The first in what will become a full line of crossover yachts, the CLX96 from CL Yachts ushers in a new era for a storied builder.
The last few years in yachting have proven one thing: Just when you think you know what to expect from a major boat builder, think again. Princess, Sanlorenzo, Sunseeker, Wellcraft, Prestige and many others have debuted models that stand in stark contrast from what the masses have come to expect. CL Yachts—formerly Cheoy Lee—can now be added to that list. Prior to the 96, I would have described the boats coming from the Hong Kong yard as: Luxurious, sea worthy, over-built and predictable.
Yet seeing the enormous main deck windows holding up an aggressive, explorer-style flybridge for the first time in person, I knew I’d have to lose the latter from my description. Five years in the making, the bold new look of what is now CL’s flagship comes from the pen of Jozeph Forakis. A new name in yachting brought to CL specifically for his outsider’s perspective, Forakis is a Milan and New York-based designer who previously worked predominately in the world of luxury furniture, tech and lighting. A reunion of sorts with a former Rhode Island School of Design classmate and Director of CL Yachts Martin Lo would change all that.
When the builder re-branded as CL Yachts in 2018 they wanted a new line of yachts that would challenge the status quo and introduce the brand to a new demographic. Enter Forakis and the CLX96.
Under a blazing August sun in Ft. Lauderdale, Forakis stood with me dockside near the bow of his new boat and pointed down her hull. There are, he said, almost no straight lines on the boat. He explained that many yacht designers create boats that look great in two dimensions but from the jump he wanted to create a truly three-dimensional yacht. He was right; as I walked along the boat looking up, down and sideways, I came to understand that almost all the ship’s lines are comprised of swoops and curves.
No matter how many large yachts I step aboard, I never quite get used to the feeling of having the salon doors electrically open at the push of a button. Stepping from the shaded cockpit, my eyes took a second to adjust; it was actually brighter in the salon. Seriously, I almost put my sunglasses back on. Having a single helm on the flybridge allows for 360-degree visibility and floor-to-ceiling windows on the main level. On past CL Yachts, I’ve been on the interior was undeniably top-end but I was also reminded of being in a museum where you didn’t want to touch anything. The feeling in the 96 is a smart mix of modern-contemporary, approachable and casual.
Ring frames—foam-cored, carbon fiber wrapped structures—support the walls of glass in the main level and the flybridge above while also brilliantly hiding air-conditioning vents in the top. Forakis designed a number of pieces of furniture found throughout the yacht—from lounges and stools to tables. One of the stars of the main level has to be a small coffee table forward with a strange circular hole in its center.
“Put your hand in it,” Forakis encouraged. I really should have given it a second thought but didn’t. I plunged my hand inside and felt freezing temperatures. “To keep your champagne chilled,” he said nonchalantly. “Oh, of course. Just like the one on my boat,” I laughed. I guess modern problems really do require modern solutions.
Belowdecks the staterooms mirror the abundant light and luxurious details of the main deck. Two standout features here really impressed me. In the master stateroom forward there’s a large television on the forward bulkhead. It wasn’t the television that wowed, but what can be displayed on it. In the bow is a camera that can project a crystal clear, live view of the water ahead. It felt awfully Metaverse but I had to admit, it was pretty cool.
In the VIP stateroom amidships there is, what looks like a skylight. But it couldn’t be because that space is under the main deck. Forakis had a trick up his sleeve for that too. A camera/sensor on the hardtop projects and mirrors, in real time, a similar amount and shade of light to what’s outside. So at night the skylight is dark and in the middle of the afternoon in Ft. Lauderdale it’s quite bright. It felt a bit like a party trick but I have to admit, it was an unusually thoughtful use of technology.
The flybridge is another area that showcases Forakis’ mission of “highlighting the duality of a shipyard that builds commercial ships and luxury yachts.” There’s the large reverse raked windshield, an enormous vertically mounted helm and MFDs and, again, 360-degree visibility when making turns underway.
Sea trialling a ship like this in anything less than 6- to 8-footers feels a bit silly; the mill pond conditions during my day aboard hardly showcased the seaworthy reputation CL is known for, but I was at least able to experience the smooth, responsive ride.
With a fully loaded boat, I recorded an average top speed of 24 knots, though I should say that we did see a GPS-indicated 27-knot top end when running with the current later in our test. Of the measurements taken, I was most impressed with the sound levels. 71 decibels at the top end made this one of the quietest rides I’ve experienced in quite a while. Off Florida I enjoyed the air-conditioning of the flybridge when fully enclosed but I also appreciate the versatility of this space. A trio of windows and a door can be opened to make this upper deck space feel almost completely open.
On our way back to port I chatted idly with Deputy Director of CL Yachts Hans Lo. We talked about this new genre of crossover yachts and the CLX50 that is currently on the drawing board. In the coming months CL Yachts would also be debuting a 65 Bravo that’s more in line with the yachts we’ve seen from CL previously. Lo calls boats like the 65 “their bread and butter” but said that he thinks new designs like the CLX96 will actually help the sales of the builder’s other models by shaking up the brand’s reputation while attracting new and younger owners.
Maybe that’s the real cross-over prowess of this boat, not in a single boat’s performance or styling, but in its ability to capture the yachting world’s attention and usher in the next generation owner.