Drive, She Said
The Sunseeker Predator 57 speaks in many ways to guest comfort, an owner’s pride, and a helmsman’s exhilaration. You’ll know it when you hear it.
I first visited Poole on a blustery November evening more than 30 years ago. I was on board a twin-diesel, aft-cabin 36-footer, doing a course—Day Skipper, I believe it was, which, if I remember correctly, actually took five days and involved a bit of hairy night pilotage. Having secured to the heavily piled concrete quay to our instructor’s satisfaction, we ventured ashore to find the pubs full of boisterous Royal Marines.
We had to shout to make ourselves heard, but after five or six pints, and some sort of meat pie, we’d probably have been shouting anyway, and it was several hours later that we emerged to find that the wind had strengthened and swung round to the south, and our boat was pounding herself against the wall, rearing up and snatching against her lines on the choppy water. We had to move her, fast, and—with a nonchalance that gives me the shivers now—I leapt onto the foredeck while the others clambered down the ladder, the instructor gunned the engines and we roared across to the flat side of the harbor. We slept well. It was only in the morning that I wondered what I had been thinking: One slip and I’d have been in that water, probably for good. Of course I hadn’t been thinking at all.
Thankfully my trips to Poole are not always like that. In fact in midsummer on a warm and balmy July day, Poole can be positively idyllic, and taking a brand-new Sunseeker out on a test straight from the harborfront shipyard just makes everything better. The new Predator 57 sounds kind of scary but she’s a pussycat really, and she caused quite a stir on her unveiling at the London Boat Show last January, with her combination of sleek looks, potent performance, and bright, voluminous interior. Our test boat was the 13th off the line—not a bad build rate. It’s based on the established Manhattan 55 hull, and between the two models Sunseeker reckons on building just over 40 a year.
The Predator comes with three Volvo Penta power options, including twin 10.8-liter 685-horsepower engines with IPS drives, but our test boat had the big 900-horsepower D13s with shafts, which, according to Sunseeker, has so far proved the most popular choice for the 57. Using the same hull for both flybridge and open models isn’t always a successful strategy: Plenty of boatbuilders have caught a cold trying to double up and save on design and development costs, only to find that subtle differences in center of gravity or weight distribution can lead to all sorts of compromises in trim, handling, and even performance.
If Sunseeker encountered any such issues with its new Predator, I certainly didn’t notice. A Sunseeker carries with it certain expectations, dimly associated with some of the company’s earliest designs, which had their genesis on the drawing board of Don Shead, one of the most successful raceboat designers of his day. That day was a long time ago, when the narrow-beam deep-V was king of the racecourse, and if you could shoehorn a bed and a galley into whatever space remained, great: You had a cruiser. Nowadays, when naval architects have to start with the bed and the galley and somehow find a way of wrapping a portly, broad-girthed hull around them (I might be exaggerating a little), Sunseeker still remembers those glory days, and its design department still prides itself on producing driver’s boats, which accelerate, and turn, and heel.
So the Predator 57 might have a moderate deadrise and the sort of generous beam that any modern cruiser has to have, but she handles well. Taking the wheel is a lot of fun. The big 900s produce so much torque that the hull feels perfectly poised from the high teens all the way up to 35 knots, and you can choose to cruise at pretty much any speed in between. The hull trims well up at transitional speeds, but it’s easily controlled by the tabs. Throttle response is excellent, and the boat responds willingly to the lightest helm input. Driver’s boat? You bet.
Those 13-liter Volvos might be key to the Predator’s appeal, but they do take up a lot of space. With a tender garage good for a 10-foot 6-inch jet-powered Williams RIB, plus a crew cabin, there’s not a lot of room left over in the stern for anything else. It’s pretty tight down there. You can tell by the way that the water heater is bolted to the deckhead, over the starboard engine. There’s nowhere else to put it.
Elsewhere on board, however, light and space are allowed to dominate. The cockpit bulkhead is an elegant glass structure of just two pieces that disappears downwards between the cockpit and saloon sofas. This opens up the main deck from transom to helm, on a single level, instantly making the 57 feel like a larger boat. The sunroof is huge and glazed with three tinted panels. Big side windows on both the main deck and down below also show off the hull’s beam.
It’s a three-cabin boat with 6-foot 5-inch headroom down below, an impressive master suite amidships and a well-appointed VIP in the bows. The third cabin is definitely just for sleeping in, with its limited floor space and twin bunk berths, but it does leave space for an attractive lower dinette on the starboard side, across from the galley, which makes a comfortable and secluded breakfast spot for two to three people. There’s a TV on the bulkhead opposite. If you ask nicely Sunseeker will fit a telescopic table mount down here, which allows the dinette to convert into a short kids’ berth. Another option is to fit this area out as an en suite for the third cabin, while a couple of owners have opted for extra stowage, and space for a washing machine and wine cooler.
The finish on our test boat was a satin-varnished American walnut, with teak flooring on the main deck. Various other veneers are also available. Smart silver-lacquered locker fronts mark out the galley, which has numerous practical stowage spaces and basks in an abundance of daylight from the windshield overhead.
Up in the saloon the forward seating area and the excellent, ergonomic two-seat helm station combine to make a single sociable space. From here, everyone can enjoy the buzz. And the 57 really is a blast to be aboard, especially underway. The coastline outside Poole Harbour is famous for its white cliffs and chalk stacks, and for its clear, turquoise-tinted water. On a day like ours, with its gentle breeze and warm sunshine, there are few places prettier to take out a boat. It was perfect.
Whenever I’m down that way, though, I can’t help remembering that mad, dark, windswept night more than 30 years ago. Cruising along the town’s waterfront, my eyes always seek out the spot where we moored, just across from the Lord Nelson. Poole has changed more than most places in the last 30 years, but the pub is still there. And thankfully, so am I.
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NOTEWORTHY OPTIONS: “USA” package: high-spec a/c; Glendinning Cablemaster; stern thruster; electric grill and ice maker with water purifier in cockpit; electric cockpit canopy; LED side-deck and underwater lights; bow cushions with backrests; freshwater deck wash. Approximate total: $158,339.
Generator: Onan, 11-kW, Warranty: 1 year whole vessel; 5 years for hull, superstructure, and gelcoat blistering; engines and components covered by manufacturer.
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature 70°F; humidity 92%; seas: 1'
Load During Boat Test
267 gal. fuel, 124 gal. water, 6 persons, safety gear only.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/900-hp Volvo Penta D13 900 diesels
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF 335A, 1.96:1 ratio
- Props: 2/29 x 38.5 5-blade Nibral
- Price as Tested: $1,607,593 (not including tax and delivery)
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.