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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Sunseeker Predator 108

The day began plainly enough. I met for coffee with Sunseeker's Hannah Braithwaite-Smith at the British builder's Pompano Beach outpost, Sunseeker USA. We started with the usual pleasantries, and soon transitioned into some generalities about the Sunseeker Predator 108, the big, Arneson drive-powered, performance-type motoryacht I'd soon be sea trialing in the nearby Atlantic. We talked about how the vessel was built to Italian classification society RINA's 100 A-1 specifications, how she's available in twin straight-inboard and triple-Arneson versions, and how there are two basic layouts.

Ultimately though, Braithwaite-Smith tossed a rather tantalizing comment. "The boat is rather fast, you know," she said mildly, while pouring me a second cup.

I gave her an inquisitorial look. "Oh," she responded, again quite mildly, "I should think we'll see close to 40 knots out there today, which is quite good, actually, for a yacht weighing 84 tons half-load."

Eighty-four tons half-load? Forty knots?

Thanks to both a 50-hp hydraulic bow thruster and a 50-hp stern thruster, the skipper of the 108 had little trouble extracting the big motoryacht from a cramped berth alongside Sunseeker USA's showroom. Traffic wasn't bad en route to Hillsborough Inlet, which was great. I was "eat up with curiosity," as we say in the South.

The ocean was a tad rough when we got there. Seas were short and cresting at four to six feet. I unboxed my Stalker radar gun, calibrated it with a tuning fork, and began recording data that was exciting from the get-go, particularly when you consider the washboardy sea state and the fact that our 6,000-hp powerplant, while undeniably enormous, was the standard, triple-engine Arneson ASD 16 package.

Average top speed? Right in line with what Braithwaite-Smith predicted—44.9 mph or exactly 39 knots. While this figure was certainly heart throbby from the standpoints of both hull form and propulsion engineering, it was mindboggling in terms of actual practice.

Think about it. Eighty-four tons is roughly equivalent to the combined weight of 42 Rolls-Royce Silver Clouds. Imagine what it's like firing up 42 of those babies—simultaneously! While sitting in a comfy Besenzoni helm chair. One hand on a carbon-fiber wheel, the other on a set of MTU electronic engine controls. And accelerating from dead-idle to a velocity of 44.9 mph in just under one blistering minute!

I loved it! Not only were the sensations of raw power and juggernaut poetically intense, the visceral reactions I enjoyed while simply carving turns felt almost transcendental, especially after I'd discovered that the push-button moonroof over my head could be zipped back for a breath of fresh, salty air. Moreover, visibility was excellent. Thanks to the stern lift that the surface-piercing props produce, the running attitudes I measured were steady and superlative. I could see over the bow at all times. And was the ride smooth and dry! When we aimed back towards the inlet, there was hardly a drop of moisture on the windshield.

Of course, even a cursory glance at the fuel-burn numbers I recorded during our sea trial will serve to convince just about anybody that the 108 is not, nor was it designed to be, a practical vessel. And once our captain had returned us to our berth and I'd had some time to poke around, confirmation of this truth was evident just about everywhere. Pure, luxurious fun is the 108's raison d'etre, not parsimionious practicality.

Consider the saloon/helm area. Gorgeous? Sure. Gorgeously finished. But sensible? Ho-hum? No way, Jose! The first time I stepped into the place, the unabashed height of the ceiling amazed me almost as much as the moonroof. Niceties included a dumbwaiter from the galley below; a lofty helm area forward with four identical and convivial Besenzoni helm chairs; a top-shelf Linn home-theater system with hard-disc music library and 42-inch retractable LCD TV; a dining table with place settings for eight; and easy sliding-door access to a BBQ in the cockpit. We're talkin' party-time here, folks. With starlight overhead!

Now consider the accommodation spaces below decks. Niceties here included granite countertops and flooring in each of the four en suite heads; more Linn entertainment equipage; satin cherry joinery throughout; a full galley that adjoins the crew's quarters and communicates with the saloon/dining/helm area above via a dedicated staircase, in addition to the dumbwaiter; and a full-beam, amidships master that won't quit. Whether an owner opts for the "master-stateroom version" of the 108 or our test boat's "master-suite version" (with adjoining lobby), I don't think there's a hotel in the world that can compare for pure, kick-back fun and enjoyment.

And finally, consider the machinery spaces, accessed through a hatch in the cockpit. Let's face it--squeezing three hulking, 2,000-hp MTUs into an engine room that ain't that large is a long haul from practical. More to the point, when I got my first glimpse of our ER, I found it tough to immediately locate major components, there being so many ancillaries (from emergency-engine-shutdown-equipped fans to duplex Racor fuel-water separators) in the way. The reality of the situation is this, however: Owners of such vessels as our 108 buy their boats to enjoy them, not spend time crawling around engine rooms slam-full of machinery.

My take on Braithwaite-Smith's Predator 108? Expansive? Stylish? Finely fitted and finished? Most assuredly on each and every count. But also, that the young Braithwaite-Smith was absolutely right—the 108 is indeed "rather fast," and what's more, she's more fun than a barrel of PMYs.

Sunseeker USA
(954) 765-1234

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