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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Astondoa 53 Open

Aficionados of large custom yachts may be familiar with the Astondoa marque; founded in 1916, the Spanish yard has been building custom pleasurecraft through three generations of family ownership. Steeped in tradition, the builder is known in the United States for its line of motoryachts ranging in length from 66 to 138 feet. But during the past few years, the company has also been building a line of express-style yachts for customers in Europe. Two of those models have recently been introduced to the American market; one is a 43 Open powered by twin 435-hp Volvo Penta IPS drives, the other is a 53 Open powered by twin 800-hp MAN inboards. When I arrived in Stuart, Florida, on a sunny, sultry day to test the latter, little did I know just how many intriguing features I was about to discover.

Although she was tied stern-to, boarding the 53 Open was a snap thanks to the optional eight-foot Opacmare passerelle. Once onboard, I was greeted by Ian Vale, president of Sound Yachting Group, the U.S. distributor for the Astondoa line. The first of many features of the yacht he pointed out was just how easily the passerelle stowed; with just the touch of a single button, a mechanism automatically leveled the gangway, dropped its stanchions and lines, then retracted it into the stern. Deployment is just as simple.

Eyeballing her bridge deck, I commented on how spacious it seemed, what with triple helm seats forward, an outdoor galley, an L-shape settee and dining table big enough to accommodate six or more in comfort, and an open deck area as big as a dance floor just forward of a nearly full-beam settee at the stern. Vale explained that the open deck space aft was normally fitted with a big, triple-width sunpad. Personally, I prefer the more open layout on the aft deck; for die-hard sun worshippers, there is an enormous sunpad on the foredeck, big enough for four or more bathers to soak up rays.

Other features of the bridge deck were not so apparent but equally pleasing. For example, raising a stylish countertop lid revealed the two-burner cooktop, stainless steel sink, and modest work space that comprise the outdoor galley. Nearby, concealed in a cabinet just forward, is a refrigerator/freezer, while nestled into a similar cabinet on the starboard side is an ice maker. And for on-deck entertainment, our test boat was fitted with an optional 20-inch LCD TV that rises up from a cabinet directly behind the helm station, in perfect viewing position from the L-shape dining area.

It being well before noon, and with bright sun bringing the temperature to near 90 degrees, I opted to check out the engine room without delay. It proved to be a good decision. Access to the machinery space is via a small hatch on the starboard side of the aft deck; climbing down a short vertical ladder was tight but manageable, and a relay panel alongside the ladder allowed control of several systems without having to actually enter the engine space. And that was a good thing, because the only way to enter the machinery space is to crawl on hands and knees from the base of the access ladder, athwartship to the centerline, then forward between the 800-hp MAN diesels. Only upon reaching the forward engine-room bulkhead is there standing (or for me, at 6'2", stooping) headroom. However, other than being on hands and knees, I found access to systems in the lazarette good, and access to both sides of the engines was adequate, albeit a bit tight on the outboard side because the fuel tanks are outboard.

What makes the machinery space so cramped, of course, is the transom tender garage. Stepping aft onto the hydraulically operated swim platform, Vale raised the door to the transom garage, revealing all the space that was not in the engine room, but instead allowed the 53 to carry a tender up to ten feet long. Although our test boat was not yet equipped with one, it appeared that the winch and roller system would make launch and retrieval a breeze. And for major engine work, the floor of the tender garage can be easily removed by unscrewing a few fasteners, creating an opening more than eight feet long into the engine room.

As the Florida sun climbed to its apogee, it was a refreshing relief to retreat to the comfortably air-conditioned lower deck. But it was not just the cool air that was refreshing; the shape and textures that Astondoa chose for the space were comfortable and inviting. To begin with, the saloon was not configured in the usual boxy rectangle shape. Instead, the forward bulkhead was angled, so rather than being directly opposite the galley, the angled settee seemed partially recessed into an inviting nook of its own. And executed in both pickled oak and wenge, the joinery was stylish but not overtly contemporary. Another nice touch was a 14"x33" skylight in the overhead that allowed natural light to bathe the entire space.

Adding to the yacht's appeal, I knew that the galley must be located to port, at the base of the companionway. But where was it? Dark wenge countertop lids concealed the two-burner cooktop and stainless steel sink; and just finding the sink was a two-stage process, for it lurks beneath a panel of solid surface material that serves as a work surface and cutting board. The sink is concealed beneath a removable panel of this work surface. And where's the refrigerator/freezer? Don't ask. It's concealed behind a panel of pickled oak, literally blending into the woodwork.

At least the master stateroom is where you might expect it, forward with a centerline queen berth, although it does sport one of the oddest-shaped mattresses I've ever seen, with notches along the sides to let the hanging locker doors swing open. Two guest staterooms are located amidships, one with a full double berth and the other with bunk berths. Potential buyers have asked if the guest staterooms can be eliminated in favor of a large master stateroom with en suite head, and being a custom builder, Astondoa replies in the affirmative.

Even on her sea trial, the 53 Open delivered her share of the unexpected. For example, under hard acceleration she's at first sedate; but around 1800 rpm, when the turbochargers kick in, she takes off like a rocket. And she does so with little bow rise and no loss of forward visibility. She's similarly well-behaved in turns, tracking like a pro in a series of S-turns under full throttle and losing only about 100 rpm in a tight U-turn. In particular, I noted that while she banked nicely into a turn, she did so without sacrificing visibility to either side. The modest waves on the St. Lucie River were not a meaningful test of her seakeeping prowess, but with her fine entry and V-form hull, she should hold her own in any reasonable sea conditions.

Like a refined lady, the Astondoa 53 Open keeps many of her most endearing attributes discreetly concealed. But that just adds to her intrigue. And one thing that's no surprise is that she offers all the elements: looks, style, performance, and quality. It's all a matter of family pride for a third generation of custom yachtbuilders.

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

In a world of globalization, consolidation, outsourcing, and takeovers, it's refreshing to find a true family-owned enterprise, particularly one that's been in business for more than 90 years. Grupo Astondoa is one such enterprise, founded in 1916 out of a passion to create distinctive recreational craft. Now headquartered in Santa Pola, Spain, the builder boasts three production centers, totaling almost 74,000 square meters (about 243,000 square feet) in three cities.

Key elements of the enterprise are family pride, a respect for tradition, and a willingness to embrace the latest technology. For example, joinery (all crafted in-house) is executed in traditional cherry or in currently popular pickled oak and wenge. Craftsmen use old-world woodworking skills where necessary, along with the latest generation of CNC machines where appropriate. Hull lines are still faired the old-fashioned way, full-scale with battens. But the yard also embraces the full spectrum of computer-aided drafting and manufacturing tools.

And while craftsmanship evident in joinery and other details exudes a reverence for traditional boatbuilding materials and methods, Astondoa also utilizes the latest in high-tech materials, including Kevlar and Twaron (a similar aramid fiber produced in the Netherlands) in combination with carbon fiber. Vacuum-bagging and resin-infusion techniques are employed to obtain optimum resin distribution. Composite construction methods with appropriate core materials are utilized to increase strength and reduce weight.

To be sure, Astondoa is not the only builder that combines old-world tradition and state-of-the-art technology. But it's still refreshing to find one that does it as a matter of family pride rather than simply to bolster the bottom line.—G.L.P.

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