A pair of 680 hp MANs transform a mild-mannered cruiser into a speedster.

Hot rodding is an American institution that's almost as old as the internal combustion engine. Stuffing big power into cars and boats has always been the least expensive and easiest way to get more speed. Carver continues this tradition by offering MAN diesels as optional power for its 530 Voyager. Buyers have a choice of twin 800 hp or 680 hp, and you have to experience this makeover to believe the results - very much the same sensation as plopping a small-block Chevy V-8 into a 1932 Ford coupe. Even after I spent a few hours cruising Lake Champlain near Plattsburg, N.Y., I came away scratching my head. How did Carver and MAN do this?

Carefully, is the answer. I'm going to climb out on a limb here to tell you that these 680 hp MAN V-8s are perfect for the 530 Voyager. They are inherently quiet and smooth, compared with other V-8s I've experienced, and didn't issue a single puff of diesel smoke, even when we provoked them by quickly opening the throttles from idle. The 800 hp MANs may be overkill; i.e., the extra purchase expense and increase in fuel consumption may not be worth the relatively modest increase in top speed and acceleration. They also may vibrate more. If you pack a lot of household stuff when you cruise, though, you'll probably appreciate the extra power.

ln many cases, an engine package is only as good as the installation, and I have to applaud Carver for a job well done. The engineroom is exactly that, a room, located under the saloon and right abaft the master stateroom. You can get to the engineroom from the cockpit or the master stateroom amidships. You can't stand up in the engineroom, but you'll have more than enough squatting/working space for all the routine maintenance. Space on the outboard side of each engine is a little tight, but you don't have to get in there for daily checks. Plumbing, wiring runs, exhaust system and ventilation in the engineroom is among the cleanest I've seen on a production boat.

Back in the hght of day, I discovered that the best part of the 530 Voyager experience is driving her. I met our test boat Good Humour at the Marina Champlain about five minutes north of Plattsburg. The owner, David Joseph; his wife, Annette; their older son, Brian; Paul-André Gagnon, vice president of Marina Gagnon et fils Itée in Québec, the dealer who sold Joseph his last three Carvers; and I set out for an afternoon spin. The spin also included a photo session, most of which occurred at the boat's maximum speed of about 36 knots (read from ship's instruments). Wind was light and the seas calm.

Joseph expertly maneuvered Good Humour out of her slip, using the trolling option of the Twin Disc Power Commander and the bow thruster. The control that this combination gives the helmsman is wonderful. Without the trolling option, the idle speed of the engines would propel the boat a whole lot faster than you need for intricate maneuvering. Out in the lake, he eased the single lever to the stops - a bit of tab, and we were planing. The transition was undramatic and exhibited little of the "hump" sensation that we normally associate with getting onto plane. In the flat water of Lake Champlain that day, 36 knots felt like 20. A couple of things contributed to this: very little noise from the engines or the exhaust and almost no wind buffeting at the helm. In fact, Joseph and I carried on an animated conversation, at normal volume, about his work and boating experience while Good Humour severed the surface of the lake with her keel. Behind us, though, turbulence boxed the ears of Annette, Paul and Brian - as you'd expect. Seating on the bridge surrounds a small table immediately abaft the helm seats. At the after end of the bridge deck is space for a tender - the crane stows neatly out of the way behind the settee. By the way, visibility from the flying bridge helm station is outstanding.

This you expect. The real surprise waits for you in the pilothouse. Open the Bowmar hatch to starboard of the flying bridge helm and descend the stairs. There in the center of the house is one of the best inside helms stations I've ever seen. Its centerline placement gives the helmsman a 360 degree view, messed up only slightly by a variety of window frames, without which you cannot do. Seated at this helm, I could see all four corners of the boat. And what a seat it is. It's a form-fitting bucket seat upholstered in UltraLeather, and it feels as comfortable and supportive as the seats in BMW's M3 Coupe. It's adjustable, too. Spread before you is a comprehensive dash of instrumentation, communications and navigational electronics. Well done, Carver.

The saloon surprised me, too. It is pleasantly unconventional. It's big, for one thing, and has an efficient U-shape galley. You'll be able to use this galley at sea, because it's tight enough to brace yourself when seas get angry, and it's over the forward section of the planing surface, one of the more comfortable spots on the boat. Spatial flow from the sliding doors at the after end of the saloon forward to the helm station, plus nearly 7' of headroom, make the interior feel even larger than it is. On the downside, the snack bar attached to the counter that forms the after end of the galley seats only three around the inboard end. The entertainment center lives in cabinets adjacent to the galley near the centerline of the saloon.

The guest stateroom up forward is big and doesn't have even the slightest trace of that dungeon feeling some forward cabins do. A portlight either side and a hatch in the overhead let in a surprising amount of natural light. Joinery is above average for a production boat.

A curved stairway bids you to enter the cabins belowdecks, where you'll find another surprise. The master stateroom is directly beneath the pilothouse, right forward of the engineroom and is large and inviting. A queen berth dominates the space, and directly opposite is a most imaginative bathroom arrangement. Up one step to clear the hull's deadrise, is a well-lighted vanity flanked on the left by a head and the right by a bathtub/shower combination, both of which have doors for privacy. The stateroom has three hanging lockers, one of which rivals many household closets for space. An entertainment center is optional and was part of the package in Joseph's boat. I don't watch much television, but I sure can see myself and first-and-only mate lounging on the berth some chilly rainswept night listening to Mozart and reading a good book, among other activities. Smack up against the chain locker forward is a large guest stateroom with a queen island berth. It shares a head with the over/under guest cabin on the port side. The spaces are pleasant and surprisingly free of the feeling of being punished by a stint in solitary-confinement. One element of the interior that concerned me is the design of the stairway leading from the pilothouse to the flying bridge. The treads are mounted to a single large-diameter stainless steel tube, and neither side has a railing. Climbing the stairs didn't bother me - descending, however, made me feel on the brink of disaster.

Curb appeal, too, is pretty good. Though l'm not fond of the aesthetics of modern big white boats, I appreciate the compromises that create them - you want space inside, you give up some beauty outside. The massive amount of headroom that you enjoy in the cabins belowdecks comes from high topsides, the camber in the foredeck and the height of the pilothouse sole. The condo-height, though, hides cleverly behind darkened windows and a row of elliptical portlights in the topsides. The severe rake of the windshield and the line carried from the deck to the top of the radar arch also help disguise the boat's high superstructure.

This is the nature of boats, but Carver has done a fine job of making the 530 presentable to a wide range of boating enthusiasts. At $718,820 (base price) with the MAN engines, it is a great value, too.