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Painting the Town

The Sea Ray SDX 290 Outboard is made for entertaining
By Sue Rodman

After a full day on the water, the party crew heads to the “Tiki Bar” at Tierra Verde Marina in St. Petersburg, Florida, while the captain cleans up. It’s the closing of another great day on Dixie Belle. Kevin and Suzanne Fulford own Dixie Belle, named after Suzanne’s company, Dixie Belle Paint Company. It’s Kevin’s fifth boat and their second Sea Ray. The Sea Ray SDX 290 was a perfect choice for the couple that loves to day boat with a crowd, and this yacht-certified boat is made for entertaining. A fold-down step makes it easy to get on and off. An open f loor plan, oversized bow, and huge cockpit mean there’s lots of room for the party crowd that routinely includes the Fulford’s 24-year-old daughter Alanna, her boyfriend Tyler, and Suzanne’s siblings Matt, Joe, and Colleen.

In addition to open space, there is tons of storage and convertible seating, including a cockpit companion seat that can face forward or f lip back so guests can focus ahead when cruising or f lip the seat back when anchored. Standard features also include dedicated cooler storage and a wet bar to keep the beverages cold and snacks within reach. The SDX 290 is built for performance on the water, and that performance is the main reason Kevin wanted to upgrade. The boat has twin Mercury Verado 250 engines and joystick control, including Skyhook technology which links to the boat’s GPS to keep it in position.

“It’s fassst,” boasted Kevin. “And the joystick control makes docking a breeze, which I appreciate, especially when pulling up to a restaurant where everyone is watching. It’s so easy even a caveman can do it.” Dixie Belle’s helm includes a 9-inch Simrad touchscreen that displays Mercury VesselView®, the on-board information management system that allows a captain to control the boat from an intuitive LCD screen that displays RPM, speed, fuel f low, and fuel efficiency, among other things. It’s everything needed for a seamless command experience, and it helps a captain navigate St. Pete’s notoriously shallow waters.

“Growing up, we didn’t have GPS on the boats,” said Kevin. “I learned the hard way to stay away from shallow water when my dad ran aground, and we had to muscle the boat off a sandbar. But recently, I bit the bullet and went into three feet of water at John’s Pass. It was a really good day, and I’m starting to get comfortable in the shallows.” Almost as important as performance is music; it sets the tone for a good time on the water. With Dixie Belle, the Fulfords upgraded to a premium Fusion audio system, adding an amp, subwoofer, and two additional speakers. Their daughter Alanna is the chief party officer and is in charge of selecting tunes.

The Fulfords also added an extended bimini top to give them more shade when the Florida sun gets to be too much. And when they need to cool off, the Sea Ray SDX has a fold-down, submersible swim platform and freshwater spray down hose to get a quick rinse before returning onboard. Two additional features the Fulfords can’t do without are the anchor windlass, so there is no struggling to throw out the anchor or haul it back in, and the roomy head with a VacuFlush system.

A normal day for the Fulfords includes cruising out to a sand bar and hanging out. Catching a sunset at John’s Pass or Egmont Key is always a highlight. They also enjoy visiting the many waterside restaurants in Tampa Bay, downtown St. Pete, or Clearwater Beach. The Shore restaurant in Sarasota is one of their favorites. “It’s an easy run to the Shore by boat, but it’s a long way on land,” said Kevin. “I get the Jenga ribs, but the party crew really likes the drinks. They have special ones each season— and they really look forward to those seasonal cocktails.” When they want to escape the crowds, the crew heads to their secret place, a quiet cove that backs up to Fort De Soto State Park, just past Bunces Pass. Shhhh, they don’t want to share that with too many people.

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