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September 21, 2007

Three's the Charm

The Wellcraft 352 Tournament is built with the needs of the competitive angler in mind.


Three outboards push the Wellcraft 352 far and fast.

I gladly accepted an invitation to fish for yellowfin tuna with Conrad Lau and his buddy, Fred Peet, aboard Lau's new Wellcraft 352 Tournament center console. Lau, a top pro in the Southern Kingfish Association and FLW Kingfish tours, wanted to search the far side of the Stream, so we idled past Port Canaveral's cruise ships before dawn. With the boat's triple outboards churning the slick water into a froth, we were soon 70 miles offshore by the time the sun had risen above the horizon. As Lau throttled back to trolling speed and fine-tuned his radar, Peet and I set out a spread of feather and jet lures. Afterwards, I had the chance to go over the boat thoroughly.

This model is a hard-core fishing boat and meticulously finished. With a beam of nearly ten feet and a clean, open deck, the 352 is roomy and well laid out for high-stakes tournament angling. Lau uses his primarily on the king mackerel campaign where long-distance runs to the fishing grounds are the norm.

SPECIFICATIONS
LOA 35' 9"
Beam 9' 11"
Draft 39"
Weight 8,600 lbs.
Deadrise 23 ¿ree;
Fuel 400 gals.
Water 13 gals.
Max. hp 900
Base price $172,395
w/ triple 250-hp Evinrude E-TEC outboards

"Wellcraft eliminated the bow coffin box on the 352 and moved the console forward by about a foot," Lau said, explaining that the change added cockpit space and increased fuel capacity to 400 gallons.

During our trip, we cruised effortlessly at 45 miles per hour and 4,500 rpm while burning 30 gallons per hour between the three Evinrude E-TEC 250-horsepower outboards. At that pace, the 352 has an impressive 470-nautical-mile range, even factoring in a ten-percent fuel reserve. Pushing the throttles to wide open, it zips along at an eye-watering 61 miles per hour, which is welcome performance when you're chasing flocks of birds or racing for the scales or away from a nasty thunderstorm.

The 352 has dual insulated bow fishboxes that can handle most trophy gamefish. The low-profile stainless-steel bow rail is both functional and sleek. A casting deck and anchor locker round out the bow.

The bow has room for gear and fish.

In the deck forward of the console are two cavernous compartments that are ideal for bulky items such as anchor balls, spare oil and props or overnight lockable storage for rods and reels. The cushioned forward console seat has an integrated 60-quart drink cooler. The console opens to reveal a large enclosed head compartment. Besides the head and molded sink with handheld fresh-water shower, the fiberglass liner has a hatch for access to console rigging.

For his tournament needs, Lau added the optional 40-gallon Kodiak bait well and tackle storage behind the helm leaning post, which, combined with the 84-quart aft bait well, handles enough bait to fill a city aquarium. Other amenities include a raw-water washdown, transom sink and rigging station and plenty of gear storage. A beefy fiberglass T-top with a five-rod rocket launcher, spreader lights, electronics box and overhead PFD storage is standard. So are the recessed rod racks under the gunwales, flush-mount rod holders and wraparound coaming bolsters. A folding stern bench seat with aft bolsters is also a standard feature.

The helm of the 352 Tournament has an oversized windshield to cut the elements and features expanded electronics-mounting capacity. Wellcraft offers optional Raymarine packages. Lau's 352 had twin Raymarine C120 displays, a Ray 54 autopilot and a 4 kW open-array radar that we used to paint flocks of birds up to six miles away. Hydraulic-tilt dual-ram steering is standard with three engines, but add-ons include power-assisted steering and K380 heavy-duty trim tabs.

Our search led us far offshore before we finally reversed course at the 110-mile mark. Birds and warm-water breaks had been easy to find, but only spunky skipjack tuna hit our lures. Our brief battles with them confirmed the boat's fishing features were right on target.

As we got closer to home, the glassy water gave way to a steady onshore breeze and moderate chop. The 352 sliced through the growing whitecaps as we enjoyed a soft, comfortable ride back in. The yellowfin eluded us this time, but that's not likely to happen often in a center console as fishable as Wellcraft's 352 Tournament. Wellcraft; (941) 753-7811; www.wellcraft.com


A leaning-post live well keeps bait fresh and frisky.