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Boston Whaler 345 Conquest Boat Test

Boston Whaler’s 345 Conquest is a surprisingly fast and agile 34-foot gameboat. Most surprising of all is how economical it is with bank of three big Mercury Verado outboards pushing it offshore. Warren Steptoe came away thoroughly impressed after his latest encounter with the ‘unsinkable legend’.

Boston Whaler 345 Conquest Boat Test

Boat Test Boston Whaler 345 Conquest: OCEAN CONQUEST
Author and photography: Warren Steptoe

This boat test ran in ISSUE 87 of BlueWater magazine – SEPT-OCT 2011

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here

Few boat brands have the temerity to call themselves both legendary and unsinkable. As we all know, legends usually exist largely in the mind of the person telling the story. As for unsinkable, well, that pretty much went down with the Titanic, didn’t it?

Even so, Boston Whaler have been known to cut one of their boats into pieces with a chainsaw to demonstrate its reluctance to sink. And it’s fair to say that over the past few decades they’ve become a legend for it. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the current Boston Whaler brochure. It features one of their five-metre centre consoles being sawn in half – then driving away under power afterwards. Also included is the vision of a swamped 370 Outrage, floating level and upright with some 40 people onboard. Remarkable!

They’re convincing images for the design and buoyancy of their vessels, although their actual relevance to the average bluewater angler could be debated. At least until they swamp their boat – or somehow break in it two!

I first tested a Boston Whaler about 15 years ago and have since then spent time aboard several more. With or without consideration for their virtually unprecedented safety factor, Boston Whalers are always impressive boats. They’re stronger-built than your proverbial brick outhouse, and you’re never left in doubt about how well they’re put together, or the complete lack of compromise expressed in the quality of every single ancillary component.

But I’ve also found Boston Whalers to be somewhat quirky. Moulded sides mean the brand sometimes lacks elements as fundamental as being able to fish with your legs braced against the boat’s sides. And then there’s the fact that among the (admittedly beautifully finished) mouldings, this lack of hands-free bracing against the boat’s sides left you grasping for something to hold onto that wasn’t to be found when you needed it.

If the two Boston Whalers I’ve tested this year are any indication, the new range is exceptionally good. The centre console 370 Outrage I tested for BlueWater in Issue 82 appeared initially to be a go-fast toy but turned out to be a soft and notably dry-riding boat with a serious fishing cockpit, and few equals among centre consoles of any size.

Which brings us to the Boston Whaler 345 Conquest: a 34ft (call it 10.5m if you must) bridgedeck-forward, cabin configuration with a cockpit nicely sized for serious bluewater sport and gamefishing. This boat is much more the kind of boat bluewater anglers in Australia commonly use. Albeit, this is one with some pretty radical departures from convention – which turns out to be cause for a substantial rethink about our habitual comfort zone of cabin boats with twin diesel motors…

Powerplant Rethink

The three 250hp, supercharged Mercury Verado 4-stroke outboard motors gracing our test boat’s transom are not (yet?) an option commonly seen in Australia. Aussies, like the rest of the world, it can be said, are pretty comfortable that twin diesel inboards are the ‘best’ way to power 34-35ft offshore sportfishing boats.

Before telling you anything else about what a day off the Gold Coast in the 345 Conquest revealed, let’s examine some fuel consumption and performance figures Boston Whaler supplied.

Three 250hp outboards are going to be thirsty, right? Perhaps. But how this boat’s fuel consumption relates to a pair of diesels is the point I want to make.

For example: with all three Verados spinning at 3500rpm, the 345 Conquest is running at 18.7 knots (a bit over 30km/h) and burning a total of 21 gallons per hour (Usgal/h) Translate that to 95.5lt/h. At 4000rpm and 24.7 knots (45km/h) the total fuel burn is 25.6Usgal/h (116.4lt/h). 4500rpm is still cruising revs for Verados, and at 4500rpm speed reaches 29.8 knots, nearly 55km/h, while the Verados are burning 32.7Usgal/h, or 148.7lt/h.

Given that most of us cruise offshore, most of the time, at around 20 knots – that’s somewhere between 3500-4000rpm in this boat, with mightily impressive fuel consumption!

On those nice weather days, or for a long run across relatively sheltered water before reaching open ocean, cruising speeds around 30 knots don’t carry the penalty of particularly heavy fuel consumption. This is where it gets really interesting to calculate how the fuel-burnat higher speeds and shortened travelling times compares to fuel-burn at lower speeds and longer travelling times – which only seem economical until you do the math.

When comparing the fuel consumption of three Verados against an equivalent vessel with twin diesel inboards, it’s worth considering whether the diesels can reach a top speed of 44 knots (just over 80 km/h), if they can cleanly plane the boat in 6.5 seconds or can accelerate to 50 km/h in 8.8 seconds. Food for thought indeed.

Amazingly Quiet

Nonetheless, to discover this boat’s greatest asset you need to get it out on the water. As soon as you do, the words ‘unbelievably quiet’ spring to mind – and that’s a thought no 34-35fttwin diesel inboard of my experience ever inspired. The noise levels in this boat, or rather the lack of the noises you expect, really is quite amazing.

At any speed, from sitting on the anchor to absolutely flat out across surface chop, this boat is soooo quiet. No doubt Boston Whaler’s proprietary ‘Unibond’ foam-filled hull, which bonds the entire structure into a single unit, is largely responsible. But the absence of engine noise, vibration, or any of the other harmonics that motors usually contribute, no doubt helps too.

At the helm, the fuss-free nature of this boat shines in another respect. The most difficult thing you’ll have to do is choose what you want displayed on Mercury’s integrated ‘SmartCraft’ engine monitoring system, although this will, of course, only appear complex at first. Driving the 345 Conquest was as simple as if it were a boat half the size with a single motor.

On some boats, three motors could be complicated. But pushing a couple of buttons on the throttle and gear-shift binnacle selected control with one or both control levers. This gave individual or synchronised trim adjustment, and automatic engine synch for all three motors. Docking was aided by a (standard) 4kW bowthruster, and apart from the 345 Conquest being considerably bigger than an outboard-powered trailerboat, actually driving itwas no different. Perhaps not too many people will step up to it from a trailerboat, however, anyone who does can rest assured they’ll very quickly feel at home. To say you soon forget there are three outboards on the back is fair comment, and even trimming the boat with the (standard) trim tabs uses precisely the same skill set as an outboard-powered trailerboat.

On the other hand, people accustomed to fishing from twin diesel-powered boats probably won’t find it very different either, except for one thing. If you’re accustomed to being separated from the water only by the width of an aft covering board, those three big, black outboard motor cowls amount to an awful lot of hardware, right where they’re absolutely in the way.

Fish Fighting

Adjusting to this situation may not be such a problem for people who’ve fished around a big outboard or two for some time. You do adjust to sending trolled lures aft from the cockpit sides, rather than straight over the transom. But fighting fish from an outboard-powered vessel has more issues than just this.

Outboard-powered boats simply can’t back down like a pair of shaft-driven inboards! In an outboard-powered boat it’s generally better to keep the boat off to one side of the fish, where multiple-outboard boats like the 345 Conquest are far more manoeuvrable.

Still, this issue of reverse-manoeuvrability is (perhaps) the only major stumbling block with outboard power on a boat like this. The solution is easy – if you can get your head around a different way of doing things.

Moving on from there to other aspects of the 345 Conquest, the cockpit is a good one; if not quite as good as some of the twin-diesel inboard alternatives it will inevitably be compared against. The cockpit periphery has been cleverly engineered with moulded insets to provide the essential toes-in-under-leg support, although there are some gaps. It’s not perfect, but not (in an overall context) something that’d stop me buying this boat, because so many other aspects of it are so good.

The aft bulkhead contains a fold-away lounge seat with a 180-litre baitwell portside. There’s an insulated fishbox each side of the deck, and the previously mentioned moulded side-inserts contain rod/gaff/tagpole racks. The self-draining deck itself has a moulded non-slip surface with drain covers over a pair of freeing ports.

Cockpit Barbeque

At the forward end of the cockpit, central moulded-steps lead up onto the bridgedeck. On each side of these there’s a moulded, waist-high bulkhead. The bulkhead’s portside twin hatches lift to reveal an optional barbecue cooktop and a sink, with a small icebox slotted into a compartment below them. The starboard side contains a chest-type refrigerator, which in our test boat came with an optional set of tackle drawers below that. For bait and lure rigging, the upper surfaces of the fridge and grill provide a convenient working surface.

Moving forward onto the bridgedeck, there’s a small lounge portside of a central helm-chair, and the cabin entry door on the starboard side. A very solid-looking hardtop with big, armoured glass windows makes the bridgedeck a comfortable place in inclement weather. It’s noteworthy too, that on the warm subtropical day we tested the boat, a cooling airflow through the helm area was easily arranged by opening the centre panel of the windscreen, and hatches in the roof.

There is also an ‘Open’ version of the 345 Conquest in an ‘Express’ configuration. An upper helm station atop a hardtop is an option for either configuration, which would convert it into a very serious little gamefishing boat indeed.

The hardtop was so well integrated with lower parts of the hull structure, that it all literally acted as one, even when travelling at considerable speed across the open ocean.

Performance At Sea

Sea conditions on the day were moderate, but the ride was completely bump and bang free, and the boat tracked arrow-straight regardless of our direction of travel relative to a reasonably sized swell running at the time. Power hydraulic steering made course changes effortless, and the fly-by-wire throttle control made speed changes a matter of procedure rather than care. It was simply an exceptionally easy boat to ‘drive’ at sea.

Contemporary Boston Whaler hulls retain a semblance of their ‘whaler’ heritage in deeply sculpted chines, however these seemed to serve mainly as spray deflectors. The hardtop windows ensured our ride was 100% dry whichever way we travelled, and all-in-all the 345 Conquest rated as one of the very best 34-footers I’ve ever been at sea in. I’ve been to sea in much larger boats that were nowhere near as kind to their occupants as this boat proved.

Boston Whaler’s specifications list a deadrise of 20 degrees at the transom for the 345 Conquest, and while this apparently contributed to a fine set of manners while under way, it certainly didn’t come at the cost of stability at rest.

Drifting out of gear, the boat simply sat there without reacting at all to people moving about inside. Climbing (moulded) stairs on each side of the hardtop onto the side decks to move onto the foredeck, benefit from strategically placed (and stout) grab bars. Typical of cabin boats everywhere though, once you are forward of the superstructure you’re reliant on a low (-ish) bowrail for security.

Roomy Cabin

Down in the cabin, the 345 Conquest’s stability at rest and general quietness on the water both help ensure this will be quite an effective cruising and social boat. While it’s only 34 feet long, cabin space has been maximised with an open floor plan. A portside bathroom has the only interior wall downstairs, and while you couldn’t call the saloon spacious, neither is it cramped, and is definitely not cramped for a boat of its size.

One of few places ‘downstairs’ you notice you’re only in a 34-foot boat, is where the bow berth sits right beside the galley. This has a 3.9 cubic-foot fridge, a twin-ring electric stove, a microwave and a coffeemaker. Opposite the kitchen, filling space to the cabin stairs, is the dinette, and along the wall behind that there’s a cleverly sited rack stowing four rods (with reels.)

Cabin decor features fairly dark timber, which to my eye made it a bit gloomy downstairs, to a point where we left the lights on even during the day. Diffusion panels over four small portholes helped to relieve any dimness, but a bright cabin interior it wasn’t.

Beneath the helm area (the bridgedeck), a small lounge with naturally limited headroom above it, provides extra seating space. This lounge converts to extra bedding complete with a privacy curtain.

To my mind, the 345 Conquest’s cabin would be very comfortable for a couple to live aboard for several days at a time, while that convertible lounge under the bridge deck and the dinette do offer supplementary bedding for occasional guests or children. Three blokes fishing a multi-day tournament will enjoy a comfortable bed for everyone.

An 8kW diesel genset drinking from a 90-litre fuel tank powers two reverse-cycle aircon units totalling some 30,000 climate-controlling BTUs. The freshwater tank holds 170 litres, and a dockside hookup and tank-level indicator for a pressurised hot and cold water system is standard. The toilet system is provided by VacuFlush.

A single 300hp Verado outboard is standard power for the 345 Conquest; with the 3 x 250hp Verados that our test boat ran, or 3 x 300hp Verados as options.

For around $485,000 (that’s for our test boat including the triple 250 Verados and outriggers) this boat isn’t just food for thought, it’s a veritable feast.

The Boston Whaler 345 Conquest is a most impressive boat all round – and no, you don’t need a chainsaw to be impressed!

Highlights

  • Awesome performance from triple Verado outboards.
  • Impressive fuel efficiency.
  • How quiet and vibration free the motors are.
  • How quiet the hull is on the water.
  • Build quality.
  • Rock-solid structural integrity of hull and hardtop.

Capacities

  • Maximum Rated Power: 900hp (3 x 300)
  • Maximum Engine Weight: 953kg
  • People: 14
  • Fuel: 1594 litres
  • Fresh Water: 170 litres
  • Holding Tank: 75 litres

General

  • Material: GRP laminates
  • Hull Type: Boston Whaler semi trihedral mono hull
  • Length: 10.36 metres
  • Beam: 3.56 metres
  • Draft: 0.56 metres
  • Deadrise: 20 degrees (at transom)
  • Weight: 6441kg (hull only)

Engines

  • Make/model: Mercury Verado 250 DTS (x 3)
  • Type: supercharged DOHC EFI 4-stroke
  • Rated hp: 250hp
  • Displacement: 2598cc
  • No. Cylinders: 6 inline
  • Weight: 300kg (ea)
  • Gearbox ratio: 1.85:1
  • Propeller/s used for test: 17-inch pitch Enertia
  • Genset: 8kW diesel

SPECIFICATIONS: Boston Whaler 345 Conquest
Options fitted: Triple 250hp Verado motors, cabin comfort package, 240V compatibility, cockpit barbecue, radial outriggers, spotlight, stainless steel anchor, safety package. 

Boston Whaler 345 Conquest Boat Test

Boat Test Boston Whaler 345 Conquest: OCEAN CONQUEST
Author and photography: Warren Steptoe
Supplied by: Queensland Marine Centre

This boat test ran in ISSUE 87 of BlueWater magazine – SEPT-OCT 2011

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here

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