Astondoa Top Deck 63By Capt. Bill Pike
The Astondoa Top Deck 63 takes fun with family and friends to a new and exceptionally playful level.
Spread your wings!
I was struck by an intriguing possibility shortly after I began touring the Astondoa Top Deck 63 during the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show last year. At the time, I was peering into the cool aquamarine depths of a giant, see-through Jacuzzi, playfully cantilevered above a truly immense swim platform that sported two massively hinged, hydraulically actuated “wings,” one to port and the other to starboard. The wings had obviously been designed to increase the size of the platform even further when folded down and, when folded up, serve as seamless extensions of the long, straight-sheered hullsides.
“Huh,” I wondered. “Could Luiz de Basto, an old acquaintance of mine, be the designer of this boat—Luiz, the guy with the super-playful, wildly inventive nature?”
This bit of speculation was spot-on, the way it turned out. De Basto was indeed the designer of the Top Deck, said Flagship Marine Group’s Rafael Barca, stateside rep for Spanish builder Astondoa Yachts. But Barca was in a hurry that boat-show afternoon, with little time for details—he was gonna show me all the fun stuff onboard, or else—starting with the huge, walk-in garage/beach club at the stern (fitted out with berth-and-head-equipped cuddy cabins along the sides, as well as a drop-down flatscreen TV and ample stowage for a RIB, Seabobs, kayaks, PWCs ... whatever) and going straight through to the wondrously attractive (especially to kids and wild-and-crazy middle-agers) waterslide so sportily deployed off the starboard side.
De Basto and I go way back. I’d first met him in 1993, not long after he’d won the prestigious Popular Mechanics Design & Engineering Award for one of his super-clever designs. Descriptively called the Boatmobile, the thing put a large, highly stylized trailer under a 29-foot flying-bridge-type vessel, thereby producing a towable vehicle that served as a mobile home ashore and a coastal cruiser afloat. I remember visiting de Basto’s office in Miami after sea-trialing the Boatmobile. On the one hand, the guy seemed eminently practical, particularly when it came down to stability calculations, LCG placement, and other design considerations. But then, there was the playful, fun-loving side—it was irrepressible and strikingly inventive.
And de Basto hadn’t changed a whole heck of a lot over the years. When I telephoned him to talk about the Top Deck, he was as effusive as ever. “Back when I was an architectural student in Brazil I had an idea for a house—the perfect house,” he explained. “I will send you a drawing [seen above]. The walls fold down, thanks to cables and mechanisms. While sadly, I have not built the house, I used the idea to design the Top Deck. It has wings (or balconies, if you like) instead of walls.”
Conversations with innovative boat designers, particularly when preceded by boat-show walk-throughs, often generate prompt magazine sea trials so, only a month or so after Lauderdale, I found myself accompanying Barca down a dock at Bayshore Landing marina in Miami’s Coconut Grove, en route to the prototype Top Deck. Because her swim platform (see “Better Boat: Transformer,”) was well below dock level when we finally arrived, Barca temporarily attached a stainless-steel ladder well forward and up we went.
Of course, the Top Deck gets its name from the vast, flat, hardtop-shaded party platform that is its most noticeable exterior feature. The platform’s layout is about as simple as the typical suburban backyard. All the way forward, there’s a huge, tri-partite sunlounge, with backrests and an accompanying seat and easy-to-deploy table. Farther aft, just behind the comparatively basic helm station (with Volvo Penta joystick and binnacle engine control, sport-type steering wheel, compass, trim-tab rockers, Garmin MFD, and Raymarine VHF), there’s a large athwartship console that conceals a bevy of galley appliances, including a stainless-steel sink, small fridge, dishwasher, and pull-out grill. And then, still farther aft, there’s an open-air dining and entertainment area that stretches all the way back to the aforementioned, see-through Jacuzzi, with adjoining bar.
Of course, the theme here is outdoorsy living, family style, especially once the hook’s gone down in some warm, tropical setting. Thanks to a big, levitating flatscreen TV in the midst of the entertainment area, a retractable moonroof in the hardtop overhead (perfect for night-time stargazing), and a high-powered Fusion stereo system to set the tone, adults can kick back in total comfort while they keep tabs on their fun-loving youngsters. And should indoor living beckon, the whole family can retire to the lower deck (via a companionway to the left of the helm station), where there’s a media/game room forward (with yet another flatscreen, more lounge-type seating, and a pizza-size Miele microwave). Abaft that area is an ample head (with separate stall shower) and a couple of straightforward staterooms, one with a double berth and the other with two singles.
“Watch this, Bill,” said Barca, hitting a console switch with a big grin. “This is the really trick thing about this boat.”
In short order, the wings (similar to those on the swim platform but longer and narrower) that run the length of the party platform just abaft the helm station began folding down slowly, ultimately going virtually flat. Then, for safety’s sake, Barca quickly lifted five sets of outboard guardrails per wing, locking them in place. “Adds more room to the party,” enthused Barca, “Lots more room.”
The engineering behind this bit of magic was pure de Basto. Massive, full-length, intricately shaped, stainless steel hinges were bolted along the bottom edges of each wing and actuated by means of horizontally oriented hydraulic rams on each end, all hidden beneath small silicon-seaked hatches in the deck. As the rams pushed outboard, the wings swung upwards to become bulwarks. As the rams pulled back, the wings swung flat to increase deck space.
Considerably enthused myself by now, I suggested we check out the engine room and the big-time hydraulics package that had to be waiting there. Barca led the way down an after stairway into the garage and, from thence, down through a hatch into the machinery spaces. I was immediately gratified to see a manually operated lever on a beefy, Italian-made Hydronit hydraulic unit that was located between the 6-foot-long jackshafts connecting the mains and drive units—always a good idea to have a manual backup on a major-league hydraulic system. And while elbowroom was a tad scarce in general (the distance between the Volvo Penta D11-725s was about 10 inches and headroom here was about 30 inches) and access poor in spots (the 8D Excide batteries outboard of each main were especially tough to get at), I noted a set of soft patches overhead that would facilitate engine extraction and other big-time projects like battery replacement.
Our sea trial produced a wholly enjoyable, albeit rather unexpected, perspective. As Barca’s captain shepherded the Top Deck across the comparatively smooth surface of nearby Biscayne Bay at a top speed of 29.6 knots—with the wings swung down flat and locked in position—I sat at the dining table well aft (like an expectant patron at a fine restaurant), luxuriating in a wholly unobstructed, up-close-and-personal view of the water absolutely blurring past.
“Totally wild!” I yelled, as the skipper swept us into a broad, exhilarating turn. De Basto would have agreed with the sentiment I’m sure, had he been along for the ride.
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This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.