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May 24, 2011

Boston Whaler 345 Conquest Open

This boat performs exceptionally well — perhaps better than any Whaler that has come before.

Boston Whaler constantly communicates with its dealers around the globe and its customers. From those sources, the company receives terrific input as to what both groups want in a new boat. Sources located in Florida, Latin America and parts of the Mediterranean (all warm climates) logically request a large, more-open model. Whaler engineers took all that input and came up with a home run with the 345 Conquest Open.

I watched the weather closely leading up to my sea trial, as a hurricane was on its way. Wind-against-tide ­conditions added to already hefty seas stacked up with four- to six-footers in the ­notorious Ponce Inlet on Central Florida’s Atlantic coast. I dropped the speed to about 15 mph while transiting the inlet, and found the vessel safe, secure and dry. Outside, I ran the 345 at 25 mph in the troughs and it performed perfectly. It also reacted predictably in a big following sea, and was completely responsive when throttling up and down as well as in turns.

Back in the Intracoastal Waterway, the triple 300 hp Mercury Verados lifted the 345 onto plane in six seconds and hit 30 mph in 11 seconds. The 345 topped out at 52 mph, turning 6,000 rpm while burning 90 gph. A conservative 35 mph cruising speed at 4,500 rpm burned 40 gph, but it felt slow. A more probable 45 mph cruise used 65.3 gph at 5,360 rpm.

I cranked the wheel hard over at 35 mph, and the 345 bled off speed quickly, leaned into the turn and reversed course as smoothly as silk.

Close-quarters maneuvering is a dream come true on this big beast thanks to a very unique bow thruster — the only one that doesn’t require a tube. Whaler uses a keystone design that reduces vibration, and the company has even received a patent for the innovation. Combined with the widely spaced outer outboard engines, you can walk this boat in any direction you choose.

Drifting behind a shrimp boat, trying our luck for some tarpon, I found the roll characteristics remarkably comfortable. And under way, spray management proved ideal.

I particularly loved the tower while running in the heavy seas. I found it easy to enter and exit, and more important, it allowed me to see crests and troughs much earlier, which means safer and smoother navigation.

With no exaggeration, this boat should protect you from yourself in most cases.