Grumman Aerospace was once Long Island, New York's largest employer. Indeed, it was once said that everyone on the island either worked there or knew someone who did. After the huge facility near the junction of the island's North and South Forks closed nearly two decades ago, it sat vacant until being purchased by the town of Calverton for $1. Thus began the story of Hustler Powerboats.
Actually, Hustler has been around for nearly two decades, but the company was purchased in 1998 by current president Joseph Lo Giudice, who moved operations to the Calverton facility. Although the location has no water access, it does boast a blazing-fast lineage: Grumman once built the venerable F-14 Tomcat in the very buildings that now house Hustler.
History aside, as he led me on a tour of the facility Lo Giudice told me he was thrilled to purchase the cavernous space for another reason: It was jam-packed with tooling and arranged like an assembly line, which allowed the company to increase production and expand its model line over the last five years.
I also learned that Lo Giudice is not just some wealthy hobbyist; he's a go-fast maverick. In 1994, sick of a streak of unreliable high-output gasoline engines ("It got to the point that if something didn't break, you were surprised"), he built a triple-diesel-powered 40-footer that ran 85 mph and burned a fraction of the fuel that similar gasoline-powered models did. "The diesels seemed like a natural transition," he says, and after running that boat extensively without incident, he began to focus on diesel-powered, go-fast boats to accompany Hustler's gasoline-powered models. That first diesel-powered boat was the inspiration for the 49 Esprit De Soleil (EDS), which I have come to test.
After a short drive from the factory past North Fork wineries, I arrived at a marina hard by Peconic Bay. Unloading my test gear, I got my first look at the 49 and recalled something else that Lo Giudice mentioned at the factory: expanding the appeal of Hustler by making its boats more user-friendly, particularly to those in the Baby Boomer bracket. This was apparent straightaway, as the 49's a breeze to board—no climbing over sunpads or balancing on razor-thin side decks. Access from the stern is via a sturdy, nearly eight-foot-wide swim platform onto a teak-covered, port-side walkway and down a few steps into the standard teak-soled cockpit. The teak was a nice touch, though its dark stain finish made it a bit hot for bare feet. I'd opt for unstained teak.
Baby Boomers should also like the 49's cockpit layout, which takes full advantage of her ten-foot beam, and in two respects echoes Hustler's goal of appealing to those who like to go fast and crave comfort. One is her amidships C-shape settee that can accommodate six at a cherry dining table that folds out to 25"Wx49"L. It's served by a port-side wet bar with standard Raritan ice maker. The other is her helm arrangement. Hustler opted to forego the typical hard-to-maneuver-around bolster seats in favor of a comfortable and wide helm seat.
The easy access continues below decks. I'm 5'11" and I didn't have to crouch as I entered the 49's saloon via her port-side companionway. Down three steps, its 6'4" headroom and lack of door to both the forepeak master and the VIP stateroom make things feel roomy. While this works for the aft VIP stateroom, which is essentially just a double berth—albeit at 45"Wx97"L a large one—with limited headroom, it robs the forepeak master stateroom of privacy. When I mention this to Lo Giudice, he says a pocket door is an option.
But while her user-friendiness will undoubtedly make the 49 attractive to Baby Boomers and others, she's still a speedster at heart. On a windless August morning her standard triple 440-hp Yanmars mated to ZF Trimax surface-piercing drives propelled our 49 to an average top speed of 65 mph. At WOT, she was a bit loud--my decibel reader registered 96 dB-A (65 dB is the level of normal conversation). But she also averaged nearly 1 mpg throughout her entire rpm range, and at 56.4 mph (3000 rpm) I recorded 1.11 mpg—that's a cruising range of 437 miles.
When it was my turn at the wheel, I first brought the 49 up on plane in low gear (she has two-speed transmissions), then backed off the throttles a bit and flipped the helm switch into high gear. Within five seconds she'd increased her speed threefold. At WOT she chine-walked a bit until I adjusted the standard ZF Seaplane carbon-fiber trim tabs, after which she tracked cleanly and required little correction at the helm. Sightlines remained excellent in all directions, even during sharp turns at 60 mph, and when I whipped her around at that speed, she made 180-degree turns in just a few boat lengths. On the way back to the dock, I ran her at just over 47 mph at 2700 rpm, where it felt like we were gliding just above the flat bay.
After bidding Lo Giudice and the Hustler crew farewell, it's back to the reality of the Long Island Expressway for me. Passing the defunct airbase, I see, mounted as if taking off for the stratosphere, an F-14 Tomcat, once a ubiquitous sight in the skies over Long Island. That's the past, and after running the 49 EDS, I am confident that diesel power is the future for go-fast boats, a logical and efficient replacement for thirsty, temperamental gasoline engines and the perfect match for the new breed of boaters who are buying these machines.
Hustler Power Boats
cherry interior; teak cockpit sole;15" Northstar 6000i 4-kW radar and chartplotter; Azimuth electronic compass; ZF Seaplane carbon-fiber trim tabs w/ analog indicators; 2/Sony AM/FM stereo/CD players w/ XM satellite radio; Poly-Planar speakers; Icom VHF; custom LED gauge package; 15" Sharp Aquos LCD TV; Zenith DVD/VHS player with stereo amplifier; one-burner Kenyon cooktop; Corian countertops; GE microwave; Norcold refrigerator/ freezer; Raritan ice maker; teak-and-holly saloon sole; hot/cold transom shower; SeaLand VacuFlush MSD; Grohe plumbing fixtures;16,000-Btu Cruisair A/C; 5-kW Fischer Panda diesel genset w/ sound shield; 3/Racor fuel-water separators; 50-amp Charles battery charger; Oil-X-change-R for engines, transmissions, and genset; Lewmar windlass; rosewood dash panels, underwater lights
Teleflex single-lever electronic controls; docking lights
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 3/440-hp Yanmar 6LY2A-STP diesel inboards
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF 110 GTS 2-speed/1.18/1.52:1
- Props: 18x28 five-blade Rolla
- Price as Tested: $1,013,668
This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.