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Cheoy Lee Bravo 88

Photography by Shaw McCutheon

Tough Customer

Thanks to a shipbuilding heritage, Cheoy Lee creates both commercial vessels and elegantly shippy yachts—JUST like the new, sweetly performing Bravo 88.

Okay, I admit I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for commercial vessels, mostly because I spent a hefty chunk of my youth working on ships, supply boats, and tugs. And I also admit to having a soft spot in my heart for yacht-building enterprises that remain close to the commercial yards associated with them. Trinity Yachts, a scion of Gulf Coast-based Halter Marine, comes to mind as one example, and Amels, a member of the Damen Shipyard Group of Holland, is another.

Then, of course, there’s Cheoy Lee, an Asian shipyard that’s been in business for almost 150 years now. Not only is Cheoy Lee still building pilotboats, tug/supply vessels, ferries, and other types of military and commercial watercraft, it’s also been building large fiberglass yachts for quite some time, many of them constructed in accordance with the strictures of Lloyd’s, American Bureau of Shipping, or any of the other classification societies that keep tabs on the yard’s shippy projects.

Commercially connected yacht builders appeal to me on a nuts-and-boltsy level, too, and the reason’s simple enough. Often, technological virtues and advancements developed on the commercial side wind up in the yachts, whether the yachts are actually classed or not. Think about it—training a shipyard employee to install a bilge pump on a patrol boat, say, and then having him use roughly the same methods and components to do the same job on a motoryacht is cost effective. It both cuts labor expenses and generates economies of scale.

Cheoy Lee’s new Bravo 88, a four-stateroom, five-head (plus crew’s quarters) motoryacht I recently sea-trialed down in South Florida, nicely illustrates the point. For starters, many of the technical aspects of the yacht’s construction come from methods Cheoy Lee employs in the commercial realm. Indeed, according to the 88’s designer Mike Burbenich, the well-known New Zealand-based structural-engineering firm of SP-High Modulus (rebranded Gurit earlier this year) was just as involved in developing the yacht’s build program as it typically is in developing the scantlings for pilotboats, fast ferries, and other extra-seaworthy vessels.

And what a build program! After the 88’s entire Divinycell-cored hull is infused using relatively pricey vinylester resin, it’s sealed with an epoxy barrier coat that’s virtually impervious to osmotic penetration and then topcoated with ALEXSEAL paint. The deck, superstructure, and other major moldings are given much the same treatment and virtually all the small parts—bulkheads, soles, hatches, lockers, furniture bases, and consoles—are closed-cell-foam-cored and resin-infused as well, although some are not painted. Additionally, the 88’s longitudinals, transversals, bulkheads, and other hull-strengthening components are bedded, tabbed, and/or otherwise secured in place with such thoroughness that Cheoy Lee bills the final product as a resin-infused “monocoque,” or one-piece boat.

The 88’s tankage bolsters this claim. All the tanks onboard—fuel, water, gray water, and black water—are made of fiberglass (with manhole-sized cleanouts and protective epoxy coatings inside), shaped to fit the spaces they occupy, and then bonded into the bottom of the boat with such care that they add a great deal of structural strength and rigidity. The fact that the baffles in the tanks are aligned with the longitudinals in the hull only boosts the strength factor.

“In the end,” Burbenich told me recently, “what you get is a double-bottom-type situation in the boat’s bilge. Like you have on ships. Very gutsy.” 

Cheoy Lee’s clever about the gutsiness, though. The company’s emphasis on lightweight, high-strength, resin-infused, unibody glasswork is far from aesthetically evident in the 88’s interior. In fact, upon entering the 88’s huge, elegantly appointed saloon for the first time, I immediately took the space for a veritable showcase of solid-makore joinery. But as I continued touring the interior with Cheoy Lee’s stateside marketing and sales rep Marty Isenberg, I repeatedly came across what first seemed like eminently refined and finished pieces of solid joinery but what were actually composite moldings wrapped in baked-on (using large autoclaves) skins of veneer. The overhead-mounted exhaust plenums for the Marine Air chilled-water air-conditioning system, for instance, looked like examples of fine cabinetry at first blush. But upon closer inspection, it turned out they were composite constructs designed to reduce top-hamper weight and optimize the boat’s vertical center of gravity.

Better Boat: Humble Flashlights
Anyone who’s ever dealt with an emergency onboard knows that most of them occur well after dark (2 o’clock in the morning is quite popular with King Neptune, it seems) and in sea conditions that are unpleasant. The salty crowd also knows how valuable a good flashlight can be under difficult circumstances and how sometimes, if left to its own devices for a month or so, a flashlight will simply kick up its heels and croak. Hence the emergency flashlights Cheoy Lee installs in many of the accommodation and machinery spaces onboard the 88. Thanks to a plug-in feature, the batteries are always charged and ready for action.

The way the 88 is put together manifested dramatically in open water. The coastal Atlantic was medium-rough the day I sea-trialed the boat, thanks to a northerly wind that pushed legions of 4- to 6-footers (with occasional 8-footers thrown in) straight towards Mr. Castro’s island. Yet, despite the pestering conditions, I found I could drive the 88 around, up-sea, down-sea, and side-sea, like a limo in a parking lot.

The experience was purest joy. Thanks to power-assisted Teleflex/Hynautics hydraulics, the wheel on the flying-bridge helm spun smoothly, albeit with just the right amount of resistance. Sound levels were rock-bottom low (on very few vessels can you cruise along at nearly 20 knots, with only 66 decibels showing on the ol’ sound meter), due largely to a sound-and-vibration-attenuation program in the engine room that includes a layer of sound-deadening lead tiles in way  of the boat’s propellers; Mylar-faced lead-foam insulation covered with perforated-aluminum paneling virtually everywhere; a sophisticated, sound-nixing Marine Exhaust underwater-exhaust system; and special cushion-type mounts under the big 1,900-brake-horsepower Caterpillar C32 mains, as well as the optional set of 40-kilowatt Kohler gensets and all pumps, motors, and compressors.

And the ride was both bone-dry and mannerly. Running attitudes throughout the rpm register were optimum and topped out at a lovely 4 degrees. Turns were broad, as befits a straight-shaft inboard, and I didn’t use trim tabs at all, at least in part because there simply were none—incorporating trim tabs into the design of a powerboat to ensure proper performance is pretty much a tacit admission of the design’s failure, according to Burbenich.

Docking the 88 at Bradford Marine on Ft. Lauderdale’s New River involved little fanfare—our boat was equipped with an optional ZF JMS (Joystick Maneuvering System) and it worked both smoothly and effectively, thanks to a set of big propellers, lots of diesel torque, and a powerful 36-kilowatt Naiad bow thruster, robustly energized by a main-engine-driven PTO unit.

As I expected, the vessel’s stand-up engine room turned out to be a very commercial-grade affair. The highlights for me were the two big aforementioned Kohler generators, with PTOs mounted on each to handle the zero-speed capabilities of the Naiad stabilizers; safety-enhancing triplex (as opposed to duplex or simplex) Racor fuel-water separators for the mains; a fully gasketed watertight escape hatch (with entry into the master stateroom’s shower stall); an automatic, stand-alone emergency lighting system; and an overall engineering ambiance of solidity and straightforwardness.

“She’s certainly a yachty yacht,” I told Isenberg as we concluded our tour of Cheoy Lee’s new Bravo 88, “but she’s also a tough customer, with a backbone that’s commercial grade all the way—and what a performer!”

“Yeah, Bill,” he replied. “That’s like our whole story in a nutshell.”

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This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.