John page williams
The following review was written by John Page Williams, Editor-at-large, Chesapeake Bay Magazine. John, senior naturalist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, has been a regular contributor to Chesapeake Bay Magazine for 30 years, specializing in environmental issues, nature, wildlife, fishing and boats. He has been testing new and used boats for the magazine's Time-Tested and New Boat News departments since 1998.
Sea Ray 340
FEBRUARY 2009
 
   
Length overall  37' 6"
Draft  32"
Deadrise  21 degrees
Weight14,600 lb
Fuel 225 gals/ Water45 gals
Power  twin 340-hp MerCruiser V-8s with V-drives
Base Price  $140,000–$175,000

Sea Ray's Sundancer models have been part of the 50-year-old company's line since the mid-1970s, when pioneering designers Jerry Michalak and Arch Mehaffey thought up a layout that could accommodate the whole family in a modest boat. The cardinal feature of the Sundancers is an athwartships double berth set beneath an elevated bridgedeck, a compact arrangement that tucks extra sleeping capacity into a cruising boat of moderate size.

The mid-cabin layout, which places a berth where a conventional inboard's engines would be, makes creative use of engine placement, whether inboard/outboard or V-drives. Both systems came into their own in the 1970s, and Michalak and Mehaffey quickly took advantage of them, beginning with a 24-foot (240) Sundancer in 1976. Today, the 2009 Sundancer line extends from the 240 to a 600 (the latter, a 60-footer, has a mid-cabin that features a fore-and-aft island queen berth and a private head).

For most families with the means to buy a boat like a Sundancer as a mobile summer cottage, 34 feet is a good length. There's enough space and privacy for a family of four to cruise for a week (five, if someone sleeps on the dinette or, in good weather, on the lounge in the cockpit). The boat is easy to handle and reasonably efficient, once the skipper learns to dial in its sweet spots. The 340 is also large enough and able enough to handle near-coastal waters if operated prudently. This article takes a look at a 2005 340 Sundancer.

Design and Construction
Founded in 1959, Sea Ray became a division of Brunswick in 1986. Since then the company has turned out hulls in staggering numbers. During the 340 Sundancer's model run, from 2003 through 2008, the company manufactured nearly 2,000 of them, including 576 in one year alone. (For the 2009 model year, an all-new 350 Sundancer has replaced the 340, following Sea Ray's policy of refreshing each design every four to six years.)

To find out how the company could turn out up to 12 of these complex boats each week with minimal warranty claims, I talked with Todd Stooksbury, production manager at Sea Ray's Knoxville, Tennessee, manufacturing facility. "Manufacturing is a science," he told me. Like other Brunswick divisions, Sea Ray has embraced Lean Six Sigma efficiency and speed-monitoring systems to eliminate waste and speed up production. As part of this process, the company's product-development and engineering team must take into account not only how each new model will behave on the water, but also how efficiently it can be manufactured. For example, a robotics system can cut out the complex deck of the 340 in 20 minutes, as opposed to two hours if it were cut by hand.

An automated Lectra cutting table, working on fiberglass cloth, mat and roving, pumps out "kits" of material for the layup of each model. After the hulls are laid up, workers put together production packages of parts and roll them to the assembly line as needed, eliminating clutter on the shop floor. Sea Ray outsources its wiring harnesses, but each one goes to a wiring table at the plant for the addition of options under the supervision of an electrical engineer.  


"That 340 Sundancer just snapped together," said Stooksbury. "It was the quickest we ever integrated a new design into the manufacturing process. Our folks had it down perfectly by the fifth or sixth boat." When asked how Sea Ray keeps its tooling (molds) healthy, Stooksbury said that after every 15 to 20 "pulls" (hulls laid up, cured and removed from a mold), a maintenance crew reconditions and waxes the molds. Meanwhile, any member of the quality-control crew can pull a specific tool for maintenance at any time.

Asked if he had trained as an engineer, Stooksbury replied that he has a degree in statistics and that he has studied statistical problem-solving enough to qualify as a "black belt" in the Lean Six Sigma system. That might not be the kind of credential that would carry much weight in a smaller boat shop, but it certainly fits right in with Sea Ray.

"The 340 Sundancer has the classic Sea Ray look," said Stooksbury. "It sits low to the water and is balanced. The hull is a real wave-cruncher, with a twenty-one-degree transom deadrise, three lifting strakes and vented chines." With a pair of big V-8 engines set all the way aft and V-drives, Sea Ray's engineers must have needed to run a careful weight-distribution analysis to make sure the 340 was well balanced.

On Deck
The deck of the 340 Sundancer fits over a molded cockpit and mates to the hull in a gracefully curving sheerline. Amenities on deck include bonded-in skylights, plus a high bow rail and nonskid sidedeck walkways for going forward to handle the plow anchor or lay out a pad for sunbathing. A forward-curving arch provides the structure for a "sunbrella" top that snaps to the windshield. It also offers secure mounts for antennas and a radome.

In the cockpit the helm seat is an upholstered double bucket with flip-up bolsters. The large helm station comes factory-rigged with a full range of flush-mount electronics and gauges, including multifunction MerCruiser SmartCraft displays to help monitor engine performance and keep up with service intervals. To port is a third upholstered bucket seat with a bolster. Behind the port seat is a curved wet bar with standard icemaker or optional refrigerator and storage beneath. An optional AM/FM/CD stereo system supplies tunes and news.

To starboard a J-shaped lounge curves around from the back of the helm seats to the transom, ending at a secure door to port, which opens onto the broad swim platform. A mounting plate in the sole secures a cockpit table, and there is an optional snap-in carpet for the cockpit. There's capacious storage under all of the seats and in the curved aft side of the transom for everything from tools to fenders to shore-power cords. In addition, the base of the helm seat includes a porthole to send natural light to the cabin below. All told, the helm, cockpit and swim platform offer versatile open-air spaces while cruising or socializing. For anglers, the 340 Sundancer is available with a sportsman's package in the cockpit that replaces the J-shaped lounge with a bait-prep and tackle station behind the helm seats and a double stern seat on the transom's centerline, with a transom door on each side.

Belowdecks
The 340's midcabin provides a comfortable L-shaped lounge with sitting headroom that converts to a double berth. Natural light comes from the helm-seat porthole. A sliding curtain adds privacy, as does another curtain at the foot of the large berth in the bow. A compact staircase gives access to the cabin from the companionway without enclosing the midberth, so when the curtains are drawn back, the boat's interior has a feeling of openness. A curved four-seat dinette extends along the starboard side of the cabin.

To port is the galley, with a two-burner stove, a long countertop, a sink, a microwave, a built-in coffeemaker and abundant storage in cabinets. Just forward of the galley is a 15-inch flat-screen TV and DVD player, plus the control panel for the optional stereo system. My test boat included a 23-inch flat-screen TV on the cabin bulkhead, facing forward and visible from both the dinette and the forward berth. A drop-down, 15-inch TV set with headphones provides entertainment to the mid-cabin lounge. Aft of the galley is a bright and amply ventilated full head with shower. 

Power and Performance
For good power and maneuverability, a boat of this size and weight really needs the larger propellers of V-drives instead of outdrives. Our test boat came so equipped, along with a pair of MerCruiser fuel-injected 8.1-liter, 340-horse-power gas V-8s. Access to the engines is excellent, with large, electrically actuated rams that lift the entire transom and aft end of the cockpit lounge.

The good balance designed into the 340 Sundancer enabled the boat to rise onto plane easily, with good sitting visibility at the helm. It cruised quietly, with a flat wake at speeds of 23 to 30 mph at 3200 to 3800 rpm and a fuel burn of 25 to 34 gallons per hour. Top speed was 39 mph, burning 50 gph. The day of our sea trial was too calm to test the Sundancer's rough-water performance.

Considering its size and weight, the 340 Sundancer is relatively efficient, but with the SmartCraft gauges and speed readings from the GPS, it would pay an owner to work out a speed/fuel profile to get a clear sense of the boat's sweet spots in various conditions.

Price and Availability
Our test boat sold new in 2005 for $195,000. When tested last fall, the boat was listed at $173,000 as a Certified Pre-Owned Boat from an authorized dealer—a bargain compared to $275,000 for a new 350 Sundancer. An internet search turned up a 2003 dealer-certified 340 Sundancer for $140,000.

Conclusion
With several thousand 340 Sundancers of various ages on the water, good used boats (many certified by dealers) are readily available. What Stooksbury calls the "classic Sea Ray look" may not appeal to everybody, but for those who love it and need a coastal cruiser in this size range, the 340 should be a great choice. h