Outback in the Bahamas

A fictional journey to paradise and back aboard the Outback 50 provides the author with a fleeting feeling of escape.

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This didn’t happen because, if it had, I would have broken every rule laid down by the U.S. Coast Guard, Homeland Security, the Governor of Florida and the Royal Bahamas Police, and I simply don’t know that many judges.This didn’t happen because, if it had, I would have broken every rule laid down by the U.S. Coast Guard, Homeland Security, the Governor of Florida and the Royal Bahamas Police, and I simply don’t know that many judges.

So I will categorically deny that Andrew Cilla and I were sitting, in April of 2020, at anchor aboard Andrew’s new Outback 50 yacht off a secluded anchorage on North Bimini. Yes, it was during the pandemic, but we were actually practicing the best social distancing possible. With that disclaimer out of the way, let me tell you what it felt like (if it had really happened).

Shaded by the long upper deck overhang, we were sprawled on a pair of teak chaise longues, enjoying a soft island breeze, watching his kids splash in the gin-clear waters while celebrating our “confinement” with his favorite, a properly chilled Pinot Grigio from Santa Margherita.

How did this happen? Well, if it had happened (which it didn’t), we would have snuck out from Ft. Lauderdale in the wee hours at zero-dark-thirty on a moonless night and, using the Outback 50’s “fast cruise” speed in the low 20s, made the 50-ish mile crossing in no time, even with the dogleg to get into international waters quickly so we wouldn’t attract unwarranted attention.

The anchor went down in clear water long before dawn, and we all retreated to our cabins to recuperate our lost sleep. Andrew, of course, had the owner’s stateroom forward, with its queen-sized berth and en suite head.

I retired to the starboard twin cabin, which has direct access to the day/guest head, and two kiddos shared two more berths in the port cabin. Morning came with the laughter of adolescent voices, and I padded out on the warm teak deck to discover the immense energy of youth in the early morning. They were shrieking as they leapt from the long flybridge, and a flotilla of kayaks and water toys were already bobbing on their painters astern.

The Outback was named for its generous infinity deck, which has space to hold a tender, deck lounges and a table with chairs for dining.

The Outback was named for its generous infinity deck, which has space to hold a tender, deck lounges and a table with chairs for dining.

The Outback 50 was not named for the vast center of Australia, nor for the restaurant of the same name. It was named because, unlike many larger yachts, it has its own vast “outback.” Cilla calls the deck from the salon bulkhead to the transom the “infinity deck,” not just because it seems to stretch forever, but because it has an infinite number of uses: stow jetskis (2), a 16-foot RIB tender or a flats boat; space for deck lounges that we would use later; a deck table with chairs for shaded alfresco dining; and (with the optional Seakeeper to keep things fair) a ping-pong table for intergalactic table-tennis championships. Try doing that on any other yacht!

Cilla’s Outback Yachts promotes the motto of the 50 as “Versatility, Comfort, Efficiency.” In short, the Outback has the interior accommodations of a 50-footer, the seaworthiness of a 60-footer (we sliced through a few lumpy spots when we turned south in the Gulf Stream) and the deck space of a 70-footer.

That morning, I was hungry for breakfast, and I had a difficult choice. I could smell wonderful things coming from the galley, which I could eat at a table on the infinity deck. Not a bad choice—light breeze, rustling palms, soft shushing of the wavelets on sand. Another choice, equally good, would be at the dinette in the salon using one of the two loose chairs stowed to starboard next to the pop-up TV. Third choice would be to climb the lazy stairs (they hinge upwards out of the way) to the bridge, which also has an L-shaped dinette and gorgeous teak table. Decisions, decisions.

I opted out of the bridge (to avoid wet kids jumping), out of the aft deck (same) and went for the air-conditioned salon table where I could look mournfully at the cook in the galley if I didn’t get extra bacon. If I didn’t get any bacon, I could tuck back into my cabin and sulk.

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But the day lay before us like a blank canvas waiting for oils. With just 3 feet of draft (thanks to prop pockets), we were as close to the beach as much smaller boats can get, and the running gear was protected with a long skeg keel that also adds stability offshore. In addition, with solid fiberglass below the waterline and foam coring above and in the house, the Outback combined great hull strength with minimum weight aloft.

Choices? I could grab a kayak or paddle board, if wiggling my toes in the sugary sand had some appeal.

On the other hand, Andrew had launched the flats boat, and I was sure the mangroves nearby promised some serious bonefish action. Unable to make a decision, I chose a swim in the cool waters off the teak transom platform to clear my brain. I followed that up with a kayak paddle to the beach to gather some shells.

After the swim and the kayak, it was clearly time to put the “Comfort” motto to the test, and I chose a chaise on the infinity deck. But it was time for Andrew to do his daily diligence and give the twin 425-hp Cummins a once-over, and I decided to watch. The QSB 6.7 diesels are an option, with a pair of 270-hp Volvo D4i-Gs as standard (with a 20-knot top end and cruise speed of 16 knots). Two huge engine room hatches raise hydraulically, and stainless stairs lead to a centerline platform with rails for protection from hot metal. There was enough room for me to join Andrew as he did his checks and, since the engines were cold, he tapped each thing he was checking just like pilots tap dials on the instrument panel as they do their check-lists: big Racor filters, no drips from the accessible packing boxes, oil dipsticks good. For once, it was a pleasure to do the routine maintenance, so I checked off the “Efficiency” box.

Next up was launching the tender, because the kids wanted some faster water toy action. A 10-foot Gala center console RIB with a 20-hp Tohatsu lived on the bridge and, using the YRM crane tucked on the starboard side, Andrew launched it effortlessly. In no time, it was zipping around, towing donuts and bananas and all the other modern necessities of watery childhood. I was content with adult necessities: shade, an ice-clinking rummy drink and a truly trashy spy novel, all enjoyed from the chaise.

The yacht was built to be simple and strong, providing a safe ride in rough seas while offering comfortable accommodations when cruising. 

The yacht was built to be simple and strong, providing a safe ride in rough seas while offering comfortable accommodations when cruising. 

I’d like to tell you that the rest of the day was different, but no. The Outback 50 is a yacht that celebrates laughter on the water, wherever you go. The aft deck is such a brilliantly flexible design innovation that I would guess that most Outback owners will spend months tapping into its potential.

That evening, the Outback glowed like a cruise ship, with hidden lights above and below the water. With many open windows around the salon (and a door next to the helm), the mild Bahamas trades drifted through the cabin as we finished dinner and watched movies on the big-screen TV.

Comfortably tired, I bid Andrew and famiglia good night and took a long, hot shower before tucking into crisp sheets. I didn’t need a sleeping pill, and I was away to Nod-Land quickly.

The following day, Repeat and Enjoy. The only change was that I allowed some bonefish to completely humiliate me in the morning, making up for it by fishing from the tender later at a nearby reef, where I nailed a couple of yellowtail snapper. Still, the kids won the hunter-gatherer award, returning from snorkeling with a batch of lobsters, which went onto the grill on the aft deck. Another delicious meal with lots of laughter.

That evening, Andrew and I toasted a brilliant Bahamian sunset with more cool Santa Margherita (I think the huge locker under the cockpit floor must hold crates of pinot grigio!). I was curious how the Outback 50 came to be, and Andrew admitted to being an unrepentant serial yacht owner, having owned big and small and many at the same time. Of course, being the owner of Luke Brown Yachts in Ft. Lauderdale, he has some excuses.

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But he’d been thinking about a comfortable, seaworthy, economical yacht with lots of deck space, and then he saw a design that Michael Peters had created for George Griffith, a Californian and father of the legendary Cal-40 racing sloop. It was a “sailor’s powerboat,” light displacement and no slowpoke.

“I wanted a boat in the 50- to 60-foot range that would provide the most comfortable ride, and the safest in dangerous sea conditions. The answer is obvious: a pilot boat, designed to run treacherous inlets in all conditions and provide a safe platform for the pilot to transit to a ship.

“The Outback is like a giant center console, but with her light bridge deck, her roll moment is far more comfortable. No snap roll in a beam sea.” Andrew wanted a yacht he could cruise for half a year with friends and family, and the first Outback (each is individualized per owner) blends minimalism with luxury and elegance. “John Olson of Offshore Yachts introduced me to Kha Shing in Taiwan, which builds fine large yachts like Offshore and Hargrave. Her standard of finish makes you feel like you’re on a true yacht rather than an offshore cruiser.”

As we were talking, I mentioned the open transom, lighting ­Andrew off on a pet peeve. “Why has it taken so long for a builder to provide one of the most special features of the Outback? Safety at sea, ease of entering the water, simplicity and security when boarding the tender and, best of all, how about the view?”

I had to agree, moving my feet slightly to appreciate the clear panorama of our cove. Andrew continued, “When I swing on my mooring in Newport, I enjoy my morning coffee while watching the endless parade of lobster and scallop boats leave with their open transom design regardless of the sea state. Just like ocean-racing sailboats, a transom that won’t trap green water is a key design element for ultimate safety at sea.”

Moving my toes back into position and sipping my pinot, I could see the concept fits perfectly with the Outback mantra: Keep it simple, keep it light and build it strong.

And so it went until we finally upped anchor and headed home. The time aboard had proven Andrew Cilla’s concept for the Outback 50 to be quite brilliant. Well-built, perfectly laid-out and delivered pre-stocked with laughter and fun. Remember, of course, this never took place.

Really, Your Honor.

Outback 50 Specifications:

LOA: 56'3"
Beam: 15'6"
Draft: 3'
Displ: 40,000 lbs.
Fuel: 550 gal.
Water: 150 gal.
Standard Power: 2/270-hp Volvo D4iG
Optional Power: 2/425-hp Cummins QSB 6.7

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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