The express cruiser is, in many ways, a transitional boat since it is more cabin cruiser than runabout — yet it's not quite a full-fledged yacht. This isn't a bad state of affairs, however, since the express cruiser manages to combine the large cockpit and outside entertainment areas of the smaller boat with the cruising amenities of a larger boat.

Most boat owners spend their time in the cockpit, either underway or relaxing at anchor. At night, you sleep in the cabin but, during the day, most cabins are used for stowing jackets, and the galley is where you keep the ingredients for the evening outdoor barbecue.

Many of today's boat owners started with a "package boat" that might have qualified as a miniature express cruiser, offering a cozy V-berth tucked into a cuddy cabin that provided a place to change clothes and not much else. The Monterey 286 is the steroid version of such a craft ... sort of an Arnold Schwarzenegger of express cruisers. Big and brawny enough to venture far offshore, it still has exceptional accommodations that seem impossible given the sleek exterior. Let's take a look aboard.

From dockside, it's easy to board the 286 because the wide swim platform on the stern has an opening transom door to eliminate any awkward clambering into the cockpit. There's no question that the 286 was designed for maximum outdoor enjoyment, with a big bench seat across the transom and an L-shaped companion settee opposite the swivel helm chair. The result is that several people can keep the helmsman company underway, or you can turn the entire cockpit into a lounging area at anchor. Recognizing that the weather isn't always flawless, Monterey includes a canvas Bimini top as well as complete side and aft curtains to enclose the cockpit into an all-weather "living room."

The companionway into the cabin is a clever example of Monterey engineering, particularly since so many companies seem to think we don't mind squeezing through a tiny cabin door. On the 286, a fan-shaped hatch swivels out of sight, and the bi-fold door doesn't constrict the passage, making this an easy cabin to enter.

To port is a convertible dinette and the enclosed head is to starboard with the galley just forward. A double berth fills the bow and, surprise, there's a nifty second cabin tucked under the helm area with a pair of settees that convert into a second double berth.

At this point, I have to take exception with the Monterey literature since they suggest that this boat sleeps six. There's no question in my mind that you can put a couple in the 6-foot-5-inch forward berth, and the 6-foot-2-inch aft berth has space for another twosome. But the dinette is just 40 inches wide, so the couple on that berth should be both slim and enthusiastic. I would suspect that the vast majority of Monterey 286 buyers will be leaving the dinette in place unless they park a youngster there for the night.

Nevertheless, the 286 fulfills the express cruiser mission admirably. The designers have managed to fit in all the cabin requirements without falling back on the usual method of simply reducing everything in size. Aboard the Monterey, there is a full 6 feet 1 inch of headroom and the seating is designed for adult bottoms. Best of all, there's a sense of airiness from the extensive use of white mica bulkheads combined with the opening hatches and ports.

The standard galley has a two-burner alcohol stove, a pressure water system, and a deep stainless-steel sink with cutting board top for added counter space. An AC/DC refrigerator is tucked under the counter and backed up by a 27-quart removable ice chest in the cockpit, so you can carry plenty of provisions. Utensils and dishes stow behind the counter area and Monterey has recognized a primary American need by installing a coffeemaker in the galley as standard equipment.

The enclosed head is surprisingly large, with 5 feet 9 inches of headroom, a sink and even a pressure shower. The standard toilet is a Portapotti but the optional marine toilet with holding tank was installed aboard our test boat.

Exploring further aft, I found that the "guest stateroom" was not only comfortable, but quite pleasant. With settees in place, there's plenty of sitting headroom and, because of the opening port into the cockpit, your guests get plenty of light and air.

Back outside in the cockpit, it's easy to go forward because the Monterey folks molded two big steps next to the helm (not those Tinkerbell-sized steps found on some boats) and the curved windshield of tempered glass hinges open. By the way, there are side decks if you prefer to go forward in that manner but the windshield route is better.

Our test boat had the optional sun pad on the cabintop and, though I didn't include it as part of Sea's test procedures, it did occur to me that it would be a pretty wonderful place to sprawl and watch the world go by. If you don't opt for the sun pad, you can have a second deck hatch to add even more light and air below.

There's a 2-foot-8-inch bow platform with anchor roller, a draining rode locker, and a sturdy welded stainless-steel pulpit and rail that extends aft to the helm. All in all, a workmanlike foredeck.

Power for our Sea test boat was a pair of Volvo Penta 434 Duoprops, and this was an absolutely delightful package. The 434s are 4.3-liter (262-cubic-inch) V-6 gas engines that punch out a solid 187 horsepower at the propshaft and, as you can see from the performance chart, the Monterey 286 is no slouch. With the hammers all the way down, Sea's radar gun was indicating better than 45 mph and, at a 3,000 rpm cruise, we were still covering 28 miles every 60 minutes. These are improved versions of an earlier Volvo Penta engine, now with a balance shaft that minimizes vibration. Best of all, they have great low-end torque that popped our test boat onto plane in just 4.1 seconds. If you're a waterskiing enthusiast, your only problem with the Monterey 286 will be hanging on for dear life.

Our test boat had the B-series aluminum props and, with the counter-rotating prop system that stacks one prop in front of the other like a torpedo, you get exceptional bite even in tight turns and, best of all, you can back into a slip with no sweat!

Our test took place in Miami, Florida, and it was a good combination of sea conditions, ranging from flat water in Biscayne Bay for the speed runs to some "washing machine" slop in the Miami Cut and the open sea. The Monterey handled it all with a cool grace that instills a sense of confidence in even a novice helmsman. Part of this came from the hull lines, with a pair of strakes running nearly full length to help cushion the ride and wide reverse chines that provide a flat surface to lift our test boat, with nearly full fuel tanks and two people aboard, easily onto plane. In the flat water from a stop, the Monterey came up smoothly without needing to use the standard trim tabs and without having the bow climb for the sky. Out in the lumpy and random seas, the vee bottom (with 19-degree deadrise at the transom) kept the pounding to a minimum.

Sound is a key factor in boating enjoyment, and Sea's decibel meter showed the Monterey to be quiet, topping out at 85 decibels at full throttle and 78 dbA at cruising rpms. In addition, the swept-back windshield did a good job of keeping the wind above the cockpit, which made conversation easy even at full throttle.

The steering position was comfortable, the VDO gauges were easily visible in the burled wood instrument panel, and the tilt steering allowed for standing or sitting. All the electrics are controlled by rocker switches with indicator lights, and there was plenty of room to install an array of electronics in a dedicated panel next to the instruments.

The hull is solid fiberglass, with four overlaps of woven roving at the hull bottom, stiffened by fiberglass encapsulated plywood or spruce stringers. The deck has a balsa core and all essential hardware, such as deck cleats and rails, have plywood backing plates.

Aside from the construction and handling, I was also impressed by the long list of standard equipment that Monterey supplies with the 286. Included are such items as shore power, AC/DC refrigerator, pressure water, full canvas package, digital depth sounder, Halon fire extinguisher system, and quality hardware such as Bomar hatches.

With the twin Volvo Penta 434 Duoprop engines, our test boat was base priced at $60,266. Among the options not included were the radar arch, marine head, bow spotlight, sunpad and transom shower.

For the family that wants to step up to a larger boat without having to give up waterskiing speeds and a large cockpit, the Monterey 286 should definitely be on your short list of boats to consider.

For more information, contact:

Monterey Boats

P.O. Box 70

Archer, FL 32618

phone: (352) 528-6115

Boat Specifications

Hull Length28'9"
Draft 2'
Displacement8000 lb.
Fuel 140 gal.
Water 25 gal.
Engine Options:7.4 liter single, 4.3 or 5 liter twins