Lighthouse Point, FL (PressExposure) April 01, 2009 -- It was an iffy spot. There was no sign proclaiming "Live Bait For Sale" and no structure I'd rightfully call a dock. Just an old guy in a big straw hat, a blue work shirt, and jeans (with a red bandana hanging out) standing on a patch of dirt and waving me in off the ICW. "Okay to tie up?" I yelled from the upper station of our Rampage 34 IPS prototype. Considering the buff little beauty's substantial $644,616 price tag ($417,253 suggested retail plus $227,363 in options), about the last thing I wanted to do was gouge some premium isopthalic gelcoat or, worse yet, a little underlying vinylester.
"No problemo," the old fellow yelled back, pointing to a short stretch of planking bounded on one end by the dirt and the other by a jagged concrete bulkhead. "Just lay her alongside-like."
While the suggestion had a nice, sociable ring to it, a cautionary maxim that's served me well over the years kicked in. It goes: Scope a situation out before you commit. The stern you save may be your own! So I eyeballed the relative motion between the shoreline and the 34's bow pulpit for a moment. A flood tide was charging through Florida's Hillsboro Inlet, and if I laid the boat "alongside-like," as the old gent suggested, it looked like the current was gonna try to peel the bow away from the planking and jam the stern into the concrete.
There was some good news, however. First, the guy and his Old Florida-style bait biz had come highly recommended by our mate, Vinnie Lasorsa. Given that Lasorsa's regular job is captaining Jimmy Buffett's Margaritavitch, I figured he wasn't the type to make goofy suggestions. And second, based on an entire morning spent running the 34 inshore and offshore, I'd developed confidence in her. Whether I was using the boat's Palm Beach-style Volvo Penta electronic levers or her Volvo Penta IPS joysticks (both were present at the upper and lower helm stations), she handled like a champ. And the fact that I could walk her sideways out of virtually any situation at the first whiff of trouble added assurance.
"Starboard-side tie-up, boys," I yelled down to Lasorsa and Jon Willman, special projects coordinator for KCS, Rampage's parent company. And as soon as they'd got a couple of lines on and started loading our 45-gallon transom-mounted baitwell with goggle-eyes and pilchards, my earlier take on the tide was validated. The 34's bow began pulling away from the planking, angling the stern toward the concrete. But again, just as I'd figured, keeping the starboard quarter out of harm's way was easy. I merely joysticked the entire boat sideways just enough to tighten her lines while bearing in mind one important proviso: subtlety was critical; otherwise maneuvering took on an imprecise, herky-jerky quality, a quirk Willman said Rampage was going to address with IPS software changes.
Hillsboro inlet was a tad tumultuous-I don't think I've ever seen the place as crowded as it was that afternoon. At one point, while I was overtaking a fair-size trawler and being simultaneously overtaken by an excursion vessel, the 34 got squeezed between the two and bomb-blasted by their wakes. She proceeded with equanimity, though, even on a slow bell. And control was excellent from the half-tower helm station, mostly thanks to the directional stability of a couple of slightly splayed, electronically steered IPS units.
The trip to the wreck was relaxing by comparison. Our ride was soft, dry, and steady in the prevailing two-foot chop, and staying on course at speed required even less steering effort than I'd had to use in the inlet on a slow bell. In fact, while zooming along at 30 mph, I was able to lift my hands for long periods from the Edson wheel at the lower station-I'd decided to switch from the upper one somewhere south of the inlet. And with the QL tabs fully deployed, visibility forward from the helm chair was fine throughout the rpm register.
This last point segues nicely into what I figure is the 34's main underlying virtue: balance. Earlier in the day Willman and I'd done a full wringout on the boat on the coastal Atlantic near Lighthouse Point, and in the process had recorded an average top speed of 39 mph. We also carved a couple of tight top-end turns with nary a hint of prop blowout and radii that were short (my guess is about two boat-lengths) and only modestly affected by our rate of advance. But what impressed me more than any of these findings was the 34's sweetly balanced deportment in general, a characteristic resulting from the fact that her engines and drives are connected by six-foot jackshafts, an arrangement that engenders a weight-forward LCG (Longitudinal Center of Gravity).
Of course, I made time to gauge our 34's cruise potential after the wringout. Below decks, there was a modicum of carefully crafted cherry cabinetry fitted into a fiberglass innerliner, a variety of sleeping arrangements that included a convertible dinette forward (with V-berth as well as seat backs that swing up to form Pullman-style bunks), and a starboard settee that folds out into a queen-size master berth. I especially liked the galley to port, just forward of the head compartment. While appropriately small and basic, it still sports a solid-surface countertop, a touch that lends a high-end look.
The story topside was mixed, though. Engine access was superb. With the bridge deck open, I (an average-size 5'11" guy) had full standing headroom in the machinery spaces and easy access to dipsticks and filters. But the IPS drive units were buried beneath a second, aftermost fishbox. Sure, lifting the hatch to get at the box was easy, but removing it to get at the units underneath was tough, mostly due to weight and unwieldiness. In my opinion, Rampage should core the box to cut weight and splice a quick-disconnect into its macerator hose, which would make it easier to remove.
The height and firmness of the coaming bolsters in the cockpit were perfect-I could comfortably brace my thighs against them and crank like heck. Moreover, the cockpit (with usable area of approximately 70 square feet) was capacious and paved with grippy nonskid; while working the fish aboard both Lasorsa and I had plenty of room and neither of us slipped once. And finally, fish-chasing directionality astern was excellent, thanks to the turning alacrity engendered by the IPS' "Sportfish Mode," a software-enhanced option that widens and quickens the swing of a vessel's pod drives, allowing her to corner tighter and faster while backing down.
We fished our Rampage 34 IPS until nightfall, and cruising back to Lighthouse Point in the dark showcased yet another of the boat's pricey but practical options-her FLIR thermalimaging system. (See "Noteworthy: FLIR Thermal Imaging," this story.)
"Amazing," I concluded as our slip hove into thermal-imaged view, "Not only does this baby maneuver, run, and fish with the best of 'em, she can darn well see in the dark, too!"
FLIR Thermal Imaging
I once tested a military boat in Washington D.C. that had FLIR thermal-imaging capabilities. I was new to the technology at the time so the manufacturer explained it all very simply. "Thermal cameras," he said, "turn comparative differences in temperature into images." And as the evening wore on, I got a fair idea of what oncoming vessels looked like (even though I couldn't see them with my unaided eyes) and checked out shorelines and waterside highways. Resolution was poor, however, and identifying objects took skill. Fast forward to my test of the Rampage 34 IPS with its joystick-controlled FLIR Navigator II (at right). While the images on our Raymarine LCD (FLIR interfaces with most common multi-displays) were far from colorful, objects like boats, pilings, buoys, daymarks, houses, and even floating debris could be easily (without either training or skill) distinguished by their differing shades of gray. Moreover, I was able to zoom in whenever I wanted to double the size of the imagery. According to company brochures, the darn thing even works in "light fog."
Standard equipment: Volvo Penta IPS electric steering; Volvo Penta electronic controls/IPS joystick Edson wheel; 3/Imtra windshield wipers; Nova Kool 'fridge; EuroKera Princess cooktop; Contoure microwave oven; Tecma MSD; 50-amp Inteli-Power battery charger; Perko sea strainers; Separ 2000/10/D fuel-water separators; 6-gal. Kuuma water heater; QL trim tabs; Fireboy FE-241 auto. fire-extinguishing system; 6/G.G. Schmitt & Sons rod holders
OPTIONAL POWER: 2/435-mhp Volvo Penta IPS 600s
OPTIONAL EQUIPMENT ON TEST BOAT: Maxwell RC 800 windlass; FLIR Navigator II system; aluminum bowrail; Raymarine electronics package (upper and lower helm); teak-and-holly cabin sole; Pullman-style bunks in dinette area; macerator pump w/ overboard discharge; 8.5-kW Kohler genset; Cruisair A/C (10,000-Btu in cabin and 19,000-Btu at helm); Reverso oil changer; Algae-X fuel conditioning system; hardtop w/ 6 rocket launchers and 2/spreader lights; Bluewater Marine half tower w/ upper-station controls (including IPS joystick), three-side enclosure (for lower station) and aft curtain; Lee single-spreader outriggers; Release Marine cockpit rocket launcher; 2/Dometic cockpit freezer boxes; Frigid Rigid cooler; bait-prep station
PRICE AS TESTED: $644,616