Stepping into the saloon of Dan Bacot, Sr.'s Ocean Alexander Classico 600 MK I felt like a hug from Dad after a losing battle with my first-ever large-mouth bass-warm, secure and perfectly comfortable. More important, I felt safe the moment I stepped through the portside boarding gate and strolled along the shoulder-width side deck. Raw teak and a waist-high bulwark ushered me aft as if they were a pair of school crossing guards.
This is the way an ocean-voyaging yacht should feel, the sort of personality quirk that keeps Ocean Alexander yacht owners involved for the long term.
The Classico 600 MK I came to life in brainstorming sessions between Ocean Alexander and Bacot, whose family owns Commonwealth Yachts and the York River Yacht Haven complex, which includes a full-service yard. Derived from the 65 MK I, the 600 fills a gap in Ocean Alexander's line between the 55 and 65, and is aimed at retired couples who want to run the boat without paid crew.
"Everything is designed to be easy," Bacot said.
The word "easy" means a variety of things. Start with fingertip steering and superior directional control upwind and down. Pop-up helm controls at each wing let the skipper see forward, aft and amidships without straining during docking maneuvers. Wide passageways on deck and inside combined with excellent handholds allow safe movement. The 600's seakindly motion and quiet running reduce fatigue on long passages.
A lot of would-be passagemaking yachts succeed only at first impressions, but the Classico 600 did nothing to overshadow my original feelings. As we headed out of Gloucester Point, Virginia, down the York River, I wanted to point the bow toward Norfolk, the open Atlantic and parts unknown.
Top-notch design and solid construction ensure this yacht can deal with a wide variety of sea states. Ed Monk, the primary naval architect, drew a sweet-handling sea boat that greets observers with a stout, but not unattractive, mien. Monk artfully combined the shippy look of a serious blue-water cruiser with exactly the right amount of "sleek" to keep her from looking like a workboat. The reverse rake of the pilothouse windshield reveals the yacht's Pacific Northwest heritage and purpose, and if the windshield were raked aft to echo the line of the flying bridge fascia, the boat's visual character would skew toward the frivolous.
I appreciate the practical reasons for raking the windshield forward, but it doesn't fit well with the rest of the 600's lines. Ed Monk agrees the Classico 600 would look sleeker with the windshield raked aft, but that is not the effect he and Ocean Alexander wanted. He also said the forward rake has too many advantages to ignore.
"You drove it from the pilothouse?" he asked as an example. "How was the visibility?"
It was excellent. This windshield reduces glare and the solar heating inside the house, allows the use of smaller individual panes of glass (they are stronger than large ones) and permits maximum headroom all the way to the dashboard.
Monk's semi-displacement hull form is happy throughout its range of speed from idle to maximum. We had modest chop (3 feet, maybe), but experience tells me the yacht's fine entry will easily part the waves, and her chine's rise in the forward third of the hull will suppress spray. When the seas are big, this chine will bury and damp pitching. This, combined with substantial flare in the bow sections, will keep the decks dry and the motion kind to the crew. Her straight run and parallel buttock lines let her run cleanly at a speed/length ratio of more than the pure displacement ratio of 1.34.
An ABT stabilizer package (a $104,400 option that includes an ABT bow thruster) damps roll and keeps the boat upright in tight, high-speed corners. I'd like to try this hull without stabilizers. Her hefty chine, modest deadrise back aft and long keel should satisfactorily damp roll in most conditions-though I would not put to sea for a long bluewater passage without stabilizers. Monk finished the hull with a pair of propeller pockets, which reduce draft and permit the use of larger-diameter propellers. These are more efficient at their relatively slow turning speed than are small props.
Monk told me he designed the pockets on the Classico 600 to provide lift, which eliminated the need for lift wedges or trim tabs, both of which create too much drag in exchange. These tunnels also reduce the transom area, or the "barn-door" drag normally created by a wide, immersed transom.
Ocean Alexander prides itself on the ability to bend to the customer's wishes in arrangement plans. Each boat has a project manager who is a naval architect. He works with the client, the client's interior designer or both to negotiate the multitude of compromises that make up every boat. This method reduces the number of last-minute change orders and should cut back on the number of warranty claims that result from honoring imprudent requests.
This example of the 600 is very much the Bacots' boat, but many of the couple's requirements echo those of many middle-age folks. The yacht's teak joinery and the earth tones in saloon upholstery and carpets encourage crew and guests to unwind with a drink, a snack and a book. A long, luxurious settee is to port, facing a flat-screen TV centered between a pair of easy chairs. A third easy chair, with an ottoman, is abaft the settee and creates a nearly perfect conversation area.
Placing the galley two steps up and between the pilothouse and saloon adds to the boat's social nature. The chef has a commanding view of onboard merriment while preparing the evening meal. Mrs. Bacot is the chef on this boat, and the galley reflects her preferences. An Amana double-door refrigerator/freezer is atop a built-in cabinet and drawer that measures 10-by-36-by-24 inches and is dedicated to pot stowage. The galley has enough space for creative cooking but is tight enough to be safe in a seaway.
The Bacots take their meals in the pilothouse. To accommodate dinner guests, they reposition the loose helm chairs (each on a teak base) at the table.
The master stateroom is approximately amidships (over the pitching axis), right forward of the engineroom and separated from it by the fuel tanks and a tiny foyer reminiscent of a Buck Rogers spaceship airlock. Soundown's sound attenuating package keeps the boat quiet. A full-height wardrobe accommodates long trousers and dresses.
Ocean Alexander, assuming many vibrant businessmen never really retire, offers a clever way to combine guest quarters and an office in the portside stateroom forward of the master. Bacot arranged the office with a large desk against the master stateroom bulkhead, a hanging locker and filing cabinets. The desktop hinges up to reveal a comfy single berth. In lieu of a conventional swinging door, Bacot asked for a pocket door that gives the office more wall space and offers no hindrance of passage to the forward guest quarters when open. The common area belowdecks houses the washer/dryer stack and linen closets.
Yachtsmen who move up to the 600 may be concerned about docking and maneuvering in tight quarters. Although she has a lot of surface area in her superstructure, she also has quite a lot of surface area under the water. Her displacement contributes to her sureness at dead-slow speed, letting her carry way predictably.
When we set off on our two-hour tour, Bacot moved the boat sideways off the face dock using a combination of bow thruster and main propulsion engines. Upon return, he showed off the wing helm station (there is one on each side), which allows a perfect view of the proceedings. Working port side to, Bacot nestled the 600 to within inches of the pilings.
Out in the chop of Chesapeake Bay, upwind, downwind and quartering, the Classico 600 was a delight, a solid yacht that's sure on her feet. She responds to increases in throttle as though she were a smaller boat, actually accelerating instead of merely gathering speed. Steering is light, but not void of feel.
Combining these handling characteristics with the distant presence of her powerful diesels and supremely comfortable accommodations ought to trigger the wanderlust in any yachtsman.