Signature 3600 Sports Express Review

Issue: October 2001
Manfacturer: Haines

Legendary Aussie boat builder John Haines has spent most of his life around boats. He has designed, built, raced, relaxed and fished from hundreds of them. He’s got first-hand experience with boats of all shapes and sizes, from high-performance racers to more recreational fibreglass boats than he can remember.

Privately he’s owned many different types of boats including a couple of converted fishing boats. But it was John’s hands-on involvement with offshore racing, in the 60s and 70s that earned Haines Hunter and Signature fibreglass boats their excellent bluewater reputation.

But now that his sons John Jnr and Greg play a major role in running Signature Boats, Hainsey spends a lot of time studying various recreation boats looking for a new vessel for himself to enjoy.

I’ve known John for more than 35 years now, so I know when he goes looking for a boat he does so with a gusto that leaves no stone unturned. There’ve been times I haven’t agreed with some of his choices, but he always gets a boat that meets his needs.

This time the search for a stable, fuel efficient, long range cruiser with plenty of space led Haines to New Zealand. Here he found a Wright and Lavranos designed, Andrew Fink built fibreglass power cat, that may just suit his needs. Wright has been designing cats for a long time, while Andrew Fink is the second generation of Fink family boat builders.

It was the 54 Cruising Cat that initially caught John’s eye. But he was so taken with the concept and performance of these boats, they are now marketed in Australia under the Signature Boat’s masthead as Signature Cruising Catamarans.

The first to be imported was the Signature 3600 Sports Express. It made its Australian debut at the Sydney International Boat Show, attracting a great deal of interest. Why ? Because it looks different from the local crop and it’s deceptively spacious. But the boat’s performance also caused a stir at the show, because that’s very un-cat like, with none of the annoying traits that hamper most cat configurations.

Hainsey tells me this boat is a displacement hull, but after this test he’s going to have to do a lot of fast talking to convince the Modern Boating team. It is an extremely smooth and efficient hull with none of the characteristics normally displayed by a displacement hull. It doesn’t wallow, bog down, or bury its tail as you push the throttles forward. The 3600 just slides across the water, responding immediately to any increase in power.

Like any boat the key to its performance lies in the hull design. The sponsons have a banana shape bow that forms a slight bulge to around halfway along the boat. John tells us this helps create lift and holds the hull steady. From this halfway point the sponsons flatten out, finishing completely flat with distinctively sharp, square chines at the transom.

Tunnels are moulded in the sponsons to house the prop shafts, which gives the shafts a shallow drive angle.

Because of the lift generated by the hull shape, the flat aft sections and shaft angles, the tunnels don’t need to be as high as normal. This creates more space in the hull for both under deck storage and other facilities. It also allows more flexibility with internal layout designs. The low tunnel hull configuration also produces a smooth, soft and efficient ride. The hull doesn’t displace a great deal of water, so the wash pattern is extremely flat. There’s no thumping or compression of water inside the tunnels when running into swells. The cockpit stays dry with no spray being sucked into the cockpit.

Another big plus, besides stability and internal space, is the performance from the small engines fitted to the test vessel. The boat was fitted with twin optional 260hp Volvo KAMD44P diesels, which are extremely quiet. Noise levels barely rise above background noise even under power.

During this Modern Boating test the seas aren’t big, but there is enough swell and wind chop around to confidently report this boat eats up messy seas with ease. Top speed is just over 25 knots, but its optimum cruising speed is 15 knots pulling 2500rpm. Not fast enough ? This vessel will also cruise comfortably at 20 to 22 knots, so that top speed is only needed if you have to get back to port in a hurry.

This boat turns flat, but doesn’t have that awkward, uncomfortable lean-out characteristic of many cats. Response to both the helm and the throttles is also excellent.

The test boat isn’t a flybridge model. It has a single helm station inside the saloon with excellent 360-degree vision. Like the team, many people viewing the 3600 at the Sydney International Boat Show, may have been deceived by the seeming lack of onboard space and facilities this boat has. The midship dinette is fitted a couple of steps down from the saloon. It’s partly under the foredeck and wraparound windscreen, which gives the impression that’s where the boat stops. But steps lead off to each side of the dinette giving access to the cabins and two bathrooms back under the saloon. The below deck cabin accommodation can be varied, though we do like what this first boat has to offer. The double berth off to the starboard side is spacious, but does lack hanging space.

The second cabin on the boat is limited to a pair of single berths running fore/aft. An option provides for twin fore/aft double berths, splitting the beam of the boat between them. Each cabin is served by its own bathroom – a luxury on a 36-footer – although this layout, like the sleeping accommodation, can be changed with a number of optional layouts.

Access to the engine rooms situated in the sponsons can be gained through the bathroom bulkheads or flush fitting hatches in the aft cockpit floor. While the engines are installed inside the sponson there is still plenty of room to move around and work on them.

Back in the spacious saloon the dinette is cleverly located well forward. This creates an out of the way dining area or a cosy nook to sit and enjoy a few quiet drinks at the end of the day. The galley is against the aft saloon bulkhead. While it isn’t an enormous galley it has all the facilities an owner could want. It’s also well positioned to dish up food and drinks to people in the cockpit. The addition of a barbie, built into the transom moulding, will make this an ideal cruising vessel.

At $524,281 the test boat is not cheap for a 36 footer, but it is fitted with a large number of extras. These include: an 8 KVA genset; 24,000BTU air conditioning system; cockpit freezer; Raytheon electronics package that included radar and auto pilot; and an onboard treatment system for bathroom effluent. The standard Signature 3600 Sports Express starts at $398,822.

Engine Room
According to the manufacturers the 3600 will give satisfactory performance running the four-cylinder 150hp Volvo TAMD31P, or the 170hp Yanmar 4LH-DTE diesels. Two x 370hp diesels are optional.

The first 3600 Sports Express to hit our shores has twin six-cylinder 260hp turbocharged and supercharged Volvo KAMD44P diesels. These Volvo engines are more than adequate, providing ideal cruising performance.

Although they add around $24,350 to the base price of the twin 150hp powered boat, they are worth the extra money. Why ? Well with these engines there’s no need to run the diesels hard to achieve first rate cruising performance or to run relatively fast if required.

At 3000 to 3200rpm the Signature 3600 does around 20 to 22 knots. Speed to rpm readings were: 8.5 knots at 1500rpm; 15 knots at 2500rpm; 20 knots at 3000rpm; and 25.5 knots at 3600rpm.

Story by David Toyer