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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Sessa C52

They weren’t in a hurry or anything, but as I trundled my bag along the concrete quay toward the boat, I could tell not only that had I been spotted, but also that the engines were already running. Fresh from the airport, I was returning to Cannes, France, the day after the boat show closed, to join Sessa’s C52 for part of her return trip to Italy. However, I would only be riding along on part of the trip because another show was about to start, in Monaco. I had booked myself into a hotel just along the coast at Menton, near the French-Italian border. The Sessa was my taxi.

Lines were cast off, and Francesco, the captain, was conning our ship out of the harbor before I had even unpacked the test gear. After the rigors of early-morning air travel, I was as ready as anyone to get on the water, for it was a clear-blue autumn day with the azure Mediterranean at its most alluring, and I had spent a good couple of hours the previous week investigating the boat’s every nook and cranny with a tape measure and notebook. All that remained was to take her to sea.

It was an enticing prospect. This area is one of Europe’s classic and classiest cruising grounds. The French Riviera was put firmly on the post-war yachting map by the likes of Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos, whose sybaritic rivalries occasionally strayed towards the bizarre—whale scrotum bar stools, anyone? —while Brigitte Bardot, sunning herself aboard her Riva off St. Tropez, also did wonders for the area’s image. It’s only about 65 nautical miles from the Iles d’Hyres to the Italian border, but the roll of honor reads like a gazetteer of posh yachting: St. Raphael, Antibes, Cap Ferrat, Villefranche, Beaulieu, and of course, Monaco.

The interior of the C52 is an altogether more tasteful confection than either of those infamous Greeks would have appreciated. Sessa offers a choice of styles, which gives you the option of a chic and modern interior or a warm and traditional one—or, of course, a combination of the two. The paneling can be of white lacquer or natural oak and the upholstery white or beige leather. The galley surfaces can be brushed stainless steel, as on my test model, or nut-brown marble, while silk fabrics in the staterooms can be in either yellows and creams or fiery reds and browns.

The flagship of the company’s range, Sessa’s C52 is a well-thought-out three-cabin boat with two heads, an en suite for the master cabin in the forepeak and a second one amidships, semi-en suite with the port guest cabin. The accommodation below decks is arranged around a central saloon and galley area, with a large dinette on the starboard side and the galley to port. The folding table is an elegantly simple oak double-leaf design with a nested pair of upholstered stools stowed underneath and held in place by a sort of elasticated leather garter—using these, you could comfortably seat six or maybe more. The galley is short, straight, and simple, with both high and low cabinets, a single sink, and a central fridge below the worktop.

Up forward, the owner’s cabin is a relatively palatial affair. I had three fingers’ clearance over my head, or around 6'2” headroom, plus there was a queen-size central berth and a head to starboard with a circular shower stall. The owner is clearly expected to go cruising, with plenty of stowage provided: a 40-inch-wide, double-fronted wardrobe on the port side, a smaller one opposite, and three big drawers under the foot of the bed.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of stowage for the guests. Neither the double cabin to port nor the twin on the starboard side has enough locker space for more than a weekend away, with just a smallish hanging locker apiece and some shelves. The cabins themselves are fine, however—reasonably spacious, and with marginally better headroom in the standing areas than the master. If you have guests of different sizes, it might be worth remembering that the berths are slightly lower in the starboard cabin and so have more sitting headroom.

Of course the focus aboard the C52 is the cockpit, and it excels. Essential to its success is the upper galley, complete with two-burner cooktop, U-shape counter area, and 4.6-cubic-foot ,fridge. It might seem an extravagance, but with seating for six at the dinette and a three-person sunbed aft, it makes perfect sense. With the sliding hardtop open or closed, it is a comfortable and sociable place to prepare a meal, in touch with both the helm area and the big oval dinette. One of the boat’s hidden extras reveals itself at the push of a switch: a TV that appears from behind the starboard sofa.

The helm position is a model of common sense and practicality. The seats are adjustable and comfortable whether you sit or stand, and visibility all around is unusually good for a hardtop sport cruiser. The instrumentation layout is simple and clean, and the beautiful wheel (also adjustable) is as easy on the hands as it is on the eyes. Best of all, the moldings under the windscreen are dark brown, to minimize reflections. It’s clear that as much thought has gone into the driver’s environment as everybody else’s.

With twin 675-hp Volvo Penta D12s on straight shafts, the C52 is no slouch. We cleared the boat show traffic in the Baie de Cannes and opened up the throttles as the Iles des Lrins sped past to starboard. It was a beautiful day, and with no seas to speak of, we had to make our own entertainment.

Acceleration was fair, at just more than 29 seconds to 25 knots (29 mph) and top speed a respectable 30.8 knots (35.4 mph), although our test boat was only managing 2200 revs, about 100 less than the engine’s rated maximum. The modified-V hull retained its poise in full-lock turns, refused to slam when we caught up with our own wake, coped well with the wall-like wash trailing behind a 100-footer, and loped effortlessly across the residual swell that we found out in open water. The power-assisted hydraulic steering was light and responsive, with three turns lock to lock, making the C52 feel taut and capable, an enjoyable drive. Sound levels were on the high side, however: perhaps a little more insulation wouldn’t go amiss.

With numbers safely logged and handling trials enjoyably concluded, I did something I have never done before on a boat test. It might have been the weather, or the location, or the fact that we were going from A to B with not much to do except enjoy the ride, but I decided I’d give the sunbed on the stern a thorough workout. And guess what? It’s great.

The Baie des Anges went by as we sped east, then Nice, and then the tower blocks and cruise liners and conspicuous yachts off Monaco. All too soon we were pulling in to Menton, one of my favorite Mediterranean towns. Built on a hill with commanding views along the coast, it has had various owners over the centuries, including Monaco and Italy, but is now firmly established in the Alpes-Maritimes dpartement and known as “the pearl of France,” famous for its narrow streets and alleyways, its citrus groves, and its mild climate. Nestling under the headland, the old port is for local boats. Francesco took us to the marina at Garavon, just along the beach.

Festooned with baggage, I stepped off the swim platform and onto the concrete quay, in front of a genial and seemingly multilingual harbormaster. I organized my things on the quay, put the camera away, and turned to wave them off, but my taxi was already gone—drawn towards the Italian border as if on elastic. Not that they were in a hurry or anything.

For more information on Sessa Marine, including contact information, click here.

This article originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.