Author : Barry Tyler
Revive, and Stay Alive
The name Four Winns raises all sorts of connotations, but in all honesty the past for the product has been anything but stable, or entirely successful, or indeed even a ‘winner’. Then, all of a sudden the respected Genmar conglomerate takes hold of the product by the scruff of the neck, re-vitalises it, and the world sits up and takes notice. One of the first models to arrive in New Zealand was the Four Winns 205 Sundowner Deluxe Sports Cuddy.
Very few people probably realise it, but the Cadillac, Michigan based Four Winns marque is one of the oldest names in the American marine industry, with its origins dating way back to 1962 when it was known as the Safe-T-Mate Boat Company. The Winn family purchased the company in 1975 and grew it to the point where in 1986 it was purchased by the then Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) conglomerate. From there unfortunately it was surely a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs and for many armchair analysts the writing was on the wall from the day OMC introduced the ill-fated Cobra stern-drive system. Along the way the company did make some enormous technological break-throughs, none-the-least being the Stable-Vee hull and the helmforward cockpit layout, but all the time it suffered from the stigma of this troublesome stern-drive scenario. Things got worse too, for even with the intervention of the Green Marine takeover of OMC in 1996, and with the Cobra debacle by then far removed from the equation, the marque suffered yet again from the ensuing power struggle within OMC. Finally of course, it is well documented that in 2001 the OMC organisation as an entity disappeared forever, leaving all facets of the operation, inclusive of Four Winns, completely in limbo.
The vultures immediately circled overhead, and all manner of hopefuls made ‘sweeps over the pile’ in attempts to acquire assets. The pre-purchase struggle for the assets of Four Winns was equally well documented, but amongst the lightweights there were legitimate companies prepared to accept Four Winns simply on the reputation of the 40 previous years of operation. One of those companies was Genmar Corporation, the largest boat-building entity in North America, and in late 2001 it formalised the purchase of Four Winns Boats. A world leader in boat production technology, just two years later the Four Winns product image had stabilised under the Genmar banner, acceptance of the marque was back in earnest, and into the equation came the new VEC (Virtual Engineered Composites) manufacturing process/system that sees a bare hull and deck produced roughly every half hour.
Incredible technology, but the implications were that although Genmar had a huge range of boats in its portfolio including Wellcraft, Seaswirl, Carver, Glastron and Ranger to name but a few, it also had to sell a lot to keep ahead of the sheer volume of hulls being produced. Genmar had to get aggressive with its marketing, and also had to find new markets worldwide – in 2002 it produced 5750 boats and in this calendar year indications suggest 6500 boats will be manufactured. The next most astute move Genmar made was to bring in former rock-band manager, American Peter Rachtman, to open up one of the fastest growing boating regions in the world, the Asia Pacific Basin region. One may well ponder as to how someone from the entertainment industry came to be running such an operation, but one only has to look back at how he (Rachtman) got Bayliner in New Zealand up and running into the force it is today, or how he then astutely proceeded to get the Marine Export Group MAREX (now NZ Marine) founded and then up and running into the worldwide force it is today, to know that he is precisely the man to get things rolling, and rolling fast – for Genmar.
BOAT SHOW LAUNCHES
New Zealanders got their first glimpse of the new era of Four Winns boats at the 2003 Waikato Boat Show, and a crosssection of the range left everyone in no doubt the marque is certainly ‘back’! The 205 Sundowner Delux Sports Cuddy is very typically American, with the accent well and truly on entertaining. The stern-drive configuration lends itself well to an uninterrupted rear boarding platform that is ideally suited to watersports, or at the very least to sunbathing. Storage locker, boarding ladder, concealed storage tub, ski hook, shower and even a remote stereo control, are right at your fingertips. Entry into the cockpit is through a swinging transom door that leads you into an entertainer’s delight. To starboard behind the driver’s seat we have the usual vanity module with sink, water, ice-box and drinks holders on top and a wet-bar below. The C-shaped wrap-around longer surrounds the round cockpit table, and even the helm-level seats swivel round to form the rest of what in effect is a full circle of seating. A most ambient setting! The floor is carpeted, and the side panels, backrests and lounger are all plushly padded, French-stitched vinyl. Most innovatively, the centre section of this rear lounger electric-hydraulically lifts up at the flick of a switch, to reveal the engine and mechanicals below, while the port side squab lifts also to reveal a fullsize esky. Further storage is of course in the port side panel, under the seat squab at the entry to the cockpit, and under the cabin seating.
The helm station is well presented, and extremely well spec’d. Interestingly, the high sole level of the cockpit affords the sensation typically associated with a bow-rider configuration, where the seating is low and you sit in a car-like position. Ergonomic is a word that springs to mind, but it is goes further than that because tucked in behind the Taylormade screen you feel just like you are at the wheel of a sports car. Adjustable bucket seats, wood-grain steering wheel, footrest, tilt steering, a MerCruiser remote control and Faria instrumentation package, stereo, and a digital depth sounder – accentuate that feeling. The bulkhead in front of the passenger is perhaps incongruously plain in contrast to the rest of the cockpit layout – when the lockable cabin door is closed. Fold the portside door (of this bulkhead feature) back though, remove the other larger bi-fold door to its right, and immediately revealed is a deceptively large accommodation area. The down side to this bi-fold door is where the hell you put it once you have removed it, but back inside this cabin, in behind the back-rests, sufficed for us. Inside the cabin, the V-shaped fabriccovered berths were striking in presentation – more like a lounger than simply squabs to sit on. Missing was some form of bunk in-fill to transform it into a full V-berth, we thought – until we discovered that the upholstered back-rests are removable, and fit nicely into this void.
Other features in here include a CO monitor (detects fumes), lighting, an overhead ventilation hatch, opening portholes, vinyl-padded lining, stereo speakers, and a slide-out head. Only a Porta-Potti, for obvious reasons, it is brilliantly secreted behind the (pull-out) stairs and way in under the cockpit sole – and slides out into the walkway, on demand. I mentioned the overhead ventilation hatch, for because of its size it really is solely for ventilation – you don’t climb out through it. For the anchoring chores, it is a ‘climb up through the split screen’ sequence, and out onto the foredeck where you then walk (or crawl) forward to the secreted anchoring hatch at the bow. It is not as hazardous or alarming as it sounds (there is a bowrail assembly to hold on to), but as in any foredeck situation like this, sensibly I would only venture for’ard once the vessel was stationary.
Any boat with a V8 stern-drive configuration is rarely ever going to suffer from a lack of power, and this Sundowner with its 5-litre 260hp MPI MerCruiser engine coupled to the Bravo 1 stern-leg, was certainly no exception. This particular combo was running the standard ‘Mirage’ 19-inch 3-blade S/S propeller, so as expected from a middle of the range pitch, acceptable acceleration was coupled with a most respectable top speed of 48.8 mph at the maximum 4300rpm. While the performance aspect was pleasing, another feature deserving of a mention was the noise factor, or should I say lack of noise, factor. The engine cover and indeed the separate engine module, were both effectively well sound-proofed, as was the hull itself. The ‘deck and interior liner glued to the hull’ method of construction, typical of today’s boats, reduces noise dramatically. Incidentally, if you were worrying about having enough fuel to keep the big V8 going, don’t, for there is a more than adequate 135-litre tank, just aft of the interior provision for the Porta-Potti. Also, today’s MPI V8s don’t drink anywhere near as much fuel as the old carburetted V8s used to. The Sundowner’s fine entry, 19-degree deadrise, lifting strakes and sizeable reverse chine all contributed to cutting through the chop in a real no-fuss fashion. It held on well in turns and when running over wakes, the ride was dry, which again destroyed the ‘lake boat’ theory, and at 48 mph the sensation from the helm was most pleasant!
Like the last American boat I tested, I almost sub-consciously set out to try and fault the package, to find something wrong, so striking was the first impression – there had to be something wrong. The 205 Sundowner Deluxe Cuddy certainly looks the part, it has every feature you could ask for, it has the entertainment potential, and it has the flexibility of usage factor, for in this guise it is the epitome of a good allround day-boating package. Sure, I found a couple of niggles, but those I would put in the ‘trade-offs’ or ‘be-sensible’ department, simply because there were so many other ‘positives’ with this package. Performance was good, as you would expect from a power source such as this, but what impressed me more were the handling attributes – as good as anything produced locally. Re-sale, the real grey area with any imported boat, will be the contentious issue that will only become obvious in the passage of time, but with an on-water price of just $65,000 for this package, you certainly have a bit to come and go on. Confusing as it is for the local buyer, there is now yet another viable brand to consider, before you purchase your next family recreational trailerable dayboat.
- Model: Four Winns 205 Sundowner Deluxe Sports Cuddy
- Price As Tested: $69,995
- Designer: Genmar Corp
- Material: GRP Composite
- Type: Cabin
- LOA: 7.01 m
- Beam: 2.46 m
- Deadrise: 19 degrees
- Hull Config: Mod Vee
- Trailerable Weight: 2530 kg approx
- Engine Capacity: 260-350hp
- Power Options: Stern-drive only
- Fuel Capacity: 135 litres
- Engine: MerCruiser 5-litre MPI @ 260hp