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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Ovation 52

I'd say I'm a reasonably humble guy. Now and again I let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, but mostly I manage to restrain my grosser ego-driven tendencies, a state of affairs that makes life a little humdrum sometimes. At least for me.

A few days ago, though, a veritable vortex of events swirled into place near Sea Isle Marina behind the Marriott Biscayne in Miami and magically, if momentarily, set me free from my prison of virtue.

The scene was gripping. Spectators were milling about on the dock, more were milling on the flying bridge of Ovation Yachts' new 52 cruiser, and I stood at the helm station, stalwart and gloriously alone—sorta like John Wayne in The Searchers.

I'm not saying I didn't have concerns. The tide was roaring down the dock, and the wind was roaring up it. Pointy bows and bow pulpits threatened on all sides like the quills of an aggravated porcupine. And shortly after I'd gotten the 52 positioned for a walk to starboard into her side-to slip, Ovation's captain Fred De Santis made a challenging request: "Bill, can you spin her around and dock her port-side-to instead? It'll make getting out of here a lot easier later on."

Fate was with me, groovily enough—the 52 is an IPS boat, meaning her powerplant consists of Volvo Penta's diesel-powered pod-drive propulsion units toggled up to a joystick engine control at the helm. And since the advent of joystick IPS a couple of years ago, I've become rather adept at its usage—although, truth to tell, joysticking these days is not a heckuva lot harder than eating breakfast.

"No problemo," I replied with a nonchalance so wonderfully smug it precipitated chills of exuberance up my spine. Commentary from the folks behind me on the bridge stopped as I walked the 52 back to port to gather rotational room and began a robust pivot while maintaining station in the powerful, conflicting conditions. Then, for the pure livin' hell of it, I swung the stem of the boat past the concrete dock, edging the slip with such nervy nearness and gusto that a couple of line handlers stepped back in alarm. And then finally, after paralleling the slip again, I whipped the boat rapidly sideways for a port-side tie up, slowing only to kiss the pilings.

Eyes bugged, both ashore and onboard. My chest expanded. "Great job, man," commented Mike Usina, head marketeer for Silverton Yachts, the force behind Ovation's entry into the high-end motoryacht market. "Nothin' to it," I replied, experiencing the deepest, darkest, most depraved level of self-congratulation I've felt in ages. "She handles as nicely here as offshore."

This was a tad understated, actually. We'd run the 52 in the open Atlantic earlier, and she'd behaved like a trooper, generating a sporty average top speed of 33.3 mph in four- to six-foot seas and a suite of other performance characteristics that were downright impressive. Cornering was sharp, racily inboard-oriented, and exciting. Acceleration to plane was equally racy, although I had to max out the helm seat's height adjustment to maintain visibility over the dash, a correctable quirk perhaps had the trim tabs been operational on test day. And the ride was smooth, soft, and dry no matter the orientation to the sea state.

One concern niggled, however. Donald L. Blount & Associates designed the 52's running surface to accommodate not two but three IPS units, with the center one ensconced in a shallow tunnel so it replicates the draft of the other two. Certainly the triple-engine package boosted our test boat's performance numbers, but also some gains were arguably lost due to increased weight aft and running attitudes that topped out at seven degrees as a result. After all, IPS pods are essentially L-shape (with torpedoes approximately parallel to the keel), so their propulsive efficiency is inversely related to bow rise. The more you lift the nose of an IPS boat, the more you angle her pods and cut her vector of forward movement. Beyond the obvious trim-tab tack, was there a way to deal with nose-high running attitudes and thereby push the performance envelope just a tad further?

"You could address the issue by angling the torpedoes slightly up," replied Sean Berrie, Silverton's chief designer and honcho of the Ovation project. "In fact, we've talked with Volvo Penta about this, but we've got nothing definite so far."

Having parked the 52 with enough swashbuckling flair to star in my own movie, I followed up by bounding down the molded stairway from the bridge. Thunk! The sound my deck shoes made hitting the cockpit sole was indicative of another thing I liked about the 52: unified construction. Not only are her interior floors and cockpit sole cored with rigidizing end-grain Baltek balsa two inches thick, they're also glassed into the hull and superstructure/deck molding. Combine such integration with stringers and transversals of pressure-treated ply overlaid with three layers of 2415 glass mat in the accommodation area and five layers in way of the machinery spaces, and you've got yourself a vessel that, as we say in the South, don't rattle when shook!

Usina and I spent a few hours touring the Ovation 52's interior. It was laid out conventionally, with galley, dinette, and saloon on the main deck and three staterooms and two heads below. While the former area was roomy, it was the latter that really showcased the arrangement's expansiveness. The VIP at the bow is huge, with a split head and a queen berth. The master aft is, of course, bigger, also with an en suite head and queen berth. And the port-side guest? Even it is large, with yet a third queen that could be folded outboard to reveal a step-down compartment for an optional washer and dryer. Mattresses are comfy pillow-top innersprings from Gioia Sails. And the cherry joinery throughout was impeccable.

We finished up in the machinery spaces, entering via a cockpit hatch. "Heckuva boat—the engineering down here's just as impressive as the fit and finish upstairs," I told Usina while appreciatively eyeing the rubberized decking, the solid, welded-aluminum access ladder (with rubber treads), the easy-to-get-at array of shelved Schedule 31 Lifeline batteries, and the three clean-as-a-whistle engine installations abaft the ladder. Order and craftsmanship were evident everywhere.

"Yeah," concurred Usina, "this project's let the folks at Silverton show their stuff, even show off a little."

"It's good for the soul sometimes," I added. "Showin' off a little."

For more information on Ovation Yachts, including contact information, click here.

The assemblage of Lifeline Schedule 31 batteries onboard our test boat is indicative of a high level of quality. Unlike many other types of batteries, whether flooded-cell (lead/acid), gel cell, or modern AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat), no-maintenance Lifelines offer recombinant gas technology (which nixes emission of dangerous hydrogen by processing it internally during charging) and special interlocking cases assembled by hand and sealed with epoxy resin. As a result, not only are Lifelines comparatively long-lived and unaffected by the fast charging that often causes gel cell failure, they don't leak when inverted, cannot be damaged by immersion in water, and can even be installed in any position as long as they're properly supported. Moreover, thanks to their construction, Lifelines are said to be more resistant to damage from vibration and shock than other types of batteries.—B.P.

This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.