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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Nordlund Xpress LT 57

The spot where I found the Nordlund Xpress LT 57 appealed to me about as much as the vessel herself. She was tied alongside a pier on the Hylebos Waterway, just behind Nordlund's custom yacht-building facility. The Hylebos cuts through a hardscrabble slice of waterfront on the northern fringe of the Port of Tacoma, Washington, a vast maze of container terminals, concrete plants, grain elevators, and ramshackle marinas.

I love such places. Always have.

I stopped for a moment, first to check the strength of the ebb and then to give the 57 an appraising look: A classic express type with all accommodations below, she virtually glowed with elegant simplicity. No whipped-cream profile here, I noted. And no swoopy side windows. Except for a little tumblehome aft and some curves along the leading edges of the superstructure, she was all long lines and angles. Even her sheerline was virtually straight.

"Morning," said a salty, white-haired guy at the boarding gate. "I'm the owner, Robert Mann." Within minutes Mann and I'd loaded the PMY test gear onboard, sized each other up, and jumped into a discussion of the thinking behind the 57's creation, a project requiring the combined talents of naval architect Ed Monk, Jr., GRP structural engineer Tim Nolan, fluid-dynamics specialist Ed Hagemann, the tank-testing experts at British Columbia's Vizon Technical Center, and, of course, the Nordlund folks.

Mann's approach had been basic. By capitalizing upon 40 years of experience cruising and racing high-tech composite, ocean-sailing yachts, he'd hoped to produce a modern, lightweight (hence the LT in her designation) powerboat with good performance. He'd wanted a sporty top speed, seaworthiness under coastal-cruising conditions, and exceptional comfort. "A big part of the comfort thing comes from keeping the boat smooth and quiet," he said, while leading the way down a superbly crafted Oregon cherry stairway communicating between the wheelhouse and the saloon. He achieved this primarily by using V-drives to push the engines as far aft as possible, an approach that helps produce well-balanced, nose-up running attitudes as well as reduce sound levels in the wheelhouse and accommodation spaces.

We began by examining the two-stateroom, two-head layout below decks, a roomy arrangement that featured furniture custom-made in San Francisco and upholstered with Belgian fabrics, top-end commercial-grade appliances in the galley, and a big skylight brightening the saloon. What was more edifying, however, was the utility area I explored under a hatch in the saloon. In addition to scrupulously installed copper and PVC plumbing runs here, slice-of-bread-thick welded-aluminum tanks on either side of a centerline crawl space, and a massive Freeman watertight hatch in the forward bulkhead (accessing one of six bilge pump-equipped watertight compartments), I was able to get a first-hand look at the essence of the 57: strong but lightweight construction. The framing system was of the longitudinal type seen in airplanes, only with bulkheads doing double duty as web frames to cut weight. Hull stiffeners supported large, exceptionally rigid, cored-fiberglass panels overhead, nixing the need for heavy beams and carlines under the cabin sole. And of course there were the smooth surfaces that I could see between the hull stiffeners. The entirety of the 57 is cored with either Airex or Corecell foam and laid up with state-of-the-art resin-infusion techniques, two more serious weight-saving strategies.

Getting underway was effortless. We simply tossed our lines, idled out of the slip, did a twin-screw pirouette to sidestep a cement barge (with an assist from a powerful, PTO-driven American Bow Thruster hydraulic bow thruster), and departed the port doing 5.3 knots while hardly ruffling the water. The sense of maneuvering playfulness engendered at the helm was immense, thanks to a set of huge, cast-urethane rudders, all-around visibility from the centerline steering station in the wheelhouse, plenty of raw horsepower, and Monk's straightforward, pilotboat-like running surface.

The average top end recorded while crisscrossing Puget Sound's Commencement Bay was 31.2 mph, a fine turn of speed. Cornering was tighter than I'd expected from an inboard (turning diameter at speed was maybe five or six boat lengths), and tracking was steady. And operating the boat was dead simple because, in accordance with Mann's wishes, there were no trim tabs to fool with. "Tabs add complexity and add weight," Mann opined as I swung us through a set of swooping S-turns, "and they're too often used to address balance problems."

Certainly I detected none of this with the 57. To the contrary, running attitudes maxed out at 3.5 degrees, an optimum angle of attack for a high-speed planing vessel and attributable to the slight, stern lift-producing down-angle of Hagemann's tunnels as well as the sweetly balanced precision with which the longitudunal center of gravity was positioned via Nordlund's carefully controlled, time-tested resin-infusion methods. My only complaint? Forgoing the installation of tabs nixes the capability to adjust for crosswind-induced lists when running in open water.

Back at the dock, I scrutinized one final area: the engine room. Accessed via a watertight door secured with a big wheel and mounted flush with the cockpit sole, it was a thing of beauty. Duplex Racors and other ancillaries were secured to thick aluminum mounting plates, there were big Rexroth PTO units on both engines to energize the bow thruster and Trac stabilizers, a robust Reverso electric fuel pump promised fuel-filter changes without air-lock problems, and the obsessively labeled, schematic way everything was laid out made the whole place patently understandable.

"My kind of boat," I concluded as Mann and I finished up. And indeed, Nordlund's Xpress LT 57 is just the sort of vessel I tend to admire without reservation. A joy to operate, beautifully engineered, and reasonably swift thanks to modern, featherweight construction techniques.

For more information on Nordlund Boat Company, including contact information, click here.

Our boat's steering system functioned via a simple wheel-activated pump, much like those used on smaller vessels. The number of turns from lock to lock was roughly six, meaning some fairly serious spinning of the wheel was necessary to effect hard-over cornering. There's a virtue here, though. Six turns constitutes a rather happy medium, according to the engineering folks at Nordlund. Going with more turns means making the vessel a serious chore to steer by hand, with lots of cranking right and left. Going with fewer turns means making the vessel jumpy or over-sensitive to her helm. In either case, a slight reduction in tracking precision results due to a tendency to understeer in the former instance and oversteer in the latter. Sure, our 57 couldn't corner with the edgy agility of a speedboat that had just three or four turns lock to lock, but being a long-distance, straight-shot crusing vessel, she really doesn't need to. And frankly, I noticed that her middle-of-the-road six-turn setting was both forgiving enough and sensitive enough to allow a skipper to kick back in the helm chair and comfortably steer with his feet!—B.P.

This article originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.