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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Molokai Strait 75

One of our V-drive inboard diesels conked out shortly after we had dropped off our passengers at Pier 66's fuel dock in Fort Lauderdale. The couple, potential owners of our test boat, a Molokai Strait 75 prototype called Hercules, waved gaily from afar as Molokai director/co-owner Jeff Druek belabored the Glendinning electronic engine control on the starboard bridge wing and then announced, "Bill, I've lost the starboard main. She's runnin', but I can't get her into gear—electronic glitch most likely. Mind takin' the boat up the river on one engine while I go below to see what's up?"

I thought it over. The New River's a long, twisty, tide-ripped, bridge-beset sliver of marine real estate—so narrow and packed with marinas and traffic in some places that there's hardly room for one sizable vessel to keep on truckin', let alone two meeting head to head. My mind flashed on a couple of particularly congested spots I remembered from earlier transits: Tarpon Bend with its blind S-curve; Little Florida with its swiftly flowing double-back loop; The Wiggles with its nerve-wracking series of crowded hairpin turns. Then my mind flashed on Druek's asking price for the trideck immensity of Hercules: $4.2 million. And finally I imagined the spectral headline appearing on the Sun-Sentinel's front page the next morning: "Disabled $5M Yacht Hits Tour Boat in New River—Capt. Bill Pike Not Adequately Insured."

Funny what a guy'll do in a pinch, particularly when he tends to respond to scrapes and emergencies with a certain ill-conceived, illogical flair. "Go for it, Jeff—no problem," I replied, stepping back into the wheelhouse and making straight for the big teak wheel as Druek headed for the stairway leading down to the engine room.

What the heck? It wasn't like Hercules was a mystery to me at this point. I already knew she was a helluva boat, having just finished a sea trial in the open Atlantic. Granted, the ol' girl was no speed demon—75-foot vessels that tip the scales at 320,000 pounds (half load) and sport cruising ranges of well more than 4,000 nautical miles at approximately 7 knots (8.1 mph) seldom are. But she was solid, salty, and surprisingly agile, achieving a hull speed of 10.6 knots (12.2 mph) with a mannered linearity that was a tribute to her hull form's designer, Eric Sponberg of St. Augustine, Florida. Her turning radius at maneuvering speeds was tighter than bark on a live oak. In fact, with both engines in dead idle ahead and the rudders hard over, I'd discovered I could swing her end for end virtually within her own length. And, thanks as much to her considerable displacement as to her considerable draft of seven feet, she was far from a will o' the wisp in the wind, despite the sail area inherent in her lofty profile.

I had one concern, however. When teamed with a Nabla-style bulbous bow with a sea-splitting V underneath and a top slightly flattened and up-angled to damp pitching, the integrated swim platform at Hercules' stern generated enough trim-tab effect in deep water to impart a nose-down running attitude of -3/4 degrees at higher speeds. Would this characteristic expand and intensify in the shallows of the New River, particularly with only one engine on tap? Would the boat bow-steer, zigzagging back and forth unpredictably? Neither Druek nor Sponberg were overly concerned about the bow-down phenomenon, saying it was even more pronounced prior to an aprs-launch ballasting modification that put a little more up-angle into the bulbous bow and added a wide, lead-filled skeg to the after portion of the hull form, thus shifting the longitudinal center of gravity slightly aft and substantially reducing lift astern. Was the remaining -3/4 degrees really worth worrying about, particularly when it made its appearance only at speeds well above the normal operating rpm range of the boat? "No sweat—everything'll be fine," Druek yelled from somewhere below decks, just before slamming a big, heavily gasketed watertight door from Pacific Coast Marine.

The assurance, I'm happy to say, was spot-on. After nosing into the river, with red marker #20 nicely off to starboard, I soon eased Hercules past the Jungle Queen (a 91-foot Mississippi River-style excursion vessel kindly waiting on me just north of Tarpon Bend) with the robust authority of a fully operational twin-engine boat, not one with serious network difficulties. Then Hercules proceeded to track deftly through an ensuing straight stretch and turn smartly at the next corner, thanks as much to her 4'x5' barn-door rudders as to her fast-acting, power-assisted Wagner hydraulic steering (two and a half turns, lock to lock). I was constrained to hit the Wesmar hydraulic bow and stern thrusters only twice in the next few miles, once to resist the bow cushion of a megayacht charging past and again while waiting for the Andrews Avenue bridge to open. Visibility out front and to the sides was excellent from the helm as I continued motoring along. And I kept tabs on the traffic astern via the Elbex closed-circuit TV monitor on the dash. Even while sidling inelegantly into the shallows of the North Fork turnoff to avoid two boats towing an outbound 115-foot catamaran-type passenger ferry, Hercules maintained her composure, as calm, cool, and collected in the midst of a virtual South Florida navigational circus as she presumably is crossing vast, empty oceans.

Yacht Haven, just beyond the I-95 bridge, was where we ended up. And as soon as Hercules was tied up port-side-to, Druek gingerly shut down and restarted our two commercially rated 350-bhp Cummins MerCruiser Diesel 6CTA8.3-Ms, a move that magically reset the Glendinning electronic engine control and put the starboard transmission back on-line. Go figure. Then, with a firm resolve to get to the bottom of the glitch another day, we shut both mains down for good and began touring the boat, stem to stern. The ensuing hours brought back fond memories of my many days working aboard steel-hulled vessels prior to getting into marine journalism, and because Hercules is essentially comprised of a steel hull (with double-bottom fuel tanks) and a welded-aluminum superstructure (joined to hull and deck plating via an explosively welded interstitial strip of Detacouple), I was generally familiar with her workboat-turned-yacht makeup and specifically impressed with the following aspects.

Let's look at the lower deck first. Five watertight bulkheads divide it into six watertight compartments, which are, working back from the bow: anchor locker/bulb area; crew quarters (with queen berth, large lounge/galley, and en suite head); midship stateroom area (with VIP to starboard and guest to port); master stateroom (with double king, vanity, walk-in closet, and en suite head); engine room; and lazarette. The presence of genuine, wheel-activated, six-dog watertight doors as well as a plethora of bronze opening ports (with lenses of 3/4-inch-thick tempered safety glass) instilled as much oceangoing confidence in me as the glimpses I got of the 1/4-inch-thick steel plating that composes the bulkheads. And the level of engineering in the machinery spaces? Whether it was stainless steel manifolds for bilge-pump and fuel-transfer systems I was examining, stainless steel hydraulic lines cushioned in synthetic rubber hangers secured to the overhead, or the seeming miles of high-density Soundown foam strips that isolate the interior from hull- and/or machinery-generated sound and vibration, everything was decidedly overbuilt and shippy.

Outfitting's next on my list. Above Hercules' lower deck are the main deck with dining area, galley, saloon, and day head; the pilot deck with wraparound Portuguese bridge, central helm station, two Stidd helm chairs, complete control stations on both bridge wings, another day head, and double berth/dinette for the relief watch; and the flying-bridge deck with two more Stidds, yet another control station, an L-shape settee, and bimini top. Whether I was admiring the Viking gas/electric range in the galley, the optional Furuno-based glass bridge in the pilothouse, the Izerwaren hardware that accouters exquisitely joined, 13/8-inch-thick raised-panel doors throughout the boat, the tasteful fabrics and finishes from Anita's Interiors of Fort Lauderdale in staterooms and living spaces, or the big, hand-carved, good-luck-ensuring "mythical dolphins" commissioned by Druek to both artistically augment and structurally solidify the teak railings of the boat's central stairwell, the overall theme was crystal clear: Hercules sports crme de la crme fitments and equipage everywhere.

And finally, there's the steely seafaring heritage the Molokai Strait 75 so resolutely embodies. Well before I had the opportunity to navigate Hercules up the New River to her berth at Yacht Haven, I enjoyed an all-too-brief moment at her primary helm station, with my butt in a perfectly adjusted Stidd, the autopilot purring away like a Cheshire cat, and my eyes gazing off through the windshield at an empty blue horizon. A set of quadrantal spheres (traditional deviation-nixing compensators typically seen on commercial-type steel vessels) hovered on either side of a big, front-and-center Ritchie compass and framed the scene ahead. With the Wesmar stabilizers off, a slow, gentle roll prevailed—an absolutely distinctive and pleasant one.

"I'd almost forgotten how flat-out powerful a heavy steel hull feels goin' through the water," I said to Druek, who'd just turned to watch an array of flying-fish flash past on the port side. I turned to watch the fish myself, then added, "You picked a great name for this baby, by the way."

"Yeah," Druek responded with a proud, paternal grin, "Hercules."

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

While the wheelhouse on the 75 is technologically sophisticated, it's also comfortable and practical. Certainly, the watchstanding basics are all there: a glass-bridge-style electronics suite, a day head, an L-shape settee with dining table and nearby berth for relief watchstanders, a chart table/desk, and tilted windows to cut down on glare. But one of the coolest touches is all but invisible. Within the port leg of the settee is a top-loading Norcold refrigerator/freezer (with teak fascia) that pulls out on tracks. It's the ideal spot for stowing foods that appeal to watchstanders. Frozen Klondike Heath Bars, for instance.—B.P.

Thetford Corporation
(734) 769-6000

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

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