A near gale was snarling out on Chesapeake Bay. The seas were building, and the cold rain was slashing sideways. Conditions were perfect to test the new Passport Vista 615. After all, designer Bill Dixon’s brief was to create an elegant deck-saloon passagemaker that’s easily sailed by a couple, and, most important, capable of handling rough offshore conditions.
Thom Wagner of Passport Yachts was clearly confident that the Vista could take these conditions in stride, for he didn’t hesitate for a moment to back this 61-foot, 67,000-pound beauty out of the slip and turn the controls over to me.
The 40-inch twin wheels were smooth and responsive. It took just a moment to adjust to the light feel of the single-lever electronic engine controls. With ample rudder area, a Verifold 26-inch folding propeller, and powerful counterrotating bow thrusters, the 615 proved highly maneuverable. Despite the heavy cross breeze, the boat backed with control. Once free of the marina, the Volvo 180-horsepower diesel pushed us through the nasty chop at a smooth 10 knots.
I’m an ardent fan of the solent rig. By moving the inner stay forward almost to the head stay, the area of the staysail is increased, and the sail provides more punch to windward due to its increased luff length. For light, off-the-wind work, the hydraulic furlers will roll up the staysail and unfurl the larger genoa with the touch of a button.
The Selden in-mast mainsail-furling system is congruent with the shorthanded concept, but under sail, the main boom was 14 inches higher than the already tall bimini. In my opinion, the high boom, combined with the substantial freeboard, raised the center of effort so that although we were well reefed down in high winds, I found that the 615 didn’t stand to its canvas as well as its .32 ballast-to-displacement ratio and deep draft might suggest. Perhaps a tighter tune of the rig would mitigate this. Later, Thom Wagner said that the next Vista 615 will be equipped with an in-boom furling main that will allow the boom to be lower. Regardless, the inherent seakindliness of our test boat safely tamed the steep waves. I found that the boat was close-winded and extremely easy to tack, and within seconds the boat had a bone in its teeth on a close reach and held a steady 8.5 knots on all points of sail.
The deck design revolves around three distinct areas, one for working and two for lounging. Forward of the helm stations in the center cockpit lies a traditional cockpit with a large, functional table and spacious settees for sitting or napping. I especially liked the companionway hatch, which features permanent washboards that cleverly recess into the bridgedeck sill. The working cockpit area lies behind the lounge, with the mainsheet running on a wide deck track aft of that. The twin helm stations afforded excellent visibility and handy access to all sailing, motoring, and navigational functions. Commendable 33-inch-tall lifelines and stout stanchions combine with a continuous bulwark to create a secure feeling on deck. There are gates port and starboard for dockside entry and an electrically operated drop-down transom with a boarding ladder for use at anchor.
The aft stays terminate well forward of the caprail, leaving an unencumbered third lounging space seldom seen on a yacht of any size. Comfortable U-shaped seats face aft over this area. Roll out the morning yoga mat here or send the kids aft to play, safely clear of all sailing functions. By shaping the seats specifically to accommodate the bow of an appropriately sized inflatable tender, it can be stowed on deck, eliminating the need for unsightly dinghy davits.
The solid-fiberglass hull is hand laminated and vacuum bagged with vinylester resin and stitched biaxial cloth as well as with mat and woven roving. High-load areas are reinforced with Kevlar. All glass surfaces are coated with isophthalic gelcoat. The encapsulated cast-lead keel is offered in a 7-foot-11-inch version or a 6-foot-6-inch shoal-draft model. The half skeg and balanced rudder ensure both responsive steering and uncompromised strength that should be up to the rigors of offshore passagemaking.
Fellow Boat of the Year judge Roger Hellyar-Brook, the Marine Systems program manager for the Landing School, in Arundel, Maine, waxed poetic about the mechanical and electrical systems in the large engine room.
“Far and away the highest quality of all the boats at the show,” he said after our dockside visit during the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland.
There is quality and then there is organization. This engine room has both. The mechanical and electrical systems aren’t scattered throughout the hull but rationally collected into convenient workspaces. The walk-in engine room affords near-luxurious access to all maintenance requirements.
“Let there be light” is the central theme of the interior design. Wraparound windows in the deck saloon, seven overhead hatches, and 18 ports certainly let that light in. The main saloon is attractive, spacious, and well laid out for the realities of life at sea. The snug step-down galley to starboard offers Corian countertops, Frigoboat fridge and freezer, a microwave, a trash compactor, and a Force Ten three-burner stove and oven.
The 615 we tested had a three-stateroom/two-head layout. One may be hard pressed to identify the owner’s quarters, for both the forward and aft cabins are equally opulent, with walk-around queen berths, spacious heads with showers, and generous stowage. A third, smaller double-berth cabin to starboard extends the crew capacity.
With time and technology, “Made in Japan” changed from a derogatory to a sought-after declaration of origin. I believe that with 30 years of experience and the production of 550 vessels, Passport Yachts has redefined the meaning of “Made in China.” From stem to stern, keel to masthead, the new Vista 615 reflects a standard of construction, equipment, installation, and overall execution that should be the envy of the industry.
CW contributing editor and veteran BOTY judge Alvah Simon has spent a lifetime cruising offshore.
OA 61′ 6″ (18.59 m.)
LWL 53′ 0″ (16.15 m.)
Beam 17′ 6″ (5.33 m.)
Draft 7′ 11″/6′ 6″ (2.41/1.98 m.)
Sail Area 1,701 sq. ft. (158 sq. m.)
Ballast 22,000 lb. (9,979 kg.)
Displacement 67,776 lb. (30,743 kg.)
Water 425 gal. (1,609 l.)
Fuel 510 gal. (1,930 l.)
Holding 50 gal. (189 l.)
Mast Height 85′ 4″ (26 m.)
Engine 180-hp. Volvo
Designer Bill Dixon