Scattered rain squalls, choppy seas and gusty winds aren’t the conditions about which typical boaters dream. But that’s what faced me as I met Doyle VanderPol, marketing manager at Group Beneteau, parent company of the Wellcraft boat brand, to run the new 302 Fisherman.
“You ready to test a boat?” VanderPol quipped with a grin.
“You bet — let’s go,” I responded with an affirmative nod.
We suited up in rain gear and headed out on Tampa Bay, dodging the late-fall weather to find a stretch of water with decent visibility to put the 302 through its paces. On the positive side, we were in a good boat for bad seas. With an LOA of slightly more than 30 feet, this new model boasts plenty of hull length to bridge the waves. The 9-foot-8-inch beam lends stability for a crew to work lines and battle fish. And that means a lot when venturing offshore for mahi, sailfish, tuna or wahoo.
As I powered up the twin Mercury 350 Verado outboards, the 302 sliced cleanly through the whitecapping waves, tossing spray aside and staying dry even when running in a beam sea. Handling at speed proved outstanding, especially with the integral Mercury power-steering system. A Garmin GPSMap 7616xsv multifunction display at the helm helped me safely navigate the channels of the bay.
The windshield, which is tempered safety glass and measures 6 feet tall, repelled the wind blast and drizzle. Twin helm seats added to the comfort factor. I really admire the heavy-duty, polished stainless-steel hardware used for the articulating armrests and flip-up bolsters. Two tiers of footrests at the base of the console allow captains to brace themselves at the helm.
The 302 Fisherman that I tested featured the Scarab Offshore package. This option includes special EVA-foam nonskid mats on the helm deck and behind the horizontal rod racks under the gunwales to protect reels from scratches. The Scarab Offshore hull graphic imbues the boat with a tribal look.
I pulled back the throttle and took a tour around the deck, discovering a host of angling features, including twin 23-gallon transom livewells, a rigging/bait-prep transom station between the wells, a pair of 37-gallon fish lockers flanking the aft cockpit, and another pair of 27-gallon fish lockers on each side of the center console.
Forward of the console is a lounger for two with stowage underneath, and in the forward deck I found a locker with room for two five-gallon buckets. Farther forward is a roomy anchor locker with an optional windlass and an in-stem anchor chute/roller and raw-water washdown hose to rinse mud from the ground tackle.
Wellcraft did not sacrifice style in its quest for a practical fishing design. For example, the aft hardtop supports arch gracefully forward yet also feature three rod holders on each of the two structures. I found a quintet of rod holders across the back of the hardtop, and four additional rod holders spanning the transom. Lining the gunwale, Mate Series rod holders double as drink holders.
The aft side of the seating module on my tester featured two sinks with a freshwater faucet. In a cabinet below was a 40-quart Orca cooler that slid on rails for easy access to drinks and provisions. For tackle stowage, lockers tilt out from the inwales to reveal slide-out tackle boxes.
My tester featured an optional inward-opening door on the port side for boarding or pulling aboard a big tuna or swordfish. There’s also a transom door in the starboard quarter. Coaming pads encircle the interior to cushion your legs. Access to the bilge and rigging is easy, thanks to a lift-up transom hatch.
Take a Seat
There’s no shortage of comfy seating, including fold-out transom bench seats for three and wraparound seating in the bow, in addition to the lounger on the forward console. A pedestal table can be positioned in the bow for socializing over drinks and snacks. Six stereo speakers and two subwoofers rocked the tunes on my test boat.
Accessed from a companionway on the port side of the console, the step-down head compartment offered more than 6 feet of headroom, wood-veneer paneling, an electric-flush toilet, skylight, sink, freshwater faucet, vanity and port light.
So how did the new 302 Fisherman perform? With four crewmembers and 180 gallons of fuel on board, the twin Verado 350s propelled the Wellcraft to plane in 9.9 seconds and to 30 mph in 10.25 seconds.
The 302 achieved a top speed of 56.7 mph at 6,250 rpm, where the outboards burned 61.8 gph for 0.92 mpg. The most efficient cruising speed was 42.1 mph at 4,500 rpm, with the twin 350s burning 31.8 gph for 1.32 mpg. That translates to a cruising range of more than 350 miles, based on the 268-gallon fuel capacity.
Come rain or shine, calm seas or lumpy conditions, this Wellcraft is a boat you can count on to get you to the fish and, more important, get you home with a level of comfort that exceeds expectations for a serious fishing machine. If you’re in the market for a center console in the 30-foot range, give the 302 Fisherman a closer look.