Can a thousand-boat-per-year builder be considered a startup business? The answer is yes and no. Milan, Italy-based and family-owned Sessa Marine has been a household name in the European boating scene since the late 1950's, but it decided to take on the highly competitive American boating market only in the last year or so.
A couple of factors have played a part in that decision. The company has solidified its position on its home turf as evidenced by its three plants that are currently going all-ahead-full constructing a line of boats ranging from 26 feet to 52 feet, including everything from sleek outboard-powered center consoles to diesel-powered express cruisers. (It also has an IPS-equipped 46-footer on the way.) In addition, the company's employees number 300 and growing. Take that workforce, new product, and nearly 50 years of boatbuilding experience and mix it all together with a favorable exchange rate, and you have recipe for expansion on a global scale.
This is where yours truly enters the picture. I'd heard about Sessa from our European editor Alan Harper, who tested the company's flagship 52-footer last spring, but I hadn't had any wheel time onboard one. So when I got word from Sessa's national sales manager, Craig Muir, that the company's latest launch, a 35-foot express cruiser, was on its way to Harbour Towne Marina in Dania Beach, Florida, it wasn't long before I was dockside and itching to take this low-profile, sporty-looking boat out for a shakedown.
When I saw the Sessa C35 sitting alongside her big sister, the C52, I immediately noticed the family resemblance: free-flowing, fore-to-aft curves and a striking sinewy appearance. The 35's beam is a svelte 11'6", which is the same as Formula's 34 and six inches narrower than both the Sea Ray 340 Sundancer and Rinker 350, both similar-genre boats. But even though her beam is narrower, she sports a world of room below decks. Average headroom there is 6'1", and there's a forepeak double berth, crescent-shape dinette table that converts to a single, head with MastroMarine MSD, double-berth guest stateroom aft, and galley with two-burner Origo cooktop and Dometic microwave. Moreover, all of this stuff seems to fit in quite well. The saloon/galley area feels bright in spite of being deep in the boat. Why? A combination of generous overhead halogen lighting, a hatch over the forepeak berth, a light oak interior and optional oak saloon sole, and standard stainless steel galley countertops that pick up and reflect light. The contemporary styling here is eye-catching.
But I did have issues with the arrangement. First, the three 11- to 12.5-inch steps from the helm area down are steep, although their right-to-left staggering does help you maintain your balance while transiting them. Second, when you're exiting and entering the aft stateroom, you have to negotiate a five-inch step up before you step down and into the room. If you're going barefoot and catch a toe on this lip, ouch! The entrance really should be flush with the sole.
Regardless, the 35 should be an effective family weekender, although I thought that with her raked, wind-in-your-hair appearance, she could be equally attractive to the high-speed, sharp-turning performance enthusiast. And my testing proved me right.
On a stretch of flat water inside, Muir spooled up the optional 260-hp Volvo Penta D4 diesel Duoprop stern drives (Volvo Penta's 270-hp gasoline stern drives are standard), and we were off to the races. In just four seconds, the 35 was up on plane, with a slight loss of visibility due to a maximum of six degrees of bow rise as she got over the hump at 2000 rpm and 17.5 mph. In another 20 seconds, after a quick tap of the standard Bennett trim tabs to bring her nose down, the 35 made an average top hop of 41.8 mph at 3400 rpm, 100 rpm under the engine's rating. At WOT the diesels ate 24 gph, which after factoring in her 132-gallon fuel capacity works out to a cruising range of 207 miles and 1.74 mpg. Dialing the D4s back to 3000 rpm produced a comfortable cruise of 38 mph, 18-gph fuel burn, and range of 250 miles at nearly 2 mpg. That's pretty impressive speed and economy in an age where fuel is nearing the $4 mark.
The 35's numbers were praiseworthy, and after seeing how Muir was smiling every time he put the hammer down on the sporty cruiser, I thought that some wheel time of my own was in order. Just like Muir, I trimmed the 35 as flat as I could get her. The Volvo Penta steering provided agile helm response, and the boat sliced through the water like a razor-sharp knife goes through paper. It was exhilarating and exciting, and it made me feel like a kid again. (I like any boat that can do that.) But while driving in flat water is nice, those kinds of conditions rarely happen, so I pointed the bow of the 35 towards the steady 15-mph southeasterly and three- and four-footers at the mouth of the inlet.
Unsure of how this speedy boat would handle the real-world conditions I was staring at, I moved her along slowly, keeping the engines around 2300 rpm as her fine entry pierced the short-spaced swells. The 35 easily split them, with some wind-blown spray catching me right on the chin every now and again. When I put her cross-sea, she ran easily and dry at 26 mph. As I turned her stern-to the waves after spending a half-hour driving around in the swells, I found her following-sea ride was steady and smooth, too, with good control at all times. While heading back into the inlet, I concluded that the 35 is a solid citizen that would make most families happy to cruise with her while also gratifying the helmsman.
Indeed, Sessa Marine has put together an impressive midsize express here. Even after a shakedown in some decent seas and a good helping of high-speed driving, I couldn't find a loose screw, a drippy porthole, or a dropped door latch. The C35 is sturdy, attractive, speedy, and easy on the eyes. And while Sessa may be the new kid on the block, I think boaters will easily welcome her to the neighborhood.
For more information on Sessa Marine, including contact information, click here.
double berth in forepeak; L-shape divan w/ telescoping table; s/s countertops, sink, and galley cabinets; 5.3-cu.-ft. Isotherm refrigerator; Dometic microwave; sofa in aft stateroom; swim platform w/ hot/cold shower; foredeck sunpads; Isotherm ice box in cockpit; cockpit cover; Bennett trim tabs; Bruce anchor w/ 164-ft. chain; 12,000-Btu Marine Air A/C
teak bridge-deck and cockpit sole; oak sole in saloon/galley; 6-kW Mase genset; Vetus bow thruster; canvas; leather settee; Raymarine electronics package w/ Tridata and C80 multifunction display; Sony CD player; blue hull color; additional cushion for dinette double-berth conversion
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/260-hp Volvo Penta D4-260 DP diesel stern drives
- Transmission/Ratio: Volvo Penta DP/ 1.85: 1
- Props: Volvo Penta G8
- Price as Tested: $319,567
This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.