Finding the 65 Estrella at the Montauk Yacht Club couldn’t have been easier, not just because of the boat’s monstrous size, but because there is a buzz you can follow from the parking lot to its slip. Tire kickers, serious sportfishermen and motoryacht owners are drawn to the 65-footer like moths to a flame. During the drive to Montauk, I prepared myself to not come off as too impressed. That plan works well right up until I come to the boat’s transom and ogle its quint 627-horsepower Seven Marine outboards. Math has never been one of my strong suits; I need to summon the calculator on my phone to learn that there is a corral of 3,135 horses strapped to the newest member of the HCB family.
The boat is being primed and prepped for a weekend event hosted by Staten Island Yacht Sales, but there is a short window to slip this beast from its chains for a test on the (admittedly calm) ocean. The captain is a youngish-looking man by the name of Matt, who deftly uses the boat’s ZF joystick to slide us out of a tight, shallow (maybe four-feet deep) slip. Having delivered the boat up the coast from Islamorada, with Costa sunglasses tight to his face and a quiet calm behind the helm, I mistake him for a full-time company captain. I’m surprised to learn he is much more than that.
A graduate of the Great Lakes Maritime Academy and the University of Michigan’s Naval Architecture program, Matt Huyge is a senior naval architect and director of technical sales for HCB (an acronym for the recently rebranded Hydrasport Custom Boats). His role on the 65 is, in his words, “a little bit of everything and designing the hull bottom.”
“They let the naval architect run the boat up the coast?” I ask.
“This is our testing,” he explains. “When you design the boat it’s helpful to be able to drive it and talk to the customers and go through everything. Seeing the boat in action is so much better than just designing it from behind a desk.”
I can’t argue.
“I actually deliver all of our 53s to their owners, which is unusual.” This isn’t because of a manpower shortage; HCB employs about 130 other folks, all of whom I suspect would jump at a delivery job like this. “It’s well worth it because we spend between three and seven days with each 53 owner,” adds Huyge. “Some need that time more than others but it’s a yacht; it has as many systems as some boats twice the size and we go through all of them with our customers.”
Just a few of the systems aboard include a watermaker, generator, Seakeeper, scores of refrigerators, livewells and air conditioning at the helm. And then there’s the interior. With a record-setting eight-plus feet of headroom, you forget you’re below the console and sunpad. Gleaming brightwork and stainless give the interior a motoryacht-like feel. The settee could easily seat a family of five; there’s a small galley for meal prep in a pinch and a double berth in a separate master stateroom forward. Huyge has been calling this space home for a couple weeks and vouches for its comfort. The head is sizable, but the shower is particularly impressive. A rainforest shower head looks like it belongs in a luxury hotel suite.
I notice a pair of small hinges on the wall of the salon (yes, it’s weird writing the word salon when talking about a center console). Huyge gives a tug and reveals a Pullman twin berth. All told, the interior can sleep five.
Walking out of the cabin, I notice there’s no TV. Strange, I think. Maybe they didn’t install it yet.
“It’s right there in the mirror,” Huyge says nonchalantly.
I pause and look for where a TV can drop down.
“No, the mirror is a TV,” he says as he flips a breaker. Sure enough, once electricized, a television screen appears where my puzzled face was just moments before. Again, my intentions of not coming off as too impressed fail me.
But OK, that’s enough of the interior. I know what you’re asking yourself: How’s she drive!? Well, she certainly doesn’t disappoint. I’m careful to review the sightlines around the boat at different rpm and in turns. Before the test, I was concerned that because of the LOA, it might be hard to see the water in front of the boat. But at the helm, I can see around the boat easily. There are six aboard, but I can tell that even with a full boat, which would require an awful lot of friends, sightlines wouldn’t pose any problems.
The ride is smooth, quiet (I measure 72 decibels at the helm and that’s mostly wind noise) and sporty. Sporty, yet confidence-inspiring. In tight turns I never feel the Estrella slip, and running the boat through its wake reveals pillow-soft landings.
The goal behind the Estrella is to hit 52 knots. We are a couple knots shy during our test, but with some prop tweaking from the team at Volvo Penta, which recently acquired Seven Marine, I have no doubt the boat will hit that number.
A smooth ride like this one doesn’t happen by accident. Huyge explains that the bigger the boat, the more discerning the owners get. They demand a higher level of detail and performance.
“We took this boat to Stevens Institute with a six-foot scale model and ran it through a tow tank for seakeeping and bare-hull resistance testing,” says Huyge. “We were there testing it and perfecting it for two weeks.”
This extensive testing gave him the confidence to run the boat up along the coast from the Keys. “At one point, I took on 14-footers at 42 miles per hour in the Out Islands. She handled it great.”
According to Huyge, the best economy for the 65 is at 42 knots. And the biggest challenge running her isn’t finding dock space or running in rough water, but in planning for fuel stops. With a 1,700-gallon capacity, it takes a while to fuel.
Along the way Huyge has encountered hundreds, maybe thousands of boaters who approached him to admire the 65. Many times, the gawkers were just that, but there were also plenty of run-ins with serious potential customers.
“When we were coming into Charleston, boats saw us coming on AIS so they were waiting for us in the harbor. As soon as we came in they started running with us. As soon as we pulled into the fuel dock everyone starts running to the boat. It’s pretty cool.”
Another standout moment on the trip up the coast was when Huyge tested the boat’s 2-foot, 6-inch draft in a way that only the guy who designs the hull bottom can. “We were going to Morehead City and you can either take the ICW or the ocean. Or there are sand bars. We took the sand bars. In three feet of water we were running zigzags through the entire backside. We were passing guys on skiffs and the look on their faces said, ‘What on earth?’”
Anytime a new boat pushes the boundaries of what’s possible, it’s inevitable that it will receive a strong reaction. I vividly remember hearing people scoff at how “unnecessarily big” the Regulator 41 was when it debuted a couple years ago in Newport. Today, with the proliferation of center consoles in the 50-plus-foot range, that boat looks damn near modest.
HCB’s 65 Estrella is no exception to that rule. We posted a video to our Facebook page during our test (if you’re not following us, you’re missing out) and it skyrocketed in virality. In a few short days it reached over half a million views and thousands of comments. As is the nature of the internet, the keyboard warriors were split down party lines. Many admired the super console. Then there were the haters: “Who needs that much horsepower?” “What does that thing cost to fuel up?” “Unnecessary.” “Who would want a 65-foot center console?”
I silently cheered when Tim Harmon of HCB came to the support of his employer on Facebook: “To all the people hating, I build these boats and until you step foot in this yacht you have no clue what this beast has to offer. It’s impressive.”
The strong reaction to the boat was amazing, yet on par for a debut of this magnitude. But even trolls make a point from time to time. Yes, all those ponies require a lot of fuel. Most of us can’t front the fuel bill. Most boaters don’t need 65 feet of walkaround fishability. Most people don’t need to go 52 knots. And you know what? That’s OK. This boat isn’t for most boaters. With a price tag starting around $3 million, it’s a boat for a select few. Among the first buyers are an heir to a beer fortune, royalty in the UAE and hall of fame athletes you’d recognize by their first names.
What impresses me most about this boat isn’t its horsepower, LOA or even the motoryacht interior. (OK, the mirror that turns into a TV—that blew my mind.) It’s how the builder is able to break a record for size and power without sacrificing handling or fit and finish. These elements, I believe, will trickle down—like all good innovation does—into smaller boats that many of us can afford.
From the sportfishing docks of Montauk to social media, HCB is riding a wave of popularity coming into the Ft. Lauderdale boat show where she’ll debut for the masses. As the biggest production center console ever built, the spotlight will be strong; she’ll enjoy celebrity status for some time. But we all know that there’s another hungry boatbuilder somewhere out there silently working away on a 70-footer. Records, after all, are made to be broken.