Express cruisers have certainly been the dominant design on the Canadian power cruising scene for a long time now. From the smallest sizes at about 26 feet up to 60 feet or more, the express cruiser layout continues to attract buyers.
It is a highly competitive market segment with a lot of excellent choices. Buyers have an almost bewildering array of options but a few of them really stand out from the pack.
Our test boat, the Formula 31PC is definitely one of those. Formula Marine was originally founded in 1962 by the now legendary Don Aronow, originator of the offshore ocean racer genre. Now owned for many years by the Porter family, Formula has always put the emphasis on high performance. Driving high speeds in offshore conditions is a very tough environment for a boat and the construction quality and rigging have to be done to very high standards to prevent things from coming apart.
So, you would expect that construction quality and rigging when you look at a Formula express cruiser. This boat is almost a hybrid; on the one hand it’s a family cruiser – on the other hand, a high performance boat. Our test boat blasted through the waves at 5,000 rpm doing a blazing 51 mph!
It featured a pair of 496 HO MerCruiser stern drives making 425 hp each and running Bravo Three drives. This boat even had “drive showers”. This spray of cool water on the drive units’ upper gear cases keeps them cool during prolonged high speed runs. If you’re the kind of guy who enjoys the thrill of speed but you want to enjoy it with your family, Formula has this boat “dialed in” just for you.
From a standing start, this 14,000-pound cruiser only needed 9.8 seconds to reach planing speed. An ideal cruising speed seemed to be a relaxed 3,200 rpm for the big block engines but that translates into 30.2 mph. At that rate, you can get from A to B quickly and probably at maximum fuel economy…if you can keep your hands off the throttle!
This is a driver’s boat with tilt steering, an angled foot rest, adjustable bolster seat with an offshore-style instrument layout Livorsi controls. These are usually seen only on offshore performance boats. They deliver a smooth action that makes is easy to synchronize the engines even in rough water and speed. Outward vision is excellent and the windshield gives enough protection so that you can sit down and look through or stand up to read the water at speed. The steering was very responsive and the 18° deadrise vee hull cut through a 3-foot chop with ease.
Dad may buy the Formula 31PC for the thrilling performance (or the amazing sapphire blue Imron paint job) but the rest of the family will think he got it so they would be comfortable.
A generous swim platform is a part of the design and includes a stainless steel boarding ladder under a cover as well as courtesy footlights for that quick dip before bedtime.
The L-shaped settee in the cockpit can handle up to seven people and has drained storage underneath. Snap out carpeting in grey was easy on the eyes and should be easy to clean as well. The entire aft bench comes up on an electric lift for excellent engine access and with a boat that’s this fast, you should check your fluid levels and your engine room’s general condition before you take that blast through the rough stuff.
Also in the cockpit is a refreshment center on the port side that includes a sink under a cover, storage area with a trash locker and an Isotherm refrigerator. Most owners will want to add a barbecue on the transom or swim platform – that’s the best place for it anyway. Also under the refreshment center are the battery switches and 12 volt access. It is a convenient hiding place as you come on board at the yacht club. Formula uses a composite material for the transom gate along with stainless steel caps and hardware.
To make sure that everyone stays well hydrated, Formula has included 13 drink holders.
On the bridge is a port side sun lounge seat that has an absolutely cavernous storage area underneath. This is easily big enough to store your barbecue and the seat has a recliner back for sun tanning.
The helm is impressive with burl walnut trim on the dash and steering wheel (although we found that a surprising match with the Livorsi controls). The dash features traditional analog instruments including tachometer with hour meter; some other special features include the Lewmar chain counter for the electric windlass, Raymarine E80 navigation system and also an autohelm. We’re not sure how we feel about the autohelm on a boat that goes 50 miles an hour! We think the Captain needs to be firmly in control of this boat at all times.
Other features include the Icom VHF radio, Bennett trim tabs with LED readouts and we were pleased to see lots of sturdy stainless steel grab rails and handholds carefully placed throughout.
The cabin is down three step; up the starboard side is a large settee with storage underneath the seats, overhead lockers and a glossy two-part dining table.
The test boat had a 23-inch LCD high definition television, air conditioning, stereo with iPod docking, curtains and attractive glossy finish woodwork in cherry.
A wise design move was to keep the forward vee area open but with a privacy curtain. Two drawers under the berth and a cedar-lined hanging locker are appreciated features. There is a very large mirrored forepeak that enhances the impression of spaciousness, opening potholes and an overhead escape hatch. The queen-size berth is irregularly shaped but it’s positioned to the port corner resulting in a larger berth and standing headroom on the open side. There are footlights again for nighttime.
Coming down the port side of the boat, we find the galley unit; our only comment here is that you specify the optional cherry wood grain cabin sole. Otherwise you get carpet. That makes a kitchen spill hard to clean up. We felt it was a top-of-class galley with a large, round polished stainless steel sink, microwave, overhead and undercounter lockers all with a unified look that makes it seem larger than it is. The 3 cu. ft. refrigerator is concealed behind a matching door which we like and the construction seemed particularly good with proper dovetailed drawers, Corian counter top, cutlery trays, fiddles on the shelves and more. We especially appreciated the stainless steel grab bar.
The enclosed head is also handled well with stainless steel sink, vanity, Vacuflush MSD and we really applaud including an exhaust fan.
With such a nice cabin in this 31-footer, we weren’t expecting much from the aft cabin. Well surprise! The aft cabin struck us as being really usable with a slide-out double berth, a separate 15-inch flat screen TV, attractive lighting, screened hatch and even a cedar-lined locker. Although it’s open to the rest of the cabin, a privacy curtain makes it comfortable for kids or another couple at night.
On top of everything else, you get exterior features like oversized cleats, radar arch, high quality canvas and a nice centre windshield walk-through to the forward deck. The 31-foot size is big enough for comfort yet small enough to get a transient berth at most marinas. Family boat…performance boat…all ‘round ‘er? The Formula 31PC can be what you want it to be. Isn’t it great to have choices!
Test boat engines: MerCruiser 496 Mag High Output, 425 hp each, 496 ci/8.1 L V8 with sequential multi-point fuel injection running Bravo Three drives, each with counter rotating prop sets
ENGINE (RPM) SPEED (MPH)
5,000 (MAX) 50.6
Speed testing by GARMIN
Length LOA 33’1”/10.08 m
Beam 11’0”/3.35 m
Weight 14,100 lbs./6,396 kg
Fuel Capacity 180 gal./681 L
Water Capacity 50 gal./189 L
Holding Tank 40 gal./151 L
Base Price $296,790 US
To see if this boat is available, go to http://www.boatcan.com to check listings!
By Andy Adams