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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Sunseeker 82

It was an unusual situation, but this is a highly unusual boat. We’d run the numbers and logged the speed, fuel, trim, and decibel readings and now were at the fun part of the test: handling. On an 82-foot, 60-ton yacht this isn’t always the fun part—I’ve tested boats this size that couldn’t out-turn the U.S.S. Nimitz—but this was different.

At somewhere between 25 and 30 knots, I cranked the wheel hard to starboard and passed control to the skipper. “Just going below for a second,” I told him. “Keep her on this heading.” Our “heading” was a turn so tight we were in danger of catching ourselves by the tail, but the skipper obliged with a knowing look, and I made my way down to the amidships master cabin. There, just outside the starboard hull windows, was a maelstrom of solid salt spray—no sea, no sky, just a chaotic wall of white water whooshing past the glass as the yacht dug her chine in and hurled herself around the turn, heeling over at an angle that would be considered dramatic in boats half this size. It was exhilarating, hugely silly entertainment, and given the hushed and opulent surroundings, strangely surreal. My brain was unwilling to believe what my eyes were seeing.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Sunseeker is immensely proud of its sporting heritage, and even with a tall, beamy motoryacht as voluminous as the 82, its design team can’t seem to resist reaching back for it. Like a modern Jaguar that has nothing in common with the company’s Le Mans winners of the 1950’s, the name nevertheless sets up expectations: Customers who’d balk at the thought of skirts and spoilers nevertheless want the feeling of willing horsepower and taut handling, reminders of the history they’re buying into.

Sunseeker bought into history when it called in Don Shead in 1979 and started writing its own. This relationship has become one of the industry’s great partnerships. For years Shead has maintained a fully staffed drawing office at Sunseeker. His designers and engineers are completely integrated with Sunseeker’s—the companies are inseparable—and the boatbuilder’s ambition is the perfect foil for the designer’s experience. Megayachts, raceboats, production cruisers, gas turbines, surface drives, waterjets—they do it all. So whether the builder wants a new 37 Sportfish or a 140-foot megayacht, it’s all in a day’s work for the Shead-Sunseeker team. And as for a 60-ton 82 that thinks she’s a sportboat, well, that’s second nature.

Although all owners of a boat like this wouldn’t necessarily expect such handling, most would demand a choice of layouts, and there are several. Three basic configurations are available, and within those a number of options. All offer four cabins on the lower deck, with the owner’s stateroom amidships and the VIP all the way forward. Our test boat’s layout carried the title “master junior suite and port twin guest with en suite head,” and places the owner’s berth against the aft bulkhead, with heads, dressing room, and shower helping to insulate the cabin from the engine room.

A symmetrical pair of roomy twin-berth cabins, both with en suite facilities, lies to port and starboard. The double guest stateroom forward features a good-size head and shower compartment to port and a dressing room to starboard, which the owner of our boat, who intends to operate her without crew, had converted to a laundry room.

The popular standard layout shown in our spec box (the “master grand suite”) sees the owner’s berth swung around and placed against a screen in front of the master stateroom doorway, so you can walk around it. The en suite shower and head sit just forward to port. This layout uses up space on the port side and relegates the fourth cabin to a small bunk-berth affair with no facilities. But, for many owners, any inconvenience suffered by occasional guests is a fair trade-off against the magnificence of their more frequently used quarters.

Incredibly, Sunseeker is turning out two 82 Yachts a month, so you don’t have to squint at plans to compare layouts. You can step aboard two or three other boats and see them for yourself. While there are pros and cons with each, it’s good to see that certain excellent features remain common to all spacious forward guest heads, a roomy and practical saloon with a deceptively large galley, and a great navigator’s station opposite the helm.

Stepping from boat to boat also allows you to compare owner’s decor choices. One owner, whose boat was moored next to my test boat, had gone for brown leather upholstery in the saloon and black leather helm seats. It’s amazing how much of a difference it made. Our test boat had a calming, conventional color scheme composed of cherry paneling, cream-colored leather, and cream-colored wool carpet. Visual contrast was provided by a few discreet notes of black leather and black marble worktops in the galley and in the heads. The overall effect was very pleasing.

Besides flexibility, a boat of this class must offer quality, and for some years now Sunseeker’s quality has been beyond reproach. Like other major British yards, its joinery and interior finishing can rival the best the Italian yards can offer, and these are complemented by high standards of engineering. Take the standard hydraulic aft swim platform, which can be lowered well below the waterline so the tender can be floated onto its chocks. There is, of course, a safety switch to prevent the engines going into gear with the platform down, and if you have a hydraulic pump problem, a manual pump enables you to get the platform up again. If it’s really not your day and you suffer complete hydraulic failure, you can override the engine safety switch and at least get yourself home, albeit slowly.

Also unusual on a boat this size, there’s only one way to the upper deck, from the cockpit. (It’s one reason why the saloon feels so big. There are no stairs inside.) The flying bridge has a sunbathing area aft, sensibly arranged seating, and a bar in the center section, most of which is shaded by a bimini. The upper helm is also comfortable and well organized, and it was from here that we carried out our sea trials.

After running all the numbers in flat water in the lee of Handfast Point’s white chalk cliffs, not far from the Sunseeker factory in Poole, England, we ventured farther out, where the breeze picked up, raising a two- to three-foot chop. Then the fun began. The extreme angle of heel in really tight turns took some getting used to, but then it became just part of the fun. The 82 was quiet and comfortable at 30 knots and happy to stay on plane down to 15 or 16, which means relatively economical cruising in a wide variety of conditions. Small trim tabs proved adequate for correcting heel in the crosswind and weren’t needed for anything else. Upwind, downwind, and across seas, the hull couldn’t be faulted. The 82 felt like a truly capable sea boat as well as an extraordinarily agile driver’s machine.

The skipper told me that while taking our boat back from last winter’s London Boat Show, he was surfing ten-foot waves at 25 knots on autopilot, and she was steady as a rock. Normally you’d take such claims by an employee with a grain of salt, but I’ve driven the 82, so it’s totally reasonable to me.

Sunseeker Florida
(954) 786-1866

This article originally appeared in the August 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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