Most of the major motoryacht builders these days follow the same safe design path and stick with conventional styling. True, the walls of naval architects are littered with designs that try to do something new and defy the conventional. But you get no medals for getting it wrong, so the major builders follow the line of evolution that has been the tradition of design throughout the ages.
This preamble goes toward explaining why a new addition to the Fairline range had me interested rather than excited. Here was another variation on the same theme, I thought. After all, Fairline is not going to rock the boat with startling new designs when it has just been through a management buyout. And at first glance this new Fairline looked like all the others. But closer inspection showed just how wrong I was. The new Squadron 66 is at the cutting edge, a fresh modern design that excites the senses. And it not only looks good; it is a very practical boat that shows you can combine good looks with sound seamanship.
I joined the Squadron 66 in the historic setting of the Beaulieu River in southern England, where many of the old wooden Men of War sailing ships were built at Bucklers Hard. The Beaulieu River on a misty fall morning was quite spectacular and the 66 seemed to fit in perfectly with its surroundings as we motored out into the Solent and across to historic Cowes on the Isle of Wight. It seems as though much of Britain's seafaring history centers around this area, which is still the access to the country's largest commercial and naval ports.
In the open waters of the Solent, the 66's ride was something special, showing that for all her quiet glamour this is essentially a yacht to enjoy at sea as much as in harbor. The hull's 18-degree deadrise is deep for this type of yacht, and you can feel the benefits of this in the well-cushioned ride. You might think that would add to the resistance but the two 1360 MAN diesels take the speed up to 34 knots. A pair of CATS that offers just over 3,000 hp for that extra knot or two is an option.
It isn't just the flat-out speed that is exciting, it is also the precise and taut handling-a real sports-boat feel. The shape of the aft sections where the propellers operate in semi-tunnels has been refined to improve the steering characteristics-part of the constant refinement that is Fairline's hallmark. The builders really have done quite a superb job on this new 66; I fell in love with it more and more as I got close to its qualities.
I did not realize, for instance, the subtlety of this modern design until I looked a bit more closely at how the designers had sharpened up the curves, giving them a harder edge so that the conventional style becomes alive and looks fresh and clean. Inside there is the same sharpness, but here it is created more by a minimalist approach to styling that does not encourage fancy trim and other gimmicks.
Signs of good seamanly thinking are evident in the handrails that are placed around the interior. The mooring arrangements are easy to use, important when just a couple is handling this large yacht. The helm is practical and my only real gripe was with the deep side pillars of the windscreen that obstruct a clear view. With a 35-knot top speed that view is important. Still, you sense that everything about this design has been done for a purpose.
The sensible layout inside is nothing earth-shattering, but a straightforward and logical design that provides a comfortable environment is nothing to sneeze at. There is a four-cabin layout with the normal two doubles and two twins. One of the twins is fitted with a single and a Pullman berth so it is designed more for kids, but you have the option here of specifying this cabin as an office with desk and chair if you have to take your business with you to sea. The full-width master stateroom amidships is a haven of peace, complete with a very practical bathroom and good natural light. The VIP forward matches it in quality but is on a slightly smaller scale.
A better option for kids can be found in the two-berth cabin that is built into the transom. Designed primarily as a crew quarters with access from the deck or the transom, this would be perfect for a pair of noisy teens and their music, or it can be specified as a double-or even a utility area with laundry. Alongside is a compact garage that can house a Jet Ski; tender stowage is moved up to the rear of the flying bridge where a crane comes as standard.
The flying bridge seating is a rich cream rather than the bland white that is all too often a default option. Alongside the low helm is a sunbed and behind it a table surrounded by seating, served by the bar and barbecue on the opposite side.
The saloon has a comfortable feel about it, and it shows what can be achieved by simply getting the proportions and the balance right. The main seating area is on the port side with proper armchairs and a settee that can be re-arranged if you feel like a change. Facing this arrangement is an LCD flat-screen TV built into the starboard cabinets; the screen can be raised when the audience demands a full-screen picture.
A partial screen separates the open-plan galley from the lounge; opposite this is a dining table for eight. The arrangement leaves plenty of room for a clear walkway forward to the pilothouse. Much of the quality feel comes from the use of rich leather for the seats, the dark rich finish on the cherry paneling and furniture and the attractive fabrics. Most of these can be varied at the owner's choice.
The pilothouse has two excellent seats on the starboard side and an area adjacent to the helm offers a breakfast bar with two stools. My choice would have been to have two more forward-facing seats so more people can enjoy the ride.
Still, if those are my only gripes, it's a short list. Building 10,000 boats in 40 years is quite a record and, as the Squadron 66 shows, the Fairlines just seem to get better and better.