Founded in 1959, the Tennessee-based Sea Ray brand is a prolific builder of leisure boats, and the Sea Ray 265 is one of its latest models. As part of Brunswick’s vast Boat Division, it currently produces nearly 40 models of craft from 18 to 61 feet in length, so what we tend to expect from a new Sea Ray is quite simple. With the benefits of experience and mass production behind it, we expect dynamic competence, well-sorted ergonomics and the kind of user friendliness that makes a boat easy to use and trouble-free to live with.
However, what we don’t tend to expect is aesthetic loveliness - and yet the new 265 Sundancer from Sea Ray is one of the best looking small sports cruisers around. Of course, the need to squeeze four berths into a modest hull length mean it’s not exactly slender. On the contrary, the topsides bulge a little here and there, particularly at the foredeck. But what Sea Ray has done is trick the eye with a beautiful wedge of blue beneath the rubbing strake that tapers dramatically as it heads aft and drops toward the waterline. It’s rather like a fat man painting a picture of a slender, athletic torso on his belly – and here, in tandem with the raked tinted windows, the low-profile curved screen and the angled radar arch, it really does seem to work.
On board details
With a name like ‘Sundancer’ the Sea Ray 265 needs to offer plenty of sunbathing space and it does exactly that. If you don’t fancy the rather exposed cushions on the elevated incline of the foredeck, you can look instead toward the full-length port lounger. Or failing that, some quick tweaking of the drop-down table and the hinged backrest on the aft bench is enough to convert the entire starboard side of the aft cockpit space into a vast sunbathing platform. For lazy summer days, it’s a useful arrangement.
Less generous, however, is the space afforded at the helm. It all feels rather cramped behind the wheel and this is not helped by the starboard stanchion of the thick radar arch, which sits quite close to the driver’s head. The wheel is the only adjustable part of the set-up, so in the absence of any workable remedy, why not cheer yourself up with a look at the standard features list. It includes a Sony stereo, stainless steel fittings, a hot and cold cockpit shower, hydraulic trim tabs, Smartcraft gauges, a dash-top compass, a windscreen wiper, snap-in carpets and a teak cockpit table. The well-equipped galley (comprising cooker, fridge, microwave, sink and storage) can be housed either down below or up on the port side of the cockpit, but in either case, you get a separate shower and toilet compartment to starboard, plus a double berth in the V of the bow and a second lateral two-man bed beneath the forward part of the cockpit. Headroom both at the galley and in the heads is very good, light ingress down below is well up to scratch and the fabrics are attractively muted, usefully practical and of a high standard. In short, despite some initial misgivings, it’s a layout that appears to work pretty well.
The driving experience on the Sea Ray 265 is peculiarly frantic. It may feature sleeping facilities for four but when you first take the wheel, it seems to offer a great many of the qualities that make a small open sports boat so enjoyable. For instance, throw her into a turn and you get tremendously acute heel with plenty of grip, enabling you to complete a 180 at pace in about three boat lengths, all without the slightest hint of cavitation. The relatively acute hull angles also generate a much softer ride than you might expect of a sports cruiser - and yet the engagingly interactive helming experience can begin to become a touch tiring when conditions are not in your favour…
Despite relatively flat water, there is a sturdy Force 4-5 blowing across the test area and the 265 is making quite hard work of it, periodically dropping her shoulder into a beam wind with lots of spray and bluster, before some tweaking of the trim tabs helps level things up. Even then, however, the running attitude remains quite changeable and frenetic, offering no time for the man at the helm to relax - and the fact that there is no display to indicate the state of the tabs doesn’t help much either. Unsurprisingly, these difficulties with the running attitude also make the ride quite wet, particularly as the attractive low-slung screen is far too shallow to be effective. In fact, on the day, it doesn’t seem to matter who is at the helm or where in the cockpit you choose to hide. Everyone, without exception, ends up rather damp.
As regards the cruising range, our most fuel-efficient planing speed of around 20 knots at 3,500 rpm enabled us to achieve a distance just shy of 100 nautical miles. Of course, on the face of it, that might seem quite modest but very few cruise boaters are likely to need any more than this in a single passage – and while it may seem reassuring to carry around vast reserves of fuel, there is rarely much to be said for weighing down a cruise boat with ballast you don’t actually need.
Despite the rather wet and uncomposed performance of the 265 in a strong wind, this remains a great looking sports cruiser with a comfortable cabin and some attractive ‘small boat’ handling traits. Its ride is fairly soft, and notwithstanding the tight helm position, its cockpit is usefully versatile for sun worshippers. It might be a bit of a handful when the weather turns but on a gentle summer’s day, it will satisfy a great many of the cruise boater’s keenest priorities.
Sea Ray 265 Specifications
Beam overall: 2.59m
Deadrise: 21 degrees
Fuel capacity: 261 litres
Water capacity: 75 litres
Sleeping capacity: four