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Defiance 46

Photography by Billy Black

Expansive Horizons

The Defiance 46 by Shannon Yachts represents the culmination of one man’s continuous search for ingenuity and the inability to accept conventional wisdom. The result is a Down East-inspired design that is ready to go cruising.

The swirling blue Atlantic Ocean washes over our decks as the Shannon 43 ketch slices through the seas paring away the miles under her keel. Thirty-knot wind gusts ignite sounds of protest from the bilges below. Power & Motoryacht publisher Arnie Hammerman sits at the chart table dressed in foul-weather gear in the dim red light plotting our course to the British Virgin Islands. The glow of the full moon crawls through the companionway hatch above reflecting in the golden-teak bulkheads. Hammerman dissects several satellite weather reports and wonders aloud why we haven’t found the trade winds this far south. I’m harnessed in the galley, prepping a leg of lamb, and answer with shrugged shoulders. 

After eight days at sea we settle into a rhythm of eating, sleeping, navigating, and driving the boat. Everything else is background noise. On this night, 500 miles from the nearest port, our primary concern is getting safely to Tortola in time for Thanksgiving. (If we miss the holiday festivities at our respective homes we’ll most likely need to seek asylum in a distant banana republic. Maybe I can cook burgers at a tiki bar while Arnie plays harmonica and braids cornrows for freckle-faced Ohio tourists.)

 What do my exploits on a 43-foot ketch have to do with the 46-foot powerboat on these pages, other than emanating from the same builder? Well, you see one of two reactions usually occur after a long ocean voyage: You either end the trip patently annoyed with your boat, or in love with the loyal friend that carried you comfortably and safely for several thousand miles. For me, it was the latter. Two weeks at sea rekindled the affection I had for Shannon Yachts that began at age 10 after cruising on a 38 ketch out of Essex, Connecticut, with my father.

A few weeks after Thanksgiving (I made it to Maine with a day to spare), I remain in this state of bliss, wishing I’m off watch in the 43’s skinny V-berth beating to windward. My reminiscing is interrupted by the delivery of a press kit for the Defiance 46. Admittedly, I stopped paying attention to the happenings of Shannon president Walter Schulz and his company’s venture into the powerboat market a few years back. That was a mistake. My fondness and respect for the 43 reignited my appreciation for Walter’s attention to detail and designs. I open the package with renewed enthusiasm. Five minutes later I’m calling Shannon’s Bill Ramos to set up a sea trial. “Come on over, we’ll get you on board,” responds Bill.

Upon my first inspection in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, I find the 46 to be more conventional than the Shannon 38 SRD launched 10 years ago. This fact alone ignites my curiosity. In many ways, the 38 is more interesting than the 46—more stuff to look at—but its aesthetics require a person to have a penchant for the details. The 46 is a much cleaner design—and I think more universally appealing—but it needs a dark hull to flatter her lines. (Hull number one was painted navy blue shortly after these photos were taken.)

The superstructure is practical and provides a lot of useful space in the pilothouse, but in my opinion the curvature at its after end doesn’t get on well with the angle of the reverse transom. A simple vertical line on the back of the house would make the boat look better from direct profile through port or starboard quarter views.

What do I like most about the Defiance 46? A whole hell of a lot. First of all, I will argue that bluewater sailors like Walter build darn good powerboats, especially when those boats, like the 46, are intended to cruise beyond the marina. 

Fiddles are deep, stowage is abundant, and the two-stateroom layout is practical and designed to live in while underway. Corners are round and shaped to avoid a sharp jab to the gut, or worse, slicing the heads of youngsters. There’s plenty of ventilation thanks to overhead hatches and stainless steel opening ports. The side decks are wide, easy to get around, and flanked by sturdy safety rails. These missing standards are all elements of good ole boatbuilding practices that have evaporated over the years as designers rely more on AutoCAD and focus groups than deep-rooted boatbuilding and cruising experience. 

Walter relies on 40-plus years of boatbuilding knowledge. He launched his first 38 sailboat in 1975 at the Annapolis Sailboat Show. “That first boat recently circumnavigated,” he recalls like a proud father. A character like Walter is a fleeting commodity today. He is builder, designer, inventor, resident tinkerer, and the creative force behind the brand. He’s interesting, darn opinionated, some may say slightly egotistical, and just the type of individual I would want to have build my boat. 

One subject on which Walter offers unrestrained opinion is hull design. “My God, a lot of boats have the same bottoms as the boats that I saw walking around the New York Boat Show as a kid. Are you kidding me?! My objective was for a hull design to be efficient throughout the speed curve,” says Schulz as we sea trial the 46. “This is based on my SRD hull from 2003. The hull is a combination of four shapes, with a reverse deadrise in the aftermost 10 feet. Look back there. There is no wake. Wake is fuel burn. It’s just wasted energy.”

The SRD acronym stands for Schulz Reverse Deadrise and begins with a fine entry forward that transitions to a twist at the mid-section which enhances the hydrodynamic flow toward the after concave sections providing lift when more throttle is applied. It’s essentially a semi-displacement hull similar to that of a lobster boat, but instead of ending with a flat (or very shallow V-shape) at the transom, the design features a hollow area (shallow dome). It provides lift at higher speeds and lateral stability from rest to maximum speed. 

Our power package proves that, although at first glance I find the profile conventional, there’s nothing conventional about Walter Schulz and what’s going on below the waterline. A 600-horspower Cummins diesel on the centerline is coupled to a four-bladed propeller. Sounds pretty routine, right? Schulz then installed a second engine—a 200-horsepower Cummins that powers two saildrive units via hydraulics. Are you with me so far? If you look at the 46 below the waterline you will see three propellers tucked about twelve inches above the foot of the keel. 

With this three-propeller, two engine option, you can run the 46 several different ways. While docking, you simply operate the saildrives—which are abaft the main prop and to each side—like any twin-engine boat. She was a breeze to maneuver in close quarters and we spun the boat almost in her own boat length. Our thruster was left untouched.

“Going down the Intracoastal Waterway you can just run on these sail drives and you get serious fuel economy,” says Walter. In fact our test reveals almost two miles per gallon at a speed of 8.9 knots and 80 percent load on the smaller Cummins. This represents a darn nice way to travel anytime added range is necessary or desired, and is better for the health of the larger engine as well. (Several engine options are offered, including a single or twins.)

Running on the single centerline 600-horspower alone, with the props on the saildrives folded, a top speed of 20 knots is effortless. In fact, the 46 operates efficiently throughout the speed curve. 

Belowdecks, I find myself running my hands over the joinery looking for a flaw that never appears. Shannon remains a boutique custom yard and thus offers several interior layouts. Hull number one places the master stateroom forward with an amidships guest stateroom and a shared head. The down galley incorporates refreshing details that harken to Shannon’s sailing pedigree, such as a single propane burner that complements the two burner electric stove tucked under a Corian cover. Double sinks are a nice touch as well. And I almost weep with joy when I see that the drawers throughout the boat are equipped with standard handles versus those bloody push-button pulls that only require maintenance, and inevitably are not pushed in properly. (A mistake soon discovered while heading out of an inlet when your silverware takes flight.)

The saloon and helm are large and benefit from an opening skylight hatch, a side door on the starboard side, and double opening doors to the large cockpit. Engine-room access is beneath the cabin sole. I’m not really sure how you could improve this interior.

Shannon offers a flying bridge option and the hardtop over the cockpit you see here is also an option. 

Heading back to the boatyard I ask Walter why he named his latest line of boats Defiance. I expect his response to touch on the fact that after all these years he’s still in Bristol, Rhode Island, building boats while others have long since closed shop or some similar bravado- fueled rant. I’m dead-ass wrong.

“It’s in defiance to the conventional wisdom among some that powerboats don’t go anywhere,” he says. “That’s why.” 

I’m glad there is still a builder like Walter. A contrarian? Yes. A visionary? You bet. And when that combination produces a fine cruising boat like the 46 it is impossible to disagree with him.

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This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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