Aqua 54 — By Capt. Patrick Sciacca —
Riding the Edge
|This Italian-built express cruiser is made for high-speed handling.|
My college friend, Phil, owned a 1966 Chevelle SS that he tricked out with all the bells and whistles, including a worked-over 427-cid block, a nitrous-oxide tank, and a pumped-up transmission. One day after class he offered me a ride home. I got in the seat, and Phil aimed his vintage rocket ship down Kissena Boulevard in Queens, New York. At the drop of the foot, the car took off in neck-snapping fashion. My head was pinned against the headrest. It was a helluva ride.
So what does this have to do with boats, you ask? It just so happens a recent boat test brought me right back to that high-speed memory.
No, Chevy has not started building go-fast boats, but the Italian high-performance boatbuilder Baia has a 54-footer named the Aqua that offers the same get-up-and-go performance as Phil’s souped-up street car. My test boat hit 53.3 mph at 2350 rpm, with a cruise speed of 44 mph at 2000 rpm. Not exactly a quarter-miler like the Chevelle, but equally fun.
The big difference is that my test boat was skipping over a good two- to three-foot chop on the Atlantic off South Florida. In addition, the Aqua jumped nearly 20 mph in speed between 1500 and 1750 rpm. I soon discovered it wasn’t just her optional 1,015-hp Caterpillar C18 diesels that made this boat’s performance impressive.
First, she’s also armed with Arneson ASD11 Surface Drives coupled to five-blade 31.5x44 Rolla surface-piercing propellers. (Baia has been using surface drives for more than 20 years.) The articulated drives and highly cambered props get the boat on plane at a leisurely 14 knots (between 1250 and 1300 rpm) with the help of some tab. Since the Arneson drives allow you to alter the amount of prop in the water, trim tabs are used mostly to assist with low-speed planing, to adjust for unequal loading, and when traveling in big seas; the drives are used for almost all other trim applications. The ASD11s also offer reduced drag and a shallow draft (3'0") for nook-and-cranny or Bahamas cruisers, both of which enhance the Aqua’s high-performance capabilities. And, of course, the drives’ trademark rooster tail provides some flair and showmanship.
Adding to her performance from the build side is the boat’s relatively light weight. Constructed of pre-pregnated Kevlar, which provides a light but durable hull, the Aqua comes in at 39,000 pounds (dry). The laminate comes off a large roll already wet and is simply laid in and smoothed out. Baia has been using Kevlar in this fashion for about two decades. Maybe that explains why some of the similar-size express cruisers I’ve seen that are constructed of solid fiberglass are 12,000 pounds or so heavier than the Baia Aqua 54.
After marveling at her speed and that rooster tail, I put down my radar gun and slid behind the two-person helm seat located to starboard on the bridge deck. It was time to see how she performed firsthand. I asked Baia’s Capt. Paolo Mataloni for a primer on the Aqua’s handling aspects before letting her out of the gate. He explained that once you have the boat up to cruise speed and higher, you want to keep the props trimmed to about midline on the trim gauge, which is easily viewable just forward of the wheel. At slower speeds, the gauge should read about one-quarter below midline. The propeller-trim joysticks are easily positioned just to port of the wheel with trim tabs and optional bow thruster controls also here. Large icons next to each control make them readily identifiable on the fly.
This article originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.