If you’ve got $500k to spend on a motorboat, what should you get?

If you’ve got $500k to spend on a motorboat, what should you get?

Princess V48 owner Elliott Maurice goes shopping for a smaller, faster weekender but with around $500,000 to spend what should he go for?

I have lost count of the times I have heard “The two best days of owning a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it.” My best days have always been the ones when I have been able to use it. Which leads me to the sale of my current boat, a 2006 Princess V48 that I have owned for the last seven years and loved every moment of my time aboard.

However, having shipped it from the UK to Florida when I moved to the US and subsequently cruised it all the way up the east coast and through the waterways to Lake Erie, I am now left with a bit of a quandary.

The vast majority of visitors’ berths in the Great Lakes are for craft under 50ft, making impromptu weekend trips significantly easier in a smaller boat. So, regretfully, I have decided to sell my beloved V48 and buy something a bit smaller and faster but just as much fun.

Having accepted an offer on my V48 with a buyer’s survey done, we are now just waiting for a sea trial to complete the deal once Lake Erie thaws in April. Not wanting to be boatless this summer, I am now searching for a suitable replacement between 34ft and 39ft.

To keep my options open I’m looking at both new and used boats up to three years old. Increases in interest rates and a stagnant economy has softened the market significantly with boats that were demanding a premium two years ago now becoming available at a much more sensible price.

My budget is between $400,000 to $600,000, which should cover everything from a brand new boat from a mainstream builder to a lightly used model from a premium brand.

Ideally, I’m looking for an outboard-powered craft with a minimum top speed of 45 knots. I would also like a boat with good overnight accommodation, ideally with an enclosed head and separate shower compartment with standing headroom. A big cockpit is another must-have and if possible a Seakeeper gyro and joystick docking.

Elliott sea trials the Fairline F33

Of course, I am emotive in my choices. However, experience has taught me that overstepping the practical balance can be a huge mistake, resulting in a boat that looks the part but rarely gets used – particularly if my wife finds it uncomfortable on longer or more challenging trips. She prefers a leisurely ride and will quickly boycott boating days if conditions aren’t smooth.

Outboards are in

All my choices are petrol-engine boats as diesel commands a 20% premium at the pumps in the US. The latest petrol outboards deliver phenomenal performance, reliability and surprisingly good economy. The ability to raise the props clear of the water at the end of the day also keeps them free of fouling.

There are some truly beautiful boats available within my price bracket, such as a used Aquariva 33 or a new Frauscher 1017, and even some serious American muscle from the likes of Cigarette and Outerlimits, but the lack of practical space would be too compromising, and exotica like this should really be dry-stored when not in use.

Petrol outboards make sense in the US

So, let’s jump into my short list: Fairline F-Line 33, Brabus 900, Windy 34 Alizé, Mystic M3800 and Tiara 38LS.

All of these boats are currently available in the US, except the Windy, which is not yet even priced to order for the US market. The Tiara is the most practical and ticks every box on my wish list; when rigged with triple Yamaha 350s it is a 50-plus-knot boat, with excellent build quality, a three-person helm sporting twin 16” Garmins, plus I’ve even found a couple of used boats with Seakeeper gyros fitted to smooth out time at anchor.

The boat also has forward seating for eight and a huge wet bar and BBQ station behind the helm. Further aft there’s a large sofa and teak table that rotates 360° to face the water if desired.

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I have friends who are avid Tiara owners and I have been nothing but impressed with the depth of build quality that, in my opinion, is on a par with the likes of Fairline and Princess. Also the Tiara has a large forward double berth and separate full shower and heads. Costing nearly $1million when new, four-year-old versions can now be picked up in the mid $500,000s.

Next up and by far the fastest boat on my list is the Mystic M3800. It comes with a legendary performance pedigree and features a state-of-the-art hull and carbon-fibre superstructure. Each boat is built to order with a semi-custom paint job and upholstery.

A quick email to Mystic’s owner, John Cosker, revealed that he had two demo boats for sale. The older of the two was within budget and equipped with quad Mercury 300Rs for a top speed of more than 60 knots and a Seakeeper stabiliser. The newer boat was rigged with quad 400R V10 outboards for a top speed of 80 knots, but was marginally over budget.

Elliott is looking to downsize from his Princess 48 to something smaller and faster

Options aplenty

The Mystic has a fantastic helm with twin 22” Garmins and heavily bolstered seating appropriate to its immense performance. The cabin has a decent double berth and wet room arrangement with pullout shower and open head.

In truth this is a boat that makes a hotel reservation look like the better sleeping option, although with air-conditioning it is perfectly usable for a night or two if really needed.

Before getting carried away with either of the above options, my first stop was to visit my local dealer, Nautical Ventures, who represent Axopar, Fairline and Windy.

I bought an Axopar 22 from them last year to use as a local runaround and have had such an excellent experience working with them that after a quick chat, I added a used Brabus 900 XC Black Ops and Suntop 900 to my list.

Despite its superb Axopar hull and sleek leather upholstery, the Brabus was let down by its impractical heads arrangement

Both were in budget and rigged with phenomenal twin Mercury 450R powerplants. Also their Fairline F33 with twin 400 Mercury Verados looked very tempting at nearly 50% off its new price while still being within warranty.

Keen to start the weighing-up process, I booked in a sea trial for the Fairline first. The demo boat has the new wrap-around cockpit layout, essentially a small version of the excellent Targa 45 Open arrangement with its teak cockpit table stowed under the seats on a cantilevered bracket.

Thanks to the twin outboard engines, the sunpad lifts electrically to reveal a huge storage space where the inboard version’s engines are located.

The cabin really is a packaging marvel, with a generous separate head and wet room, a comfortable double berth aft and a convertible U-shaped dinette forward that drops down to create a second double bed. The interior is also truly beautiful to look at; chic, modern but with a hint of retro. Combined with Fairline’s quality, I am instantly impressed by it.

With a stiff onshore breeze blowing and rolling 4-footers on the day of our sea trial, we were definitely going to get wet but what better way to get a feel for the boat? Running out of the wide Port Everglades inlet proved exactly that.

The sleek leather upholstery of the Brabus

The Fairline’s deep-vee hull hits the mark, without so much as a creak from its hull or substantial hardtop. It’s more akin to a GT than an out-and-out superboat but I like that. It will eat the miles and arrive in style, like an Aston Martin. So far it is pretty much bang on in all departments, except for the two small 7in displays. Radar images are barely legible on that size display and accurately reading data becomes a nuisance.

However, I might be able to replace them with one of Simrad’s new widescreen 16in MFDs, so Nautical Ventures are enquiring whether Fairline’s integrated app, needed to control the boat’s ancillaries, will work on the Simrad unit.

Next stop, a quick look at the Brabus 900 Black Ops. Unexpectedly for a 37-footer, the forward cabin feels too compromising for my needs, without a proper separate heads compartment or inside shower. As eye-catching as it is with its stunning black leather quilted interior and carbon-fibre helm, I just know I couldn’t live with this impractical heads arrangement, despite appreciating how good the Axopar hull is.

Coming up with a list of options

I already know the Tiara well and have driven Mystic’s larger sister the M4300, so a quick tour with my wife of the three remaining contenders and a final drive of her chosen winner should settle the decision.

For pure performance, the Mystic will win hands down, while the Tiara has the edge on space and amenities but the Fairline, with its mix of Bond-level cool, British build quality and genuine weekender accommodation, offers a particularly compelling alternative to both of them.

I promise to keep you updated about which way it goes as soon as the deal is done!

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