A little more than a year ago, Nor-Tech Hi Performance Boats in Cape Coral, Florida, set out to ride the wave of center console models offered by custom high performance powerboat builders with their 390. Actually, Nor-Tech was among the first few such builders—the true “first” was Cigarette Racing Team with its 39 Top Fish—to catch the high-performance center console groundswell that grew when the economy hit the skids and go-fast V-bottoms and cats hit a lull.
By all accounts, the Nor-Tech 390 Sport Open was an instant hit—and not just with the go-fast crowd. Socially-minded would-be buyers who wanted a wide-open party platform, as well as serious offshore anglers, took a look and liked what they saw. And at long last I can say that, too.
I caught a ride from Miami to Key West on a Nor-Tech 390 for the Super Boat International Offshore World Championships. Our journey south was with 60-plus high-performance boats for the Florida Powerboat Club’s annual Key West Poker Run.
On board for the ride were Terry Sobo, Nor-Tech’s director of sales and marketing; Scott Shogren, the owner of Shogren Performance Marine, a Nor-Tech dealer in Waukegan, Ill.; Vicki Newton, the publisher of Sportboat magazine and a few other newfound friends.
Thanks to a no-wake zone that extends from the Biscayne Bay Marriott, past Government Cut city and almost to Coconut Grove, the beginning of our journey told me little to nothing about the boat’s performance. But what I did learn immediately is that the builder focused on exceptional open space and seating in this 10-foot beam model.
In the aft section of the cockpit, there were twin benches. The helm station behind the protective console featured a triple-person bolster-style bench. Just ahead of the console and incorporating a section of the structure for its contoured backrest was a three-person forward facing lounge. A horseshoe-shaped lounge in the bow, which could easily seat six, rounded out the boat’s seating accommodations.
The group of boats waited for two helicopters with photographers to show, in the open waters beyond Grove Harbor. Once the helicopters arrived, the group departed en masse. And that’s where the 390 showed some of its best stuff, because the jumble of wakes from the loose line of V-bottoms and catamarans, all taking off at once, was nasty. For the next 20 miles, there was no “clean” water to be found. So Sobo, who was at the controls for much of the run to Key West, had to deal with big cross-wakes and aerated water.
At 50 to 60 mph, the 390, which was powered by triple 300-hp Mercury Verado outboard engines, was remarkably solid and stable in the sloppy conditions. Regardless of which angle the wakes pushed into the V-bottom—and those angles often conflicted—the boat didn’t budge. It didn’t slide. It didn’t sway or catch. It was rock-solid, and required very little steering wheel or outboard trim correction from Sobo.
A little more than an hour north of Key West we “turned outside,” leaving the Intracoastal Waterway for the open Atlantic Ocean. At that point, Sobo handed over the controls to me. I didn’t need either of the two massive Garmin GPS units to guide me to Key West—I’ve done the run before and at that stage, getting there is pretty much a matter of pointing the nose to the south and running a straight line—but it was comforting to have them.
For the next hour, I weaved my way through the endless lines of crab traps. But “weaved” may actually be too strong of a word. When one string of traps ended I’d find the next, and just nudge the wheel to whatever side I wanted us on. And while I would not call the Nor-Tech 390 “nimble,” I would describe it as appropriately responsive to steering input for a boat weighing more than five tons.
At one point during our journey, Sobo wanted to zip up the fabric walkway wind-dams on each side of the console, so he had me slow to down from 60 mph to 16—the boat’s minimum planing speed. I trimmed down the outboards a few taps, and the boat maintained a level attitude.
Once Sobo had zipped up the wind-dams, he gave me the nod to hit it. Within a few seconds we were back at 60 mph. I tapped up the trim three times and our speed increased to 62 mph, with the triple throttles wide open and the engines turning less than 6,000 rpm.
As you approach Key West from the Atlantic side, you make a sweeping right turn in front of a breakwater structure known as the Outer Mole, right in front of Truman Annex. The seas can jump up several feet in this area until you get around the corner. Anticipating this, I took the speed down to 50 mph and trimmed down the engines with a few taps on the throttle-mounted trim button. And while the precaution was worthwhile, it turned out to be unnecessary. I could have turned the 390 at wide-open throttle and the boat would have held its line in the one to three footers that popped up. We could see the slight change in conditions—but we couldn’t feel it.
Coming into the confused mess of boats and personal watercraft running in all directions that defines the waters from the Outer Mole to the resort hotels and Key West Harbor, I dropped the boat speed to 25 mph without touching the trim. Once again, the 390 held a level attitude and I never lost sight of the water immediately ahead of me, a huge plus on a seriously busy waterway.
Back at the docks in front of the Conch Republic Restaurant, I played baggage handler. I pulled bag after bag out of the console—enough bags for eight people who had no concept of traveling light—until I finally uncovered a rectangular berth and a head locker. Clearly, the 390 did not lack for interior space.
Sobo was eager to hear what I thought of the 390. The boat was, after all, his baby and his idea, though the task of executing it was handled beautifully by Schou and Johnson. So here’s what I thought: I have been to Key West several times by boat, and I have never enjoyed the ride more than I did on the 390. While we didn’t find conditions to truly challenge it, the ride quality and stability I observed in the slop we did encounter gave me every confidence that the boat could handle much rougher water. Threading my way through the lines of crab traps and in the sweeping turn coming into Key West I found the boat to be just like Nor-Tech’s other V-bottoms, and that means sure-footed and smooth.
But what I enjoyed most about the boat was its stability in the wake jumble we had to deal with at 60 mph early in the run to Key West. That could have been stomach churning. Instead, it was a non-event.
Other Choices: Cigarette 39 Top Fish, Fountain 38 CC, Midnight Express 37
Read our review of the Nor-Tech 420 MC
For more information, visit Nor-Tech High Performance Boats.