Photography by Billy Black
Others may not find Lionheart Concerto as beautiful as her owner Ken Sawyer does—and he couldn’t care less.
Peter Janssen discovers what makes this unusual 42-footer so special during a three-day Chesapeake cruise.
This isn’t your traditional new-boat review. Instead, it’s a story about art, human suffering, and one man’s search for perfection. It’s about Ken Sawyer, a renaissance man who’s produced an art nouveau boat, a unique 42-footer that he calls a floating concert hall and that has already been exhibited as a work of sculpture by a leading art museum.
It’s impossible to talk about the boat, Lionheart Concerto, without talking about Sawyer. Now 66, at various points in his life Sawyer has been a prosecuting attorney, forensic psychiatrist, stunt flyer, golf instructor, lecturer on molecular biology, concert-hall designer, CEO of a major generic drug company, and oh, in his spare time, he’s bought, sold, cut up (literally), designed, and built some 46 boats.
One of the most established American yacht designers, Bob Perry, drew the original rendering of the 42-foot Lionheart Concerto, shown above, for Ken Sawyer before, he says, “Ken was bitten by the Bugatti bug.” Perry also has designed 36- and 33-foot versions “because Ken wanted to pursue the same idea in some smaller sizes.”
The basic design concept is the same as Lionheart Concerto. “They all have what I call a ‘Ken look,’” he says. “They’re all narrow-ish and fuel efficient and operate in the 14-knot range.”
From his studio in Tulalip, Washington, about an hour north of Seattle, Perry says, “I always lay out the interior too, but Ken takes it to another level. I couldn’t do those details if my life depended on it.”
The latest, of course, is Lionheart Concerto, Sawyer’s magnum opus, designed by Bob Perry. Construction started at Lyman-Morse in Maine and was completed at Front Street Shipyard, also in the Pine Tree State. At first glance, Lionheart Concerto is certainly head turning. From the side, she looks like a 1930s Bugatti top stacked on a lobsterboat bottom. But after spending three days cruising the eastern shore of the Chesapeake recently with Sawyer and photographer Billy Black, I learned two things.
First, everyone wants to take a closer look at this boat, and that’s before they get onboard and see the Yamaha piano, the three sconces from Paris, the exquisite hand-carved French walnut interior (Sawyer went to France and brought back an entire container load of walnut logs), the Stradivarius crown set into the dining table, or the logo of the weeping lion looking down from the midcabin bulkhead. The lion is weeping in memory of Sawyer’s only son Landon, who was killed in a freak freestyle skiing accident in Colorado in 2002 when he was 18; Lionheart was his Hebrew name. “Since then, I feel like I have to live two lives,” Sawyer told me.
Second, after cruising through some calm and some snotty sea conditions on the Chesapeake, I think this is perhaps the most sea-kindly boat I’ve ever been on. At cruising speed, she offers just a hint of a side-to-side roll, feeling more like a sailboat than a powerboat, and bashing through three-foot head seas she produces a steady ride and a soft landing. With a plumb bow, deep forefoot, sharp angle of entry, hard chine, and canoe stern, Lionheart Concerto is narrow (only an 11-foot 6-inch beam) and Perry says that’s the key to her performance. “Most modern powerboats have very volume-oriented hull forms,” he says, “and this results in a boat that’s prone to slamming and pounding in some choppy conditions. Concerto was designed to be performance oriented in the 12- to 16-knot range, and that priority rules out a volume-oriented shape.” Perry and Sawyer have worked together for 35 years, primarily designing highly efficient cruising sailboats and motorsailers. They tank-tested various versions of Lionheart Concerto in Vancouver until they got it right. “Ken is a lot of fun to work with and has, as you can see, an active imagination and an open mind,” Perry says, somewhat diplomatically. For his part, Sawyer is more direct: “I’d get an idea at three in the morning and call Bob and we’d scream at each other.” After five years of planning, testing, and building, the finished Lionheart Concerto, Sawyer says, “is one person’s view of perfection.”
I first saw the boat on a beautiful, cloudless, early summer morning at Port Annapolis Marina. She was easy to find; everybody at the marina knew where she was, and also she doesn’t look like any other boat ever built. The teal hull color, for example, is a custom Awlgrip made to match the hue of a 1934 Rolls Royce that Sawyer once owned (he collects cars, too). And he designed the house, windows, doors, and curves to match the lines of an early 1930s Bugatti Atlantic Coupe that he particularly fancied (Ralph Lauren has one too).
At the time, the boat’s 260-horsepower Yanmar only had 34 hours on it. Sawyer had launched her six months before in Maine and then trucked her down to Florida (where she was displayed at the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Art) and then trucked her back. (“The boat’s done the entire east coast on the back of a truck,” Sawyer quipped.)
Entering the saloon, through the Bugatti-styled door from the cockpit, the sleek black Yamaha Modus electronic player piano is immediately to starboard, and it’s the star of the show. The piano streams music via Yamaha’s dedicated satellite anywhere in the world, and the keys can play automatically, or you can play them yourself. A music buff, Sawyer added video technology to the Yahama’s audio. “I can play the piano in Paris,” he said, “and my teacher back in the United States can see my fingers. It’s incredible.” That morning, as he showed me through the boat, the piano was playing “Scarborough Fair;” later, it moved on to Brahms’ violin concertos. Sawyer worked with Yamaha to reduce weight in the piano (it ended up at 250 pounds), and he designed the carbon-fiber French Provincial piano bench himself; it weighs two and a half pounds. Just forward of the piano is the eye-catching curved helm pod, in polished carbon fiber with sewn leather edges. Opposite the piano, to port, is an extremely comfortable curved settee.
We moved below, to the midcabin, with a functional galley to port, opposite the head. Two long sofa benches flank the folding dining table that collapses to a width of only 4 inches, meaning that even in this relatively narrow boat, you can easily walk around either side of the centerline table, quite a design feat. Sawyer designed the table; actually, he designed, or was instrumental in designing, everything in the boat. Looking forward to Sawyer’s cabin in the bow, copper flowers stand out on hand-carved maple vines on the titanium main bulkhead.
Sitting on the port sofa, Sawyer talked about art nouveau, which he studied in Paris (“I like to study,” he says; Sawyer has graduate degrees in physics and biology, in addition to law and medicine.) The art nouveau period, from 1890 to 1910, was inspired by curves, flowers, and natural forms, with an emphasis on exquisite craftsmanship and a belief in the totality of design, arcing across not only the exterior of a building, say, but also the interior, the furniture, and the moldings. Sawyer thinks that art nouveau, and the art deco period which followed, are the most significant design eras of the past two centuries; they are well represented in Lionheart Concerto. “Aesthetics and function came together in the design of the boat,” he says. “It’s like nature made it.” The finished boat, he says, “combines water, light, and sound, the three elements of life.” (In his spare time, Sawyer put together a group of artists, craftsmen, and architects to create a mixture of advanced yacht and home design, exemplified by his own home, with its attached concert hall, on the water in Cushing, Maine; the loosely knit organization is called Yarkitecture.)
Sawyer grew up in New London, Connecticut—where his father was in the merchant marine—and Philadelphia. After he graduated from law school at Temple University, he became a prosecutor under Philadelphia District Attorney Arlen Specter. But boats were dear to his heart. When he got his first paycheck, he bought a Pearson 26 sailboat for $7,100 and cruised all over the Chesapeake. (In our three days cruising on the Eastern Shore, Sawyer had already been everywhere we went, several times over.) Next, he moved to Ft. Lauderdale for a private practice, representing generic drug companies, as well as Cheoy Lee, taking his fee in new boats and starting his collaboration with Perry. Trying to do things better, he and Perry cut up two Cheoy Lee 43s and a Tashiba 40 (both Perry designs) and later, at Lyman-Morse, a Seguin 46. (He also studied psychiatry for four and a half years.) Moving back to New Jersey, Sawyer became CEO of what is now Par Pharmaceutical for 14 years, retiring in 2003, a year after his son died. When he started, the company was under federal investigation for possible fraud. After Sawyer worked with the FBI to clean things up, he had to hire a bodyguard and wear a bulletproof vest to work.
Sailing was safer, and certainly more fun. Moving beyond the Chesapeake, Sawyer transited the Panama Canal, cruised and raced in the Med, and cruised the Caribbean and around the United States. And he formed the philosophy that guides Lionheart Concerto. “When you’re racing,” he says, “half the time people aren’t speaking to each other after a few days.” Now, his priorities have changed. “This boat’s designed to maximize the time onboard,” he says. “The experience is about the boat and the camaraderie onboard, not the destination. When you look around here, you sit surrounded inside something musical and wonderful. Inside, it’s a sculpture.”
Sawyer also wants to design more efficient boats. “It now costs $500 to cross the bay for the afternoon in a powerboat,” he says. “We need a paradigm shift. You don’t need to go 35 knots. My goal is four miles to the gallon, not four gallons to the mile.” He built the hull for Lionheart Concerto at Lyman-Morse in Thomaston, Maine, using the SCRIMP system with vinelyster resin to save weight. In the heart of the recession, when JB Turner, who was running Lyman-Morse, moved up to Belfast with much of his crew to help start the Front Street Shipyard, Sawyer took the boat there to be finished. With its single, fuel-sipping Yanmar and Perry’s slender, slippery hull design (it’s fairly flat aft but with a skeg to protect the prop and add directional stability), Lionheart Concerto has a range of more than 1,000 miles at 8 knots and 342 miles at its cruising speed of 14.
The weather forecast for the next few days called for some serious storms, so we decided to head down the Chesapeake to the colonial town of Oxford, only a few hours away on the eastern shore. Casting off at the dock, I was concerned about the lack of side rails on the boat (a clear case of form winning out over function) but then there are strategically placed stainless steel handholds on the Bugatti cabin top, and the toerails are raised enough to provide a safe foothold. As a result of the original tank testing, Perry designed a little hook in the stern, so the boat has very little bow rise, even coming up on plane. The canoe stern, meanwhile, throws up a bit of a rooster tail, which added to the eye-candy appeal; almost everyone on other boats waved as we went by.
We started out cruising at only 10 or 11 knots, but as we approached Tilghman Island, Sawyer nudged the throttle up to 18 knots and the boat simply held its track, providing a very smooth ride. (At 10 knots he put the boat into a 360-degree turn and it didn’t lean or tip at all.) The weather holding, we turned east across the broad Choptank River to the delightful Tred Avon River and into Oxford, and tied up at the old Cutts & Case dock on Town Creek across from the Hinckley yard. Cutts & Case has been in Oxford for generations, and specializes in wooden boat design and construction. We had barely tied up when Eddie Cutts, one of the current owners, left his workbench in the shed and came down for a firsthand inspection; he was simply blown away by the quality of the woodwork throughout the interior. After touring the shop, and taking a good look at the restoration of noted photographer Stanley Rosenfeld’s old wooden boat Foto in the yard’s museum-like lobby, we walked around the historic, quiet, picture-perfect little town. On Oxford’s main street, the only person in sight was an older gentleman sitting in front of the sole variety store with his dog; exactly one car drove by as we walked to dinner at the Robert Morris Inn across from the town’s verdant waterfront park. A friend of George Washington, Robert Morris helped finance the Revolution; the inn bearing his name dates from 1710, and calls itself “America’s Oldest Inn.” We ate, relaxed, and let our blood pressure drop.
Back at the boat, at 5:30 the next morning the VHF was warning of some bad weather ahead. A small-craft advisory was up now, and severe thunderstorms and even a tornado were possible later in the day. We decided to head for St. Michaels, a few hours up the eastern shore, where we could tie up safely and ride out whatever was coming. In a 15-knot early morning breeze, we cruised to the Tilghman Island Canal, fueling up at the Knapps Narrows Marina on the north side of the bascule bridge, and then went across Eastern Bay and down the Miles River into St. Michaels. At first we tied up at an outer dock at Higgins Yacht Yard there, where the crews from two 40-foot Mainships who were completing the Great Loop came aboard to take a better look at the boat. As the sky darkened, however, Sawyer decided to move Lionheart Concerto to a smaller, inner, more protected dock, which he negotiated slowly and carefully with the help of the MaxPower bow thruster. We prepared for the storm and then explored the town, a bustling summer resort (with ice cream stores, art galleries, boutiques, and lots of traffic) that seemed almost the polar opposite of Oxford. The rain hit in the afternoon and we took comfort in our floating work of art, Black working on his pictures, Sawyer listening to more violin concertos from the Yamaha while I settled into the saloon sofa and finished Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, beneath the soft light, almost like candlelight, supplied by the three sconces. That night the town’s tornado warning sirens went off while we were having dinner on the second floor of the Crab Claw and we left in a torrential downpour.
The next morning, it was still blowing 20 knots as we departed St. Michaels, made a wide right turn around the southern tip of Kent Island, and headed across the Chesapeake back to Annapolis. After the seas calmed down a bit, Sawyer opened up the throttle again and the GPS showed 18.4 knots. Meanwhile, I settled back in the cockpit to enjoy another Sawyer design element: The trailing edges of the house are sculpted like reverse airplane wings, so that air is deflected away from the cockpit. In fact, it’s so still back there under way that you could probably light a match. Back in Annapolis, we checked the engine. The main hatch is in the saloon, and you lift it by using a handheld suction cup, about the size of a small book. (There are no latches or hinges interfering with the design.) The Yanmar seemed a bit cramped, but it certainly is in the right place for the boat’s balance and low profile.
Looking ahead, on the professional front, Sawyer is working on health-related business issues, developing drugs to combat obesity, macular degeneration, and various addictions. And he’s hoping to build an entire line of Lionheart boats—a 33 and 36 in addition to the 42—at Front Street Shipyard. That’s all a long way from his original Pearson 26. “I never rest without thinking about design,” Sawyer says. “I want to leave a legacy of beautiful things.”
LWL: 40'2", Black Water: 22 gal., Generator: 1/7 kW Westerbeke
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 81°F; seas: sloppy 2-foot waves and 15-knot wind on Eastern Bay, north of St. Michaels, Maryland
Load During Boat Test
150 gal. fuel, 100 gal. water, three people, 250 lb. piano.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 1/260-hp Yanmar 6BY2 diesel
- Price as Tested: $1,875,000
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.