Since its inception, the Island Pilot design team (which hired me as a consultant) has refused to be bound by conventional thinking. The design goals for the original Island Pilot 395 were simple: offer a well-found vessel with distinctive styling and accommodations suited for a cruising couple; deliver express cruiser speeds and trawler-like efficiency; and sell it fully equipped for what others might ask as a base price.
Envisioning its primary customer base to be empty-nesters nearing retirement, the Island Pilot team first designed a boat with a single-stateroom, galley-down layout that featured a big, open saloon and helm station on the main deck. To achieve the seemingly conflicting goals of speed and efficiency, the team opted to use Volvo Penta stern drives, an un-conventional choice for a 40-footer to be sure, but one that offered significant advantages over the ubiquitous angled-shaft inboard propulsion system.
Eighteen months have passed since Hull No. 1 debuted, garnering favorable reactions from the public and press. As of this writing, 18 boats have been delivered, but it was soon apparent that the design appealed not just to empty-nesters, but to families with children as well. Accordingly, the original one-stateroom layout was reconfigured to offer a second stateroom on the lower deck (where the galley had been situated) and to relocate the galley up on the main deck. If done with a heavy hand, these changes could have looked like an afterthought. But the redesign actually improves on the original.
For starters, consistent with Island Pilot's design philosophy, the team decided that the second stateroom should be a multipurpose space. So instead of fixed berths, there's a settee that converts to a double berth. And opposite the settee is a flip-down table top hinged to the bulkhead; flipped down it provides workspace for a laptop, but when raised it reveals a flat-panel TV. So the space can be used as an office, a sitting room, a TV/play area, or a sleeping spot. And if that's not enough, in reallocating space for the two-stateroom layout, Island Pilot managed to add a second head with private access from the master.
The new layout will even appeal to buyers who may not want or need a second stateroom; many simply prefer a galley up. One Island Pilot buyer wanted the galley-up version but had no need for the second stateroom or the second head. What he did want was an onboard office, so space for the second stateroom was enlarged and fitted with a built-in desk, file cabinet, and shelving. Opposite the desk, the settee provides a place to relax and can still convert to a berth for the occasional overnight guest.
During that same year and a half since the first Island Pilot was introduced, Volvo Penta gained traction in the marketplace with its IPS drive. Functionally, IPS and stern drives have several similarities that contribute to their efficiency: They both use counter-rotating propellers mounted horizontally (rather than at an angle like inboard drive) and they both eliminate the appendage drag caused by a rotating shaft, struts, rudders, and the like. Consequently IPS and stern drives deliver similar improvements in performance and efficiency compared to conventional systems. However, with its joystick control, the IPS offers the added benefit of superior maneuverability at slow speed. Always on the hunt to employ the best technology, Island Pilot has tweaked the design once again, this time to accommodate IPS.
The biggest change was to extend the running bottom; with stern drives, the drives themselves mount against the transom, whereas with IPS, the drive units are perpendicular to the bottom of the hull. Moving the transom about 40 inches aft and extending the running bottom by the same amount meant that the engines could be mounted in the same location (directly under the aft deck hatches) in either configuration. As an added benefit, the IPS version offers a full-width swim platform at the stern, increasing the overall length to about 43'6". To distinguish its stern-drive models from those with IPS, the company refers to the former as Island Pilot 395 and to the latter as Island Pilot 435 (corresponding to length overall). Coincidentally, the IPS 600 drives are rated at 435 hp each.
While visiting the builder's yard in Asia recently, I sea trialed the first 435 with IPS 600 drives. It was a memorable experience. Even without a bow thruster, the fly-by-wire joystick control system let me pull the yacht sideways away from the dock then power authoritatively astern into the channel, compensating for the 1-knot current and a stiff cross breeze with just a twist of the joystick. What impressed me the most was how simple it is to use the IPS control system. It's got to be a real confidence-builder, knowing that in minutes even a nonboating spouse or guest could learn to handle the boat confidently if an emergency situation should arise.
Next, I wanted to see how she performed throughout the rpm range. Jamming the throttles wide open, I could feel the bite of the counter-rotating props as the hull shot out of the hole and up on plane. The extended running bottom in the 435 offers a bit more lift aft, so she planes more quickly and with less bow rise than the stern drive version. But more wetted surface means more frictional drag, so top speed was "only" 34 knots (39.1 mph) with the twin 435-hp IPS drives, versus 33 knots (37.5) with twin 350-hp stern drives that we measured 18 months ago on Hull No. 1. But in fairness, the design has gained a few pounds over the past two years (haven't we all?) as the builder continues to upgrade her equipment. And even more significant, despite with her extra weight and longer bottom, the 435 still achieves the same fuel efficiency as the 395, delivering 28 knots (31.2 mph) at 1 nautical mile per gallon.
The original Island Pilot 395 met her design objectives spot on. Now, with a choice of one stateroom or two, galley up or galley down, and either IPS or stern-drive powertrain, she should appeal to an even broader customer base. It'll be interesting to see what this innovative builder comes up with next.
For more information on Island Pilot, including contact information, click here.
This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.