It’s not uncommon for boatbuilders to call off journalistic sea trials once offshore conditions breach the one-metre-wave mark. Often, a company representative will ask somewhat hopefully if the journalist would rather run the boat in more placid, protected waters – and sometimes they simply tell you that’s what will be happening.
Fast and furious: On board the 17m Sunseeker Predator 55 Evo
But calm seas never made for a skilled sailor, and they certainly don’t often make for an interesting sea trial. That’s why I’m pleasantly surprised when, on the day I am to test the Sunseeker Predator 55 Evo, the American captain says to me upon stepping aboard, “Seas are about 4ft to 5ft off North Palm Beach [Florida]. Should be a fun one!”
And fun it is. Sunseeker has seaworthiness and performance built into its DNA thanks to its racing roots, and though the 55 Evo would never be described as a go-fast, she handles fussy waters with aplomb.
“Our hulls are similar to our old racing models, but now obviously they can handle more volume and weight,” says Sunseeker’s chief technical officer Ewen Foster. “Performance is much more than speed to us. The handling is so important. Our rudders work independently, and we have a stabilisation system as part of our Hydro-Pack that helps the boat handle and track. We’ve always been well known for seakeeping, specifically in following seas. I think most would agree that the 55 drives like a much smaller boat than she actually is.”
I certainly would. I take the 55 Evo hard over in a spritely two boat lengths, and just as Foster predicted, I find her tracking, particularly in a tricky down sea, to be as straight as a die. I drive her at a 28-knot cruising speed (burning 208 litres per hour at 2,200rpm for a range of 233 nautical miles), and she slides easily through the waves without so much as a jolt or a hard bounce. Top speed is 32.5 knots where she burns 288 litres per hour. The 55 is also remarkably dry – no small feat especially considering the blustery winds.
Credit here belongs to the deep-V hull. The wave-slicer has been tweaked ever so slightly from the old Predator 50’s design, to have a flatter aft section which helps with buoyancy and planing, and which also augments interior volume.
When it came to finding a balance between speed, seakeeping and overall onboard comfort, Foster found a welcome challenge. “Ten years ago, Predators were all about speed,” he says, “but now lack of vibration, safety, comfort, the ability to be used by a first-time user – these are all important to us. We could have made a faster boat but it’s not just about speed anymore. The quality we put into our boats adds weight. We use beautiful and sometimes heavy materials – stone and heavy timber. And the construction is not just beautiful, it’s bulletproof. The hulls are stiff. That makes us heavy and we are proud of that. The overall combination proves itself again and again and the clients love it.”
The flip side to Foster’s observation is that the 55 Evo’s interior is replete with materials and craftsmanship that is on a par with larger vessels far outside its class. Stuart Jones, director of interior design at Sunseeker, illuminates a good example. “We have a full range of woods available from light to dark. We have smoked eucalyptus which has proven to be very popular, silver grey oak, the classic walnut, and we have a warm American cherry,” he says. “You can change the personality of the interior through finishes alone quite dramatically. We are finding that the satin looks are quite popular with clients. We are researching and experimenting with woods all the time. The veneers are quite stable, they don’t interact with the environment, and we lacquer them and such to help with sunlight.”
The 55’s interior styling follows a concept that is a strange but alluring brew – half racing car, half high-end London flat. “We’re involving a lot more land-based interior design, and we see this particularly in lighting and furniture,” says Jones. “The styling of the furniture is very much aligned with what you see in luxury homes. The trim, for instance, is not flat and square; it profiles to the rest of the boat generally. There are a lot more shapes, a lot more kinds of trims, and just more materials being used in general.”
However, the boat’s sporty pedigree is also evident in the interior where slick black-leather helm chairs have red-leather detailing that pops. Another example is the railing from the saloon to the accommodation level, where a teak parallelogram is mainly aesthetic, and neatly mirrors the yacht’s knife-like hull-side windows.
Attention to details like these is what makes the Predator 55 Evo stand out in a crowded field of mid-sized express cruisers. But, of course, mid-size is not what Sunseeker is known for. The 55 is an entry-level model for this builder, and Sunseeker makes no secret that it hopes to ferry in new customers with this relatively small offering, hook them with the quality of the ride and the level of design, and usher them up through the ranks. The Sunseeker range tops out at about 49 metres, a size at which conditions like the ones we saw on our sea trial of the Evo wouldn’t even be an afterthought.