- The Phantom Cabin is an extraordinarily well-sorted driver’s boat, with very reassuring positivity in its responses to input at the helm.
- Buster’s flagship platform is a very lucid expression of Nordic priorities.
- The spec sheet for the Phantom Cabin makes for impressive reading …
- Alex Smith tests the biggest boat yet to emerge from Buster’s prolific aluminium fleet …
I still remember how impressed I was the first time I stepped on board a Buster. It was a humble little Buster X – the kind of boat that enabled you to enjoy yourself all day on barely a sip of fuel and then grind it up a beach, hose it down and do it all again the next day without feeling constrained by the expense or neurotic about the wear and tear. I remember thinking how odd it was that the British buying public hadn’t yet embraced aluminium as a mainstay of leisure boating in the way that Scandinavia so plainly had, but over the years, it’s good to see that public perceptions have changed.
Buster have made a great many everyday recreational boaters very happy with their fleet of compact light-footed sports boats – and such is the scale of modern demand that they have increasingly been encouraged to invest in larger platforms, more advanced features and increased power. We’ve already seen the rip-snorting 700hp Phantom hove into view at the pinnacle of the fleet, and now, with the addition of a Cabin version, Buster have an impressive new flagship to act as their ambassador for the undoubted merits of aluminium leisure boats.
The spec sheet for the Phantom Cabin makes for impressive reading: more than 31ft in length, nearly 9′ 4″ in the beam, a weight approaching 3 metric tonnes, a pair of integrated 400-litre fuel tanks and a transom capable of handling anything up to twin 300hp outboards. While Buster might be most famous for making the ownership experience easy and sustainable, the new Phantom Cabin is plainly a very serious piece of equipment – and when you step on board, there’s no doubt about where the design priorities lie …
By keeping the bow and stern decks very compact and by eradicating the side decks altogether, this boat is all about the cabin, and for a 31ft boat, the internal space really is vast. An internal beam of nearly 8ft is matched by headroom of nearly 6′ 5″, even in the forward area. That generates plenty of room for a staggered walkway to run from the starboard side of the aft cockpit to the central part of the forward deck, creating a very natural split between a large dinette and co-pilot position on one side and the long tapering galley and helm position on the other. It’s easily big enough to seat seven or eight of the 12 people this boat is rated to carry, and while it feels more pared back and workmanlike than luxurious, the fabrics feel good and the use of long one-piece side windows does great things for the visibility and the brightness.
Move forward and you see that same pragmatic approach applied in the bow space. Accessed through a full-height door, the deep-set deck comes with a two-tier forepeak, offering usefully compartmentalised storage spaces, plus a pair of corner seats, set against the leading edge of the wheelhouse, which also do a good job as boarding points. It all looks pretty sparse and practical on the test boat, but equipped with some cushions and a central table it could make a very serviceable four-man dining station.
While it’s tempting to suggest that some folding seats might achieve something similar in the aft cockpit, there’s really not much room to work with at the back end. The space comprises a narrow strip of decking, just large enough for a transverse hatch to hide a beautifully rigged trio of batteries, divided into natural sections by the stringers. This cockpit section is well cordoned off from the big engine by means of a simple mesh-covered steel frame, behind which a pair of narrow swim platforms squeeze out on either side of the twin Yamaha F200s. There are some additional hatches here, topped with the same easy-grip finish as the rest of the decking, plus a set of four fender holders tucked neatly out of the way.
It’s a decent way to use such limited space and to preserve the scale of the wheelhouse, but it’s very noticeable that the blunt shape at the back end of the cabin structure creates a turbulent low-pressure zone underway. In addition to compromising efficiency, it sucks spray, fumes and noise into the cockpit, making it quite an unpleasant place to be, even in a relatively flat sea. You can mitigate that either by shutting the space off underway or by opening both the door and the sunroof of the pilot house to improve the airflow. But it would be great to see the designers taking a more proactive approach to improving airflow across the back end of the craft by means of an integrated vent or foil.
The Phantom’s transom is extremely versatile. You can use anything from a single 300 or 350 to twin 300s, reputedly bringing this boat the potential to hit 53 knots. But here on the test boat we have twin Yamaha F200s, and in truth, it’s difficult to imagine a better match. The Phantom Cabin is an extraordinarily well-sorted driver’s boat, with very reassuring positivity in its responses to input at the helm. We find ourselves planing in less than 4 seconds and passing 30 knots in around 10, which is surprisingly urgent given the boat’s bulk. And while the ‘all-or-nothing’ vigour of the trim tab switch can take a little bit of getting used to, it also proves impressively effective, enabling us to stay flat, fast and efficient with remarkable ease, particularly given the substantial windage and moderate weight of the big Buster.
There’s also some very user-friendly softness to the ride, allied to lots of grip for those who like a sporting drive – and for those who prefer to cruise, the efficiency is also impressive. We’re seeing a combined fuel flow of 60 litres per hour at around 30 knots from the twin 200s, which translates into a usable range (reserving a 10 per cent safety margin in the tank) of more than 350 nautical miles at anything between 20 and 30 knots. Given the urgency of the pickup, the controllability of the running attitude and the 42-knot top end, these very sustainable fuel flow figures further reinforce the twin 200s as the most rewarding overall option for this boat.
However, what’s really striking about the Phantom driving experience is the refinement. In addition to the cosseting wrap-around helm seat with full adjustability, the skipper gets a huge armrest for his throttle hand, lined with the same sumptuous ‘brushed suede’-style upholstery as the rest of the wheelhouse furniture. You also get outstanding all-round visibility courtesy of the upright structure, the narrow mullions and the lofty roof – and while the fact that you are completely protected from wind and water does, of course, lend its own natural sense of refinement, the muted quality of the ambient noise is also very noticeable.
Sitting at the helm, pushing hard, with 42 knots flashing up on the big digital data display, we still experienced noise levels of less than 84 decibels when between 86 and 90 would be more commonplace. It might not sound like much, but it means you can sit in complete comfort, enjoying the ergonomic excellence of the helm controls and the dynamic balance of the drive, while chatting across the central aisle to your co-pilot or back towards the diners on the port side, without any need to raise your voice or to strain to be part of the conversation. On the face of it, the layout might not appear very communal or inclusive for the skipper, but the reality is that at no time do you feel isolated from the rest of the group.
The co-pilot also gets treated to an altogether superior environment. Like the skipper, he gets a forward grabbing point, a flip-down stainless steel footrest, comfortable seating and a panoramic view. But what’s particularly appealing is the provision of an additional Buster Q display, neatly flush-mounted into the leading edge of the co-pilot’s console moulding. It means the non-driver can be fully involved in the exercise of helming the boat, with all navigational and engine data at their fingertips – and given the distance between the helm and co-pilot positions in this remarkably beamy wheelhouse, that’s a very valuable feature.
Mature or manic?
Buster’s flagship platform is a very lucid expression of Nordic priorities. With its robust aluminium construction, its full-beam wheelhouse, its Buster Q interface and its reassuring twin rig, it’s an outstanding commuter boat. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily equip it to cater for the mixed recreation of a seasonal family boater in the UK. After all, with both bow and stern taking up the slack for the wheelhouse’s pre-eminence, the scale and versatility of the outside spaces are limited – and that’s where the gregarious, neon-trimmed Phantom original [u1] comes into play. With its lighter weight, its cushion-lined alfresco lounging spaces, its increased transom capacity and its outrageous 60-knot potential, it can give you the recreational flourish this boat lacks. But if you want to move people from one place to another in comfort and safety, with uncommon all-weather, long-distance ability (and you want to enjoy the drive while you’re doing it), the Phantom Cabin is a fiercely impressive example of its type.
- Huge internal space
- Excellent visibility
- Impressive pace
- Outstanding refinement
- Near perfect driving dynamics
- Limited cockpit
- Turbulent low-pressure zone aft
RPM Speed (kn) Fuel flow (L/h) Noise (db) Range (nm)
650 2.8 3.2 45.7 630.0
1000 4.1 5.8 51.4 509.0
1500 6.2 10.3 53.8 433.4
2000 7.9 18.4 64.7 309.1
2500 11.0 26.2 69.2 302.3
3000 17.0 35.7 74.3 342.9
3500 22.8 43.9 76.0 373.9
4000 29.3 58.3 77.0 361.9
4500 34.2 76.0 80.2 324.0
5000 38.4 108.3 81.5 255.3
5500 42.3 137.5 83.6 221.5
- LOA: 9.47m
- Beam: 2.84m
- Weight: 2700kg
- Fuel capacity: 2 x 400 litres
- Max. load: 1410 kg
- People capacity: 12
- Power: 300–600 hp
- Test engine: Twin Yamaha F200s
UK price TBC