Sunseeker Manhattan 53

Next Generation

We test the space-age Manhattan 53 within sight of England’s stone-age coast.

This year’s Southampton boat show was breezy and damp, as it often is. If you wanted to guarantee unreliable weather for an outdoor event, you couldn’t do better than to choose the period of the fall equinox, when the predicted path of Atlantic low-pressure systems exactly coincides with the latitude of southern England.

But actually it wasn’t until the following week that the weather really broke, as a scudding armada of ragged clouds bore in from the Atlantic, escorting an army of steep, cresting seas. This was the week of our test of Sunseeker’s new Manhattan 53. It was October. It looked like February. If recent summers are typical, it could easily have been June.

Launched simultaneously at both the Southampton show and its concurrent and somewhat balmier counterpart in Cannes, the British shipyard’s latest middleweight contender succeeds the popular Manhattan 52, of which more than 50 were built. That’s a hard act to follow, but by adding a little hull length and a couple of inches of beam—plus some not unimpressive sleight of hand in the interior design—Sunseeker has produced a boat that not only looks cooler and more modern but actually feels significantly larger.

Like its predecessor, the 53 is a three-cabin boat with two heads. The layout both on the main deck and down below now relies much more on straight edges and right angles, which is far more space-efficient than the curvaceous shapes they replace. It’s obvious as soon as you step aboard. The new dinette is up on the helm deck, so the saloon and cockpit—all on one level, thanks to a deep, grated scupper across the threshold—can now merge seamlessly into one entertaining space, with the longitudinal sideboard, straight sofa, and small coffee table inside communicating sociably with the cockpit seating and sunpad.

Straightening out the forward companionway has also created a lot of extra space for the galley, which has a big, broad, practical worktop, a full-height fridge-freezer, no fewer than 13 drawers and lockers, and plenty of light thanks to the windscreen high overhead.

The 53’s extra hull length shows its best advantage in the third cabin, which has full-size berths rather than bunks, along with good headroom and useful floor space. Up forward, the VIP has been less radically redesigned, but like the twin-berth it too benefits from the extra length of hull, with a slightly larger head compartment and more floor area. And with its large hull windows and opening ports, the full-beam master suite, amidships, now features a more symmetrical layout to maximize its sole area, while the extra hull length has been invested along the port side in a larger head compartment.

The guest cabins, especially the twin-berth, lack stowage space. There is a big lazarette available in the stern, however—fitted out on this 53 as the optional crew cabin—useful for stowing cruising gear.

Various interior schemes are available, but our test boat (the third off the line) was finished in an attractive and contrast-laden confection of white lacquer, cream vinyl, and dark American-walnut veneer, which complemented the Modernist rigor of its flat planes and right angles. As an interior, it’s a class act—a superyacht look translated into a family cruising boat.

With a hydraulic aft platform fitted as standard and intended as the main tender stowage point, the flying bridge is given over in its entirety to the 53’s owner and guests, with plenty of seating and a big table for alfresco feasts. There is also space for sunbathers on the port side, where the helmsman can keep an eye on them.

I couldn’t help but notice a disappointing lack of swimsuit-clad supermodels up here on the day of our sea trial. I wondered how I had managed to end up testing the Southampton show boat rather than the one in Cannes. But there were compensations: Our Manhattan 53 was cruising in her home waters, off the white chalk cliffs of Dorset’s famous Jurassic Coast. This a highlight of one of the U.K.’s classic cruising areas, an unmistakable landmark for navigators whether they are making for the tranquillity of Poole Harbour or marking their progress on the longer haul between the Solent and the West Country.

And we had classic British cruising weather: steep seas, a stiff breeze, and low, gray clouds. Summer here is so legendarily unreliable that cruising folk learn simply to get on with it—make the best speed they can through inclement conditions in the knowledge that in a few more miles, or a few more hours, they’ll be secure in that picturesque Cornish harbor, and the holiday can begin.

Although conditions looked distinctly uninviting—and a million miles from the Baie de Cannes—this was precisely what British cruising boats are designed for. Our Manhattan seemed to know that, shouldering the seas aside as we headed seawards past the iconic chalk stack known as Old Harry, raising great sheets of spray that descended with a kind of epic inevitability over the flying bridge. Downwind the Manhattan tracked like a steeplechaser, burying its fine forward sections in the backs of the waves and slicing through them with barely a finger’s pressure needed on the helm.

We did encounter some rudder stall during hard turns to starboard. Sunseeker says it’s a problem specific to this boat—which, loaded with extras, is slightly heavier than other 53s—and the engineers are confident they can solve it with a few minor modifications.

Heading back upwind after an exhilarating run, the 53 was really able to display its offshore heritage. The waves were five to six feet, steep, and occasionally breaking, but we were able to maintain a steady 18 to 20 knots into the teeth of what now felt like half a gale, picking our way easily between the bigger ones. Not a drop of spray came aboard.

As the white cliffs drew nearer, and with them the promise of shelter, it felt like the end of a cruise—a typically boisterous, British cruise—but I wasn’t sure that I wanted it to end.

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This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.