The day got off to a rousing start, nutritionally speaking. Photographer Jim Raycroft picked me up at Fort Lauderdale International, and we headed for Billfish Marina by way of Lester's Diner on State Road 84, a decent place to grab a fast breakfast and talk over your plans for the day.
"What we're lookin' at," I said, once I'd ordered two eggs scrambled, pancakes, bacon, sausage, home fries, toast, orange juice, and black coffee, "is a boat test that's also a boat ride-we're gonna hop on the Jefferson 82 Starship Pilothouse at Billfish, ride 'er up to West Palm with the 78-year-old founder of Jefferson Yachts, Leon Shaw, and do a little testing on the way. Then back to Lauderdale by rental car. And I catch my plane at 6 o'clock. Sound realistic?"
"No, not really," Raycroft replied as yet another waitress with a beehive hairdo whisked past. "And by the way, whatever happened to the South Beach Diet you were doin'?"
"I quit," I said. "Not enough carbohydrates and sugar to hold my interest."
We got to Billfish about 10 o'clock, which in itself was not surprising. After all, breakfast hadn't taken that long. What was surprising, however, given my expectations of making the trip to West Palm with only Shaw, was all the guys who showed up at the same time. One-time boat-buying customers who'd morphed into a gang of cruising buddies over the decades, they were from various parts of the country, white-haired and venerable, and sea-savvy to a man. While we all worked to secure a collapsible boarding ladder in the cockpit, I counted six of them.
One more unexpected detail's well worth mentioning: Billfish Marina was a veritable miasma of overstuffed twistiness that morning. More to the point, in the curvier stretches of the main fairway, it was obvious that some of the larger motoryachts on the premises were protruding so dramatically that a departing vessel of the 82's size was going to have to stop after easing her stern clear of one bow, sidle sideways, reposition herself to clear another bow dead ahead, proceed gingerly, and then repeat the whole process just a few hundred yards farther on. And what's more, the current was rippin'. Swirling waters climbed the upstream side of the pilings with such urgency, I wondered how we were gonna safely leave without crunching something.
My worries were for naught. Shaw undocked the 82 and proceeded on down the fairway with the sort of calm, unhurried style that only tons of hands-on boat-handling experience and nearly 50 years in the boat biz can bestow. Not that the man didn't have a little help, though.
The 82 dodged and feinted through the marina with balletic delicacy, sliding sideways or catty-corner whenever she had to, thanks to the seemingly inexhaustible oomph that only a matched pair of 40-hp Wesmar hydraulic thrusters, bow and stern, can provide. Additionally, her maneuvering responses were virtually instantaneous. All Shaw had to do was enjoy the Cruisair air conditioning in the skylounge, occasionally engage the 82's MTU electronic engine controls (see "Gear Onboard," this story), and/or briefly manipulate her two Wesmar joysticks, and she'd react in less time than it took for him to stifle a yawn.
I ran the boat for about half the open-water trip to West Palm and came away relaxed, even energized. There were numerous reasons for this perhaps, but the steering system was one of the biggies. Because the 82 is equipped with Hynautic hydraulics as well as Hynautic power assist off the port engine, her big, destroyer wheels at the upper and lower helm stations move with buttery ease. Add such a virtue to a long-keeled hull form designed by Tommaso Spadolini, and you've got a course-holding, true-tracking passagemaker on your hands, going up-sea, down-sea, or side-sea, and to heck with the autopilot!
Another biggie was seating. Shaw installs leather-upholstered Stidd helm chairs with a baked-on, powder-coated, color-coordinated finish in both the 82's skylounge and pilothouse. They are adjustable in all sorts of ways besides the plain ol' up and down and forward and back, and they also offer rubber-buffered footrests as well as cup holders and accessory trays. If you can't relax in one of these babies, dial up a psychotherapist!
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