Albeit with a sprinkling of contemporary Italian style, the Salpa 23XL is in a similar vein to the Sealine S23, or Sea Ray 240 Sundancer. It is a concept that has worked well for many years ‒ a balance of accommodating a junior family/couple in a sub-25ft boat while providing enough punch to have some fun. What makes it all the more attractive is that a fully specified boat, as tested, comes with a price tag below £70,000. There are a couple of other extras you could consider, like synthetic teak decking and a trim tab system, but otherwise this is a very complete package.
What strikes you from the outset is that this boat is well built and nicely finished. The stainless foredeck work is pretty solid, the side decks wide enough to walk down and the guard rails tall enough to be exactly that, rather than low trip hazards. A windlass can be found under a forepeak hatch cover, and a pulpit step sits above the anchor for crewmembers to alight onto the tall docksides of Mediterranean marinas. Sensibly, the cover set is designed so that you can easily remove/refit the sections around the top of the windscreen. Consequently, if you have a moody-looking day, you can go out as we did with the roof section up, and then easily put the windscreen/side sections in if it starts to rain. I can also say that the roof section, though it probably robbed us of a knot of top speed, has no problems staying put at 36 knots.
The helm is basic but effective. There is not a massive amount of room for a chartplotter, but I felt that the Garmin it was fitted with was more than enough for the job. The compass is situated under your line of sight, as is the plotter. The wheel and throttle fall perfectly to hand, and though the seat is not really comfortably wide enough for two adults, with the bolster folded up and your feet on the foot stall[SB1] , you have a great position to drive standing. Apart from being securely wedged in, you get a perfect view over the bow when standing.
The galley is located in the cockpit, which releases enough space below to actually make a cabin that you will have no problems weekending in. It also enables you to have a realistically sized fridge, which would otherwise be a squeeze to get in below. The galley facilities comprise a single gas hob, and a sink with hot and cold water. The only downside of this set-up is the absence of a navigator’s seat on the port side, but the trade-off is worth paying. The cockpit seating has plenty of storage beneath, and the rear bench seat converts to extend the aft sun pad. For extra sun lovers there is also a foredeck sun pad, which otherwise lives in the mid cabin. Engine access is superb, as the sun pad manually folds forward, exposing the engine, which you can easily get around to. The beauty of the relatively new-generation 4.5L V6 MerCruiser is that it is a purpose-built marine engine, and not a marinised automotive engine like its predecessors. Thus, among other things, it is designed for easy servicing, with all the core items conveniently to hand at the top front of the engine, along with a mounted service guide. One thing I did not like was the budget battery boxes, located under a deck hatch in the port quarter, and the skimpy lid straps will come undone if just remotely overtightened.
The main cabin is good for a pocket sports cruiser. You do not get full standing headroom at 6ft, but then that is not to be expected. Having no galley below there is enough room for four to squeeze in around the dinette table, with plenty of overhead locker storage. The cream leather-effect upholstery combined with the light veneer joinery enhances the feeling of space, as does the open-plan design. Of course, having the mid cabin and the main cabin effectively as one means no privacy between them, but then it is unlikely that two couples will sleep on this boat. More than likely, one couple will use the mid cabin for sleeping, leaving the main cabin as living space. A family can, of course, convert the dinette to sleep on while children sleep amidships. The heads, having the same headroom as the cabin, is a crouching/sitting affair, but it does have a sink with a pull-out shower rose and a deck runaway. The standard toilet is a manual pump model, with an electric toilet available for an extra £840.
Driving the Salpa 23XL
For a small sports cruiser, the 23XL provides quite an exciting, responsive and steady ride. It is never an easy combination, squeezing in an acceptable level of accommodation in a 23-footer while creating a boat that is still fun to drive, but Salpa have managed this well. The moment you turn the wheel at any speed past 20 knots, you come to terms with how quickly the 23XL responds. The power steering is more than capable of doing its job, and the more you come to terms with it, the tighter you turn. However, there is a point at which you could lose the plot if you overdo it. This did not happen to me, but there was a slight touch of hull slide when the boat was heeled over hard in the high 20s, and had I attempted to exit the turn any faster she would have lost the stern. Is this a problem? No, this is a medium-vee sports cruiser, not a deep-vee sports boat. All this said, she is great fun to drive in a spirited manner, and more than capable as a water sports tool.
Her hull is clearly quite efficient as she hits 36 knots with just 250hp inside the transom, which is good going. However, if you want to maintain a pace past 30 knots in anything but near zero wind conditions, you will want the optional trim tab package at £1,535. In fact, I would go further in saying that the extra cost of an automatic trim tab system would be worth it, as once set up and calibrated, it would improve a boat like this, especially considering our predictably changeable weather. The reason I make this point is because above 30 knots, she likes a bit of trim out on the sterndrive leg to perform properly, and if you have the wind on the nose she will porpoise. Trim tabs would dampen down this ‘bow bouncing’ effect as well as keeping the hull forefoot down so it can do its job of cutting through any seaway. To be fair, this is not unusual in this size and type of boat, but a bit of technology can certainly help.
As a cruiser, her sweet spot is a tad over 20 knots at 3250rpm. Her fuel burn is good at 3.3mpg, the ride fairly smooth and the engine tone moderate. In noise terms, this is where the V6 petrol engine out-trumps the 4-cylinder 170hp MerCruiser diesel motor that the Salpa is also offered with. Of course, the diesel will prove more frugal, but considering the proximity of the engine to the cockpit, the noisier diesel may be less appealing to some. Further up the spectrum, the 250hp MerCruiser provides 3.2mpg all the way to 28 knots at 4000rpm, which, sea conditions permitting, is a fast cruising speed that the 23XL is happy to sit at. Above this speed, the petrol engine drops off the top of its torque curve ‒ noticeable in the increased fuel burn.
I do not like to use the words ‘value for money’ with boats because it tends to give the impression that the boat is ‘cost-effectively built’. However, the Salpa 23XL is good value for money, and it is not cost-effectively built, bar the budget battery boxes. What is evident when you drive the boat in the sort of short chop found off Old Harry is that it is solidly constructed. It does not creak and complain like many contemporaries of a similar or even higher price. It feels solid both to hand and under foot, and somebody has thought about providing the boat with realistic domestic facilities without turning the cabin into a shoebox as a result. To put it into a very simple perspective, it is built in Italy not China, and it costs the same as a middleweight RIB.
What we thought
- Solid build quality
- Balanced responsive steering
- Great engine access
- Good level of internal accommodation for size
- Effective helm set-up
- Decent foredeck access enhanced by tall guard rails
- Helm seat could be slightly wider – it is a squeeze for two adults
- Budget battery boxes
Fuel figures (Mercury fuel flow meter)
RPM Speed (knots) LPH NMPG
1000 5.0 4.5 5.0
1500 5.7 7.4 3.5
2000 8.0 11.9 3.0
2500 10.0 19.1 2.4
3000 13.3 27.3 2.2
3500 22.8 31.3 3.3
4000 28.0 39.5 3.2
4500 32.2 54.0 2.7
5000 34.8 69.3 2.3
5250 (WOT) 36.0 74.0 2.2
- LOA: 7.62m (25ft)
- Beam: 2.54m (8ft 3in)
- Displacement: 2150kg (with 250hp MerCruiser)
- Power options: Single 250hp V6 MerCruiser petrol, or single 170hp MerCruiser diesel
- Fuel capacity: 175 litres (38 gallons)
- RCD category: C for 8
- Test engines: Single 250hp MerCruiser V6 with Alpha 1 sterndrive
From: £57,880 (inc. VAT) (250hp MerCruiser)
As tested: £69,800 (inc.) VAT
36 knots (2-way average); sea conditions moderate, crew 2, fuel 50%
0–20 knots: 8 seconds
Gibbs Quay Boat Sales
14–17 West Quay Rd
Dorset BH15 1JD
Photo Credits: Graeme Main