Used boat expert Nick Burnham picks out four of the best open sportscruisers on the market, from the likes of Fairline, Sunseeker and Crownline…
There is simply no finer place to be on a hot sunny day than at the helm of a proper old-school open-topped sportscruiser. Yes, a flybridge is more practical, yes a hardtop sportscruiser with a powered sunroof is a thousand times easier than wrestling with canopies, and yes, most of the year (in the UK at least) they’re probably both a better bet.
But nothing else on the water connects you with the sea and the warm fresh air whilst maintaining that sense of speed and fun (think Lotus Elise at 60mph compared to a Range Rover at the same velocity). So right now, open sportscruisers are where it’s at and here are four tempting options currently for sale at a suitably wide spread of prices.
4 of the best open sportscruisers for sale right now
Fairline Targa 30
Fairline’s Targa range began with the Targa 33 back in 1984. After a mild tweak to take the interior layout from two to three cabins, the boat proved a huge success, so much so that by the end of the 1980s Fairline was looking to extend its new model range.
Launched in January 1990, the original Fairline Targa 30 was the answer. And I say ‘original’ because there was another very different Targa 30 about a decade later.
To confuse things further, this particular model then morphed unchanged into the Targa 33 to reflect the true hull length, including the integral bathing platform. The original Targa 33 had a ‘bolt-on’ version, which was replaced with a 34 that had an integral platform, a model that then segued into the Targa 35.
Fairline squeezed the same two cabins as its bigger sister into this boat, one at each end of the accommodation. Being a little smaller meant inevitable compromise, the forward cabin has very little floor space unless you remove a section of bed reducing it to a single, and the dinette between the two cabins is an L shape rather than a full U shape.
But it’s a worthwhile trade off, enabling up to four berths in two cabins plus a further two on the converting dinette.
The Targa 30’s styling is a lot more modern than the original 33, with a curved windscreen rather than flat panes and square edges, integral bathing platform that is part of the hull moulding and a transom door. Even today, over 30 years on, this is still a great-looking boat.
The three twin petrol options were thirsty but fast, the largest being a pair of 7.4 litre V8 Volvo Pentas that topped out at over 40 knots.
Of the two diesel options, twin Volvo Penta AD31 motors were a little lightweight for offshore use, the Goldilocks option being the twin AQAD 41s fitted to this boat. We achieved 37 knots from a similar boat when it was launched, and good cruising economy.
Our sea trial took us across the Channel to Jersey, where we concluded that “her fine forward sections gave a smooth ride through all but the biggest lumps”.
LOA: 34ft 1in (10.4m)
Beam: 11ft 2in (3.4m)
Draft: 3ft 2in (1.0m)
Displacement: 6 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 500 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta AQAD 41 200hp diesels
Contact: Origin Yachts
Sunseeker Portofino 400
Back in the day, you couldn’t move for British-built 40ft sportscruisers. Fairline fielded its Targa 38/39, Princess Yachts paraded its ultra successful V39/V40/V42 triumvirate, Sealine sold many of its S37 models, and Sunseeker; well Sunseeker had this, the 400 Portofino.
The basic layout of all of these British boats followed broadly similar lines. The owner’s cabin was up front, a mid cabin for guests further aft beneath the forward section of the cockpit, and a dinette opposite the galley in the middle plus, of course, the heads with its toilet and shower.
What stood the Sunseeker apart was its classic and beautiful high-gloss cherry woodwork. Although Sunseeker wasn’t the only company using these materials, somehow the organic curves and thick cappings elevated the look and feel above its rivals.
A great-looking boat, there’s a sense that real care went into ensuring that the sweep of the forward sloping radar arch integrated perfectly with the stern quarters of the hull, and the decadent sweep of stainless steel windscreen is a joy.
Interestingly, this particular boat has black topsides and black canopies. Ahead of its time in the 1990s (when navy blue, also an option on the 400 Portofino, seemed to be the only alternative to white), these help to ensure that the boat still looks fresh today.
While most manufacturers offered sterndrive options only, Sunseeker was unusual in also offering a shaft-drive format. Achieved by utilising vee drive gearboxes to push the engines back aft, where they would be with the usual sterndrive layout, it created a simpler drive system.
That said, most opted for the more efficient and more responsive twin sterndrive option fitted to this boat. Sunseeker offered Yanmar and Volvo Penta options, the 230hp KAD 42 supercharged and turbocharged motors fitted to this boat giving 30+ knot performance.
Long, low and pointy, there’s a bias toward performance and seakeeping, which means the Portofino 400 is a reassuring companion offshore.
LOA: 40ft 0in (12.2m)
Beam: 13ft 5in (4.1m)
Draft: 3ft 3in (1.0m)
Displacement: 12 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 986 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta KAD42 230hp diesel engines
Contact: RPA Boat Sales
Having carefully explained how British sportscruisers tend to all have very similar layouts, this Crownline, hailing as it does from the USA, rather hammers the point home with a completely different take on how the thirty-ish-foot sportscruiser ought to be laid out. As ever with American boats, it’s all about the social spaces and it offers an intriguing alternative.
Although there is plenty of ubiquitous cherry wood in here, the first thing that strikes you upon entering is that it’s quite a bit more subtle than (for example) the Sunseeker, with a less mirror-gloss sheen plus fabric feature panels to break it up a little.
Pivot 180 degrees at the foot of the steps and you’ll discover another big difference. Whilst there is a mid cabin of sorts, it’s open plan to the saloon – basically just an open-fronted double bed that stretches beneath the cockpit.
The reason for this is that with no door or lobby area, it maximises living space. There is a separate forward cabin though, with a fairly high bed to allow it to fit further into the nose of the boat, again prioritising saloon space. As a result, the saloon itself is excellent for a sub 35ft boat.
It’s a similar story on the outside, where the lack of side decks push the cockpit right out to the edges. If you want to go forward, you climb a couple of steps next to the helm and step through an opening section in the windscreen (which is actually quite useful if you’re shorthanded as you can go directly forward from the helm rather than heading aft first to access the side decks). The result is acres of space and masses of seating in the comfortable split level cockpit.
Prod the correct button at the helm and most of the aft cockpit floor raises hydraulically giving good access to the pair of white Cummins Mercruiser QSD4.2-litre diesel engines. The likely top speed is in the 30-knot range.
With the priority on social living, Windy is unlikely to lose too much sleep over the Crownline’s seakeeping ability, but a boat of this size and beam is unlikely to disappoint.
LOA: 36ft 1in (11.0m)
Beam: 11ft 8in (3.6m)
Draft: 3ft 0in (1.0m)
Displacement: 8.0 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 731 litres
Engines: Twin Cummins Mercruiser QSD 4.2 320hp diesel engines
Contact: One Marine
Fairline Targa 43
It’s not often we feature two models from one manufacturer, and especially not from the same model line but this Targa 43 shows just how far Fairline had progressed the Targa line by 1997, when this model launched.
Whilst keeping the open cockpit ethos (now lost on the latest Targas – every current model comes with a hard top) this is a larger, more sophisticated boat than its forebears.
Described in our 1998 boat test as “among the snappiest we have seen”, the Targa 43 offers a really useful two cabin, two heads layout with excellent headroom for a sportscruiser, only the mid cabin being inevitably a little compromised by its position beneath the cockpit.
A lighter maple wood was offered but the majority got the ubiquitous high- gloss American cherry finish you see here. Fairline was really big on curves during this period, which looks great. I don’t know about ‘snappy’, I’d call it voluptuous.
By the mid 1990s boat manufacturers had started to realise that it was possible to make windscreen frames out of something other than stainless steel, so this boat has the rather more modern GRP surround. Away from the cosmetics, its mid-40ft LOA provides length for a decent garage capable of swallowing a 2.8m tender.
Fairline modified the bathing platform on later boats like this so that a section lifted with the garage door allowing a RIB to be slid in (earlier versions required the tender to be lifted over the platform).
When we tested the boat at its launch, Fairline only offered twin 370hp Volvo Penta TAMD 63P engines, which gave us 31 knots flat out, although there were rumblings about a more powerful option. Sure enough, by the time this boat was built, an upgrade to twin TAMD 75P 480hp motors offered a useful performance hike.
Straight shaft drive is another benefit of the larger size, putting the engines further forward for better weight distribution, and giving simpler running gear than outdrives. Combined with an Olesinski-designed hull, it makes for a very planted ride.
LOA: 43ft 7in (13.5m)
Beam: 12ft 6in (3.8m)
Draft: 3ft 3in (1.0m)
Displacement: 9.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 1,247 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta TAMD 75P 480hp diesel engines
Contact: JD Yachts
4 more open sportscruisers from the July 2022 issue
Neptunus Carlton S41
A broadly conventional interior for a 40ft sportscruiser, it has the owner’s cabin in the bow, a mid cabin back aft with two single beds that run transversely beneath the cockpit, and a dinette opposite the galley between them. But it did have one AUSP (almost unique selling point). A second heads.
Pretty much unheard of at the time, it was ensuite to the mid cabin, giving your guests total privacy, not something you’d have found on a Princess V42 or Fairline Targa 43 of the same era. (The Sealine S41 had one, hence ‘almost’, but that was a far bulkier looking boat).
With its powerful haunches, raked transom and chunky GRP sweep of windscreen frame (positioned such that it’s easy to see over when stood, although it can limit vision when seated), the Carlton S41 is a distinctive-looking boat.
It’s practical, too – the side rails extend right aft so that access to the side decks feels secure and protected, and the boarding ladder has hand rails that extend vertically above the swim platform to aid egress from the water.
Unusually, there is a small breakfast bar arrangement on the port side of the cockpit, and it’s this that creates the headroom for that second heads.
We tested a Carlton S41 with a pair of Volvo Penta KAD 44 EDC engines. With a maximum speed of 30 knots (although the manufacturer claimed to have seen 34 knots), we felt that the larger KAD 300 EDC engines coming on line at that point might be a better match. Fortunately, that is the engine option fitted to this boat.
We put the slightly breathless performance down to the sheer weight of the boat (a Princess V42 of that era with KAD 44EDC was achieving 37 knots). However, it is a sturdily built craft offering refined cruising.
LOA: 42ft 8in (13.0m)
Beam: 12ft 4in (3.8m)
Draught: 3ft 2in (1.0m)
Displacement: 8.2 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 750 litres
Engines: Volvo Penta KAD 44EDC 260hp diesels
Location: Channel Islands
Contact: Moore Yachts
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Sunseeker Superhawk 50
The Superhawk 50 was originally launched as the Superhawk 48 and could be purchased with anything from a pair of 230hp diesels through to triple 300hp Yanmar diesels.
Naturally, Sunseeker (heavily performance-orientated at the time) opined that a little more performance would be lovely, so it developed the 50.
A longer bathing platform allowed triple surface drives to be connected to 420hp Yanmar 6LY2-STE engines, putting 50 knots within reach.
Designed by Don Shead and an evolution of the Thunderhawk 43, itself based on Shead’s race-winning Rejuga offshore powerboat design, the Superhawk has a pencil of a hull; narrow, low and deep of vee.
It’s why there is a gently curving channel to walk along through the centre of the cabin to gain a little extra headroom. There’s no mid cabin as the cockpit is also kept low. It is trimmed in classic Sunseeker high-gloss cherry with the thick cappings the company did so well. Yes, it’s small inside, but so is an Aston Martin Vantage.
Again the narrow beam makes itself felt, but the cockpit of the Superhawk 50 is a lovely place to be. There’s a huge sunpad aft above the motors, with a walkway past it to port, a deeply sunk dinette opposite a wet bar and three heavily padded stand/sit bolsters at the business end.
The helm is a plethora of gauges – this boat predates electronic instruments so the full analog dial display is repeated three times, and six levers control the engines – three throttles and three gear shifters.
It’s fast. Seriously fast. And with those surface-piercing Rolla propellers, other boaters get treated to the sight of a huge rooster tail of spray as you leave them for dead.
Out at sea is where that narrow beam and low profile pay off. The race-boat DNA creates a hull that scythes through the rough stuff, allowing all of that towering performance to be unleashed.
LOA: 52ft 1in (15.9m)
Beam: 10ft 10in (3.3m)
Draught: 3ft 0in (0.9m)
Displacement: 11.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 1,000 litres
Engines: Triple Yanmar 6LY2-STE 420hp diesel engines
Windy 37 Grand Mistral
Quite often there is a single boat that inspires this feature, and this month it’s this boat. The vast majority of Windy 37 Grand Mistrals went out with the optional hard top, which makes good sense. But when I saw this open version I immediately thought “she’s just about perfect”.
Some makes of boat have an unmistakeable vibe, and Windy is no exception. I could be lead aboard blindfolded, but once inside I’d know exactly what it was. The combination of beautiful woodwork, including the practical wooden floor, the well-fitted linings and the subtle colour scheme just scream, or more accurately whisper, “Windy”.
The layout is snug but entirely conventional and none the worse for it – double cabins at either end are split by the saloon and galley. The centreline bed in the owner’s cabin forward is a nice touch in a sub-40ft boat.
It’s a similar deal in the cockpit where neatly paired instruments down either side of the helm console, plenty of chunky grab rails, a thick wooden cockpit table and practical touches such as the steps up to the port side deck let you know you’re aboard a proper boat from a proper builder.
Although early Grand Mistrals (the boat launched in 1997) were offered with a variety of twin Yanmar, Mercruiser or Volvo Penta engines, the vast majority got the Volvos, and in fact the other makes soon disappeared from the options form.
In production for well over a decade, the KAD 44 260hp and KAD 300 285hp engines were usurped in 2004 by Volvo Penta’s brand new D Series motors, hence the D4-260 engines in this example, which should push the top speed into the high 30s.
Designed by Hans J Johnsen, this is an extremely capable boat. When we asked powerboat racer Steve Curtis to test a number of like-sized sportscruisers in June 2005, he concluded that the 37 “had the best combination of ride comfort and agility of all the boats tested”.
LOA: 36ft 7in (11.1m)
Beam: 10ft 6in (3.5m)
Draught: 3ft 2in (1.0m)
Displacement: 6.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 800 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta D4-260 260hp diesel engines
Contact: Salterns Brokerage
Sealine 360 Ambassador
In 1993, when the 360 Ambassador was launched, Sealine’s range stretched from a 21ft 210 Senator that you could put on a trailer through to the 450 Statesman – a 45ft flybridge cruiser, putting this model firmly into the centre and encapsulating exactly what Sealine did so well: good-value user-friendly boats.
Despite it being almost 30 years old, this is still a great looking boat – well proportioned and curvaceous.
The user-friendliness is particularly evident inside the boat. Whilst many other manufacturers were still filling their interiors with dour and heavy- looking teak, the 360 Ambassador welcomes you in with light woods and pale fabrics.
It’s well equipped, too, with a three-burner hob, gas oven and grill, plus a microwave, and there is a stack of storage. A conventional layout sees a master cabin forward and guests in the mid cabin aft.
The forward cabin gets a centreline double bed instead of being squashed against one side and the mid cabin has a single and a double berth, making this area particularly adaptable. Even the toilet and the shower are split off into two separate units.
The cockpit is on one level, without any steps to trip up or stumble down, and the backrest of the aft seat can be configured to provide seating or sunbathing space. There’s even a little wet bar with a sink and fridge.
Unusually, Sealine offered this boat with Mercruiser (petrol or diesel) or Yamaha diesel engines, as well as the more commonly found Volvo Penta KAD 42 230hp diesels fitted to this boat.
All were twin installations, and all running outdrives. We tested the boat with 247hp Yamahas and reached a fraction over 31 knots.
Sealines of this era vary greatly in terms of seakeeping ability, but the 360 Ambassador (and later S37) has one of the best hulls Sealine produced at the time, with a soft ride and capable handling.
LOA: 37ft 1in (11.3m)
Beam: 12ft 2in (3.7m)
Draught: 3ft 1in (0.9m)
Displacement: 7 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 660 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta KAD 42 230hp diesels
Location: River Thames
Contact: Tingdene Boat Sales
First published in the July 2022 issue of MBY.
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