Hunt James is a man who can do what he wants. With clear blue eyes and a stubborn chin, he emanates the kind of muscular enthusiasm for his work that is a hallmark of many serial entrepreneurs. Of course, most serial entrepreneurs cannot lay claim to negotiating the naming rights to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This is to say, James and his latest endeavour, Gulf Crosser Yachts, are not strapped by many rules. This isn’t a builder beholden to churning out anything even remotely cookie-cutter in the name of profit margins. Instead, Hunt James builds boats exactly as he sees fit.
“We can take the 52 in whatever direction you want,” James says. “We can customise it until it’s a totally different boat. Want a hot tub in the cockpit? We can do that.”
It was appropriate that I boarded the Gulf Crosser (née Gulfstream) in the Coral Gables section of Miami. The southernmost neighbourhood in the city, it spans the difference between a bustling metropolis and leisurely Florida Key living, albeit in a highly luxe package - qualities that align perfectly with my test boat.Read More/Inside the Miami Grand Prix Owners' Club Gathering
This 52 is many things. It would be easy to peg her as a monster centre console, but with an enclosed pilothouse, she isn’t quite that. She’s also a walkaround, with side decks designed by Ward Setzer to be wide enough to accommodate human hips – but her knuckled lines and military-esque appearance are the opposite of most walkarounds. At 15.84 metres (52ft) and with a Bausch tuna tower set-up, she is large enough to compete with many convertibles in terms of both interior and fish-fighting space, but she’s no battlewagon. And with a top end nosing into the 50-knot range, she is arguably in go-fast territory, though she’d look odd on a poker run.
So what is this boat then, exactly? “Well, it’s something I dreamed up,” James says with a smile. “I wanted all these features, and I knew my customers did too. I can take this boat over to the Abacos with a few friends, and cruise at 36 to 40 knots, get there in six hours, hit the dock and we’re good to go.”
The 52’s no muss, no fuss styling lends it to efficiency of use. As James implied, cleaning – as well as engine maintenance –is simple here. But the boat can also easily handle almost any waterborne activity.
A dive door to port allows for scuba, and free-divers to get in and out of the boat with ease, and makes landing large fish possible as well. To that end, a stand for rocket launchers or a partial fighting chair can be placed in the centre of the cockpit, though the piece can also be swapped out for a table when cruising and relaxing are the main goals.
My pick for best seat in the house when doing that cruising is the lounge in the bow seating area. It was remarkably ergonomic when I laid down on it, and also notable for the fact that it sits in a neat little wind pocket created by the boat’s high freeboard and Carolina flare.
Even at very high speed, you can relax there without getting buried by an avalanche of wind.Read More/Miami’s largest boating event generates almost US$1b for Florida
Very high speed is, of course, key. The Michael Peters-designed hull is the same design used by the Navy Seals on their CCM (Combatant Craft Medium), which the frogmen use for maritime interdictions and counter-terrorism operations.
Peters himself likes the twin-stepped hull a lot when paired with the 600hp Mercury Verados (quads) that were bolted to the transom of my test boat. “With the Merc counter-rotating props there is more low-end thrust and that brings the boat up a lot flatter, without digging a hole. The stern gets up quite a bit,” Peters says.
The flatter running angle is useful if you have a machine gun bolted to the bow, but for us civilians, it translates happily to excellent sight lines from the helm.
Running the boat was nothing shy of joy-inducing. She slashed through high-speed turns with the stability and sure-handedness that are requisite for peace of mind on speedboats. With the throttle pinned she sizzled her way up to 54 knots, though it doesn’t feel that fast at the wheel. Her smooth acceleration, wave-dicing hull and enclosed, air-conditioned pilothouse combined to give the feeling of driving a turbo-charged sedan.
You don’t realize how fast you’re actually going until you glance to your side and see the waves firing past at a breakneck pace. When I did that, I caught James’s eye as he lounged at the U-shaped seating behind me, and we exchanged a knowing grin.
This thing is fun. She’s also finished.
This boat and her larger, soon-to-be sister, just over 20 metres (66ft), will inevitably draw comparisons to the massive HCB centre consoles that patrol many ports of call that superyachts call home. And for my money (not my actual money though – the 52 retails at around the $2.5 million USD mark) they’ll provide stiff competition in the tender market.
Setzer feels the same way, and is particularly proud of the boat’s fit and finish. “There are micro-details all over the boat,” he says. “The handrails curve to your hand and the house floats on a toe kick – those are small ergonomic things that go a long way for your experience and comfort on board. And then you look at stuff like the gutters, the hatches, the gunwales… we paid a lot of attention to all the little things on this boat, the faring, the welding, it’s all high level."
As I climbed the tuna tower with James to get to the upper helm, I marvelled at the smooth welding on the ladder, scratching at it for seams, and found none. When we got up top, I huddled in on myself, pulling at my light windbreaker against an unusually brisk Miami day. James must have noticed I was cold. “You know,” he said, “we can go back down inside the house. It’s a lot warmer down there. But we can do whatever you want.”