We almost postponed our test of the new 345 XSF. The forecast called for a high temperature of an un-Florida-like 44 degrees, sustained winds of 23 mph, with gusts to 30, and 3- to 4-foot seas less than a mile into the Gulf of Mexico. But the likelihood of a storm was zilch, and, well, we just needed to man up to the real-world conditions for this boat, and for the potential owners of it that might check out our review.
The foul-weather gear our five-person crew donned to ward off cold spray turned out to be overkill. The 345 XSF has far-reaching acreage forward of the helm, with a rising and Carolina-flared deckline, which kept the cockpit dry as we ran through sporadically spaced waves. It also helped that we were able to duck into the cabin. Technically, this is a center console with a reasonable amount of casting space in the bow. But because the head migrates into a forward berth, the entire complexion of the boat changes above and below deck.
Scout had been designing the 345 XSF for two years before we took our first look. The goal was to find middle ground between the fishability of a straight center console and the advantages of an express boat. Scout's engineering team used traditional tools like tape measures, string and planers to create a mold by hand, without relying on computer-aided design. They prefer this longer process so they can literally keep their hands on every phase of development, from first sketch to preproduction water test.
Much of the spotlight falls on the boat's wide shoulders forward of the console, where the beam hits 10 feet 9 inches. Fishing is done off the stern, where as many as 11 rocket- launcher rod holders join six gunwale-mount rod holders, and where a 60-gallon fish box or livewell resides across the transom. But because the helm and rear-facing seat are nudged aft to offset the weight of the cabin and to complement the boat's profile, the aft cockpit is squeezed a little, while the bow is long and multifaceted. If you compare the 345 XSF to a no-frills center console, then yes, the bow seating does compromise fishing space forward, but when we removed the seat pads, we were able to stand atop the bases for a better perspective over the playing field.
The wide gunwales eventually meet at the anchor locker, which is more like a locker room. On top is a compartment for the windlass, and the controls are within arm's reach in case nobody's available at the helm. When lifting the bow cushion insert, we found a separate compartment for the anchor rode. It's so cavernous that our test boat's more than 200 feet of line and chain looked like a few coiled spaghetti noodles at the bottom of a gigantic punch bowl.
We admittedly spent more time in the cabin on this day than at the anchor pulpit. It's easiest to enter the berth by turning and stepping backward through the average-size hatch. The head is open to the cabin, though the boat will eventually have a divider between throne and berth. You could fit five people belowdecks during a storm, and it helps to have the long windows ushering in natural light for a sense of openness. Pull down the table and cushion as you would a Murphy bed, and you can sleep two people if they don't mind an occasional glancing touch. There are galley basics - a microwave and sink - and holders for four rods, but for the most part, this is a basic retreat from heat or, in our case, from a windchill.
My co-captain and I uttered no complaints about weather from the split helm seat. Windows atop three sides of the console staved off the worst of the cold, and the long hardtop kept glare off the two chart plotter screens. Our top had the optional extended sunshade protecting an additional 38 inches of cockpit from the sun - retract it to normal length to free up backswings when casting.
Scout tells us sight lines will be improved. The window frames and raised deckline of the long bow interfered with our line of vision until we reached 3,500 rpm. Admittedly, the aft-end weight of five people and two Yamaha 350s exaggerated the horizon loss at hole shot. We're told Scout will raise the helm seats a few inches to give a better vantage point. Once on plane, though, the boat was quick to reach 65 mph in the 4-foot seas. At that clip, and with nary a drop of spray, we reached our destination before the rest of the crew could call it all off because of the weather.
Scout 345 XSF
Scout Boats: 843-821-0068 www.scoutboats.com