An acquaintance who tests cars tells me that, when faced once with a new Ferrari that was as close to perfection as can be achieved, he vented his frustration by noting in print that the ashtray was too small. "Really slammed them!" he said righteously.
Now I know how he feels, because it's almost become a game between David Marlow and me-him building a new boat, me trying to find something wrong with it. It's like the child's game of looking at a picture and seeing what's not right. The frustrating part, for me at least, is that I haven't won yet.
When a new Marlow came up for trials, I decided to try something new. I didn't want to go so far as my auto writer friend-anyone who slams a Ferrari for an ashtray deserves to be sentenced to a week in a Yugo with a pair of chain-smoking professional wrestlers. No, for my look at the Marlow 57E Skylounge, I would don a disguise. Since it's not difficult to make a boat look really great on the outside, I decided to pretend I was a service technician; which, after all, is where most boats fail. Hey, we all love boats and we forgive them their various sins, but sometimes we have to get a service guy out to fix something. And that's when you really find out how well your boat was built.
Given some time to poke around the 57 before David arrived for our speed runs, I thought I'd pretend to trace a shorted circuit. I started in the pilothouse, which, I noted in passing, was spacious.
Let's see this panel pops up and all the wires are neatly loomed and color-coded. They run down through this wire chase-hey, look!-there's a cord in here to pull future wires through easily. Slick.
Down into the main cabin to an area where most builders bury their wiring deep in the overhead. Nope, not on a Marlow-all the panels pop off with Velcro. But I know where I'm going to get him-it's where the wires run from the overhead panels down the side and through the sole into the engineroom.
But, alas, I was foiled again. You don't really notice it, but there's a perfectly grain-matched little door in the bulkhead between the windows, visible only because it has flawless trim around it. Pop open the door and, once again, the wires are right there.
If I were a service tech, I'd be grumpy by now because this is too easy. No long hourly rates while I tear up teak and fabric, no long delays while I figure out which wire is which with the clock ticking. This is going to be a minimum charge service call.
Damn. I've lost again. Time to hang up my coveralls and squeeze myself back into my critic's tuxedo and drag out the superlatives. First off, the Explorer 57E Skylounge starts life with the same hull as the Explorer 53. The "E" means European, as in the reversed transom, which extends the hull to 57 feet and provides a stylish swim platform; Skylounge, as in an enclosed bridge with lounge area instead of an open flybridge. But there are more clever changes inside.
The saloon is large, with big windows, a sofa to port, and a pair of tropical chairs that prove to be recliners. Noteworthy are the clever Marlow-designed saloon doors, which both slide and hinge open, allowing much of the aft bulkhead to be opened in fair weather.
Up a couple of steps is what would usually be the pilothouse but, aboard this 57, the owner has opted to eliminate the lower helm and turn the area into a spacious dining and lounge area.
The galley wraps around under the forward windows, and the usual vision-blocking stand-up refrigerator/freezer has neatly transformed itself into five undercounter fridge/freezer drawers. A four-burner Dacor cooktop is backed by an undercounter microwave. The result is a clean and easy-to-use area.
In the after corner is a gorgeous dining table with chair seating for six, backed by china cabinets capped by buffet counters. Pantograph doors on each side lead to the wide side decks for line handling. Up a staircase to port is the pilothouse/skylounge, which seems as large as those that Marlow added to his 72- and 78-footers a year ago. The helm is on the centerline, facing a console filled with electronics and a tidy array of engine gauges, plus overhead panels with lighted alarms. There's a big chart area to port and equally big chart drawers to starboard for those skippers who like paper charts.
Aft, a raised settee is to starboard for guests to congregate under way, served by a wet bar in a cherry wood cabinet to port. Several buyers have inquired about adding a day head to the skylounge, and David has plans to handle it neatly. A door leads to the boat deck, which easily absorbed the 11-foot Whaler tender (it can take up to 13-footers) with an 1,800-pound Marlow-designed and built crane.
Take the stairs from the galley/dining saloon down to the cabins, and you'll be surprised by the open foyer, accentuated by double sliding doors on the guest cabin. In this case, the cabin has the office/study layout, with a built-in desk and shelves aft and a pair of bunks forward (the bottom bunk is extra wide). This has proven such a good arrangement that every buyer of a 53/57 has opted for the office.
Aft, the master stateroom spans the full beam with a king berth, an expanse of built-in lockers, bureaus and drawers, and a washer/dryer combo hidden to port. The en suite head is cherry wood and molded fiberglass, with a shower stall sized for real people. Forward, the VIP cabin is equally spacious with queen berth, good storage and a similarly realistic sizing to the shower and head.
This owner had chosen a pair of Lugger 645 shaft-horsepower diesels for several reasons. The Lugger is based on the Komatsu engine block and, with extended cruising in mind, the owner knew that he could easily get repairs anywhere in the world because Komatsu has an extensive parts/service network. Second, the Lugger has an interesting arrangement with individual cylinder heads rather than the usual 400-pound head that makes repairs difficult. Last, Lugger rates their engine at 2100 rpm, so it doesn't turn as fast as many diesels, and they also suggest just 150 rpm off the top end for cruising. The result is an engine that turns over fewer times per mile, which translates to longer engine life and time between overhauls.
The standard throttle/shifter arrangement on the Explorer 57 is with controls both in the pilothouse and in a foldout unit in the cockpit, but this owner selected the Morse KE-4 system that provides plug-in controls at various points around the yacht. The engineroom, as you might have guessed, is finished to the highest standards and is a benchmark to which many other builders should aspire. Soundown was consulted on noise and vibration reduction, and the decibel numbers recorded during the test show how successfully that was achieved. In fact, the Explorers have always proven to be exceptionally quiet in spite of having solid teak-and-holly cabin soles, rather than carpeting which muffles noise. Twin 20 kW Northern Lights generators have the same provenance as the Luggers, and were neatly installed in sound boxes. For quiet at anchor, a 4,000-watt sine-wave inverter can handle many electrical needs without starting a genset.
Under way, the Luggers pushed us to nearly 20 knots even with full fuel (1,200 gallons, about four tons) and full water (300 gallons, another ton) plus tender and other gear. It was a realistic test, rather than the usual speeds acquired with empty tanks and no gear. I'd expect to see 21 knots with the tanks loaded for normal boating use, a nice performance indeed.
The day of our test brought turbulent weather with occasionally heavy squalls and, at one point, our wind speed gauge was indicating 33 knots over the deck. But in the pilothouse all was pleasantly cool, the dual Marine Air systems easily handling the hot and humid outside temperature, and the air was calm. In fact, we weren't getting sunburned or windblown, we could talk with no background noise, and it would have been just as pleasant if we were going 2,000 miles instead of 20. The pilothouse is definitely a plus on the Explorer 57E, and I'm sure that's where guests will congregate while under way.
Handling was pleasantly predictable and docking was simplified with twin thrusters (the bowthruster is standard). The Explorer 57 has ample windage but, even on our blustery day, there was nothing the combination of the torque from the Luggers or the thrusters couldn't handle.
The bottom line is that the Marlow Explorer 57 Skylounge is one of those highly desirable yachts that is built well, performs well, and looks good. It's a tough combination to beat but, if I were a service technician, I'd hate the damn thing!
Contact: Marlow Explorer Yachts, (800) 362-2657; www.marlowexplorer.com.