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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Palm Beach / Avalon 32

Thirty-two feet is a perfect size for a lot of boaters, and with good reason. There is enough length to fit an enclosed head, a comfortable master cabin, a reasonable galley, and a cockpit big enough to relax in. Modest power can yield good performance and fuel economy, and single diesel power even more so. I own a 32-footer, and after having shopped for a lot of bigger vessels, I've concluded that to get significantly more boat, I would have to go up to 38 or 40 feet.

But sadly, a lot of today's 32-footers are formulaic, lacking the imagination or innovation that's common on bigger boats. So when someone really rethinks this bread-and-butter cruiser, I'm intrigued. And that exactly describes the way I felt after I'd tested the Avalon 32.

The Avalon line, which also includes a 44 and 50, is the brainchild of Aussie boatbuilder Mark Richards, who's helped build a number of America's Cup boats. He's comfortable with all sorts of advanced construction techniques and materials, many of which he applied to the Avalons. The 32 is fully cored with Corecell, which helps explain a remarkably dry weight of 9,000 pounds. (The single-diesel Legacy 32 is listed at 14,000 pounds.) To ensure stiffness, the hull is reinforced by a "spider liner," a fiberglass matrix that includes stringers, transversals, and engine beds. Like all structural components, it's bonded to the hull, creating a monocoque that, as I learned on my sea trial, doesn't creak, squeak, or torque; even the fuel and water tanks are composite.

Richards also designed the 32's hull form, which combines fine foresections; full, round midsections; and basically flat aftersections—kind of a planing/semiplaning hybrid. I discovered that those full midsections add buoyancy that cushions the hull as it comes off a wave, reducing pounding, even when charging into a tugboat's steep wake. They also shoulder away water, keeping the above-decks areas dry.

And they enhance efficiency. We squeezed 32.5 mph out of our test boat's single 440-hp Yanmar, and that was 100 rpm shy of maximum rating. The flat stern enhances transverse stability, crucial on a boat with a flying bridge. Putting such a structure on a 32-footer has been the bane of many a boatbuilder's existence. Its added mass can increase roll to the point of nausea, especially without a pair of heavy diesels in the bilge to provide counterweight. I did notice some tenderness, especially with seas on the beam, but it was manageable and not at all discomforting. However, constant attention to trim-tab adjustment is important, and the Avalon's big Lencos did the job admirably. Their control has indicator lights, which would be helpful if they corresponded to tab position, but they don't. When all are illuminated the tabs are down only about halfway. The 32 is available sans bridge, with a lovely lower station but slightly smaller galley.

Our 32's stability was all the more remarkable for the lack of a pair of engines under her saloon—the only thing there is a big stowage area. The lone Yanmar lives aft, up against the transom, turning a four-blade prop via a short stainless steel jackshaft with CV joints on either end. It powers a Twin Disc V-drive under the cockpit, a configuration that enhances on-plane performance by concentrating the mass of the mechanicals aft, something indicated by the 32's impressive acceleration curve. But that's only the beginning.

First, the Yanmar is in a hushbox, just like a genset. How well does it work? Our 32's dB readings never exceeded 77 (65 is the level of normal conversation). This is one of those ideas that makes you wonder why someone didn't think of it long ago. And accessibility doesn't suffer. In fact, it's enhanced, since you can remove the enclosure's four panels in less than a minute and have the entire engine naked before you. (You need only remove one for normal maintenance checks.)

But airborne sound is only part of the quietness equation. The other is vibration, and here's where the 32 is really different. A thrust-bearing assembly allows soft-mounting of both the engine and the marine gear. Two live mounts affixed to the forward end of the gear and a transversal farther forward absorb thrust and let the drive- train move vertically and horizontally but not fore and aft. It's a simple system that works. I've never been on a diesel-powered boat anywhere near this size so devoid of vibration. If it weren't for the exhaust, you wouldn't know the diesel was running, even during full-throttle acceleration.

But there's a price. The aft sunpad that creates space for the engine means no open cockpit, and it's too deep for a seat. You still have six feet of open cockpit forward, but not much stowage beneath; it's mostly taken up by the shaft and gear assembly. On the other hand, there's that big stowage space beneath the saloon.

And that saloon is nicely finished in teak (solid teak drawers!) and equipped with a large port-side dinette that's accessible from the cockpit, thanks to a removable aft bulkhead window. The area beneath is also available for stowage, with additional access from the cockpit. Part of the space can be allocated to air conditioning, a second refrigerator or freezer, or an ice maker. To starboard, the galley includes a one-burner butane stove (electric is available), 41/2 -cubic-foot under-counter refrigerator, and single sink—everything you need for a weekend away. Not only do two small forward hatches and a large one over the V-berth provide air, but the port and starboard windows retract electrically, and the composite bifold cockpit door basically disappears, which pretty much brings the outside in. You can also a drop a curtain in place of the aft bulkhead.

The head-shower (to port) and V-berth are down a step and generous in size—the V-berth is 6'4" wide by 6'11" long. To starboard is a cabinet with a small hanging locker and the electrical panel, which is hinged so that its internals can be exposed on two sides. A hinged teak panel on the door flips up and attaches magnetically to provide additional privacy for those in the forward area.

Up to this point I considered the 32 an interesting mini-cruiser, but I did not become intrigued with her until I went back to my hotel room and crunched her performance numbers. Because her Yanmar was not electronic, I couldn't get real-time fuel-consumption data and so was forced to rely on the propeller curve provided by Yanmar. But even discounting the accuracy of this method, the 32's mpg data looks pretty impressive all the way to 2500 rpm (24.4 mph). Future 32s will be equipped with the electronic 480-hp version of this engine and the electronic data display that goes with it. You can be sure we'll go back and check those numbers against the extrapolations given here. However they stack up, one thing is undeniable: The Avalon 32 represents a real rethinking of the basic family cruiser.

For more information on Avalon, including contact information, click here.

V-drives have been around for years, but I’d never seen one combined with a thrust-bearing system until I tested the Avalon 32. A V-drive configuration is really not unusual, save for the engine hushbox that quiets things. A stainless steel jackshaft with constant-velocity (CV) joints is a bit different; the CV joints ensure that alignment won’t be an issue, either during installation or over time. What is truly out of the ordinary is the horizontal thrust bearing the builder fabricates and mounts to the forward end of the gear. It’s just a couple of conventional engine mounts affixed to a steel bracket and bolted into a composite crossmember, but it allows both the engine and the marine gear to be soft-mounted. (In most installations the marine gear is hard-mounted to absorb thrust.) The result is the best example of vibration isolation I’ve seen on a boat anywhere this size range. —R.T.

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