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Licence to thrill: Test driving the Sunseeker 65 Sport Yacht

18 October 2022 • Written by Kevin Koenig

Sunseeker’s 65 Sport Yacht meshes thoughtful design with performance that will blow back anyone’s hair, says Kevin Koenig

In its heart, Sunseeker has always been a sport-boat company. You can see it in the lines of every model it builds and feel it in your hands when you slam the throttle forward or spin the wheel hard into a tight loop-the-loop. It’s no surprise the British company has fostered such a cosy relationship with the James Bond film franchise – you could hardly catch a super-villain in a trawler, after all.

The builder’s new 65 Sport Yacht is right in line with that storied tradition. Fast, agile and brimming with Anglophile charm, this boat is ably poised to carry Sunseeker into the future by respecting her past.

“Our core function is and always has been rooted in our racing days,” says the company’s technical sales director Ross Donohue. “All our hulls are performance hulls. And we’ve taken what we’ve learned from our tradition and moved forward with it. For example, these days of course we use 3D printers during the design process, so everything runs very clean and true. But our fundamentals are still the same.”

All images courtesy of Sunseeker International

And those fundamentals undeniably make for an exhilarating ride. I sea-trialled the 65 Sport Yacht off Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a calm and hot late afternoon. The 65 has two helms – upper and lower – each interesting in its own right. The lower helm has twin helm seats, upholstered in soft leather with well-disciplined stitching throughout. The captain’s chair is afforded excellent visibility through windows that wrap near-360 degrees and let in lots of natural light.

However, what’s most interesting about the helm is the windshield. “The single piece of glass we do it with, it’s actually a bit of a nightmare [to manufacture],” says Jared Hall, Sunseeker’s new product development manager, with a laugh. “It’s double curved [meaning it curves both laterally and vertically] and made in Italy. You can’t just roll glass into that shape; it has to form under heat sagging. And once the shape is set, the glass is immersed in a heated chemical bath to impart a toughened surface.” But all the effort is worth it. The windshield plays an undeniable role in the 65’s sporty profile, and of course offers unfettered, stanchion-free views.

However, the place to drive this yacht is not down below. You really want to go up top to the boat’s compact but highly usable flybridge. There, you’ll find two more helm seats that represent a real engineering feat.

The 65’s interior is surprisingly spacious, and could easily belong on a larger yacht

“When we first started with the early conception of the skyhelm, the seats were very upright,” says Donohue. “At the factory we got the shortest person in the room and the tallest person in the room and made sure they could reach everything. Could they get in and out of the seat comfortably, things like that. Having all those people test it helped us immensely. We discovered the seats were too upright and you had to lift the steering wheel up and away from you to get out. What you see on this model is the seats are more slanted back, with an automotive-racing-seat design. It’s much easier to get in and out, and fits with the sport concept of the boat very well.”

The racing car motif suits the ride. When I dropped the hammer, the 65 Sport Yacht shot up to 34 knots at wide-open throttle and, perhaps more importantly, cruised with confidence-inducing ease and control at 27 knots, while burning 299 litres per hour. She also easily grooved through S-turns and turned hard over in about one and a half boat lengths. The lightweight and strong hull pierced commandingly through the wake  I created by doing doughnuts.

This boat is something of a departure for Sunseeker in her construction, and the decision behind it is paying off. The 65’s hull is vacuum-infused, which is not new territory for the builder. However, for most of its boats below 23 metres, Sunseeker cores its bulkheads with marine ply. Not so here. The 65’s bulkheads are resin-infused, which make for a stronger yet lightweight vessel.

The space and weight savings afforded by the choice of IPS engines and resin-infused build gives the flexibility to offer three cockpit layouts and five accommodation-level layouts

According to Donohue, the weight savings gained through the resin-infusion process also allow for bigger interior spaces, which leads to more layout options. But it’s just one of two major components that make the 65’s interior feel like it belongs on a larger boat.

The other factor is her engine choice. The 65 is available with either twin 900-horsepower Volvo Penta IPS 1200s or twin 1,000-horsepower IPS 1350s, though Hall points out that no one has yet ordered the smaller engines.

“When you look at the engine room, the IPS [integrated propulsion system] allows you to remove all these components,” says Hall, “and that allows you to move the [engine room] bulkhead aft and make more room on the accommodations level. It’s a huge selling point for IPS, being smaller overall. They’re also much quieter than a traditional engine because the exhaust systems are underwater, which makes for a more comfortable ride. The hull itself is designed specifically for IPS – it’s not a crossbreed. The two work very well together, we think.”

The 65 makes hay with the extra interior volume in its living spaces, particularly in the realm of layout options. “There are five layouts on the accommodations level and three more in the cockpit,” says Donohue. “You can have a galley down, a lower saloon, a grand master, etc. If you’re in America, you’re probably going to go for the lower saloon and storage area, whereas in Europe stowage isn’t as important. They may go for the grand master layout there. We find that Americans are big on refrigeration and stowage, whereas Europeans are willing to sacrifice in those areas.”

Sunseeker is in touch with its customer base thanks to a “gate review” process that surveys owners, dealers and others about potential product improvements. A few of the 65 Sport Yacht’s features came about by popular demand. For example, C-shaped seating in the cockpit was changed to something resembling bench-type seating. And the staircase leading from the cockpit to the flybridge was moved from port to starboard on European versions so that it lined up with the passarelle. The staircase was also changed from hydraulic to fixed.

“The more mechanisms we have on the boat, the more customers complain about them over time,” explains Hall. “Usability is king. We want to keep the style and make it look really good but keep it user-friendly. A boat this size isn’t going to be fully crewed all the time so it will be the owner who’s got to use these things – best to keep it simple.”

Simplicity reigns elsewhere, too. At the upper helm, Sunseeker’s designers didn’t like having all the controls on a touchscreen, since it can get wet and slippery. So some of them, including anchor controls, the alarm silencer and navigation lights, are synced to old-school “clunk-clink” switches.

“We have found when you’re motoring along at full speed, you can easily slip and touch the wrong button on a touchscreen,” says Hall.

“Full speed” is the key phrase. Temptation abounds with a yacht this sporty. “The only downside I can think of is that everyone wants to ride it very hard and run flat out continuously,” says Donohue with a chuckle. “It’s just too exciting. It’s the same with a Ferrari – you end up revving the engines endlessly just for the thrill of it.”

And really, isn’t that the whole point?

First published in the August 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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