Miami Serves Up a Cruisers Buffet
The Hanse 540e
The biggest boat we sailed in Miami, the new Hanse 540e, is a super-sized 54-footer. Start with freeboard that's a little better than 5 feet, add 16 feet of beam, headroom below sufficient for a basketball player, a cockpit that spills out to twin wheels, and an aft deck that could double as a dance floor, and you have an extraordinary craft. There's even a transom garage big enough for a RIB, lawn chairs, and assorted other gear.
Thanks to its imposing scale, uncluttered teak decks, and a wedge-shaped cabin house, the 540e cuts a stylish figure topsides. And below, modern styling and furniture combine with mahogany woodwork, white bulkheads, and dark Corian counters to create a Euro look of luxury. To my eye, on hull number one, which I was sailing, it seemed almost stark. According to Don Walsh at Hanse Yachts US, the company has hired a designer, Design Unlimited, to soften some of those lines on future boats.
Throughout the 540e, details reflect Hanse founder Michael Schmidt's beliefs about how the boat will-or should-be sailed. For instance, interior counters are all but void of fiddles, which, according to a company representative, is because Schmidt contends that most owners will choose to do their cooking in port, where things will stay put. And there's a noticeable lack of handholds both below and topsides. On a test sail in fairly tame waters outside Government Cut, I found the absence of handholds a bit disconcerting; the area aft of the wheels seemed precarious and could have benefited from a seat or something to grab on to in a chop. But then again, with 41,000 pounds of displacement and 13,000 pounds of ballast, this boat didn't really get pushed around much by the waves kicked up by a flotilla of passing powerboats.
For all its size, the 540e is intended for a couple or a couple with friends to sail with ease. The mainsail is raised up the 86-foot-tall mast with the push of a button, thanks to the self-tailing electric winch mounted just forward of one of the wheels; this drum is also used for trimming the main. The self-tacking jib's sheet leads to a manual winch at the other wheel. This second winch can be easily upgraded, says Walsh, and in fact is being replaced by the owners who bought the boat at the show.
Sailing along at about 5.5 knots in 10 knots of breeze, the boat was easy to drive, and visibility was good from either wheel. Though more likely to be used in cruising mode, the boat's self-tending jib combined with the power of the main hints at some competitive performance should one find oneself in a tacking duel. This isn't surprising, since the boat's performance hull was designed by Judel/Vrolijk & Co., the firm that shaped the hulls for America's Cup champion Team Alinghi.
The "e" in 540e denotes the epoxy used in hull construction; it's standard on all of Hanse's larger boats. Base price for the boat, delivered to the U.S. East Coast, is just less than $500,000, but the model we sailed, with loads of teak and electronics, was priced at $635,000. While that's a good chunk of money, it's a whole lot of boat.
The Moorings chose Miami to unveil the electric-powered version of its Robertson and Caine 4300 catamaran. The cat was developed for an owner by The Moorings, working in conjunction with Glacier Bay, which has installed its Ossa Powerlite direct-current propulsion system in the boat. Unlike the Lagoon 420 Hybrid (also at the show), which relies on motors driven by a bank of batteries that store power created by a generator or through propeller regeneration under sail, the Moorings 4300 Electric's generator runs whenever the boat is being motored. It requires only the traditional bank of batteries to supply electricity for house needs.
While the 4300e has been in charter service for several months already in the B.V.I., performance tests are continuing, as is development of some elements of the drive system. Cruising World's July 2007 issue will be devoted to catamarans, and in it you'll find an in-depth look at these electricity-driven sailboats and reviews of how both the 4300e and the Lagoon Hybrid perform on the water.
Rounding out the new catamaran offerings in Miami was the Mahé 36, a performance-promising cruising cat from Fountaine Pajot. The boat that CW tested on Biscayne Bay-a three-cabin version-easily topped 9 knots while close-reaching, proving that comfort doesn't necessarily interfere with fun. You'll find a complete review of the Mahé in next month's issue.
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Mark Pillsbury is CW's senior editor. Associate editor Andrew Burton and contributing editor Jeremy McGeary also assisted with this story.