Gulf Craft Oryx 379 review: Outboard powered party boat is the steal of the decade

With triple 300hp outboards and a starting price under £300,000 is the Oryx 379 the steal of the decade already?

You can tell there is change in the air when the likes of Botnia, Windy, Sealine and Fairline are attaching outboard motors to their boats. Outboards are no longer laughed off as clunky and crude with a patchy attitude towards reliability, modern ones are smooth, fiercely powerful and the software that supports them gets more impressive with every generation.

That’s why it doesn’t seem strange to see Gulf-Craft’s 38ft Oryx 379 sitting in a berth in Swanwick Marina with not two but three 300hp V8 Mercury outboards poised menacingly on its transom.

You can have the boat with inboard engines if you really want but the yard keep that detail rather quiet, preferring instead to utilise the space where the inboards would be as a deep storage void for water toys and other cruising kit. No, this is a boat where you quickly learn to embrace the fact that you have 900hp of Mercury’s finest on the back.

 

Hit the starter buttons and the motors bark into life with a throaty burst before settling down to an agitated idle, one that suggests they want you to get a move on. Though you have three engines and three analogue rev counters in the middle of the dash there are only two of Mercury’s substantial yet softly damped throttles to juggle.

The port engine is connected to the port stick and the middle and starboard motor to the right. With that middle prop churning away it isn’t as easy to pivot as it would be with a twin installation and the shallow hull and tall topsides mean the boat can start to skim sideways quite quickly in a breeze, but the optional bow thruster helps get things back into line.

The steering is weighted and meaty so it takes some muscle to get the three motors swinging across the transom at slow speed but the upshot is she tracks beautifully straight during the long drag down the Hamble to the unrestricted playground of the Solent.

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The driving position just feels right, aided by the wonderful standard fit Shockwave S5 helm seats, which are supportive, fully adjustable and will both swivel around to face the dinette.

The skipper is separated from the navigator by a thick moulding that hovers between the two seats with the throttles mounted in the perfect position on top; it feels like you’re the driver and co-pilot of a real racing machine. A feeling enhanced by having one of the two standard fit Garmin MFDs mounted directly in front of the navigator with a hefty handhold to starboard.

Solid performer

Free of the Hamble the impatient Merc Pro XS triplets get their way and are fed the revs they so crave. The Oryx 379 feels quite a big boat from behind the helm but weighs only 7 tonnes (light) so it rockets out of the hole like a greyhound from the traps.

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“You can picture the Oryx nudging up to a sandbar in Formentera – it has a party boat vibe about it”

A characteristic of these engines is that, though they sound raucous at idle, once up to speed they melt into the background so they’re not a nuisance when you’re at cruise, even though cruising speed on this boat can be as high as 40 knots and 5,500rpm where the engines are glugging a combined 240 litres per hour.

When this boat was launched there was talk of it being a 55-knot machine but even with the change in prop pitch that the UK dealer plans you’re not going to find another 9 knots on top of the 46-knot top speed we managed during the sea trial. The numbers you see in our data panel are taken from Gulf-Craft, hence the 44-knot top speed, the engines no doubt muted a touch by the air temperature in Dubai.

Forty-six knots will keep most people happy anyway, and there’s a very wide cruising band if you consider that the boat will happily chug along at 22 knots sipping 87 litres per hour if there’s no rush.

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The heavier steering is welcome at these higher speeds because it limits the need to make small adjustments to the wheel when you’re on a straight course. It takes more effort to move the boat around than an Axopar or Greenline NEO but it’s still a rewarding boat to chuck about if the mood takes you.

The Oryx 379 is nearly 2ft wider than the Axopar 37, which does wonders for its accommodation but means it makes heavier work of getting through the chop than the blade-like Finn. It’s not uncomfortable though and the ride is actually very good, it’s just a bit more battering ram than scythe.

It feels solid, too. It’s usually the hard tops that let the side down on boats like this but given its size and weight the T-top didn’t creak or wobble as we romped through rollers off the Needles and having three legs and three props connected to the water means there is mountains of grip on offer.

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The main deck is great for lazy days in the sun but could do with an extra sun shade

When the lumps arrive the seats really come into play and cushion landings beautifully. It feels natural to drive a fast boat standing up but you soon learn that allowing the seats to take the strain is the most comfortable way to travel.

Heading back towards Southampton Water the heavens open and expose a few issues. Firstly, there is no windscreen wiper so as soon as there is water on the screen I am guided only by radar and two of the crew keeping a lookout down the side decks. Secondly, there isn’t anywhere near enough deck drainage on this thing and we soon have rainwater slopping around our feet.

In fairness, boats designed in the desert probably aren’t built to account for rain, which isn’t an issue for the domestic market, but it’s not like downpours are unheard of in the Med or southern United States, two markets at which the Oryx is squarely aimed.

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The seats, throttle position and clear layout make for a brilliant driving experience

Thankfully, both of these issues should be relatively easy for Gulf-Craft to overcome, as should some of the corner cutting employed to keep the starting price so competitive. It’s things like cheap plastic catches and hinges on the lockers, the lack of catches on cupboard doors in the galley and some scruffy finishing underneath locker lids and in dark corners.

The boat we tested had the aforementioned storage space beneath the aft sun pad but it had no decking or rails to hold items in place and could do with a ladder to improve access. In fairness, Gulf-Craft has since rectified this issue and there are plans to improve quality of the locker and cupboard mechanisms.

It is a lot of boat for the money though and nowhere is that more obvious than on the lower deck where you find hugely spacious accommodation. Our test boat was open plan with a convertible vee-berth forward and fixed double amidships but you can put a bulkhead in to create a private double cabin in the bow.

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As an option, you can add a bulkhead forward to create a more private owner’s cabin

This layout also includes a small dinette opposite the galley so you have somewhere to retire to in bad weather if there’s a chill in the air of an evening.

It’s an open, deck-biased boat but the accommodation is more then comfortable enough for longer stays on board and this is where the Oryx 379 pulls ahead of its more slender rivals. The full bow sections make harder work of the waves but you reap the benefits if you want something that is more than just a big, fast day boat that you might actually want to live on for a week.

You can picture the Oryx 379 charging down Florida’s Intercostal Waterway with its underwater lights ablaze or nudging up to a sand bar in Formentera. It has a party boat air about it and you probably won’t regret adding one of the few optional extras in the shape of the upgraded platinum audio package comprising a JL Audio system with 10in subwoofer, 800W amp and eight speakers.

The deck is a comfortable place to relax with seating around a big table for long lunches and a good slab of sunbathing space aft and on the foredeck. It’s exposed, though, and in the heat of the midday sun an extending sunshade incorporated into the T-top would be a welcome addition.

Price as reviewed:

£335,778 inc. VAT

Verdict

The Oryx doesn’t have this market to itself and there are more boats of this ilk being launched every month it seems. Its mainstream rivals don’t have the uphill battle of wearing an unfamiliar – on these shores at least – badge on their topsides, either. There’s no question that this is a compelling package backed by a big, successful shipyard and reputable UK dealer in the shape of Bray Marine International but it will take time for Gulf-Craft to break away from the fringes in Europe. The Oryx is, without question, here at the right time and, for the money, is an awful lot of boat and performance for a very sensible price.

Details

Starting price : £298,070 (inc. VAT)
LOA : 37ft 9in (11.52m)
Beam: 12ft 0in (3.65m)
Draught: 2ft 3in (0.7m)
Displacement (light): 7 tonnes (15,400lbs)
Fuel capacity : 1,136 litres (250 gal)
Water capacity : 227 litres (50 gal)
Test engines : Triple 300hp Mercury Pro XS 300 outboards
Top speed on test : 44 knots
Cruising speed : 22 knots
Fuel consumption at 22 knots : 87.4lph
Cruising range at 22 knots : 229nm
RCD category : B for 12 people
Designer: Hussein Alshaali

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