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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Sparkman & Stephens 65

For some people the end of the rainbow leads to gold, but for the owner of the custom-built, Sparkman & Stephens-designed, 65-foot cruiser I recently tested, the end of the rainbow leads to the next horizon, and the next, and perhaps even one or two more. And if you’re a serious cruiser like this vessel’s owner, that kind of gold is priceless.

This stately, semidisplacement, two-years-in-the-making craft displayed a go-anywhere, do-anything presence as I gazed at her traditional Downeast-inspired profile behind the house in South Florida where she was moored. Her name, Predacious, is equally fitting, for while she won’t be trolling the deep for big game, her owner says she’ll certainly be wintering in the Bahamas, searching for that perfect place for his family and him to drop the hook and do some snorkeling. And that kind of voyaging will be a lot easier thanks to the 65’s relatively low draft (5'0" at full load), compliments of efficient prop pockets.

That hull design is supported by a relatively light but sturdy build by New England Boatworks (NEB), a highly touted yard with experience in building everything from America’s Cup contenders to luxurious yachts out of lightweight materials. The 65’s hull is made of vacuum-bagged CoreCell linear foam core, quadraxial E-glass, and epoxy resin. In addition, NEB added three cored-fiberglass watertight bulkheads and a watertight door leading into the engine room. While not built to class, Predacious is said to exceed American Bureau of Shipping standards. Suffice to say this boat is ready for any type of cruising.

And while she came in with an 86,000-pound displacement (light ship), this vessel can get up and go. Powered by twin 1,550-hp C30 Caterpillar diesels, she simply rose on plane—with no notable bow rise, taking off for the deep with the speed and agility of a cheetah.

Now, I grew up on my Dad’s semidisplacement Downeaster—yes he still has her, and I’m 36—and if that boat made a 15-knot cruise, it was high-fives all around the cockpit. So I looked in disbelief as my radar gun eventually displayed an average top speed of 41 mph at the engines’ rated rpm of 2300. Backing the Cats down to 2000 rpm produced an average cruise speed of 35.6 mph. Taking into account the heavy-duty ZF transmission with a deep 2.46:1 gear reduction and water-chomping, 41x48, five-blade ZF wheels, I concluded this is one formidable and fast piece of nautical technology. Even at WOT the engines weren’t at 100-percent load, and I suspect the owner will be able to increase those speed figures by adding a little more pitch.

Regardless, those Cats do eat some diesel at WOT, about 160 gph according to the Marine Power Display (MPD) readouts at the helm. But Predacious is equipped with 2,000 gallons of fuel, so if her owner feels like shooting across the ‘Stream, up the ICW to the family’s summer home in New York, or perhaps even work his way around to the Gulf to Mexico, it’s doable. At cruise speed, we’re talking 559 nautical miles before a fill up. Dial the diesels back to about 20 knots, or 23.6 mph, and range is nearly 700 nautical miles.

I was impressed with her speed and range, but the 65's handling was equally outstanding. Power-assisted Hynautic hydraulic steering enabled me to turn the 65 like a professional skater making figure-eights—although my figure-eights were done at about 37 mph. Predacious maneuvered like a boat half her size, with the rudders reacting instantly to the movement of the wheel. Such active boat handling is encouraged by clean views ahead through the three four-foot-high glass panels and a trim angle that never rose above 3.5 degrees. I did note that at higher speeds the bow tended to slightly rise and fall, and I wondered if her center of balance needed to be shifted a bit forward to keep her running level at these speeds. Greg Matzat, chief naval architect for Sparkman & Stephens, agreed she might be a little light forward or even a bit heavier aft, perhaps due at least partly to the way her owner loaded her. However, a little tab dropped her bow and allowed her fine foresections to do their work in a seaway. Adding to her stability as her fuel load varies is the fact that her three fuel tanks (one 800-gallon and two 600-gallon) are over her center of gravity.

Finishing up my wheel time was tough, as the flat-calm conditions on Biscayne Bay were conducive for all-day, high-speed cruising. But all good things must come to end, so I turned the wheel back over to the owner and gazed at the openness of the saloon with its abundant, seamlessly grain-matched cherry in both high-gloss and satin finish, accented by the granite in the U-shape galley. The modern Miele appliances, Raymarine E120 displays, and quiet electronic diesels reminded me it was 2006, but the wood's warmth and varnished dorade boxes on the trunk cabin transported me back to that Downeaster I grew up on. This day on the water took me to the end of my own rainbow: my on-the-water childhood. And if one day aboard could have that effect on me, I can only imagine what awaits the owners of this one-of-a-kind cruiser.

For more information on Sparkman & Stephens, including contact information, click here.

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

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