Baja 38 Special Review

Baja, California, USA. Balmy tropical climate; home to the rich and famous. Fast lifestyles, fast cars and in this instance fast boats. The 38 Special is the so-called “cruising version” of the Baja high-performance range. But don’t let the cruising version fool you. This Baja may have a few more comforts than the adrenaline pumping Outlaw Series, but she loses little in the performance stakes.

For the Australian market the Baja 38 Special is offered with twin 375hp MerCruiser 496 Magnums, coupled to Bravo I sterndrives. But in an unusual twist for a performance sportsboat the first Baja 38 Special delivered to Australia is fitted with a pair of 300hp Yanmar diesels driving through Bravo I legs.

It wasn’t long ago that diesels and performance sportsboats were never mentioned in the same sentence, let alone fitted in the one package. But the increased efficiency and the lighter weight of many of today’s higher revving diesels – along with a wider selection of sterndrive propulsion units designed for more specific applications and engines – has turned around this way of thinking.

While the team is surprised that the first 38 Special to hit our shores is fitted with a pair of the diesels, it is not breaking any new ground. The Asian market has used diesel power in performance sports and ski tow boats for a long time. There are now a large number of ski boats being shipped to Japan powered with diesel rather than petrol engines.

Weighing in at only 408kg, the six-cylinder Yanmar 6LP-STE diesel has a good power-to-weight ratio. This may seem surprising, but the Yanmar diesel weighs almost the same as a V8 petrol engine and produces around the same horsepower. The smallest petrol engines offered in the 38 Special are 375hp MerCruisers. It is interesting to note in the manufacturer’s specifications there is only around 6 knots speed difference quoted between the 300hp diesel and 375hp petrol powered rigs.

The on-water performance provided by our diesel powered test boat is difficult to separate from what we would normally expect from a petrol-powered rig. But the diesel-turbocharger lag does handicap this Baja’s out-of-the-hole acceleration somewhat. Once on the plane the Baja 38 Special performs much the same as the high performance Baja’s Outlaw Series of bluewater boats. Acceleration and speed are readily on tap, but engine noise is remarkably low for a diesel – except at low speed idle and full throttle when some diesel rattle becomes evident.

With a small amount of grime on the hull’s bottom after a few weeks on the water, the top speed is still a respectable 48mph. But according to the manufacturer with a clean bum this boat should better 51mph under ideal conditions.

Like all of the petrol engine options, the Yanmar diesels drive through Bravo I sterndrives. The boat responds well to the trim, which is provided by these legs and large Kiekhaefer electric/hydraulic trim tabs. Speaking of Kiekhaefer, its performance throttle and gear controls are an excellent choice for a boat like this. The notched operation of the throttles means they can be set, leaving the driver with both hands on the wheel and not having to worry about the throttles closing themselves down.

Using the same hull as the Baja Outlaw Series, the 38 Special likes to be given everything out on the open water. It loves the rough and takes everything the driver wants to dish out – or the passengers are prepared to endure. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a bone jarring or body breaking ride, it’s just that screaming from wave to wave, at better than 50mph, isn’t everyone’s preferred way of spending a quiet day on the water.

What the Modern Boating team love during this test, as with our previous runs in Baja models, is just how predictable she is and how easy the boat is to drive at high speed.

Topside the 38 Special has all the distinctive features of the offshore Outlaw model. The long, sleek, needle-nosed bow; open cockpit; fully-adjustable bolster seats; wrap-around lounge; and the large upholstered sun pad that sits on top of the remote electronically-operated engine hatch. The first telltale feature that this boat is more of a performance cruising boat, rather than just an out and out rev head’s machine, is the steeply raked wrap-around armour-glass windscreen. The windscreen is included to give some protection, to passengers riding in the cockpit, from the wind that true performance buffs love. But the girlfriend, or wife, may not be too happy as that same wind whips her hair into a bird’s nest.

It’s a different story if you stand up. Braced securely by the body-hugging bolster seats, you can still experience the exhilaration of the wind in your hair, while trying to watch as the scenery blasts through watering eyes.

The 38 Special also has other luxuries not found in the Outlaw Series such as an integrally moulded aft boarding/swim platform with inbuilt boarding ladder and hand held shower. The addition of a wet bar in the cockpit behind the passengers seat says that there’s more to life on the Baja 38 Special than just getting from point A to B in a hurry, or being seen tied-up outside classy waterfront cafes and restaurants.

Below the sleek and smoothly moulded foredeck are a lot more comfort and facilities than those found on what Baja call its offshore raceboat models. These are facilities that make overnighting or weekending for up to four people extremely comfortable and civilised. And with the speed that this boat is capable of turning on, you can be first to arrive and the last to leave that favourite little anchorage if you so desire.

The sleeping quarters consists of a forward V-berth that is screened off from the rest of the cabin with a privacy curtain. The lounge/dinette unit also converts into the second double berth, but it is not as generous and comfortable as the forward berth.

Although the bathroom isn’t enormous, there is still enough room for a shower, toilet and classy vanity unit. The galley is compact with limited storage facilities, but a microwave oven, stove, stainless steel sink and refrigerator, means there are enough goodies to be able to serve up decent lunches and light evening meals.

If you want to eat more up-market, why not anchor up at your favourite waterside restaurant, put your feet under the table and let them do all the cooking? The boat will sit quietly out the front pulling all the admiring glances.

To berth one of these beauties at your marina will set you back $350,000. The Baja 38 Special is manufactured by the Baja Marine Corporation, USA.

Engine Room
As explained in the body of the test, the Baja 38 Special is offered to the Australian market with twin 375hp MerCruiser 496 Magnum petrol engines coupled to Bravo I sterndrives. But a pair of 300hp turbo-charged Yanmar diesel engines powered the test boat.

The turbochargers cut in at around 2800rpm (20mph), but once these boost the power, the boat speed really begins to pick up to around 30mph at 3000rpm. Fitted with these engines the Baja 38 Special has a top speed of 51mph. The boat has a maximum power rating of twin 575hp petrol sterndrives.

Fitted with twin 575hp you can expect top speeds of more than 75mph, which is really moving in a boat Baja call a “cruising version”.