The high-flying Luhrs 36 has a wide, stable ride and is handsome enough to turn heads. 

When a boat company replaces a popular model with a newer version, the new boat must be significantly different from the old one in order to assure success. Unless there's compelling reason, why do it? Well in the case of the new Luhrs 360 Convertible, there were a half dozen good reasons. For openers, the addition of 1 1/2 feet to the beam and a foot forward has made a world of difference. 

The 36 is, in fact, replacing the 35 while at the same time beefing up the mid-size component of the Luhrs line between the 32 and 38 open versions. "Target customers for this new boat," says Chip Shea, Luhrs' knowledgeable marketing manager, "are those who want to be comfortable in a boat designed to run offshore. They also want enough space aboard to cruise extensively."

I was quite aware of the comfortable, dry ride as I drove the new 36 up Vineyard Sound after leaving the very salty village of Menemsha on the southwest coast of Martha's Vineyard. Menemsha is sportfishing heaven. The small harbor is loaded with boats used by the pros to tackle tuna, stripers and blues. Rigged as a sportfisherman, this new Luhrs 36, bristling with custom-made Rupp outriggers, fit right in.

GALLEY UP: And an impressive galley it is. 

The run up the Sound and on co Nantucket proved Chip's dry-and-stable point. The modified-V hull, with 16-degree deadrise at the transom, has a well-defined Carolina flare in the bow. The boat's 13'10" beam and reverse chines are responsible for the stability of the ride. Four-bladed props spun by twin 420-hp Caterpillar diesels produce a top end of 28 knots and an easy cruising speed of 22 to 25 knots. Fuel consumption at cruise has been reported at about a mile a gallon, while range at cruise runs about 360 miles.

Though this particular boat was rigged with diesels, the standard package is offered with twin 420-hp Marine Power gas engines. The difference between the reliability and safety factors of gas and diesel is well-known. The real question, of course, is one of price. With the gas package, the Luhrs 36 costs about $214,000 - some $56,200 less than the diesel-powered option. Your pick.

As we sped past Edgartown, weaving in and out of cruise ships and island ferries, I found the 36 very responsive to every maneuvering command. The boat can make a tight turn to either port or starboard without losing rpm or producing any hint of breakout or cavitation. At idle, back-and-turn maneuvers proved it would be very manageable in docking situations.

As I powered up to cruising speed again, I noticed that the exhaust was being bled off by the slipstream. This feature is the result of unique exhaust ports positioned right in each corner of the transom. "Side-dumping exhaust," reports Shea, "increases the back pressure on the engines to an unsatisfactory level. Straight-out transom dumping creates too much of a station-wagon effect." So Luhrs' designers developed this corner-dumping technique to eliminate excessive back pressure and to practically eliminate backdrafts.

At the bridge helm I spotted other great innovations, though I also noticed one drawback. It's difficult for the "navigator" to get around the helmsman's seat and out into the open area of the bridge deck. Now for the good news: The sturdy half-tower is a standard feature - though the enclosure curtain, which is a necessity, is an option. The bridge itself is positioned farther aft than most so that the helmsman can look down to see the angler in the fighting cockpit below. The helm has been designed to accommodate an electronics package fit for a battleship. Repairing or installing new equipment is easily accomplished by simply opening up the helm. Storage bins are plentiful.

NO BALANCING ACTS

An excellent bridge feature is the access stairway that lets everyone move easily from cockpit to bridge without the potential problems inherent in an unsafe ladder arrangement. "My wife, Stacey, and I have moved this boat 1,200 miles," says Chip, "and we've found the stairs to be of great benefit." No balancing sandwiches and drinks as one tries to get lunch to the bridge. No need for a bucket-and-rope combination to hoist refreshments topside. No fear that an adult guest or a young child is going to lose a grip on the ladder and fall to the deck below.

And there's more: Srorage space is everywhere on the 36 - more than I have seen on many other boats of this size. There's a huge storage area under the forward berth (which, by the way, comes complete with innerspring mattress). There's hidden storage under the salon stairs near the amidships bulkhead, and a secret eight-rod locker under the seven-foot bunk in the guest cabin. There's more storage in the head behind the mirror; in the salon beneath the settee cushions; in the furniture that fills the space where forward windows are positioned in other boats, and in the galley, where a special pull-out pantry provides a place for cans and boxes.

The entire layout of this boat is well-designed for a cruising/fishing fimily. The two-cabin, one-head (with separate shower) arrangement is perfect for overnighting, either offshore when going after marlin (or tuna) or for cruising the rugged coast of Maine or the beautiful San Juan islands.

The two optional air-conditioning units (and the standard 50-amp service with power cable to power them) provide enough cool for the warmest of days in South Florida or Southern California. The reverse-cycle design of these units means they also can be used to warm the air should a chill fill the night when you're anchored in Georgian Bay or upper Lake Michigan.

LARGE SALON: With convertible settee, the salon can become a third stateroom, as well. 

An optional generator, which fits easily into the spacious engine room, can supply enough juice to keep all the creature-comfort features operating simultaneously. This includes the stove, microwave and coffeemaker, as well as the entertainment center with stereo, plus optional TVs and VCRs.

This Luhrs 36 is designed as a formidable convertible able to switch easily from substantial cruiser to campaigning sportfisherman. "Most Luhrs owners fish," says Shea - "some casually for blues and stripers, others extensively for big-game trophies." This boat, with its special cockpit fighting chair plate, large tackle center and bait wells, is uniquely suited for tournament duty. The list of standard equipment bears this out. It includes a bait-prep center, live well, tackle drawers, ready box, transom door, large coaming-mounted fish box, fresh/saltwater washdowns, self-bailing cockpit and four flush-mounted rod holders.

Be you fisherman or cruising skipper, the new Luhrs 360 Convertible is a serious boat for serious boatmen.