This year, Sun Tracker’s Signature Series flicks on the left turn signal and heads to the fast lane.
Until this year, Signature Series Party Barges have been all about twin-tube leisure cruising with perhaps enough performance to tow tubes at speeds that had kids giving it the thumbs up … as in, “Go faster!” This year, daredevil kids will be giving it the thumbs up for another reason: horsepower. In 2013, the biggest engine you could get on a Party Barge 24 was a Mercury 115 FourStroke. But since the XP3 triple-tube option has migrated down from Sun Tracker’s top-of-the-line — and more expensive — Regency models, you can get the Party Barge 24 equipped with up to a Mercury Verado 200, like the one on our test boat. Say hello to watersports and high-speed cruising.While close in horsepower, the 200 Verado is far different than the 225 Verado. Both are supercharged, but the 200 is an in-line four-cylinder rather than a six-cylinder like the 225, and it weighs 125 pounds less. The only downside is it’s a little less smooth, having two less cylinders and only 65 percent of the displacement (1.7L vs. 2.6L), but it proves to be a good choice to push the 26-foot, 2-inch-long Party Barge.
The XP3 tube package has lifting strakes on both sides of all three 26-inch logs, which, combined with the instant-on power that supercharging gives you, got it on plane in just 3 seconds with no discernible bowrise. Steady mid-range acceleration moved it to 30 mph in 7.9 seconds, and its top speed was 41.2 mph.
With six lifting strakes and three oversized 26-inch pontoons, the 24 XP3 rides very high in the water, so if you manage to submarine it — in all but extreme you-shouldn’t-be-pontooning conditions — you can blame it squarely on pilot error. The tremendous amount of lift comes in handy when you are packing a full house of 12 passengers. Most triple-tube pontoons only have lifting strakes on the inside of the outer pontoons and tend to lean into turns like a stock car at Daytona. In contrast, the 24 XP3 remains very level during hard turns, which increases the feeling of side G-force. In other words, use the cupholder … and a lid. On a high-speed run, you can trim the Verado out to reduce wetted surface, which also quiets the ride and makes it more comfortable for people riding up front, since they are hovering over the water.
The addition of the XP3 tube package opens all watersports doors for the Party Barge 24. One additional benefit of the lift provided by the strakes is that the vessel skims across the top of the water and throws very little wake, making it an excellent boat for slalom skiing. Wakeboarding is a little more of a challenge, but when slowed to 20 mph and trimmed up a bit, the 24 XP3 produces a mini-ramp that junior skiers can utilize to learn how to use their legs to pop off the ramp for amplified effect. This year there’s an even deeper ladder for easier boarding.
The Party Barge 24 is ideal for social outings. Three separate seating areas make it perfect for small groups within your party to divide and confab. Up front on the port side is an abbreviated settee for two-plus people. Although it’s fairly short, I would like for it to have had a forward-facing backrest and maybe the option for a centerline filler cushion, for more seating and so even tall port-side recliners could prop their feet up. There’s a longer chaise lounge to starboard, but it could use a little more seatback recline. In contrast, the amidships lounge’s rear-facing backrest has the ideal amount of recline and is set across from the helm, giving the captain a chat partner. In the stern is a doublewide rear-facing recliner that has another settee on the opposite side; a walkthrough in between leads to the large rear deck. Under the stern rear-facing lounger is a standard pop-up changing room. All the sofas have storage underneath, accessible via seat bottoms that open toward the centerline and stay open for easy loading.
Sun Tracker removes the angst of trying to decide what options to include by giving you a turnkey standard boat package. A scant few options are available, including a trailer, a ski tow pylon, a rail-mounted grill, a mooring cover and a full vinyl deck. Your biggest choice is the engine, of which there are three. Actually, there are only two real choices, since the standard Mercury 115 FourStroke just isn’t enough horsepower to do the XP3 package justice. The intermediate Mercury 150 FourStroke is a non-supercharged model that uses cable shift and will push the 24 XP3 to a top speed in the mid-30s. Going upscale to the Mercury Verado 200 gives you an additional 6 to 7 mph and includes the drive-by-wire Digital Throttle and Shift (DTS) system, which is rayon-smooth but will tag an extra $5,500 on to the 150-equipped price of $34,820. If you can swing it, you won’t regret it.