There's something to be said for making progress toward perfection. While absolute perfection itself is elusive, to strive for it year after year can't help but make things better. This is what we were thinking while touring Stingray's manufacturing facility in Hartsville, South Carolina, and later putting its 2006 250LR bowrider through the motions at the nearby lake.
Stingray owner Al Fink is a curious fellow who has a passion for building boats and making them better each year. Usually it's the simple things. At one point, dealers were complaining that they kept getting boats with slight scuffs in the cap rails. Fink walked the production line looking for the culprit and finally discovered the vacuum hoses used for the final cleanup before delivery were causing the problem. Now, those vacuums are mounted on head-high platforms so the hoses drop into the boats without having to be slung over the side.
Another small example is the stainless steel nosepiece for the rubrail on the 250LR. The stainless steel rubrail comes in standard lengths, so the rails are fitted to the boat and then cut off at the bow. The nosepiece is fitted over the ends for a clean, factory-finish look — not to mention the thick nosepiece adds a serious element of durability in the event of a head-on bump with a pylon or another boat. After more than 25 years of building boats, Fink still delights in doing whatever he can, small or large, to make his boats better. A builder that puts this much effort into sweating the details can be counted on to deliver in critical areas like performance, reliability and comfort as well. And the 250LR is a good example.
The 250LR is the largest runabout available from Stingray (a cuddy version is also available) and, like all other Stingray craft, performance is at the heart of its mission. Another chief characteristic of the 250LR is an upscale notion of standard features, some of which we're used to seeing as expensive options on other boats. We were glad to see items like the enclosed head with holding tank and pumpout, cockpit table with floor mount and magnetic compass come standard.
We were also glad to see the large integrated swim platform, which was a new addition to the 250LR for 2005. A centerline step-through transom gives you easy access to the platform, where you'll find a step that will double as a seat while strapping into a wakeboard or skis. There's also a top-folding boarding ladder, a couple of stainless steel grabrails and a small storage trunk in the step, which has room for towropes, fenders, gloves and other small items.
In the cockpit you'll find a huge U-shaped conversation pit in addition to a pair of Avenir Sport Bucket seats with flip-up bolsters and a refreshment center. Standard filler cushions allow you to create a large lounging platform in the cockpit. The same touch of comfortable space is carried forward to the bow, where you'll find storage, an integrated cooler and another set of standard filler cushions to create another lounging pad.
While Fink has a typical office with a desk, conference table and chairs at his facility in Hartsville, he actually finds that he sometimes spends more time at his "other" office, which consists of a pair of plastic 5-gallon buckets turned upside down at the end of the dock where he mans a radar gun while testing boats. It's not uncommon to see the dock lined end-to-end with propellers while the Stingray crew is working to strike the highest performing balance between hull, engine and prop for any given boat.
In our case, with the 250LR we had one person aboard for the test, a third of a tank of fuel (about 23 gallons or 144 pounds) and a 300 hp 350 MAG MPI MerCruiser with a Bravo III drive spinning a 24-inch stainless steel prop set.
Acceleration was peppy with a time to plane of 4.1 seconds and a 0- to 30-mph time of 6.5 seconds. Our peak speed was 54.1 mph, which will give you a top-speed range of about 143 miles. The noise level at the helm while running at top speed was 92 dBa. Our most efficient cruising speed was 29.6 mph at 3,000 rpm, which would yield a cruising range of about 204 miles. The noise level at cruising speed was pleasantly low at 83 dBa.
In terms of handling we could easily tell the difference between Stingray's patented Z-plane hull and conventional hulls. First, the 250 needed very little trim to air it out for top speed. And it only took a slight touch of trim to push the nose down for aggressive cornering.
One of the ideas behind the Z-plane hull is to eliminate the vortices associated with conventional lifting strakes, which can increase prop blowout while turning. According to Fink, the Z-plane lifting strakes provide the needed lift while eliminating these vortices, which gives the prop a clean, undisturbed flow of water to bite into. Taken together, this allows Stingray to mount its outdrives 3/4 to 1 inch higher than normal, which reduces drag. Another selling point of the Z-plane hull is that the lifting strakes don't have a hard edge perpendicular to the water like conventional strakes. Strakes with a hard edge perpendicular to the water can cause the hull to hook while taking hard turns in rough water, which can give passengers the rattling of a lifetime. The outside edges of the Z-plane lifting strakes are angled so they won't catch the water like conventional strakes do.
There's no doubt that Stingray's hard work and attention to detail make a difference. Even though the company has been at it for more than 25 years, it's still nice to see it's not resting on its laurels. The 250LR is a testament to Stingray's commitment to innovation, and we're told to expect even more from this craft in 2007.
In terms of cost we'd say the 250LR is competitively priced, and it might even top many other craft in this range in terms of standard features.
No boat is perfect, but Stingray keeps trying, and its boats keep getting better.
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