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Talkin' boats with Bentley Collins

Bentley Collins is vice president of sales and marketing for Sabre Yachts and Back Cove Yachts, and he has been with the Maine boatbuilder for nearly 20 years. He started his career as a sailboat dealer and later worked for Beneteau. Collins grew up in Montreal and enjoyed sailracing during the summers with his brothers on his Flying Dutchman, a 20-foot one design.

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Collins, 63, has owned several sailboats and powerboats, including a Back Cove 29 with a single diesel ( Today, he runs a 1998 Sabre 36 express ( He has three grown children, all boaters who are raising children who love boats. Collins has been a vocal proponent of pod and joystick propulsion systems. All but two of the 65 Sabre power yachts sold in the last two years have had pods.

Collins is vice commodore of his local yacht club and lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife, Brenda. In this interview, he points out the strong points of Zeus and Volvo Penta IPS pod systems, notes how boaters have changed through the years and explains why he likes the ultra-modern Azimut Magellano 50.

Q: You really believe in pod propulsion and joystick helm control. Why?

A: Because they are innovative, and innovation sells. That has held true during the period of 2008 to 2011. Traditional powerboats have had a pretty tough time of it. The builders who did not adopt pod technology or a specific innovation are the ones standing on the sidelines today. At Sabre, we were a little bit behind the curve starting out, but I think we’re ahead of it now.

Q: Which Sabre boats are powered with pods?

The mid-range Sabre 42 (above) and the 48-foot models are powered by the Zeus pod system.

A: The Sabre range of powerboats consists of boats from 38 to 54 feet, and every model in the range is available with pods. The 38, 42, 48 and 54 Salon Express are only available with pod propulsion, and we offer with our biggest flybridge model — the 54 — a straight-shaft option, but the reality is we have pods available on every design we have in the line.

Q: Some believe pods are susceptible to damage from striking submerged objects. Are customers concerned about this?

A: It was a concern when pods were just coming out. Boating and the boating industry is full of opinions, and some problems are real and others are imagined. Probably the best example or way to answer the question is to go to the Pacific Northwest, where we thought we would be really challenged to sell pod boats because of the number of big objects in the water. And traditionally people there have been very concerned about running gear. But the truth is, in the Pacific Northwest it is a non-issue. I did a little test and told my dealers at the boat shows not to bring up the issue with customers — to let them bring it up on their own. Sure enough, there was no built-in concern among boaters, especially in the part of the market that was actually buying boats. There is very little consumer negativity about pods.

If you take the typical body of a vee hull with a transom deadrise from 15 to 18 degrees and you look across the pod when the boat is on the hard, there is very little of that pod that is exposed below the fair body of the boat itself. If you look at our 48 or 42 there is, I think, about an inch of pod that is below the fair body of the boat — or the keel, if you will.

The Sabre 42

One big difference between the Zeus and IPS is the Zeus pods are mounted in a tunnel to make them vertical, and the IPS installations are done on the deadrise of the boat, so depending on the design of the boat sometimes there is more of the pod exposed. But the majority of the leg of pods — both Volvo Penta and Zeus — in most cases is well within the fair body of the boat.

Q: Sabre installs Zeus and IPS pod drives. What are each system’s strong points?

A: Today, the Sabre 38 and 54 Salon Express are powered by Volvo Penta IPS, and in our midrange the Sabre 42- and 48-foot models are powered by the Zeus system. Volvo Penta can be installed in a much broader range of boats. You can go from their IPS400, which runs their D4 engine, all the way to the D13, which is used to power a boat bigger than our 54-footer. So Volvo has a broader range of products and has been at it longer, and a larger base of builders use their system. No question, they were the first out of the box and got a long way ahead before anyone challenged them. But here in the U.S., people just love the Cummins brand. When we started, Zeus included a lot of elements as standard equipment. It was a fully integrated system. Volvo now has the digital positioning system, whereas Zeus has always had the Skyhook system. But the two systems are more even than they have ever been. There was a time when there were big differences.

Q: What are boaters more concerned about — ease of operation or performance and fuel efficiency?

The Back Cove 34

A: Boaters are aware of how much fuel they use, and the ongoing expense at the fuel dock certainly has a big impact on the way some boaters operate their vessel. People would rate ease of handling at the end of the day as more important. It enables them to have a better boating experience because they’re not fighting with the crew when they are leaving or coming back to the marina. I really do think it is a huge factor. Here in Maine, you have 12 feet of tide in some cases, so when you are coming in to your dock you have a different situation every time. It is hard to practice your docking because the conditions are constantly changing. The joystick makes operation that much easier, cleaner and less stressful. Boating is fun and not supposed to be stressful.

Q: What do you consider to be good fuel efficiency in a powerboat?

A: I am going to answer this by saying we have two different types of boats. We have the Back Cove, which is the single-engine diesel with bow thruster, and then we have the Sabre range, with twin engines with pods. The Back Cove yachts can cruise at 20 knots and burn 15 gallons per hour, which is excellent fuel consumption [1.3 nmpg]. In the Sabre range, where the boats tend to be heavier, our goal with our smaller boats is to get about 1 nmpg. So to burn 20 gallons at 20 knots is our objective. We achieve that goal with our 42-footer as well. At 23 knots, the 42 is burning 26 gallons per hour [0.9 nmpg]. But remarkably, our 48 burns 31 gph at 23 knots [0.7 nmpg]. That is excellent fuel consumption, if compared to straight-shaft boats of the same size and displacement range.

Q: What other factors are important to boaters?

A: Noise and vibration. Lower engine noise is a significant positive for a lot of people, especially when you get a little older and really don’t want the rumble of those big motors. It is important to recognize that reduced sound levels are a major benefit of the pod systems. When you talk about pods vs. straight-shaft boats, if you are running along in an express-style boat with straight shafts, noise levels are into the 85- to 90-decibel range, but the pod boats we are building today are running along at 75 decibels. The difference is like going to a string quartet or a rock concert.

Q: How have boaters changed in the past two decades?

The Back Cove 34 has an attractive deck and pilothouse.

A: I believe, perhaps, boaters were a little heartier 20 years ago. I am 63 years old, so maybe I am starting to sound ancient, but I think boaters were a little more adventurous. Sailing was one thing people could do. They wouldn’t necessarily have the radar and all the fancy electronics. Navigational electronics have opened up boating to more people — the ones who didn’t have the time to do all the plotting and planning. It can be viewed as a dangerous thing — not to know how to manually navigate — but at the same time most boaters, or more boaters, are on the water today more relaxed and having a better time of it. Today’s boaters are less concerned with things like navigation and more about fun destinations, cruising, larger berths, more interior comforts. We have become a society that expects generators and air conditioning in our boats. Years ago when you went cruising on a hot night, you wouldn’t think twice about leaving the hatches open. Not today. … The level of comfort we expect from our boats is much greater than it was 20 years ago — and that’s OK.

Q: What about boats — how have they changed?

A: A boat was simple enough that you could do your own maintenance. Boats today are pretty complex. You have an electrical system, a plumbing system, and a heating and cooling system in many more boats. You have navigational electronics. There are more systems in a modern motoryacht today than in your home. But the systems have become very reliable. I am thinking of navigational electronics and electrical systems. Fiberglass technologies are changing all the time. Today we have boats that are lighter, stronger, faster and use less fuel.

Q: How are Sabre boats built?

Evening aboard the Sabre 54 Express

A: We use a resin-infusion technology, so every piece of fiberglass and coring material is loaded into the mold dry. We then put a plastic bag over the entire structure, and then we infuse the resin into the part, which is a very clean way to do it. It also gives us an excellent fiberglass-to-resin ratio to make the boat as light as we can and strong as we can. Light is very important to the consumer because of the fuel savings. … The whole manufacturing process has changed, but out in our shop there are still a lot of guys cutting pieces of wood. We have a nice mix of traditional and modern elements in the way we build our boats. For example, we don’t use nail guns to put together furniture. We still glue and screw every piece of furniture. If we expose a fastener, it is only because we expect to have to remove it. Every other screw is hidden with a bung and properly covered over.

Q: How would you characterize Sabre Yachts?

A: When we made our start in the powerboat business, we were known as the first builder of a fast trawler. In the ’90s, when I came to Sabre, we decided to drop the trawler moniker because trawlers meant 8- to 10-knot boats. People were coming to us for traditional trawlers, but our boats cruised at 16 knots or so. Over the past 20 years we’ve gone from being known as a fast trawler company to a modern contemporary Salon Express builder. All of our boats cruise at 25 knots and top out at 30 knots. Put in a bigger motor and you could cruise at 30 knots and top out at 35 knots. … Our styling, of course, is Down East, with origins from the commercial lobster boat business here in Maine.

Q: Do you remember your first boat?

A: Up in Quebec there is an old traditional style of rowboat called a Vercheres. I remember having an old Vercheres rowboat. It was one of those boats that you had to fill up with water for about two weeks before you could launch it because the wood had to expand. My family was introduced to sailing when my dad moved us from Australia to Canada. We became sailors in Montreal in the ’60s. The rest of my family has dropped out of boating, but I stayed with it, racing sailboats all through my teens with boats my dad provided — Flying Dutchman at one time — and then I went on to racing keelboats. And when I was with the Beneteau Group, I had a whole series of Beneteau sailboats in the ’80s. In my time here in Maine we have had a Back Cove 29, a Back Cove 33 and a 1998 Sabre 36.

Q: Do you have a favorite personal boat?

A: It would have to be my Flying Dutchman that I raced with my brothers back in the ’60s. We had a blast on that boat. My dad gave us an old car and trailer and Flying Dutchman, and we worked around the house to pay for it, but we spent weekends on the road going to regattas. One of my favorites in recent years was my Back Cove 29, which was the first new powerboat I had in many years. We put the better part of a couple hundred hours a year on that boat, which is an accomplishment in Maine.

Q: Which boats outside of Sabre do you admire?

The Sabre 54 Express

A: On the sailboat side, I love what a company like Wally, the Italian builder, is doing — just stretching it out there aesthetically and performance-wise. The boats are just exciting to look at and watch. On the powerboat side, here in the U.S., I love all the Down East-style boats — San Juan, Hinckley, mJm, Hunt. I think we have a really cool market niche that people really understand now. They kind of get it. Each one of us has small variations in what we do — in style, in performance — that set us apart from the others. I really admire the Magellano series from Azimut, with the plumb bows. I just think that advancement in styling is something that will really take off.

Q: What does the future hold for boat design and propulsion?

A: The number of new boats that will be built will drop off. There is not enough water frontage that you can just keep building boats at the same pace we have over the last 20 to 30 years. But the level of sophistication in boats will increase and the reliability of systems will improve. Pod drives in the powerboat business are here to stay, and there is no question they have allowed people to buy bigger boats than they would normally buy. The composite materials will allow us to make the boats better and faster, and the styling of boats will move with slow evolution in design. Perhaps some of the modern contemporary builders have gone a bit too far and now they seem to be reeling in themselves somewhat. Maybe they tried to “out-contemporary” one another for a while. Boats won’t change dramatically, but they will get better. I think the public just wants the boats to get better and I think that’ll happen.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.