Introducing any new performance boat is a gamble. As a builder, you're betting that your research and development, tooling and prototype production costs will be recovered in future sales. But there are no guarantees—the more money you spend and the more time development and production take, the larger the risk. That's especially true with a high-end, big-dollar product where the customer base is inherently limited.
So in no small way, you could call Wayne Schaldenbrand and his brothers at Sunsation Products Inc., high-stakes gamblers. They're betting that their new-for-2007 F-4 stepped V-bottom will pay off. They're betting that buyers will pass over the formidable custom V-bottom competition and throw down more than $600,000 for the 43-footer.
Our take, based on the brilliant F-4 we tested in Sarasota, Fla.? Don't bet against them. The F-4 is that good.
If there was one thing the F-4 had in common with many of its Sunsation siblings, it was a Mitcher T paint job. And like all Mitcher T paint applications, the red-and-silver work on the big V-bottom was vibrant and precise. The boat was laid up with standard high-quality materials including vinylester resin, 1708 and 3408 fiberglass and a 1 1/2-ounce skin coat. To save weight without compromising strength, the builder opted for SAS board instead of plywood.
Lead inspector and test driver Bob Teague found no flaws in the boat's hull and deck tooling. He gushed over the installation of the heavy-duty vinyl rubrail, which was completed with indexed socket-head screws. Those screws, rather than their Phillips-head cousins, were used throughout the boat to create what Schaldenbrand, president of Sunsation, called an "industrial" look.
Every piece of hardware on the boat was customized. That's the benefit of having a CNC router in-house. The numerous billet aluminum step plates, which eliminated the need to step on the fine upholstery, were perfectly fitted with traction-enhancing rubber inserts. Billet panels were used on the dash as high-tech background material for the gauges. All grab handles were fabricated cylindrical stainless steel with red billet caps.
Even the production-built pull-up cleats were customized. To minimize their internal rattling, Sunsation replaced the stock bushings with custom-built versions.
We don't know how many hours Sunsation spent on the F-4's engine hatch, but we'd guess quite a few. The underside was fitted with five mirrors framed in translucent red acrylic. Hidden LED lights illuminated the fine detail work of the hatch, which raised on two hydraulic rams.
To secure the staggered Mercury Racing HP700SCi engines, the builder used offshore mounts through-bolted to the stringers. The mounts were powder-painted red, as were the step plates and billet battery boxes. As in the rest of the boat, only socket-head screws were used in the immaculate rigging.
All the bling in the world—and the F-4 was flat-out loaded with it—wouldn't have amounted to much if the boat didn't deliver the goods on the water. We're pleased to report that the V-bottom, which incorporated a notched keel and four steps, impressed our test drivers and co-pilots.
With the 700-horsepower engines turning 5,450 rpm, the boat reached 99.7 mph on GPS. Schaldenbrand told us the boat will "touch 100 mph" in ideal conditions with a light load of fuel, and we don't doubt it. That's cool stuff—especially with relatively tame power—for a boat that weighs almost 6 tons without a drop of fuel in its 235-gallon aluminum tank.
Mercury 35"-pitch five-blade Cleaver propellers put the power to the water, and the boat made decent use of the package in the acceleration department. With the trim tabs down, time to plane was 6.1 seconds and the bow did not rise significantly. From a standing start, the 43-footer reached 67 mph in 20 seconds. Midrange punch was good, as the
F-4 ran from 30 to 50 mph in 5.7 seconds and from 40 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.
Handling was precise and predictable. The boat didn't exactly dance through low-speed turns—no surprise given its length—but as the speed increased it became increasingly nimble. With fairly tall hullsides, it did tend to lean into crosswinds. Otherwise, tracking was perfect.
Teague and fellow test driver John Tomlinson gave the F-4 high marks for its offshore ride. Tomlinson said the boat was better connected taking seas head-on and following rather than quartering. Teague, on the other hand, found the boat's offshore ride excellent from all directions. That's why we have two test drivers—to provide balance.
To say Sunsation missed no detail in outfitting the F-4's cockpit would be an understatement. LEDs in the cockpit alone, the builder spent $1,200—the company even installed high-intensity LEDs in all the gauges.
A full complement of Livorsi Marine Monster gauges mounted in billet panels was at the helm. Naturally, the builder added a few more goodies including a flush-mounted, billet-rimmed Mercury SystemView monitor, a Garmin 3206 GPS and an Azimuth 3000 compass.
Come big water time, the co-pilot on the port side of the boat will be able to choose from three grab handles. Those options, combined with the power bolster and footrest, will be much appreciated in the rough stuff.
Like the cockpit, the cabin in the F-4 was completely decked out. Sure, the flat-screen Aquos television, Corian countertops, Sharp microwave oven, cavernous head locker, plush lounges with trick two-tier upholstery and giant berth were nice. But the killer feature in the cabin was its E-Plex touch-screen control system. From lighting to air conditioning, the system managed every function in the cabin. Lest the screen system fail, the builder included manual switches for everything.
In all aspects, the F-4 is hands-down the finest model we've seen from Sunsation. It is a true custom V-bottom that will give the established builders a run for their—and their customers'—money.
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