power_boat_review-sea_ray_350_sundancer-largeIt is a brilliant move on Sea Ray's part to make its 350 Sundancer standard with the new Axius 360 Control Propulsion System. It's just what owners want and having Axius really sets this boat apart from earlier models from before the introduction of Axius Joystick manoeuvering.

Let's cut straight to the chase: this is Joystick docking and it makes docking a simple and easily controlled part of yachting. To make it so simple, Axius employs a sophisticated computer-controlled electronic steering system that controls each of the two Bravo Three drives independently. In the past (and still with non-Axius boats) the two drives are physically tied together and are mechanically steered as a pair.

The Axius electronically controlled steering is effortlessly light and precise, but it also eliminates the need for a mechanical tie rod. At docking and trolling speeds, the Axius system can turn each drive independently and with a combination of forward and reverse thrust instantly managed by computer logic, the boat can be made to move in any direction through the full 360 degrees – and that includes moving it sideways!

Joystick docking first came to recreational boating in diesel pod drive systems about 5 years ago and it has been getting rave reviews ever since. When using the Joystick control, you simply aim for your target. Using the Joystick quickly becomes intuitive; push it and the boat goes in that direction, twist it and the boat rotates, push harder and it goes faster.

The effectiveness relies to a great extent on the Mercury Digital Throttle and Shift system (DTS). This electronically controls both the throttle and the gear change. In our test boat, the Joystick manages it all smoothly with no gear-clunk or stress. Out on the water at higher speeds, DTS allows you to run using just one lever, it can synchronize both engines for you and it even has a function to give you a wider range of low speed control by the lever.

A big feature is the Axius station-keeping feature called "Skyhook". This uses the integral GPS system and the Axius docking control to hold a stationary position even in winds or current. It is fantastic when waiting your turn at the fuel docks or for another boat to clear a narrow channel. Our Sea Ray Sundancer 350 test boat also had the SmartCraft Vessel View system enables the driver to monitor a very wide range of functions all on one screen.

To sum up, the new Axius, SmartCraft and DTS systems make this either as sophisticated or as simple as the driver chooses. It's all about making yacht ownership a more rewarding experience.

Owning a Sea Ray Sundancer is a well-established rewarding experience on its own. The 35-foot 350 really has the features and space that owners expect in a big boat and that is one reason why these are so well established in the marketplace, both in new and used form.

Our Sea Ray 350 also had a full array of conventional analog instruments making for a very impressive looking dashboard. Additional equipment included a Raymarine E80 navigation system and Raymarine VHF radio. The helm seat is double-wide with a flip-up bolster for standing operation. It was a very neat dashboard with impressive arrays of switches and rigging. We liked the driving position and ergonomics. It's a boat you will love to run. And, run it does with a top speed of nearly 50, even with the optional generator, three adults and a full fuel load. The 3000 rpm cruise at 26.5 mph is quiet and minimizes fuel consumption. Handling is especially good and you feel you can thread the needle with this boat. The 21 degree deadrise vee hull also cuts through the rough stuff well.

Also in the bridge is a port side companion seat with a drink holder and footrest but no chart table is designed into this boat. They anticipate that navigation will mainly use the Raymarine E80 screen. Typical of express cruisers, forward deck access is available through the opening windshield but Sea Ray gave the 350 Sundancer side decks about 6 inches wide so you have a choice, depending on what the safer route is.

The 350 features a big bow rail but we wish side handholds were located a little bit closer to where you step onboard at the sides. It requires a bit of a step and grab motion. However, we love the hardtop and canvas shade that covers about half the cockpit to keep you from frying in the sun. The forward curtains zip out.

The cockpit has a wraparound seat to starboard with a removable table for al fresco dining. We really appreciated the thoughtfully placed footlights and grab rails. The cockpit is a great area with a portside refreshment centre where you can add a Kenyon grill and a Dometic refrigerator to go with the stainless steel sink and handy trash locker. Snap-in (and out) carpet makes it easy to wash out spills.

But, let's not forget the cabin with its nice open layout. Four floating steps take you down. The hardwood floor is standard as is a 12000 BTU heat/air conditioning system, 26" flat screen TV, Sony stereo system and the wood interior package. Sea Ray has really upped the ante for yacht interiors recently with a special woodworking facility that we plan to feature in an upcoming issue of Canadian Yachting. The cabinetry looks great – especially the galley.

For a 35-footer, the Sea Ray Sundancer has impressive counter space and the big circular stainless steel sink enables you to really do the dishes and pots. You get a two-burner Kenyon stove underneath a cover, composite counter tops, abundant storage, an LG microwave, a Waeco refrigerator with freezer, big trash locker and a surprise feature – a Dometic drawer-type freezer! Opposite is the convertible dinette with a three-section removable table, pull-out double berth and more storage.

In the forward vee area, the berth rises electrically to become a TV viewing seat and this cabin also has a privacy curtain, contoured double-berth, side lockers and a hanging locker.

The third cabin area is the mid-cabin which can be a double-berth or conversation pit and adds a lot of storage space too. Finally, the Sea Ray has a nice head with shower, mirrored door, sink in vanity, opening port hole and more storage.

Sea Ray's Sundancer 350 was already a class leader but the added convenience of Axius Joystick docking and the many other SmartCraft features will make this boat hard to resist!

By Andy Adams

To see if this boat is available, go to www.boatcan.com to check listings!

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