ON THE RUN
Fish don't stand a chance against the custom-quality, 65-mph Intrepid 300 Center Console.
By Capt. Dave Lear
What do NASCAR champion driver Jeff Gordon and motor sport aficionado Robert Tillman have in common with several police and sheriff departments? They all have a deep appreciation for speed and performance. Which is why, in addition to race and patrol cars, they own Intrepid powerboats.
Tillman, chairman of the board of Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, is the latest addition to the aforementioned group. He bought Intrepid's new 300 Center Console last fall after learning about the brand during a South Florida fishing trip.
Tillman and his friend Rick Hendrick-a Charlotte, N.C., businessman and former NASCAR team owner-used Hendrick's Intrepid 300 to run between Key West and the Marquesas. He was impressed immediately.
" I wanted a center console for fishing, but I also wanted a utility boat with ample seating and plenty of family appointments for skiing, diving and pleasure boating," Tillman told me. "The 300 is big and fast enough to run to the Gulf Stream and back safely, but it's not too big that I can't handle it myself or tow it behind my SUV."
I tested Tillman's new 300 last November. Mark Beaver, Intrepid's vice president of quality control and customer service, joined me in St. Petersburg, Fla., for a run into the Gulf of Mexico, where four-foot swells were breaking over sandy shoals. After surveying the confused chop, Beaver pushed the throttles forward and we blasted directly into the head seas with a pair of 250-hp Mercury OptiMax outboards on the transom. Coming off the top of the first wave, I flexed my knees, expecting a hard, spine-jarring landing. It never came. Instead, the hull splashed with a gentle bounce before slicing into the next wave. We landed as true as a laser beam every time, and the ride was the softest of any 30-footer I've ever been aboard, even at nearly 58 mph.
I was even more impressed with the performance after taking the wheel myself. Accelerating to cruising speed, I nestled against the comfortable bolstered helm post and enjoyed the ride. I didn't have to fight the wheel or jockey the throttles; this boat is a thoroughbred that knows how to run on its own. Despite the sharp entry, the bow didn't dig in, and only the slightest tab adjustments were needed to make a great ride even better.
As we idled back through the no-wake zone, Beaver explained why the 300 is so operator-friendly. "This boat incorporates our next-generation, single-step hull design," he told me. "With the single step, attitude is built in and it stays the same throughout the rpm and speed range, which makes it really easy to drive. Even if you don't use the tabs, it still runs well."
The single-step design is also fast and efficient-our top speed was a nimble 65.4 mph. The GPS registered 44.2 mph at a 4000-rpm cruise, while the engines burned only a miserly 20.8 gph. With the standard fuel capacity of 180 gallons and a 10-percent fuel reserve, you could cover 300 nautical miles at that pace. For better range, fuel capacity can be increased to 214 gallons.
On the downside, standard fishing features are limited on the 300. Rod lockers in the bow and a 70-gallon macerated fish box in the cockpit deck comprise the short list, although Intrepid does offer a host of options. In contrast, competitive models-Fountain's 31 Sportfish Open Bow and Donzi's 29 ZF Open-include numerous angling amenities among their standard equipment.
Intrepid's semicustom approach to boat building makes this center console more expensive than production models, and it gives each boat a one-off flair. For example, the 300 can be outfitted with the company's signature integrated hullside dive door, or Intrepid can match the boat's color to virtually any shade in the spectrum. Need more seating, washdown systems or live wells? No problem. Ask, and the builder can deliver.
I especially liked three options installed on the test boat. The first was the electric mechanism to open the transom ball valves without having to crawl into the bilge (even though it was spotless). Another switch quietly slid the door on the custom console open, revealing the standup head, sink and shower. And finally, the bowthruster made parallel docking as easy as finding a space for a Mini Cooper.
If all this piques your interest, then get ready to wait. Intrepid uses state-of-the-art technology to build the 300. PVC foam coring is used throughout, along with hand-laid multi- and unidirectional fibers. Vacuum-bagging is also extensive; for instance, the hardtops are bagged three separate times. As a result, it takes four weeks to build each one of these factory-direct center consoles and the waiting time can be as long as 18 months. According to Beaver, brand loyalty and resale value is very high, thanks in part to the company's strong commitment to customer service.
As for Tillman, he plans to keep his latest acquisition at his vacation home on North Carolina's massive Lake Norman, where he'll chase stripers and enjoy boating with his family. "I set it up the way I wanted it, and Intrepid delivered," he said. "Eventually, I imagine it's going to taste some salt water."
MotorBoating (March 2004)