Hold on to your grabrails, friends, this could have been the boat test from hell.
It began back in March as I boarded the Hampton 680 Pilothouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to help deliver her to the upcoming Palm Beach Boat Show; about 46 miles as the crow flies. As we are sometimes limited with time aboard due to dealer or owner commitments—leaving the dock at 1 p.m. and absolutely having to be back and washed down by 3 is not uncommon—I would instead have all day to sea trial this Shanghai-built cruiser.
To begin with, the wind had been unremitting from the north-northeast at 25 mph for the past three days. In other words, it was blowing stink. By the time we turned the corner at Port Everglades and were confronted by a roiling, built-up sea right there in the inlet, the stink had turned downright putrid. The “we” consisted of Capts. Forrest Roberts and Bob Baker, the principal contacts for Hampton Yachts on the East Coast.
The wind was pushing up the water to seven feet, with an occasional eight to ten big-shouldered bully rearing up. Roberts and I were topsides on the bridge deck, and Baker was seated in the electrically operated, multidirectional leather Pompanette pedestal seat in the pilothouse. Roberts wisely throttled the boat down a bit in the quickly moving head sea as we listened to the staccato-voiced message on WX-1: “...wind from the north-northeast at 29 miles per hour...,” it intoned.
As soon as we turned up the coast, the quick-duration head sea became quartering, somewhat lengthier, and more predictable. Roberts had the standard twin 800-hp Caterpillar 3406Es pushing us along at about 15 knots. While these conditions were not right for diagnostics, they were an excellent testing ground for the Hampton’s seakeeping abilities. I found this 68-foot cruising boat, with standard Wesmar RS600 stabilizers, offered a suitably secure platform given the current state of affairs. Of course she was moving around some; what boat of her size, and even some larger, wouldn’t be? However, I did not notice any shuddering, slamming, or hard hits while dealing with the relentless march of the now five- to seven-footers. Instead, the Hampton 680 pushed her way through the water, powered by the steadily and reassuringly humming engines.
Enabling her to do this is a planing hull that is solid fiberglass from the waterline down and vacuum-bagged Divinycell coring to the gunwales. She utilizes a modified deep-V design with high deadrise sections forward that accounted for the smooth entry. Her flatter aft sections with reverse chines allowed for the noted steadiness, albeit those stabilizers were also doing their part. And her prop tunnels lowered the shaft angle for less drag and better directional stability.
With all that wind-driven spray a hindrance to visibility and safety—luckily Roberts and Baker decided to keep the Strataglass enclosure up—we decided to drive from the pilothouse. Before we went below, Roberts pointed out several features of the bridge deck.
With Baker at the wheel, Roberts and I cautiously moved about the bridge deck, finally steadying ourselves aft by the 1,600-pound-capacity Nick Jackson hydraulic davit, which along with an Avon RIB, outboard, and cradle is one of the few available options. Also on the short list is an upgrade to 1,000-hp Cat C18s, a second 13.5-kW Kohler genset, hardtop, and electronics package, among others.
I could easily see this area was well-suited for outdoor entertaining, as I noted a table and seating for six just aft of the port helm and, aft of that, a sun lounge with a stowage compartment beneath that ran its entire length and was long enough to accomodate an Ocean Kayak. Conveniently located opposite the eating area was a wet bar with a refrigerator, freezer, and barbeque. And then the starboard engine quit.
Baker had already dropped the port engine’s rpm and brought the other throttle back to neutral. Our speed was now a little more than 4 knots. Collectively we scanned the helm for information, taking special note of the blank starboard CatVision screen. Baker’s attempt to restart was unsuccessful, so Roberts went down to the engine room to try it from there. That also proved not to work. He quickly checked the port Racors and, after we switched to the pilothouse helm, signaled Baker to throttle up. The starboard engine spun the PTO for the Wesmar system, and even though our speed was drastically cut and the stabilizers weren’t working, I noted that the boat still handled the existing conditions quite well, with minimum rolling while underway at 9 knots.
This all happened just short of Hillsboro Inlet, which left us about 32 miles from our Lake Worth destination. As Hillsboro is noted for being feisty in this kind of wind and an ebbing tide, which it was, and with a shoaling area just south of the entrance, we decided to go for Lake Worth. Besides, this boat had to be in her dock by day’s end for the following day’s opening of the boat show. For the next three hours or so, we were all listening very carefully to that port engine.
By the time we turned into Lake Worth Inlet and passed Peanut Island, we shared a sigh of relief. I have to say I was impressed by the way the boat handled herself in these seas while running on both engines as well as only one.
We approached the show site and, as there were other boats before us, held our position for our turn to dock. Even in the lee of the ICW, the wind, somewhat abated, was still gusting. We were back on the bridge deck and had at least another hour before we would be able to dock. “Our interiors are pretty special too,” Roberts commented, referring to the fact that there was more to this boat than a seaworthy hull.
We took the aft stairway to the cockpit. Upon entering the saloon, I could see what he meant. Besides the outstanding craftsmanship of the cherry interior, there was seven feet of headroom. “We kept that fairly constant throughout, except in the engine room. There’s only 6’2” in there,” he said. Combined with wide windows all around, the saloon felt even larger and more airy.
The forward bulkhead, separating the galley and pilothouse from the saloon, is an eye-catching piece of interior architecture, with a design that includes bookshelves, a cabinet, a 42-inch plasma screen TV hidden behind etched glass art, and a serving window to the galley. “One of our other owners wanted a complete see-through to the galley, so all this, except for the television screen, is going away,” Roberts said.
The galley area has wide-open spaces and expansive Corian countertops and features GE appliances—refrigerator/freezer, convection/microwave oven, trash compactor, dishwasher, and electric cooktop—and enough drawer and cabinet space to stow provisions for an extended cruise. Just forward of the galley is a six-person dining area with a beautifully finished wooden table.
The Hampton designers also did a bang-up job in the pilothouse. After adjusting the pedestal seat to my 5’9” height, I immediately noticed excellent views ahead. To either side I noted aircraft-style doors, also standard, as well as wide windows for added visibility. But the most impressive design element is the helm console itself. A beautifully crafted cherry cabinet easily houses every piece of flush-mounted electronics you could ever want or require for your cruising needs. It was so comfortable I did not want to leave, but I still had the living accommodations to check out.
The Hampton 680 has a three-stateroom—forepeak with island queen, port guest quarters with upper and lower berths, and master with king berth aft and amidships—three-head layout below, typified by extraordinary wood and joiner work. The forepeak and master have en suite heads while the guest quarters utilizes the day head. And while I was poking around in the ample closet and stowage space in each, I felt the boat begin to spin around.
Coming topside, I watched Roberts put her stern-to on one engine, with a touch or two from the standard Sidepower 15-hp bow thruster and optional stern thruster, right between two other boats and without the assistance of any of the TowBoat tenders standing by in the lively wind. As for the engine problem we’d had, Caterpillar technicians were on the boat later and determined that an electrical harness had malfunctioned. It was promptly fixed. Roberts reported no problems on the trip back to Fort Lauderdale. The latest information has this Hampton 680 island-hopping with its new owners on an extended Bahamian vacation.
I found the Hampton 680 to be a well-equipped, roomy cruising vessel that displayed its mettle well in less-than-favorable conditions. In my mind that makes any trip not only enjoyable but also a lot safer.
With the Hampton 680 in her slip and our lines secured, it was the Bard’s words that came to mind as I headed up the dock: All’s well that ends well.
Hampton Yachts International
port and starboard aircraft-style pilothouse doors; Wesmar stabilizer; 15-hp Sidepower bow thruster; Maxwell VWC 3500 windlass; 2/Glendinning Cablemasters; 27-kW Onan genset w/soundshield; Newmar 50-amp battery charger; 3-kW Link 200 inverter w/remote panel; oil exchange system; 37-inch LCD TV w/Bose Surround Sound system in saloon
15-hp Sidepower stern thruster; electronics package including KVH 4 satellite TV w/receivers and KVH satphone; CCTV system for engine room and aft deck; Panasonic KXTA 624 4-way phones throughout (SAT, cell, landline, intercom, w/auto switching); Raymarine M1500 GPS/plotter w/monitors on upper and lower stations, RL-80 48 mile open-array radar; two-station ST8001 autopilot, ST-1260 depth, 2/L-760 color digital depthsounders, and 2/VHF radios; Interphase forward-looking sonar; satellite radio system; WSI weatherfax; Wi-Fi computer system w/ wireless keyboard; crew quarters w/separate head and shower; Twin Disc cockpit engine controls
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/800-hp Caterpillar 3406E diesel inboards
- Transmission/Ratio: Twin Disc/2.5:1
- Props: 39.5x39 4-blade
- Price as Tested: $1,888,900
This article originally appeared in the July 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.