A Loyal Following
When I entered the Neptunus 650 Express named Captain Highway in her Marco Island, Florida, marina at the start of our trip to deliver the yacht to the 2018 Miami Yacht Show, I stopped to admire the colorful buildings, palm trees and sparkling water through her sweeping salon windows, windshield and aft sliding glass doors. These are the views that greet her owner during the winter months when he uses the yacht as his Florida “snowbird” home. Then, each spring, he drives Captain Highway back to his summer home on the Atlantic seaboard.
“Ninety-five percent of Neptunus boat owners are owner/operators,” said Neptunus Yachts Managing Director Jan Willem De Jong. A native of the Netherlands, De Jong drew on the Dutch yacht-building tradition to found Neptunus Yachts in Niagra-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, in 1989. In 1991, the company moved to St. Catharine’s, Ontario, a convenient 45-minute drive from the airport in Buffalo, New York. Since then, Neptunus has changed hands a couple of times, but De Jong and his team, many of whom have more than two decades of experience under their belts, are there to provide continuity for the brand.
Today, Neptunus is focused on building yachts in a fairly narrow size range, with just three models from 55 to 72 feet in length, each of which is offered in enclosed express and open flybridge versions. Nevertheless, about 75 percent of the owners who buy Neptunus Yachts each year are repeat customers—including Captain Highway’s owner, who is on his seventh boat and his third Neptunus.
“We have a very loyal following,” said De Jong, who explained that it’s not uncommon for a Neptunus owner to build a new boat that is the same model as his or her previous one, in order to make a few tweaks, such as substituting an office for a third head. “For a small company, we do a lot of custom work for our clients, even making layout changes,” he said.
The 650 Express, an enclosed sport cruiser, has proved to be a very popular model for Neptunus. Naval architect Tony Castro designed the hull, a deep-V with a deadrise of 19.5 degrees at the transom, which gives the yacht both a seakindly ride and a top speed (with upgrade power) of over 33 knots. The hull also has propeller tunnels, which reduce the draft to 4 feet, 8 inches, making it a great boat for Florida and the Bahamas.
Capt. Peter Selmeci of Florida Yacht Services, whom Neptunus hired for the delivery trip, found reason to be grateful for her draft not long after leaving the marina as he guided the yacht through a silted-up inlet into the Gulf of Mexico. The day was bright and sunny, with a 12-knot breeze and calm seas—ideal conditions for running about 100 nautical miles south/southwest to Marathon in the Florida Keys, our first night’s destination. We settled into a comfortable, economical cruise speed in the 24-knot range at 1850 rpm.
Selmeci and I spent the next four hours in the comfortable Pompanette helm and passenger chairs, enjoying exceptional visibility through the wraparound windshield, which has only a single center stanchion. Many yacht owners and captains prefer to drive from an open upper helm station (Neptunus builds the 640 Flybridge version for them), but I was happy sitting in the air-conditioned cabin with a galley full of snacks just steps behind us.
The large helm on Captain Highway was equipped with an optional electronics package that included a big ship’s system monitor, two 15-inch Raymarine Hybrid Touch multifunction displays, and a Simrad AP 70 autopilot that is as fun to use as it is practical. Local fishermen tend to litter Florida’s waterways with crab pots, but all I had to do when one bobbed up in our path was turn the autopilot’s knob-style control slightly to steer around it.
Later in the afternoon, Selmeci accelerated to wide-open throttle, and we saw a top speed close to 34 knots. The ride remained smooth and steady, even when we hit other boat’s wakes, and nothing rattled or banged below. “Neptunus boats are particularly known for performing well,” he said. “They are good sea boats.”
About four hours after leaving the dock in Marco Island, we ran beneath the Keys’ famous Seven Mile Bridge, and I began setting the lines and fenders for our approach to Marathon Marina on the Atlantic side of the bridge. The 650’s walkarounds are nice and wide, which made the job an easy one. Docking was also a piece of cake in this yacht, which has a standard electric bow thruster, optional stern thruster and Yacht Controller joystick. “Even without the bow and stern thrusters, it’s a very maneuverable boat because it doesn’t have a flybridge, so there’s less windage,” Selmeci said.
I was relieved to see that the marina had been completely renovated since taking a hit from Hurricane Irma last September.
After dinner ashore and the sort of brilliant sunset that the Florida Keys are famous for, we retired to the yacht. It is always exciting for me to be able to spend the night on a boat I’m reviewing, as it is only after dark that they truly begin to reveal their secrets. The Neptunus 650 certainly did not disappoint in this regard. Push a button and a large flat-screen TV lowers out of the salon headliner, for example. Open the settee armrests and you find hidden storage for keys, glasses, binoculars, etc. Look under the cocktail table and you’ll see stools nestled there for extra seating. It’s two steps up from the salon to the amidships galley, which is designed with low-profile cabinetry and under-counter appliances like fridge and freezer drawers (two of each) so they won’t disrupt the view from the helm. The galley in our test boat had almost every amenity you can imagine, from a dishwasher to a trash compactor to a wine cooler to drawers with dedicated storage racks for the dishes, glassware and cutlery that comes with the yacht. “You buy it fully complete,” De Jong said.
Captain Highway’s owner chose the three-bedroom, three-head layout for his 650, ensuring luxury and privacy for up to six people. The master stateroom is full-beam with large hull windows on each side; inset into each one is a small porthole you can open for a cross breeze. A king berth lies in the center of the stateroom. To port is a bureau, but to starboard I found a gem—a daybed below the window where you can sit, read and watch the waves race by. The master also has a large head, walk-in cedar closet and two additional hanging lockers. Although this stateroom is adjacent to the engine room, I recorded a low 72 dB(A) in there while the boat was running at 1850 rpm.
The guest stateroom to starboard is compact but nicely equipped with a TV and excellent storage space under the berth, in a hanging locker and eight cabinets. There is a door to a head with a stall shower that also serves as the boat’s day head.
I stayed in the VIP stateroom, which features a queen berth, two cedar hanging lockers and a private head with a generous-sized shower. LED lighting is bountiful and nicely designed throughout the 650. At night, after I turned off the main cabin lights, I found a switch for “mood lighting” that backlit the cabinetry around the berth. Another good feature is an escape hatch over the berth that is large enough for just about anyone to fit through.
Even though most Neptunus buyers are owner/operators, the boat had another secret to reveal—crew’s quarters for two, complete with TV, entertainment system, head and shower—inside the transom. If you don’t need it for crew, you can always give teenagers a thrill by letting them bunk there.
A door leads from the crew’s quarters to the engine room. It is extremely neat and orderly with high headroom and good access to all the equipment. Captain Highway’s owner had the factory build a custom rack for a folding bicycle over each engine so he can ride to a café or grocery store from the marina.
What is not a secret is the Neptunus 650’s exceptional capacity for entertaining on board. Open the aft sliding doors and the huge electric skylight in the coachroof and you create an elegant indoor/outdoor space to host a crowd. An electric sunshade is integrated into the hardtop that extends to shade the aft deck. Best of all, the cook doesn’t have to be left out of the party because the galley is center stage.
The next morning, we pulled out of the marina on a glass-calm sea under sunny skies to make our way north. The run was comfortable and uneventful; exactly the way life at sea should be.
Neptunus 650 Express Layout Diagrams
Test Conditions: Temperature: 70°F.
Load: half tank fuel, 2 people on board.
Neptunus 650 Express — Final Boat Test Numbers:
Speeds are a two-way average recorded by a Raymarine multifunction display. GPH taken via CAT engine display. Sound levels measured at the helm. 65 dB(A) is the level of normal conversation. Range is based on 90 percent of advertised fuel capacity.
Neptunus 650 Express Specifications:
Displ.: 77,000 lb.
Fuel: 1,100 gal.
Water: 300 gal.
Standard Power: 2/1,000-hp Caterpillar C-18 ACERT
Test Power: 2/1,150-hp Caterpillar C-18