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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

SJ Violator 54

I'd just returned from fishing the White Marlin Open in Ocean City, Maryland, when I got a call to test a new 54-foot, custom cold-molded sportfisherman. After having spent a week looking at almost every conceivable custom battlewagon on the planet (370-plus boats fished this tourney), I was feeling jaded. I doubted I would find anything truly special about the S&J Violator 54 that would help the builder get its foot in the competitive, brand-loyal custom-boat market's door. I was wrong.

Her yellow hull immediately stood out among the myriad white fiberglass ones lined up along the face dock at the Montauk Yacht Club Resort & Marina. I paused momentarily, working my eyes from bow to stern, noting that her lines blended styling elements from both the South Florida and North Carolina schools of boatbuilding. She had flare, but it was more moderate than what you'd find on her North Carolina peers. And her flying-bridge superstructure had a reduced rake, which reminded me of a traditional South Florida battlewagon. I concluded her outward appearance was a successful combination of the two designs.

But unlike those boats, this 54 was built a world away, in Turkey by the Vicem Shipyard. Scott Lizza, S&J's owner, drew up the lines for the boat after years of owning and running various sportfishermen. Working with Vicem, he finalized the design you see here. The challenge for this joint venture was that while Vicem is a well-respected yard with numerous launches under its belt (see "Turkish Thrill," October 2004), it had never built a convertible sportfisherman. To ensure the construction process would go smoothly, S&J had project managers on both sides of the Atlantic. I have to say that for a first try, and with the partners working with an ocean between them, the end result was one smooth-riding battlewagon.

The 54 features a modified-V hull form with a 75-degree entry, which transitions to 18 degrees at the stern. While putting the 54 through her paces on a flat-calm Atlantic, I noted that she ran over the water in a near-floating-on-air fashion. Granted, conditions on test day weren't challenging, but I'd like to sea this boat in some chop. I think she'd do well.

While her ride was smooth, I found her standard power-assisted hydraulic steering to be quite sensitive, and at first I had a tendency to oversteer the 54. Some adjustment is needed here in the way of reduced power-assistance. However, once I got a feel for her wheel, this sportfisherman turned with the precision of a slalom skier. In addition, I was pleased to find that sightlines from her flying-bridge helm were excellent in all directions.

Did I mention she's fast, too? Her performance, an impressive 43.4-mph top end at 2300 rpm and a comfortable cruise speed of 37.6 mph at 2000 rpm, can be attributed to three factors. The first is an efficient hull design, which allows the boat to really get her nose out of the water once the twin 1,050-hp MAN D2840 LE 408 diesel inboards spool up. The second is those big powerplants, housed in an engine room with just four-foot headroom and two and half feet between the engines (S&J says future 54s will have an extra foot of headroom here). Finally, it's that cold-molded build technique from Vicem, which makes for lightweight but strong hull, that's the last ingredient. The 54 features a four-layer, cold-molded, mahogany-planked hull impregnated with epoxy to make a rock-solid durable structure. (It's covered by a five-year transferable hull warranty.) The weight savings afforded by this construction method brings the 54 in at 42,600 pounds. Compare this to several similar-size production boats, and you'll find the 54 is about 15,000 pounds lighter.

But the hull isn't the only place you'll find mahogany on this boat. Her interior features a high-gloss khaya mahogany, but, as she's custom, you can opt for teak, cherrywood, or some other favorite. The mahogany is an attractive and rich-looking wood, but I found the high-gloss finish to be inconsistent on some of the cabinetry. Her saloon was rigged for a crew to kick back on a long run, with a retractable 42-inch plasma TV to starboard, a U-line wine chiller just aft of the TV, and a comfy leather L-shape lounge to port. If you're craving some cheese or a full meal to go with the wine, the galley, with a teak and holly sole, is just forward and outfitted with two U-line under-counter refrigerators and freezers, a two-burner Bosch electric cooktop, Bosch microwave/convection oven, and a trash compactor, which should come in handy on extended fishing excursions to the canyons.

Just as her saloon is set up for relaxation, her staterooms are designed for all-out at-sea slumber. The three-stateroom, two-head arrangement features an amidships master with queen-size berth to starboard, a full-size berth in the forepeak VIP stateroom, and bunks for two more crew aft of the VIP to port.

So the 54's build is impressive, her speed is commendable, and her below-decks area is comfortable, but this boat is about the business of fishing. Fortunately this area hasn't been neglected. The 54's all-teak cockpit, which includes a teak sole and covering boards, screams tournament contender. She has two seven-foot-long, in-deck fishboxes with macerators, and you can add freezer plates to save on carrying tons of ice. There's a tackle locker to starboard that'll handle all your leaders, hooks, tools, Pakulas, Black Barts, Jets, and the like. To port, a bait freezer can stash all the 'hoo, mackerel, and mullet you can find. There's also a sink to wash off your hands after rigging at the bait station to starboard. And with its nearly 115 square feet of fish-fighting space, all you have to do is add an optional stainless steel Pipewelders tower ($76,980), Murray Brothers fighting chair ($13,295), and four rod holders ($806), and this pursuer of pelagics is ready for the blue water.

The Violator 54 could use some tweaking in her interior finish, and she needs that extra foot in the engine room, but she's an impressive first entry into this market nonetheless. And not only is she well designed, well equipped, and fast, she comes in at a reasonable price for a custom boat: $1.2 million as tested. If S&J continues on its current track and keeps the pricing reasonable, the Violator 54 could be a contender on more than just the tourney circuit.

S&J Boatworks
(866) 276-4307

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