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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Jefferson 52 Pilothouse SE

It was breezy. Here and there, I could see wind gusts ruffling what little open water there was at Fort Lauderdale's boat-chocked Billfish Marina. On the plus side of the close-quarters maneuvering equation, there wasn't much current. As Alan Schmitz, dealer support guy for Jefferson Yachts' Billfish-based facility, began casting lines off our 52-foot Pilothouse SE (Jefferson's using SE, or Special Edition, to denote boats being built in mainland China rather than Taiwan these days), I detected little or no movement of the yacht from my spot on the flying bridge. She just sat there.

Visibility from the upper helm was good. Whether leaning over the flying-bridge cowling or taking a few steps aft towards the boat deck, I could easily keep tabs on Schmitz's progress. "Good to go," he grinned once he'd finished hanging the last line on an upwind piling. Having kicked the bow to port with the starboard engine to put Schmitz near the piling, I recentered the boat in her slip with a pulse from the port main and then clutched ahead on both diesels.

For true boathandling fun, nothing beats a combination of great visibility, plenty of low-end, twin-screw propeller torque, and a set of fine engine controls. Ours were split mechanical SRs from Teleflex Morse—in my book, some of the sturdiest, smoothest mechanicals on the market today.

The trip down the New River to Port Everglades and beyond proved just as endearing. In two narrow, twisty places, one known locally as "The Wiggles" and the other as "Little Florida," the boat behaved with mannerly elegance. In the first location, I had to ease backwards a boat length or so to accommodate a large, inbound motoryacht, an exercise smoothed out by our boat's wind-resistant heft and torquey maneuverability, but also by her modest but effective keel. In the second location, I had to turn a bend so tight I swear I caught sight of our swim platform dead ahead, a phenomenon facilitated by some big, strapping, stainless steel rudders.

The rudders also did us proud out in the open Atlantic. For starters, our 52 tracked steadfastly in the light conditions prevailing at the time, whether I was going upsea, downsea, or sidesea. Then too, the test boat's turning radius was tight, a virtue partly attributable to a nicely balanced, bow-up running attitude, but also to rudders positioned and installed for maximum effectiveness. And finally, during a simulated mechanical breakdown, the 52 kept right on truckin' on just one engine. At 1750 rpm, for example, I recorded a speed of 11.2 mph and at 2600 rpm a speed of 13.4 mph, regardless of whether the starboard main was shut down or the port. Moreover, in both cases, I could easily steer to starboard or port.

Speed with mains at full chat was reasonable: top end averaged 25 mph. By pulling 'er back a bit, I began seeing the economies inherent in a modest set of electronically inspired 460-hp Cummins MerCruiser 480C-Es and a sleek, trawlerish hull form. At 1750 rpm I recorded an average speed of 14 mph, a burn efficiency of .88 nautical miles per gallon, and a range of 540 nautical miles.

Because the run back up the New River to Billfish was a long one, I turned the helm over to Schmitz after the sea trial and toured the interior. The experience was a heartwarming one. Not only was the two-stateroom, two-head layout an expansive one, the complement of standards therein was complete. You name it—Sharp Aquos flat-panel TVs in staterooms and saloon; a well-stocked lower helm station with decent visibility aft for safe docking from the pilothouse; high-end equipage in the galley (like undercounter Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer units); a Splendide washer/dryer in a designated alcove; panels for a 15-kW genset and a 36,000-Btu air conditioner—everything was standard.

Shortly after helping Schmitz safely return our 52 to her slip, I hit the engine room, which was just as scrupulously outfitted as the interior. Order prevailed. The mains were situated forward, with two sight-gauge-equipped welded-aluminum fuel tanks outboard and two more well aft. Other components here included two stainless steel water tanks, four 8D batteries (two starters and two house types) in fiberglass boxes with strapped lids, a big, 20-gallon water heater, and an X-Changer oil-change system.

Accessing the engine room was easy, incidentally. I'd first lifted a cockpit hatch and stepped down into a lazarette containing, among other things, three Cruisair condensing units, Capilano steering hydraulics, a Glendinning Cablemaster, and a Bennett trim tab pump/reservoir. Then I'd merely opened a small door in the ER's aft firewall and gone in. Headroom over the diamond-plate walkway was approximately four feet, walls and bulkheads were covered with sound-attenuating, perforated-aluminum paneling, and there was evidence of robust construction. Jefferson uses solid-glass laminates in the 52's hull, with a vinylester barrier and ISO-NPG gelcoat to resist osmosis. Stringers, transversals, and a lattice of wrist-thick, hull-side-strenthening ribs are cored with closed-cell foam and the rest of the boat, including decks, superstructure, and bulkheads, is cored with NidaCore to add strength and cut weight.

Thanks to the heat radiating from our diesels, I emerged from the ER with a flushed face and a sweat-soaked T-shirt, but with an enthusiastic smile, too, a fact that seemed to impress Schmitz. "You love boats don't ya, Bill?" he asked, shaking his head in wonderment.

But hey! Not only is the Jefferson 52 Pilothouse SE a solid, sensible performer, whether dockside, offshore, or cruising down a river, she's turnkey-equipped. Toss in a modest retail price ($735,800), which has as much to do with standardization as it does with the cost-cutting realities of boatbuilding in China these days, and I ask you—what's not to like?

Jefferson Yachts
(812) 282-8111

This article originally appeared in the July 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.