Tested: Wellcraft 355
A full 65 years after its founding, Wellcraft makes its boldest departure yet. A speedy passagemaker aimed at an international audience.
65 years after its founding, Wellcraft makes its boldest departure to date in launching a boat aimed at an international audience.
For boaters of a certain vintage, the name Wellcraft will always conjure images of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs chasing drug smugglers at wide open throttle in Miami Vice. Featuring Ray-Ban sunglasses, Uzi machine guns and a quintessentially 80s electronic soundtrack, the show had all the ingredients for a successful five-season run, including a Wellcraft 38 Scarab KV powered by twin 440-hp inboards. That boat fit the purpose, place and time like a perfectly tailored white blazer.
Times, they say, are changing. The go-fast boats of yesteryear are largely falling into the wake, being replaced instead by outboard-powered cruisers designed to get you from point A to point B in comfort, and back home in time for your kid’s soccer game. Understanding the needs of today’s boaters, Wellcraft recently splashed its 36-foot 355.
“There is a clear trend in the market for commuter-style boats, boats that can take you to your private island,” says Wellcraft Brand Director Nick Harvey. “This seems like a very fitting direction for us because of the history of Wellcraft (as a performance brand) and the trends in the market. It’s very different from what’s out there today. It’s a much beefier boat with a higher freeboard, which brings a much faster, smoother and safer ride for passengers.”
In early September, I was fortunate to be the first marine journalist invited to climb aboard the boat after she landed in South Florida.
Thanks to a direct 6:00 a.m. flight from Hartford to Ft. Lauderdale, I found myself taking in the new Wellcraft by 10:00 a.m. along with a much-needed iced coffee. And let’s get this out of the way up front: Yes, the 355 resembles the growing class of European-influenced day boats. Commenters on our video walk-through of the boat on YouTube and social media called out the resemblance to Axopar, Nimbus, XO Boats and others. I get it, but at the same time I think that conversation is only loud now because this category is still relatively new. Walk the docks of any boat show and you don’t see boaters getting upset that there is more than one builder of center consoles, bow riders or even sportfishers. This category is making huge waves and I expect it will only become more crowded and competitive. In the end, competition amongst builders is a good thing for us consumers.
When explaining the design mission of the Wellcraft 355 it’s important to recognize what it’s not. This is not a cruiser that you’d spend extended periods of time living aboard and it’s not your father or grandfather’s Wellcraft. At some point all builders have to look ahead to their customers of tomorrow. Harvey continually emphasized to me that this boat’s mission is to serve as a commuter, a boat that can run fast in safety and comfort. And that’s exactly what this boat excels at.
The boat I climbed aboard was powered by triple 350-hp Mercury outboards but if Yamaha is your preference the boat can also be equipped with triple 300s from that manufacturer. Just forward of those agile horses, owners can choose between aft seating, a small galley or what we had on our test boat: storage for fenders or dive tanks and seating. Even though the 355’s mission is to get the modern boater to—and from—their desired destination quickly and comfortably, I like that there are a number of cabin creature comforts. When cruising you never know when a shift in plans or the weather will necessitate a couple nights aboard. To that end, there’s a single cook-top, microwave, a salon sofa that can be converted into a berth in a pinch and a nice sized stateroom with a head and separate shower.
The best seat in the house is behind the helm. With its triple Mercury outboards and a proven hull from Michael Peters, with one to two foot seas off Lauderdale we saw speeds hovering around the 50-knot mark. Tracking and visibility were excellent, and the ride was, in a word, fun. It’s the kind of driving experience where you don’t want to use the autopilot on a crossing because of how nimble it is.
Some quick math says that on our test day, with my morning flight and a coffee stop, we could have been tied up in Bimini by 11:30. Customs in the Bahamas notwithstanding, we could have easily been there in time for a conch salad lunch; that’s exactly the kind of duty this boat is designed for.
And this is not just a Florida boat. More and more we’re seeing these types of passagemakers gracing waterways from Maine to Seattle. More and the more I feel the northern climes calling my name, the 355 would be the perfect boat to blast between Maine and Nova Scotia where you can grab a great AirBnb for a reasonable rate (that’s my free travel tip).
On our way back to the marina I took the opportunity to see how the boat interacted with the Mercury joystick. In short, she danced sideways, in circles and everything in-between. You can get the 355 with a bow thruster but I find it hard to believe it would see much use on this boat.
After some practice maneuvering, we would have the chance to use the boat on a true Miami Vice style rescue and recovery mission. Cue the Phil Collins, and pastel t-shirts.
“What is that?” I asked Harvey as we slowed to inspect a large piece of floating debris in the middle of the channel. “Is that … a Power Wheels?”
Sure enough, floating but semi-submerged waiting to murder a couple props was a fully laden, incredibly heavy Power Wheels Jeep. The 355 saddled up to the miniature vehicle and Harvey and I tried–in vain–to lift it aboard and book it into evidence, I mean, throw it in a dumpster. “I’m renewing my gym membership when I get home,” I thought to myself as we instead were forced to rely on the Mercurys to push the toy to a nearby bulkhead where a number of nearby workers helped us pull it from the sea.
Mission accomplished. Eat your heart out, Crockett, I don’t think they could have pulled off that rescue mission so easily in your 38 Scarab.
An inboard-powered line that Harvey refers to as, “A picnic boat but with a modern twist” will ride closely on the heels of the Commuter 355. Rounding out this new range will be a line of luxury center consoles, though details on that model are still under wraps at this time. “It’s all part of the adventure cruising umbrella,” says Harvey. “We want to bring an international dimension to the Wellcraft brand.”
At some point in every story you come to a crossroad, a point where you need to choose between the path you’ve been on and where you want to go. Wellcraft, and its parent company, boatbuilding juggernaut Group Beneteau is making a major investment to bring this storied brand to an international audience while still delivering on their original slogan from their founding in 1955: World Class Performance.
Wellcraft 355 Test Report
Wellcraft 355 Specifications:
Displ: 10,000 lbs.
Fuel: 264 gal.
Power: 3/350-hp Mercurys; 3/300-hp Yamahas
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