LAKELAND BOATING: JANUARY 2008
“FORMULA 350 SUN SPORT”
As a Lake Michigan boater who hails from Wisconsin’s Door County, I’ve become accustomed to limestone beaches and craggy bluffs. So, when I had the opportunity to test Formula’s new 350 Sun Sport on a two-day, harbor-hopping cruise from Michigan City, Indiana, to Grand Haven, Michigan, I jumped at the chance.
This, after all, is the southern stretch of Michigan’s Gold Coast – a decidedly unrocky expanse of golden beaches and rolling sand dunes that lies within easy reach of Chicago and Gary. It also is an increasingly popular cruising ground, pockmarked with natural harbors and charming, boater-friendly communities.
Workers were busy tearing down the Michigan City In-Water Boat Show’s tents and dockside displays as we embarked on our late August adventure. Aboard the 350 SS prototype, christened Secret Formula, were Vic Spellberg of Formula Boats, Brigg Johnston of Illinois-based Formula dealership Bald Knob Marina and myself, while Formula’s Scott Smith filled the valuable role of ground-support crew. It promised to be a priceless day, with hot sun, a slight breeze and barely a ripple on the cobalt lake.
“What a beautiful boat,” a fellow boater called as we left Washington Park Marina’s confines and motored past the Michigan City lighthouse.
We would hear this time and again, from sailors and powerboaters alike, and we had our photograph taken from more than one harbor breakwall. That was nothing compared to the enthusiastic camaraderie in the air when we passed another Formula.
Indeed, Secret Formula shone like a new penny, from her sleek design by John Adams, Formula’s exclusive designer, to an impressive number of cruising features for a performance boat this size.
Topside, the cockpit provides U-shaped aft lounge seating, which converts to a large sunpad; an aft-facing lounge that extends flat for additional sunbathing space; and a reclining port-side seat. In addition to the ample seating and storage space, this is one durable boat, with PreFixx-treated upholstery over DriFast foam, fiberglass and rotocast internal seat forms and Starlite XL synthetic marine panel construction.
The cockpit also features a wet bar, Corian countertop, 36-quart Igloo cooler and even integrated dive-tank storage. Our test boat included the available teak wood-grain vinyl decking in the cockpit and on the swim platform, as well as cruising-friendly add-ons such as the cockpit refrigerator, electric anchor windlass and radar arch.
The 350 SS helm station provides brushed-metal and burl-wood steering wheel and dash panels; Livorsi chromed shifters and throttles with convenient in-handle trim switch; instrument pods with Livorsi illuminated gauges; an iPod/MP3 port and a stereo remote control to command eight marine-grade speakers, six in the cockpit and two mounted on the transom. Our test boat also had the available DTS with SmartCraft instrumentation and VesselView monitor.
We set Secret Formula’s course first for New Buffalo and arrived in time for lunch. After sampling “artisan comfort cuisine” on the outdoor patio at the Marina Grand Resort’s Bentwood Tavern, we moved on to West Basin at St. Joseph’s/Benton Harbor for a fuel stop.
A slight chop developed by midafternoon, but the 350 SS dismissed it effortlessly as we cruised another hour north to South Haven Municipal Marina. Here, I had an opportunity to explore the 350 SS’s living spaces, and once I’d descended through the screened companionway door, it became evident that this particular Formula has upped the ante on the day-boat experience. To start, she feels much bigger than she is, with ample headroom and a series of creative space-saving solutions.
The full-service galley incorporates a concealed electric stove with safety shut-off valve; a stainless-steel sink, refrigerator and microwave oven; a concealed in-counter trash container; and three dovetailed maple drawers. Forward, the dining lounge with high-gloss wood table converts to a large V-berth, while an aft stateroom provides a full-size berth with memory-foam mattress and plenty of room, courtesy of the cockpit’s raised port companion seat. The 350 SS also offers a Vacu-flush head and hand-held shower.
The main cabin features cherry-wood finish, Corian countertops, ultraleather seating and a 26-inch LCD TV. Air-conditioning is available, as is an aft-stateroom entertainment center.
We slept well after a rich supper at Tello’s Italian Bistro and après-dining cocktails at the Thirsty Perch, a colorful South Haven watering hole. By 9 a.m. the next day, we were ready to fire up the twin 420-horsepower MerCruiser 496 Magnum engines and return to the open lake.
The wind had kicked up, as had the southwestern swell. Taking the helm, I noticed how quickly Secret Formula slid onto plane, and I didn’t feel a single creak or bang as we carved through the lumpy seas at cruising speed. This was a nice ride – with her sharp, 21-degree entry, the 350 SS was smooth and stable to handle, and she was nothing short of rock-solid.
While other harbors are easily identified by their teeming public beaches and crowded breakwalls, one could pass Saugatuck without knowing it’s there. We cruised past windswept dunes with their waving grasses and the deserted lighthouse breakwall into the winding Kalamazoo River. Gradually its wetlands and woods yielded to palatial blufftop homes, gracious waterfront cottages and businesses, the 1838 Saugatuck Chain Ferry and the bustling expanse of Kalamazoo Lake.
We docked at the Singapore Yacht Club, named for the ghost town buried beneath the shifting sands at the river mouth. From there, it was a quick walk to the 1901 Hotel Butler and one of the best reuben sandwiches I’ve ever had, washed down with ice-cold Stella Artois.
Boaters can’t visit Saugatuck without taking a stroll through its shady streets, where the aroma of fudge and ice cream wafts from Kilwins and myriad shops sell everything from T-shirts and jewelry to original artwork. After stretching our legs, however, it was time to move on – first to Lake Matacawa for a pit stop and then to Grand Haven, our last port.
These were the last glorious days of a Great Lakes summer. Multihued kites dotted the sky, chatting teenagers sat with feet dangling off the Grand Haven breakwall, two PWCs buzzed in our wake, throngs packed the public beach, and kiteboarders caught air near the harbor entrance.
As we prepared Secret Formula for haul-out at the Grand Isle Marina and made arrangements for a final meal at the Kirby House’s Grill Room, Lake Michigan was already foaming with whitecaps – as if warning that fall was just around the corner.
Boasting serious muscle beneath her attractive lines and sporty exterior, the Formula 350 SS proved ideal for exploring this little corner of Michigan at season’s end. This fully equipped performer is a nice fit between Formula’s existing 330 Sun Sport and 370 Super Sport models – and she’s well-suited to the Great Lakes.