Carver 396: Stretching the rules...

IN THE AGE BEFORE FIBERGLASS, AFT CABIN CRUISERS had a graceful, salty look. Then something happened. The age of resin and fabric dawned and aft cabin cruisers evolved into something ... well, boxy and fat. Now another age of design is underway, the age of the raised-sidedeck aft cabin. So much for boxy and fat. These latest aft cabin cruisers are displaying not only zestier lines but increased interior space as well. An excellent example of this style is Carver's 396. It has high sidedecks, a high level of finish, and-compared to some of its competitors- a high price. Has it set a new standard for aft cabin cruisers? Let's find out.

BOX CUTTER

The truth? Most aft cabin cruisers need that boxy shape. It allows for the most accommodations for a given LOA. But what if you want more? What if you want some pizzazz with all that room? Both Carver's 396 and Silverton's 392 try to offer just that. The 392 costs $209,480 with twin 320-hp Crusader 7.4 MPI inboards. Silverton displays some neat design tricks, too, making the profile of its 392 unusually handsome while maximizing accommodations. On the other hand, Bayliner provides cozier accommodations while adhering to more traditional style. Its 4087 aft cabin ($207, 726 with the same 454 MAG MPis as our test boat) is designed with its sidedecks at the same height as its rubrail.

Which brings us to the Carver's raised decks. Do they work? First, let's measure their height. Climb to the top of the four molded-in steps that lead from the swim platform and you'll be standing 3'4" taller, inside a 73-square-foot'cockpit. This is where the sidedecks begin. The height of the Silverton's sidedecks is similar. But aboard the Bayliner, the swim platform leads 'you up to a low-level aft cockpit. Then you mount some steps to reach a second raised cockpit-a quarterdeck- abaft the helm.

The Carver's high sidedecks allow the interior to make full use of the hull's 13'11" beam. Inside, there's lots of room for niceties. Also, it gives the 396 a rakish, forward-sloping sheerline that,. coupled with its swept-back radar arch, tumble- home transom, and elliptical windows, makes the boat look longer, lower, and sharper than it actually is.

Carver 396 Motoryacht PerformanceEYE OF THE BEHOLDER

As one who beholds boats for a living, my libido is tickled more by the minutiae that make boating safer and more fun than it is by a set of lines designed to eliminate the need for Viagra. The. Carver is full of such details.

Its windows are a great example. The cat-eyed tier of glass supplements the light and ventilation provided by the windows and windshield of the 396's house. T he raised sidedecks make room for this second tier of glass, which offers a panoramic view from the salon and galley. This frameless, custom-cut, tempered glass fits into a molded-in recessed flange with a bedding of flexible adhesive/sealant. This method hinders leaks. Why? As a boat flexes while underway, fiberglass will flex at a different rate than a metal frame. Since the 396's windows "float" on the sealant, Carver says leaks are less likely.

Then there are the wing doors and solid bulwarks protecting the cockpit. The day of cumbersome, removable weatherboards and dodgers is long gone. Feel the deck with your bare feet and notice the raised lip on the edge of each molded nonslip step. Surefootedness is assured. Now open the deck plate near the fuel fill. Note the ease with which you can get at the hose connection. You don't need a hole saw to get at a clamp aboard the Carver.

We've highlighted some advantages of the Carver's raised sidedecks. But did you pick up on the pitfall? With solid bulwarks and nearly four feet between the platform and the cockpit, side-to boarding at low tide or when the lake is drawn down could be tricky. Fortunately, Carver added a one-foot-wide catwalk 3'4" above the swim platform to make boarding easier.

All that boat beholding also allows me to see subtleties I'm not fond of as well. For instance, the catwalk and the small transom stowage box are great features, but they clutter the swim platform. And though I liked the way Carver clustered the dockside water, phone, TV, and 110v a/c connections at the transom's port corner, I had to crouch down to hook them up, which left my butt hanging precariously over the water. A platform extension would be a welcome option.

QUIET RIDER

We had no complaints belowdecks. Every service point was easily accessible; all wiring was sealed against corrosion. The aluminum grid that supports the cabin sole was most impressive. Resting on molded pillars glassed into the hull, this stiff support ensures that the wide span of the salon's sole won't flex and creak.

We also liked the engine installation. Here, our test boat's twin MerCruiser 454 MAG MPI Horizons ($9,225) rested on soft mounts bolted to gussetted aluminum angles, which themselves were bolted through the longitudinal stringers. This vibration-reducing mounting method is what I'd credit for the Carver's exceptionally quiet ride, not just at the helm, but throughout the boat. Our 20.2-mph cruise speed produced 90 dB-A in the aft cabin, only 84 dB-A in the salon, and- shhh!- just 81 dB-A in the forward stateroom. Remember, 84 decibels is like the sound of a running faucet. The 396 handled the Lake St. Clair chop in a stately, solid way. Combine the good ride with the low dB-A, and your crew can comfortably socialize underway.

PARTY LIKE ITS 199... OOPS 2000

The Carver's dual stateroom plan allows for plenty of privacy. I'd toss my duffel in the aft cabin. It has 6'3" of headroom, a head with shower stall, and all the cherry-trimmed amenities a captain could want surrounding the queen-size berth. There's also a 2'7"-by- 1'2" clear hatch on the aft bulkhead. Besides providing a neat view of the 396's wake that your kids are gonna just love (I did!), it can be kicked out and used as an emergency exit.

The forward stateroom is similarly equipped and serviced by a neat arrangement that splits the head into two rooms. To port is a shower stall. To starboard, a vanity and a commode are housed. It's a great setup. But the toilet room lacks a floor drain.

Between the berths, the best benefit of those raised gunwales becomes apparent. T here's room in the salon for facing Ultraleather upholstered sofas with recliners. Retrieve a snack from the granite-countered galley and you'll finish it before you can walk back to the entertainment center against the salon's aft bulkhead. Luckily, you can see the TV while standing on the galley's hardwood sole. (Solid, not a veneer, it can be sanded and refinished.) Wide open room to roam, thanks to those raised sidedecks, is the Carver's most beneficial attribute.

LAST WORD. The 396 maximizes accommodations and supports its price with top notch construction and attention to detail.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW OTHER CARVER YACHTS CURRENTLY FOR SALE IN CALIFORNIA

This review/article originally appeared in Boating Magazine, January 2000 and is written by Kevin Falvey. For more great yacht reviews, visit their website and subscribe at: https://subscriptions.boatingmag.com/

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