The simplicity of small, seaside communities captivated me during childhood, when my family vacationed on northern Florida's Gulf Coast. Mounds of freshly shucked oyster shells were spread in lieu of gravel on sandy driveways, and the powdered sugar beaches under my feet made me promise myself I would someday return for good. I would have to wait nearly a decade, but before I was 24, I was working as a charter captain out of the same harbor aboard a North Carolina-built fishing boat. I tested her daily while pounding through the rough and raising fish, and became a true believer in Carolina-style boats.
Those memories flooded back recently in the Florida Keys, where North Carolina boatbuilding pioneer Buddy Davis joined me aboard the new Davis 45 Express. Similar to the yacht I ran years before, she had a no-nonsense approach.
"Everything starts with the bottom hull shape," Davis said. "All other things-the tumblehome, the flare-are all derivative of the bottom, and it's pretty damn effective."
That's no exaggeration. The hull, designed with help from naval architect Donald Blount, is superb. We neither pounded nor shimmied through a confused 4-foot chop. The 45 has good attitude at all speeds, a result of her linear center of gravity being placed farther aft than on earlier 47-foot Davis models. She also had no bow steer, which often exists with a sharp, deep forefoot. (A new tunnel version of the 45 reduces draft to less than 3 feet and is said to have handling and running characteristics similar to those on the full-draft models.)
The exaggerated bow flare kept our helm area dry. Power steering made maneuvers at all speeds effortless, and the boat responded as if she were on rails.
The exaggerated flare rounding the bow deck, the tumblehome, the corner hawsepipes and the wide gunwales are all Davis trademarks, and her navy blue hull accentuates her lines and dockside appeal.
Just as striking is the execution in the 45's engineroom. About 300 manpower hours went into fairing and painting the space with Awlcraft 2000, creating a slick, glossy finish that reflects fluorescent lighting and makes messes easier to see and clean. The engineroom is accessed through the helm deck steps, and the first few trips down are a bit awkward because a 15kW Westerbeke generator is tucked into the lower aft portion of the entrance. Still, there is more than 6 feet of headroom in the space. Standing is easy between the two 12-liter, 700 hp DDC/MTU Series 60s, and maneuvering around the front of either engine is a breeze.
Unlike many enginerooms, this one has no clutter. Wire runs are oversized to accommodate dealer and owner-installed equipment. It is evident a knowledgeable boater was involved in this space's layout.
Dripless shaft and rudder seals are standard. Some quality builders install dripless shaft seals (typically a more difficult seal to service), but then defeat the purpose by draining air boxes, air conditioning and refrigeration-condensation pans into the bilge. Davis Boatworks incorporates a centralized sea chest on each side of the boat to keep the bilge dry and clean.
The 108-square-foot cockpit has a teak deck with an optional Murray Brothers fighting chair secured to a standard, built-in backing plate. Through the years, transom/tuna doors have replaced gin poles, and the 45 Express reflects modern times. Built-in stowage compartments flank the fighting chair, and one side is insulated for keeping the day's catch fresh.
Bait stowage, tackle stowage and the prep area are Ritz quality. A cockpit freezer to port mirrors a deep live well and prep center to starboard. Be careful closing the gas cylinder-assisted freezer and live well lids, whose small, molded finger indentations can deliver a blue fingernail.
The helm deck is a little less business and a little more leisure. L-shape settees are more than 7 feet long, with room for rod stowage. Davis was adamant about having a 360-degree line of sight from the helm area, regardless of speed and running attitude. To achieve this, he raised the helm platform, which also accounts for the engineroom's standing headroom.
The helm includes a Davis teak bubble with single-lever controls. An engraved profile with indicator lights for navigational lighting and bilge pumps is recessed into the bubble's face.
Our test boat had 700 hp Series 60s. At 2100 rpm, we hit 29 knots and burned 64 gph; we had a top speed of 31.5 knots at 2350 rpm. Some may say this does not qualify the 45 as a hot rod, but few boats can run those speeds in a 4- to 5-foot confused chop, handle effortlessly and keep passengers together, let alone the boat herself. If you want more speed, try the 800 hp Caterpillars or the 825 hp version of the Series 60s.
By slowing to 1800 rpm and cruising at 24 knots, fuel consumption dropped to 48 gph.
The 45 can sleep five, but the boat is most comfortable for a standard eight-four-two: eight for cocktails, four for dinner and two for the night. This is similar to most express-style boats under 50 feet LOA, though the cabin narrows drastically as you move forward and makes the 45 feel a bit smaller than a 45-foot boat. It's a trade-off for the Carolina flare.
"We're working very hard at getting every inch possible out of the forward cabin," Davis said.
Since the 45 was first launched in February, Buddy Davis has spent days on board, tweaking to ensure each launch is better than the last. That kind of dedication, plus the boat's already serious attention to engineering and design, should put the Davis 45 Express atop any serious angler's list.
Contact: Davis Boatworks, (877) 779-2248; fax (570) 283-6309; www.buddydavis.com.