Rise of the Hawk
After years of dormancy in the high-performance market, Sunseeker releases the outboard-powered Hawk 38 into the wild.
I slide two small throttles forward and we shift into gear. I look down at the red kill cord secured tightly around my right leg and then back up at the deeply stacked 2- to 4-foot chop ahead of the orange sunpad. I turn around to make sure the others aboard are seated with their trays up and their seatbacks in the upright position. Put away all oversized electronics. The company captain gives me a nod; the seatbelt sign is on and we’re cleared for takeoff.
G-forces immediately push me deeper into the plush helm seat as the boat lunges forward. Acceleration is instantaneous and our speed skyrockets; part of me wants to slow down, a bigger part wants to push on. 20 knots … 30 … 45 … 50 … 52. We reach cruising altitude, folks. But don’t unbuckle that seatbelt just yet. We blast atop the slop of the Solent—a legendary slice of British water that has hosted world-class sailing for centuries—aboard Sunseeker’s highly anticipated Hawk 38.
Gallery: Hawk 38
Hearing the whine of props out of the water as you jump a wake is something you never really get used to. Shock mitigating helm seats designed by the Fabio Buzzi Design studio and built by Besenzoni dissipate the slamming caused by, you know, gravity. I turn the boat as hard as my courage allows and tense my body for the slam of hitting 3-footers sideways. The turbulence I expect never comes.
Fully loaded, we run into a 20-knot headwind and snotty seas and see a top end of 53 knots. In calm conditions, I’m told the 38 should hit speeds in the mid-60-knot range. During the white-knuckle, in-flight entertainment I’m unable to record rpm and fuel burn measurements. I suppose it doesn’t matter. GPH at 3000 rpm is nice information to have. But what you really need to know about the Hawk’s performance is: It’s a race boat disguised as a yacht. Literally.
About 800 miles southeast of the Solent on the edge of Lake Como is the man behind Hawk 38, naval architect and designer Fabio Buzzi. Italy’s Don Aronow, Buzzi boasts a reputation for having an unquenchable need for speed dating back to his competitive racing days in the late ‘70s. During his storied racing career he accumulated 52 World Offshore Championships, 22 European Offshore Championships and 40 World Speed records.
Fabio Buzzi, the legendary Italian engineer, boat designer and powerboat racing champion, died in an accident on September 17, 2019 during the closing stages of an attempt to beat his own speed record between Monte Carlo and Venice. He was 76.
Just prior to this tragic accident I spoke with Buzzi about what would be his last project, his swan song.
“Listen. Terrorists, pirates and other bad guys can get access to outboards now that will make a boat go 50 knots,” he said with a rapid cadence and broken English. “If you want to catch a boat that goes 50 knots, you need a boat that can go 70 knots and be directionally stable. We build boats, drives, engines, we make seats. Our boats are very high performance. We’re building the fastest military boat ever built.”
The hatching of the Hawk 38 marks Sunseeker’s return to the performance boat market after a nearly 14-year hiatus, though one could argue the builder’s Predator line received a double dose of that racing DNA. Models like the Hawk, Superhawk and Turbohawk ruled the seas for much of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Most recently the XS line of surface-drive powered craft, in collaboration again with Fabio Buzzi, fell victim to shifting customer preferences and the Great Recession.
“In 1984, we had three XS 34s competing in the powerboat world championship. Amidst a heat wave it was the only entry from the cruiser class to win a leg of the world championship outright, beating the Cat 1 boats,” says President of Sunseeker USA Sean Robertson. “We have a heritage that ran through the ‘90s with the Hawks, even into larger products like the Predators with triple 2400-hp MTUs and Arneson drives.”
Watching the industry-wide shift and popularity boom of the outboard industry, the British builder is betting big that these modern powerplants will bolster the popularity of their new performance boat.
“Finally we’ve seen that niche open back up,” explains Robertson. “The next generation of clients maybe don’t want to own a larger yacht yet. They want day boats. Unless we cultivate that market, that generation won’t build into our larger boats.”
Robertson continued: “Outboard power was the best fit for these new boats.”. According to him, the increased reliability, quietness, relatively low service costs and added interior space were all factors in the plus column. That and of course the speed they engender.
Many will be quick to look at the twin Merc 400-hp ponies on the transom as the reason for the Hawk’s prowess on the water (no doubt soon-to-be twin 450s now that Mercury Racing debuted those supercharged motors in the U.S.), but that’s only part of the story. The hull is the other half.
“Today, my boats are machined from a block with 5-axis milling machines and the dimensions are perfect,” the late Buzzi said. “It needs to track like an arrow at the speeds it’s capable of.”
“Listen. We produce military boats,” continues Buzzi. “We don’t like to build pleasure boats, but we like to work on this boat with Sunseeker because they wanted performance. This boat is an honor for me.”
And perform she does. A fellow marine journalist from across the pond swears the 38, while very lightly loaded, hit 70 knots. And the hull’s series of four steps gives lift and grip, something I was thankful for when cutting the craft into hard-over turns.
I finally brought the Hawk in for landing and brought her back into neutral. I noted two things before handing the helm back to the captain. I was glad I didn’t inadvertently hit one of the many buttons on the NASCAR-esque wheel. (It was a nice touch having all the ship controls at your fingertips because taking your hands off the wheel at speed would be inadvisable.) The second was a small, circular silver decal next to the Fusion control. It read “Hawk 38 RB-01” and below in flowing script “Robert Braithwaite.”
Braithwaite founded Poole Powerboats, which would go on to become Sunseeker. I would learn, walking the shop floor of the builder’s Poole buildings just two months after his passing, just how beloved the founder was. Countless departments, from lay up to fabric stitching, hung printouts memorializing him in prominent places along the walls.
Braithwaite, who was 75 at his passing, famously left school at the age of 15 with a dream to build boats. His formative years were spent repairing outboards. He and a partner would go on to borrow £5,000 to build a 17-foot go-fast boat with race-boat designer Don Shead.
The Hawk 38 would be the last boat Braithwaite and Fabio Buzzi had a direct hand in. The Sunseeker executive team decided to honor their founder by placing these limited edition insignias on the first 10 boats in this new model. A fitting tribute, I think, for a man who started with a humble 17-footer and ended with the 38 beneath my feet, in-between overseeing a boatbuilding empire synonymous with luxury and James Bond. Buzzi’s legacy will be written in the wake trailing behind the Hawk.
The Hawk 38 swooped into the U.S. at the Ft. Lauderdale show and arguably the most crowded segment here in the states. Outboard-powered speed machines are fast becoming the preferred craft of young families getting into the sport and seasoned cruisers looking to downsize. From its racing hull and exceptional driving experience to its ability to double as a tender, this Hawk is slated to be a lasting tribute to two visionaries that were not afraid to push boundaries.
Sunseeker Hawk 38 Specifications:
Displ.: 11,020 lbs.
Fuel: 185 gal.
Water: 26 gal.
Standard Power: 2/400-hp Mercury 400Rs