In most boating situations, cruising and speed are not synonymous. Cruising normally involves a slower, rhythmic pace for maximum range and optimum fuel efficiency. Speed, on the other hand, is usually associated with wind-in-your-face, white-knuckle performance, the kind found on the offshore powerboat racing or competitive tournament circuits.
That’s why the 38 Sportfish Cruiser OB (for outboard power) is such a unique craft. Thanks to its stepped performance hull honed by racing legend and company namesake Reggie Fountain, this model is the ultimate sport-utility vessel. It’s quite capable of serious fishing duty, as I discovered during a jaunt off Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. But its layout and refinements also make it suitable as an overnight cruiser to the islands or remote fishing grounds.
Accompanied by Fountain pro angler Clayton Kirby and Robyn Dawson of Bent Marine, we left the beautifully restored Isle Resort in Biloxi on a southeasterly course. My hosts were competing in the upcoming SKA National Championship, so we planned to scout the nearby rigs for worthy king mackerel. A short chop and stiff breeze greeted us as we rounded the protective barrier island.
In true Fountain fashion, my GPS read more than 66 miles per hour as we opened her up, pushed along by triple 300 hp Verado four-strokes. That’s impressive speed for a boat of this size and weight. The cruising numbers were equally noteworthy. Pulling back to a midthrottle mark of 4,000 rpm, we loped along just over 38 miles per hour. The SmartCraft gauges reported 1.3 miles per gallon at that pace.
Despite its size, this 38-footer is extremely nimble for a so-called cruiser. The stepped hull ventilates the surface water to reduce friction and add lift, and the smooth Verado power steering gives fingertip control. Response to course corrections was quick and sure. The boat handled the quartering waves well, and it wasn’t long before we pulled up to one of the many oil and gas rigs located throughout the Gulf.
As Kirby deftly held us in place next to the metal structure, Dawson and I dropped sabiki rigs down to catch live hardtails for bait. Small grouper, jacks and snapper readily pounced on the tiny gold quill hooks instead. Repositioning, our “bait” turned into pompano. After 15 were welcomed aboard, a hardtail and bluefish were finally bridled and deployed on flat lines.
Slow trolling around the rig gave me the opportunity to go over the boat thoroughly. Dawson and I had already enjoyed the roominess of the cockpit during several double hookups. But the large cockpit is not the only angling attribute of this craft. For starters, a 70-gallon livewell/bait center is conveniently located on the transom centerline, close to the action. A backup well holding 35 more gallons is in the forward starboard corner behind the helm. Both are plumbed for maximum aeration to keep baits hearty.
The cockpit sole has a pair of 250-quart fish boxes equipped with diaphragm pumps. Wraparound coaming pads offer thigh relief during protracted fights, and the deck’s aggressive nonskid provides sure traction even when wet or slimy. Opposite the secondary well is a spacious storage compartment. Both are convenient vantage points for keeping an eye on the spread. In addition to lockable horizontal racks under the gunwales, rod storage is plentiful in the covering boards, across the transom and in the top’s rocket launcher.
The raised bridge deck on the SFC is distinguished by the center helm. The operator has good visibility with this position even with the enclosed bow. The soft canvas top has full curtains, including a roll-up aft door that offers shade and protection from the elements. A companion helm chair to starboard comes standard.
A sliding acrylic door to port opens to the cabin, which shows much bigger than its actual size. Accented in cherry wood trim, it is fully equipped for a comfortable weekend aboard at the marina or on the hook in a remote anchorage. The hi-lo dinette table forward converts into the master V-berth. The second berth, under the cockpit sole amidships, is not king size, but it’s not claustrophobic either.
The port galley is equipped with a sink, microwave, refrigerator/freezer combo, single-burner electric stove and Corian countertop. The freshwater tank holds 60 gallons, and the hot-water heater has a 6-gallon capacity. The enclosed head to starboard comes with a vacuflush toilet and stand-up shower. A flat-screen television with DVD player is standard, as is a gasoline-powered generator.
The hull and deck of the 38 SFC are hand-laid composite pieces of multidirectional glass with high-density coring and Interplastic vinylester resin. After lamination, the parts are through-bolted and bound with screws and marine adhesive. The 400-gallon baffled fuel tank is built from 316-inch thick aluminum. High-performance hydraulic trim tabs, a 30-amp battery charger and a polished stainless-steel anchor with a windlass are also standard equipment on this model.
The hard-core crowd will probably dismiss the 38 SFC as too refined. It does have some frills. Beneath this cruiser facade is a fish boat at heart that can easily run with all the other big dogs. If those other dogs aren’t careful, this greyhound just might be leading the pack.
**w/triple 300 hp Mercury Verado four-strokes
Fountain Powerboats ? 800.438.2055 ? fountainpowerboats.com