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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Mochi Craft Dolphin 54

There’s one more model squeezing into Mochi Craft’s Dolphin line of lobsterboat-style cruisers. But why add a 54 when the Italian builder already offers a 51? Because, according to Mochi, it’s time for an upgrade. Launched in 2004, the 51 was the first Dolphin, but the company has built three other versions since then-the 44, 64, and 74-learning much with each build. The question in my mind as I prepared to test the 54 was how many new features from those boats would it incorporate into its latest launch? As I stood on the dock in Ancona, Italy, staring at the flotilla of pastel Dolphins assembled before me, it didn’t appear that much had changed with the 54. She had the same tumblehome stern, rounded superstructure, and ample cockpit that had made the Dolphins famous, but nothing that caught me as strikingly new. It wasn’t until after I had boarded over the retractable passerelle and begun to explore the boat’s interior that I realized the extent of the upgrades.

The most apparent difference between my vessel and her predecessors is her galley. The 54 is the first Dolphin to place it aft. (On the 51, 64, and 74, the galley is across from the helm, and the 44’s is down.) Social cooks will benefit from this layout as it not only puts them directly across from those seated at the C-shape dining settee but also lets them chat with anyone out in the cockpit, thanks to both the sliding-glass door and 25"x1934" flip-up, port-side window.

The second change I noticed caught me a little off guard. Directly forward of the Bosch cooktop and Daewoo microwave, stairs lead down to a relatively narrow, full-beam room. On the European model, this is the crew quarters, complete with a single berth and a tiny port-side head. (The head does come with a circular window to let in light and air.) It’s a big step up from the 51’s crew area, which can only be accessed via a hatch under a settee in the saloon, but if you don’t opt for the berth, the space becomes a large stowage area with an optional day head. Unless you’re stowing extra supplies for a long weekend, the crewless room seems like an unnecessary vestige for crewless Americans.

However, while the crew quarters should appeal to Europeans, Mochi is offering a flying-bridge version (see "Flying Bridge," this story) to fire-up potential stateside buyers. Judging from the success of the topside helm on the 64 and the 74, this option should ingratiate the new boat with American audiences who want better sightlines and a lot more sun and wind.

The accommodations area is another place where the 54’s evolution is evident, but this time the change is a bit more subtle. Actually, the 54 and 51 have almost identical layouts below deck: twin berths and a private head to port and a master forward with its head to starboard. The 54, however, has an extra stateroom to starboard that comes with either standard athwartships bunks and a lofted single berth or with an optional "prince-size" (bigger than a double but smaller than a queen) mattress. The only major difference between the layout of the 54 and the ten-foot longer 64 is the addition of a full-beam master cabin aft in the latter. The appointments that define the Dolphins’ distinct style-teak joinery, shoji screens, oversize mirrors gracing each stateroom, and porcelain sink basins in every head-remain.

Mochi improved natural lighting on the 54 with the inclusion of hull-side ports (there were none on the original 51, but there are on the other models). There’s one 42"x612" teardrop-shape, black-tinted window for each guest stateroom and one 48"x612" port on either side in the forward master. Mochi says these windows-which dipped below the waterline on our test because of the sea conditions-are definitely strong. The 35"-thick glass meets RINA safety standards and is mounted in a proprietary epoxy.

Looking out these windows from the master stateroom, I saw dark clouds rolling over the land. As predicted, the weather for our test was turning unpleasant: scattered rain showers. I went up to the saloon and stood at the lower helm, waiting for the drizzle to pass before we left the dock and examining the layout of the controls. Not much has changed from the 51, although the standard electronics have been upgraded (a pair of optional Raymarine E80 displays grace the center of the console instead of the 51’s single Furuno display). The engines (dual electronic readouts from the twin MAN 800-mhp diesels are set to port and to starboard here) are also the same.

The mullion-free windshield in front of me had fogged up, perhaps because the 212"-diameter defroster outlets are not close enough to it. So since we were under a time constraint, I wiped down the inside of the glass and, we headed out into a bumpy Adriatic’s four- to six-foot swells.

In order to get the most accurate radar-gun readings, we always run reciprocal headings. In this case we were forced to run north and south; the latter heading was directly into the seaway. Nevertheless we had a smooth ride until we neared 35 mph, at which point we began to crest the waves instead of plowing through them. The 54 landed hard in a few troughs, about what I expected from a boat of this size with the throttles maxed. Falling off a few degrees smoothed out the ride considerably. I pulled back on the throttles until she reached her cruising speed of 29 mph (2150 rpm); at that setting, the bumps disappeared completely. The BCS electro-hydraulic steering was responsive without being too quick-five turns lock to lock. And her warped hull handled well, even in following seas.

Part of the 54’s seakindly performance is due to the position of her lone fuel tank. The 674-gallon unit, with its fiberglass exterior and polished-aluminum insides, has been lengthened and moved slightly aft of its location on the 51 to improve handling and accommodate the larger crew quarters. Even with the extra weight aft, the trim angles on the 54 were, on average, actually slightly less-about a half-degree-than those of the 51. A few days after my test I re-read PMY’s review of the 51 (see "Hip, Slick, and Cool," June 2004) in an Internet caf in Milan. The sea conditions on that test day had been almost identical to those on this one, and according to the account, she handled them with equal aplomb. Her finest quality had been left unchanged.

Even though the 54 is an updated boat with a new layout and a few Americanizations, she retains the features that have made the Dolphin series a success. From her lines, to her handling, to her furnishings, she remains true to the original concept of a modern Italian interpretation of the classic Downeast lobsterboat. After four years of input and testing, the 54 proves that you don’t have to start from scratch to create a contemporary vessel.

Allied Marine Group ((954) 462-5527. For more information on Mochi Craft, including contact information, click here.

The flying-bridge version of the 54 debuted at this year’s Cannes International Boat Show. The 74 was the first Dolphin to receive this feature, and it was soon followed by the the 64 (see "A Fly For America," October 2007).

The instrument pod on the helm console is retractable, so you don’t have to worry about a snap-on cover coming off underway. The console holds a standard Raymarine ST70 display and 240E VHF, MAN electronic engine readouts, and ZF Smart Command controls.

Sightlines from the lower helm are good, but the flying bridge gives captains a better perspective while docking. The sole access is via a ladder on the starboard side of the cockpit. -G.R.

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