Explore North Carolina by SLX
Sea Ray SLX 350 owner Russ Klein shares his passion for boating with his wife, Susan, and their family on beautiful Lake Norman.
Growing up in Babylon, a small town on New York’s Long Island, Russ Klein never lacked for exposure to the water. “I spent all of my childhood summers on Great South Bay. Our summer home was on Oak Island, just west of Fire Island,” he recalls. “Isolated from electricity, telephone, automobiles and so forth, my friends and I invested countless hours exploring the salt marshes of the bay area.”
As childhood summer vacations go, it was an idyllic location, and a surefire way to nurture the boating gene. Russ’s father, a retired World War II Navy serviceman, taught him the basics early on, and by age 12, Russ was determined to find a vessel to call his own. He soon adopted a paper route that netted him a cool $8 a week. “That was good money for a 12-year-old kid in 1959!” he says.
After he had saved up $100, his dad found him a well-used plywood runabout for purchase. The price was right, though some of the boat’s latent potential had to be coaxed out. “I repainted and repaired the boat completely,” Russ says. “It took a lot of work, but by the start of that next summer, I was on cloud nine.” The run-about carried him through several seasons of adventure and exploration.
College graduation in 1969 brought that chapter of his life to an end, and it would be another 30 years before Russ found his way back to boating. While living and working in the Burlington, Vermont, area of Lake Champlain, he and his wife, Susan, decided it was finally time.
They found themselves in a lightly used 32-foot express cruiser, “a big step up in size considering my long absence from active boating,” Russ says. “But like riding a bike, the skills came back quickly and we were enjoying Lake Champlain in no time.” Not long after, they upgraded to a 36-footer they spotted during a road trip in Canada.
At this point Russ began to feel the need for more formal boating education and enrolled in an extensive course to earn his U.S. Coast Guard Master’s (100-Ton) captain’s license. And if that wasn’t enough, he also completed all available courses offered by the United States Power Squadron and now holds its highest grade of Senior Navigator (SN).
The stage was almost set for another boat upgrade, but first they needed…a new stage. So when the Kleins relocated to Lake Norman, North Carolina, in 2003, the Sea Ray chapter of their lives was practically inevitable.
“We gradually accepted the fact that a 36-foot cabin cruiser was not the best boat for those of us living right on a lake favoring jet skis and runabouts,” Russ explains. “That was, until I attended the Mid-Atlantic Boat Show in Charlotte in February 2016…”
You could say it was love at first sight. “I saw the SLX 350 model at the show and instantly knew it was the boat for me,” Russ recalls. He made a beeline for the gorgeous new sport boat, only to have it sold to another customer before he could close the deal. But luckily he had wound up in good hands with Hall Marine, the area Sea Ray dealership.
“The team at Hall Marine could sense my interest and followed up to advise me that they had another boat in the queue for production, which could be configured to my needs and delivered before the Memorial Day holiday,” Russ recalls with a hint of relief. “I jumped on the opportunity.”
Not the type to sit idly by while his dream boat was being crafted, Russ requested a factory tour during the SLX 350’s production cycle, which Sea Ray happily arranged. “It was exciting to see the actual boat I ordered being built,” Russ enthuses. “The team at the Sea Ray plant in Vonore, Tennessee, spent over four hours taking me through the factory, ending with a sea trial on the boat immediately in front of mine in production.”
By the time he headed back to Lake Norman, there was no question he had made the right choice. “The tour and sea trial clearly exceeded my excitement quota,” he says. “I’ve been boating for over 65 years and can attest to the superior Sea Ray product.”
And how did Susan react to Russ’s excited phone call from the floor of the boat show? “I was violently against it!” Susan says of the SLX, laughing. “But now, I like it very much.”
“He did well,” she adds. “It’s the first one he picked out without me.”
These days the Kleins keep their SLX 350 in a slip behind their house on the lake. They enjoy hosting friends on the boat, grill-ing seafood in the cockpit, popping open a bottle of wine and sharing stories until long after the sun goes down. They’re also fond of firing up the twin MerCruiser® Bravo III engines to explore the far reaches of Lake Norman. And Russ raves about the Axius® joystick that makes docking effortless when the time comes to return to their slip.
Another feature of the SLX 350 that comes in handy is the easy line-flushing capability, which allows Russ to pressurize the cooling system and expel the water during cold snaps. “Here in our area, it can be 15 degrees overnight and then the next day it might be 70. So it’s great that I don’t need to have a professional in there to winterize it,” he says. “We can keep it on the lift, and if we get a nice day, it’s ready to take out again.”
Lake Norman affords them lots of opportunities to cruise with other boat owners on those nice days. One of their good friends, Alan Savage, often joins them on his own Sea Ray, a Sundancer 320. His loyal pup, Maxwell, hates to be left behind, and can usually be found cozied up with Alan at the helm. That is, when he’s not leaping off the swim platform to paddle around.
But the Kleins’ favorite passengers have to be their grandkids. Their son and daughter-in-law, Justin and Anne, live across the lake and visit regularly. “Savannah, the youngest, has learned that our house is where you come to go boating,” Susan says. “She’ll come right inside and point out to the slip with her arm and her little finger out, going ‘Uh! Uh!’ She’s barely speaking yet but she knows she loves the boat.”
Susan names the SLX 350’s submersible hydraulic swim platform as a favorite feature, particularly for Savannah. “She’ll sit on her dad’s lap and kick her legs in the water,” she says.
They enjoy taking Savannah (2) and her older siblings, Makenzie (12), Aeden (9) and Logan (7), to nearby beaches and islands, soaking up the best of lake life. That includes packing quarter sandwiches and potato chips and having picnics on the transom, Susan explains. “It’s a great boat for the kids. It’s very comfortable.”
And even when Susan and the family aren’t up for a cruise, Russ is more than happy to keep the SLX from gathering dust. “It’s getting lots of use,” he says with a smile. After all, he’s come a long way since that plywood runabout paid for with paper route money.