The Back Story
Baja and Fountain have had a pretty rough time of it the last year or so. First, Brunswick sold Baja to Fountain Powerboats, which seemed like a good match. And it was, until the Great Recession caught up with one of Reggie’s bankers and it sold his paper to a west coast quick-buck vulture fund. That caused Reggie to seek the protection of Chapter 11 in order to keep the company that he had built up over the last 30 years. While all of this was going on late last summer and fall, work on Baja boats pretty much came to a halt. Happily, a North Carolina court threw out the vultures and accepted the bid of a company that has been in the boat business for many years and which cares about boats, boaters, and the sport. It is the same company that owns Donzi and Pro-Line, so it is familiar with high-performance, respects what Reggie has accomplished, and has kept him on as President of Baja by Fountain, as well as Fountain Powerboats.During the last six weeks or so, production has resumed at Reggie’s huge factory in Washington, N.C. and long-time staff are being re-hired and production is once again underway. All of which goes to show that even a tough recession can’t keep a good man or a good brand down.The most important party of “The Back Story” for current Baja prospects is that Fountain and company are building the Bajas much differently – and better. We’ll tell you all about it.
Born of Outlaw, But Law Abiding
Once you know that steely look, you’ll forever recognize an Outlaw at a glance. But therein lies the problem. Many boaters appreciate the Outlaw’s performance— the deep-V hulls and plenty of horsepower —but they also want a boat with a bit more “mainstream” appearance. That is to say, for some people the Outlaws were a bit too much on the Spaghetti Western side – too much Lee Van Cleef and not enough Clint Eastwood. While Baja customers like to ride ‘em hard and put ‘em away wet, they like to do it in a modicum of comfort with other watersports possibilities. For these more genteel outlaw customers, the Baja Performance series was designed. The 278 Performance we tested is noticeably similar to Baja’s 26 Outlaw, but without that distinctively hard, almost raw Outlaw appearance.
Perhaps the three most noticeable features of the 278 Performance are also the three biggest departures from the Outlaw. A stainless steel low-profile bow rail in the center of the bow and two black Plexiglas hatches on either side are meant to accent the boat’s look, not blend. A Plexiglas windscreen also offers a decidedly softer look than the Outlaw’s trademark wedge, and the cantilevered transom includes a molded-in swim deck. Our test boat also included an optional bolt-on extended swim platform. The two platforms combined not only change the look of the boat, but are also a bit nicer for swimming than the Outlaw’s aluminum stern platform.Of course this Performance series keeps many of the Outlaw’s traits, too. Our 278 Performance had bold graphics both molded into the gel coat of the hull and also stitched into the upholstery. The racing-style helm and companion seats feature drop-out bottoms so they work well as wrap-around leaning posts when the combination of seas and speed make it more comfortable to stand. A bench seat provides seating back in the stern, with a sun pad abaft that.
The “Fountain Difference”
Now that Baja’s are being built by Fountain, there are major changes to the way the 278’s, and indeed the entire Baja line, are built. Not so much with the looks and performance, but with the build process itself. Let’s go over them and discuss the advantages and disadvantages.
1. 100% Vinylester Resin –
This is not a new product, but because of its cost, most often it’s used in only the skin coat with general purpose resin used inside of the skin coat. Vinylester resin is stronger, more resilient, prevents blistering, and is more prone to inhibit delaminating. So Fountain said “let’s use it exclusively.” It makes for a more expensive boat, but a longer-lasting one, as well.
2. Hand-laid fiberglass vs Infusion
– When injecting resin into a mold, you sometimes can’t see if the fiberglass is completely saturated with the proper amount of resin -- particularly when getting way up into the corners. If fiberglass strands are not properly encapsulated with resin they are only as strong as straw. By rolling on the resin by hand, quality control goes up exponentially. Again it costs more, but the result justifies it.
3. High Density Foam Core vs Balsa
– Baja used to use balsa core to make their hulls light and strong. End-grained balsa core has a puncture resistance far greater than does closed-cell foam. However, if water gets into the balsa core the material can turn soggy, pick up weight and even rot. Foam core does not absorb water and will not rot.
4. Stringers vs Liners
– Baja had some major warranty issues with their hull and deck liners many years ago. When laying them into the hull, there could be problems getting them to lay down smoothly to make proper contact. As a result adhesive material that was supposed to bond the liner to the outside skin was problematical. This construction method allowed for high and low spots, and therefore uneven adhesion to the hull, or in some places the absence of it all together, we’re told. Fountain’s stringer system lays down into the hull and then gets bonded directly to it by hand, making the hull and stringer system as solid as one unit. This is building the old fashioned, tried and true–way.
5. Unitized Construction
- Here’s where it gets interesting. Baja, along with many other builders, at one time bonded the hull and decks at the rub rail with polyurethane sealant and screws. Polyurethane adhesives provide the advantage of a rapid development of "green strength," where the adhesive provides an initial bond before fully curing. This reduces the need for clamping and holding materials, thereby cutting costs and increasing manufacturing and construction flexibility. But polyurethane is not good enough for Fountain. He uses plexus advandced methacrylate adhesive. The company calls it "fiberglass fusion." Fountain doesn’t build Bajas that way. Fountain uses a four part process-- a. Plexus adhesive and rivet the hull and deck togetherb. Thru bolt them together using Nylock nutsc. Fiberglass the deck to the hull on the inside d. Screw the rub rail on with the screws going through both the hull and deck. Once again, this is a matter of building a boat the old fashion way. The result is a boat that is stronger, more solid feeling, especially when running hard in rough seas, and it is also less likely to leak.
6. Hydraulic Steering
– Baja used to use a ride-guide steering system with cables. It allowed for stretching and introducing give into the steering system. The result was a marked amount of play that caused side to side motion at high speeds. Sometimes this is referred to as chine-walking. Hydraulic steering can eliminates that problem if chine walking is due to the steering. It’s a $3,000 upgrade, which is now standard on all Bajas with Mercury 496 engines and larger. If you want to save a few grand, then you can still opt for the old steering, but Reggie Fountain, and therefore Baja, doesn’t recommend it.
7. Raised “X-dimension”
-- The “X-dimension is the height of the prop relative to the bottom of the boat. By raising this dimension, Baja has improved the handling (they tell us, anyway). Also, by reducing the gearing from 1:4.96 (what you and I call 1 to 1 ½) to 1:6.7, the boat responds much like doing a hole shot in your car at a lower gear. You get better acceleration and faster times to plane. They also increased the pitch of the four bladed stainless steel prop which increase the WOT speed.
8. Newly designed cabins
– The old cabins were built around the old fiberglass liner system. Now that the new stringer system is being used (see above) it required a slight modification of the cabins. You probably won’t notice unless you do a side-by-side comparison, but it’s there.
9. Water Testing
– All new Bajas are water tested, just like all of the Fountain powerboats . Two hours of running it through its paces to be sure it operates at optimum performance. This means that you get a turn-key boat with fewer dealer prep issues. And no, Baja is not hiring test drivers. We already asked. While all these changes certainly make for a more expensive boat, they also make for a stronger, more reliable boat, and since no one is buying a Baja to keep the price down, it’s a fair trade-off. And Baja by Fountain boats are still the best values in the high-performance category.
While the 278 Performance cabin is re-designed, it is very similar to the Outlaw as well, with a Porta-Potti concealed beneath the V-berth. Port and starboard bench seats, with plenty of legroom between, provide a comfortable retreat from the elements when necessary, and the seat backrests remove and become fillers, turning this seating area into another sleeping berth. Both in the cabin and throughout the boat, Baja includes plenty of storage—large lockers for bulky items and also small nooks and crannies perfect for the little things we always need on the water—sunscreen, sunglasses, cell phone, and MP3 player.
Bad Boy Performance
The one feature Baja’s designers wouldn’t change is the 278’s infamous performance. This 278 is built on a very similar deep-V hull as the Outlaw, and also offers engine choices up to 600 horsepower. Our test boat’s “mere” 425 horsepower MerCruiser 496 Mag High Output engine reached 63.0 miles-per-hour. I can only imagine what the boat would do with nearly 50 percent more horsepower. We were on plane in 4.5 seconds and through 30 miles-per-hour in 8.4 seconds, with the Bravo I stern drive turning a Mercury Mirage 23-inch 3-blade stainless steel prop. Our best economy was at 35.5 miles-per-hour where we burned 12 gallons-per-hour and traveled 2.97 miles-per-gallon of gas. That gives the 278 a 270-mile range from the boat’s 101-gallon fuel tank, allowing for a 10% safety reserve.
Of course performance numbers only tell part of the story. It is hard to convey just how the boat feels on the water. In particular, it responds quickly and very predictably to the throttle. One reason for this is that Baja specifically avoids stepped hulls, which would undoubtedly make their boats a knot or so faster. But hull steps can also cause some problems. The theory behind a stepped hull is simple. The bottom of the boat makes an abrupt vertical jump all the way from the port side to the starboard (literally a “step” in the hull). As the boat reaches planing speed this step draws air in from above the waterline and forms a pocket of air along the bottom of the hull just aft of the step. This decreases the wetted surface of the boat traveling through the water and thereby increases top-end speed.For maximizing performance, there is no doubt that steps do work. The problem with some, but not all, stepped hulls is found at mid-range speeds, where we tend to run most of the time. As the boat slows down just a bit, the step draws in less air, increases resistance, and slows the boat down even more. Bump the throttle up just a touch, making the boat speed up a bit, and the step draws more air, decreases resistance, and makes the boat go faster than intended. Steps, therefore, often create a never-ending cycle of throttle adjustments to try to achieve a desired speed. They’re also more sensitive to drive and tab adjustments in my experience. And, obviously, Reggie can do without them in the Baja hulls.With this in mind, Baja avoids stepped hulls, resulting in a boat that is easier to operate—just push the throttle and go. Trim is important on any performance boat, but with Baja, trim is as important as it relates to feel in the steering wheel. Operate in a beam sea and the boat tends to lean into the waves a bit. A touch of trim levels her out and eases steering feedback.
Deep-V Better in Square Waves
Baja makes another sacrifice in their hull design that limits top-end performance by using a true deep-V hull. The flatter a boat’s bottom, the faster it will go for a given amount of horsepower. Knowing this, many manufacturers flatten out the bottom, particularly near the stern; the result is a boat that is faster in smooth water. Deadrise is the angle of the bottom of the boat in relationship to the waterline when looking at the transom of the boat. Baja’s 24-degree deadrise at the transom is about as deep as deep-V hulls get, and it really pays off when the seas kick up, with a deeper V providing a smoother ride. The trade off is that the deeper V takes more horsepower to run (which Baja provides), and burns a bit more fuel to achieve a given speed, and will not go as fast – all things being equal – as a boat with a lower deadrise, say 19-degrees.
Former Outlaw is Respectable Now
So what is the real difference between the Outlaw and the Performance series? In short, we’d say Baja’s Performance series is for the boater that is an outlaw at heart, but doesn’t want to be seen as the black sheep of the marina.
Test Result Highlights
- Top speed for the Baja 278 Performance is 63.0 mph (101.4 kph), burning 33.6 gallons per hour (gph) or 127.18 liters per hour (lph).
Standard and Optional Features
|Outlet: 12-Volt Acc||Standard|
5-year Limited Warranty
Yes - Limited
||5-year Limited Warranty|
3-Year Limited Warranty
||3-Year Limited Warranty|
|NMMA Certification Other Certification||Yes IQ Certified|