are an available upgrade. The most atypical aspect of the IPS system is the forward-facing dual propeller drives. This "tractor" configuration allows the engines to pull the boat rather than push it. And because the shaft angle is eliminated, the hull planes quickly and moves through the water more efficiently.
I tested the boat near the company's Wisconsin headquarters, and as we idled out the Sheboygan waterway into Lake Michigan, I quickly noticed how quiet this boat ran. Even underway, the four of us onboard could talk in a normal tone of voice. There was no exhaust smoke venting into the cockpit whatsoever.
Throttling up, the bow rose slightly before settling, giving a panoramic view from the raised helm deck. With its broad beam and beefy displacement, we carved up the modest chop like a holiday turkey. Shimmies and shudders that tip off a less-than-ideal running surface were nonexistent. The boat was stable at rest, even in beam-to seas.
Response to throttle adjustments was immediate, and the overall numbers show this boat will get you to the rip quickly and efficiently. With a 367-gallon tank and a burn of only 24 gallons per hour at a cruising speed of nearly 36 knots, that works out to a considerable operating range.
But the most impressive aspect of IPS power is boat handling. With constant electronic input, each drive can vector or steer independently with nearly instantaneous response. Our test boat was equipped with the IPS joystick control and Sport Fish mode. Using the single-throttle synchronizer, I was able to use the joystick to back and spin the boat at will in Sport Fish mode. The pods will even vector outboard to propel the boat sideways or make tight concentric circles like with bow thrusters. The joystick function is also extremely useful in tight maneuvering situations at the dock. Need to parallel park to take on fuel? No problem with IPS. It will remove the fear factor for the novice and make it too easy for the old pro.
Rampage backs the 34's impressive performance with a host of fishing amenities. With 70 square feet of cockpit space, there's plenty of room for action. A 12-inch-thick aluminum backing plate is glassed into the sole to mount a fighting chair. A 5-foot-long insulated, macerated fish box, raw and freshwater washdown systems, transom door, gunwale rod holders and removable bolsters are standard. The optional hardtop package comes with a six-rod rocket launcher and spreader lights. A full or half tower with upper station controls and Lee outriggers is also available. Buyers customize the deck layout by choosing an aft-facing seat with a Frigid Rigid cooler, or a bait prep station with a livewell, sink and tackle storage. Raymarine electronics packages can also be added as factory options, along with a choice of cockpit ice makers.