— By Capt. Ken Kreisler
— March 2003
Ahead of the Pack
|Tweak a proven hull, add two big diesels, and this 54-foot convertible is ready to tear it up with the big dogs.|
For those of you unfamiliar with the beginnings of Hatteras Yachts, let me give you the quick skinny on how it all began. As the story goes, on a particularly snotty day in May 1959, Hatteras founder Willis Slane was not at all happy to be sitting and staring out at the roiling ocean from the windows of the Hatteras Marlin Club in Hatteras, North Carolina.
The majority of the wooden sportfishermen of the time didn't handle the unpredictable in- and offshore waters of North Carolina all that well, so Slane set out to build a boat out of fiberglass, the upstart new material that was beginning to garner the attention of the boatbuilding world. Four months later, with the financial backing of several friends, he opened up a plant in High Point, North Carolina, and with the help of young naval architect Jack Hargrave, a knowledgeable fiberglasser, and a gang of skilled boatbuilders, built Knit Wits, a 41-foot sportfisherman that was launched on March 22, 1960, thus beginning a heritage of deep-water, horizon-chasing battlewagons of which the 54 Convertible is the latest.
I first met up with the 54 at last year's Miami International Boat Show where she was being previewed. During subsequent visits, I got the opportunity to sit down with Hatteras captain Terry Stansel and discuss how this boat was conceived. "We started out with a wish list of what we wanted to fit inside, including lots of stowage, suitable quarters for crew if necessary, and a workable engine room space and drew the boat around that," he said.
To say that Stansel is familiar with the 54 would be an understatement. Besides being a member of the Hatteras Design Team, for about ten months out of the year, he and wife Bonnie call the 54 Hatterascal home, traveling the big-fish tourney and boat show circuits and also providing prospective owners with demo sea trials.
"Fortunately we had some guys at our New Bern, North Carolina, plant that were quite familiar with custom boats and used them to bring some new features to the 54 without altering the basic Hatteras layout. Some things you just don't mess with," he said, as we continued the conversation. He went on to tell me that the conception and building process was not just limited to the Hatteras Design Team. To make sure they were on the right track with this boat, Stansel and company also sought input from many of their dealers regarding what their customers wanted.
The new features Stansel referred to begin on the outside. While she's unmistakably a Hatteras, the 54 comes at you with a sleeker profile that has more of a rake to the sheer and flare to the bow than previous Hatteras convertibles. Large, elliptical, frameless, smoked-glass windows add to the new look, and there have been changes below the waterline, as well. According to Bruce Angel, Hatteras' vice president of product development and design engineering, the 54's running bottom is convex from the keel to the chine to help reduce impact accelerations while contributing to a smooth head-sea ride and minimizing broaching. "We also put in tooled-in spray rails, two per side, to cut down on the spray usually associated with a heavy boat," he said.
Like most boats of her breed, the 54's deadrise diminishes as you go aft to increase lift, improve low-speed handling, and increase transverse stability while on plane. But Hatteras' version is different. "We call it a twisted bottom," Angel said. "It varies from 20 degrees at amidships to about two degrees at the transom." The 54 also has prop tunnels to reduce shaft angle, so the boat draws only 4'2", which comes in handy, especially in the Bahamas, Keys, and on the west coast of Florida. "I've been in places with this boat at dead low tide where in the past I'd never been able to bring in a deep-draft boat," recounts Stansel. He also sees this design feature as an idea whose time has come for Hatteras. "I think we've got our 60 at just about 5'1" now, " he says.
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.