The Shape of Things to Come

These tech trends are driving exciting changes in boat design and construction
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The Scout 530 LXF showcases high tech and high performance.

The Scout 530 LXF showcases high tech and high performance.

As I was walking the crowded docks of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, a friend from colder climes called to harass me about being somewhere warm in late October. Like most of us, he’s a boat nut, and he was curious about what I was seeing. While there was plenty of buzz about aesthetics and style, technology was driving some of the most interesting changes in boat construction and design. Here’s how I explained the leading trends to my friend.

TRANSFORMING BOATS

My first experience aboard a boat that transformed to increase comfort and utility was several years ago when my wife, Peggy, and I were cruising in the Pacific Northwest on a Ranger Tugs R-31. Seating in the cockpit expanded when we deployed two bench seats, port and starboard, by lifting them up from stowage under the gunwales and pushing them outboard. These clever seats locked in place, cantilevered out over the water, and not only increased cockpit seating from four to eight people, but also added room to walk around when the         removable table was erected. We heard many comments from dock-walking boat owners, wondering why someone hadn’t created that solution before.

Ocean Alexander’s 45 Divergence

Ocean Alexander’s 45 Divergence

Newer transforming boats add style as well as utility. Ocean Alexander’s 45 Divergence is scheduled for introduction at February’s Miami International Boat Show. The builder’s first luxury outboard-powered open/center console-style yacht, it will have folding segments in the hullsides that drop to create balconies suspended over the water, to port and starboard. They will expand space in the cockpit and be used as platforms for watersports.

Brazilian boatbuilder Okean, under the auspices of HMY Yacht Sales, debuted its 55 Sport at the Fort Lauderdale show. She has hydraulically actuated, fold-down hullside sections that transform the area abaft the air-conditioned carbon-fiber hardtop and helm console into an entertainment mecca, with several sunpads and lounges, a cooking and dining area, and infinity views. Twin Volvo Penta D8-IPS800s provide enough power to muster cruise speeds of 33 knots and a top-end speed of 41 knots. Belowdecks are a master stateroom with a queen berth, head and separate shower, and a salon with seating adjacent to a galley.

The Galeon 650 Skydeck takes the transforming concept to the next level.

The Galeon 650 Skydeck takes the transforming concept to the next level.

Galeon Yachts, based in Poland and represented by MarineMax here in the U.S., debuted two transformer models at Fort Lauderdale. In addition to having fold-down hull-side panels that create cockpit balconies, the 470 Skydeck and 650 Skydeck also have a transformative element on the flybridge. That open area can be closed by pressing a button. Two sections of an electrically actuated composite carbon-fiber top slide out of compartments forward and aft, and meet in the middle of the bridge. With the panels closed, the bridge is protected, and because the panels are low, the boat retains exterior lines that are much sportier than they would be with a canvas enclosure set up.

CENTER CONSOLES ON STEROIDS

I remember helping to deliver a Donzi 35 center console from Stuart, Florida, to Norwalk, Connecticut, some years ago and thinking that, with its twin 150-hp Mercury outboards, it was the bomb. At the time, I thought it was near the pinnacle of center-console design and power.The introduction of the HCB 5300 Suenos in 2015, as well as a host of designs in the 40- to 45-foot range from builders including Grady-White, Everglades, Boston Whaler and Regulator, caused me to reset my expectations. More recently, Scout went into production on its new 530 LXF with five outboards on the transom.

The HCB 65 Estrella pushes the length of center consoles to a new limit.

The HCB 65 Estrella pushes the length of center consoles to a new limit.

 That HCB 5300 carried 1,000 gallons of fuel and had quad Yamaha F350s on the transom. In fall 2018, HCB upped its game with the 65 Estrella—which it dubbed the world’s largest (so far) center console, sporting five Seven Marine 627 outboards and a top-end speed of 52 knots. A master stateroom is below the console, along with a watermaker, Seakeeper stabilizing system and head with separate shower—and they’re in addition to fishing features such as refrigerators, live wells and rod stowage.

Not to be outdone, Midnight Express introduced the 60 Open at Fort Lauderdale. It’s a rough-water boat with a double-stepped hull and 22 degrees of deadrise at the transom, and a range of power options including quad Seven Marine 627s that could take it over 70 mph. Twin inboard MAN diesels could produce a top-end speed in the 90-mph range, according to the builder. No other large center console/open design can touch this boat’s interior with twin master staterooms, a full-length couch in the saloon and a galley.

CARBON FIBER COMES OF AGE

What do Boeing and Lamborghini have in common with boatbuilders such as Hinckley, Palm Beach and Scout? All are relying on carbon fiber for their most demanding customers, including those who want boats not commonly thought of as performance-oriented.

Like fiberglass and Kevlar, carbon fiber has properties that make it stronger than aluminum or steel, and carbon fiber can be stronger and lighter than fiberglass or Kevlar in certain applications. Whether we’re talking hulls, superstructures or smaller components, carbon fiber adds tensile strength, structural integrity and a long service life. Those qualities are increasingly important to some builders of high-end cruising boats, as well as go-fast boats.

Carbon fiber keeps the Palm Beach GT 50 light, swift and strong.

Carbon fiber keeps the Palm Beach GT 50 light, swift and strong.

Grand Banks Yachts, for instance, says the GB60 Skylounge and Palm Beach GT50 have resin-infused, carbon-fiber decks and superstructures for weight reduction and increased strength topsides, and for a lower center of gravity overall, creating a more stable ride. Hulls for both models are vinylester-composite-cored structures. And the builder says carbon fiber will be a key construction element on future Grand Banks models, including a 52 and 85 that are on the drawing board.

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Delta Powerboats in Sweden also makes carbon-fiber-infused cruisers in 54- and 88-foot lengths. Its U.S. distributor, Delta Powerboats in Miami, Florida, will offer both models in addition to the standard composite-construction models from 26 to 60 feet. The 54 Carbon—a sleek, low-profile cruiser—might be the world’s first large, vacuum-infused, carbon-fiber production yacht. Powered by twin or triple Volvo Penta IPS800 drives, the boat is also offered in flybridge and tuna models.

Carbon fiber can cost at least five to six times more than fiberglass, with the price reflecting the processes required to manufacture the flat-black carbon strands that are woven into cloth. That seems to say performance is never cheap.

HYBRIDS AND ELECTRIC VESSELS

About six years ago, I departed Annapolis Harbor aboard the first Greenline Hybrid Yacht I’d ever driven. She was a wonderfully quiet 33-footer. I marveled at the sound of the wind and waves, and at the immediate response of the boat to the throttle. There was zero engine noise or vibration because I had engaged the electric drive and the diesel was not running. I had the power to pull smartly away from the dock, to maneuver safely around boats in the mooring field, and to make  excellent headway against the breeze. Sure, at some point the battery power would diminish, forcing me to spool up the diesel, but for a while, the experience was economical and enjoyable.

Today, the hybrid concept for recreational boats has changed remarkably. The capacity and architecture of lithium-ion batteries have improved, and an increasing number of drivetrain builders and boat manufacturers are preparing for a new breed of boat owner: one who wants to minimize emissions and maximize the experience of being out on the water.

Volvo Penta has announced a hybrid solution that mates its IPS propulsion systems to diesel engines in the 8- to 13-liter range. An electric motor and clutch will be positioned at the rear of the diesel engine, letting owners select one form of power or another, or both. Battery charging will take place dockside or from motor-mounted generators.

New hybrid propulsion is coming from ZF.

New hybrid propulsion is coming from ZF.

ZF, the builder of drive systems, already has the ZF 8000 series of hybrid-ready marine transmissions for large yachts and commercial applications, and is introducing the ZF 400 series for engines rated up to 1,000 hp. A clutch is integrated into the transmission, and ZF’s Supershift2 technology, plus a wide range of available gearing, should make electrical motor integration and operability a smooth, trouble-free experience.

Several new builders are offering fully electric as well as hybrid solutions. With its Italian good looks, the eMotion 36 in the works from Canard Yachts will reportedly combine a 570-hp primary diesel and twin 20-kW electric motors to propel the carbon-fiber hull to a top speed around 36 knots, or a more leisurely time of three hours at displacement speeds using electrical power.

Mates IPS to a diesel with an electric motor and clutch at the rear of the engine.

Mates IPS to a diesel with an electric motor and clutch at the rear of the engine.

Hinckley’s Dasher, the lightest boat the company has ever built, with carbon-fiber stringers and a carbon-and-resin composite hull, has a cruising time and speed of five hours at 7 knots and can hit a top speed of slightly more than 23 knots. Twin 80-hp electric motors provide the get up and go, powered by BMW i3 Lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged in less than four hours using dual 50-amp charging. Avon has entered the hybrid category with the eJet 450, a high-          performance electric water-jet boat that should make a fine tender for diesel-powered cruisers who don’t want to carry gasoline. With its 55-kW (73-hp) Torqeedo motor and BMW i3 battery, the eJet 450 reportedly reaches a top speed of 30-plus knots. The builder estimates 90 minutes of use at top speed, and eight hours of use at 5 knots.

FOILING BOATS

With all the excitement that America’s Cup catamarans recently generated, it’s easy to forget that hydrofoils have been around for a long time. One of the early experimenters was Alexander Graham Bell, who died in 1922. Bell built a series of experimental foiling boats; his 60-foot HD-4 achieved 54 mph, and subsequently a world marine speed record of 71 mph.

SEAir from Zodiac is a foiling semi-rigid inflatable.

SEAir from Zodiac is a foiling semi-rigid inflatable.

Today, there are new craft for those interested in this technology. SEAir, a French builder of foils, has launched a line of boats based on Zodiac RIBs. Aquila, builder of power catamarans sold through MarineMax, is working on a 36-footer that’s tentatively scheduled to debut at the Miami show in February. Princess Yachts unveiled its R35 a few months ago, and longtime America’s Cup designer Philippe Briand recently announced Flyacht, a 23-foot sailboat inspired by the new AC75 class of racing boats.

The 32-foot Foiler is equipped with  300-hp diesels and four hydrofoils.

The 32-foot Foiler is equipped with  300-hp diesels and four hydrofoils.

There also are reports of a 32-foot Foiler on the drawing board. It could be the world’s first production foiling power yacht. Equipped with twin 300-hp diesels and four hydrofoils, this hybrid by Enata Industries is designed to achieve a speed of 40 knots and an average range of 130 miles at 30 knots. Lifting about 4 feet above the water, the builder says, the Foiler will have no problem handling waves in the 8- to 10-foot range. There’s a fascinating mix of technologies driving all of these trends now. I’m already jonesing for an oversized center console hybrid foiler that’s fully infused with carbon fiber.

This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue.