It was one of those days when you would really rather not be at sea. Squalls had rolled through Ft. Lauderdale earlier that morning and the strong northerly had turned the north-flowing Gulf Stream into rows of square-edged holes. As we cleared the harbor and the bow of the new Cheoy Lee 95 rose to the first sea, owner David Sale turned to his captain, Kent Kohlberger, and asked, "How big you figure?"
Kohlberger eyed the seas a moment and replied, "Maybe four to five." Then the bow went over the swell and dropped into a deep trough, tossing spray to each side. "Or more," he amended.
This was a real sea trial, not one of those smooth-water cruises. And the 95 was showing her seaworthy breeding. The owner, the captain and the representatives from Cheoy Lee were all smiling. Sure, the props were a bit wanky: easily cured. But the technicians aboard to test the autopilot found it tracked impeccably even in quartering seas, and the Naiad stabilizers kept her as steady as a lighthouse. She punched into the head seas with aplomb and, surfing down-sea, tracked with fingertip adjustments.
The Cheoy Lee 95 is the latest in the 135-year legacy of this Far East builder, where literally generations of the same families have refined their skills while adding new technology. For decades, Cheoy Lee has been synonymous with Hong Kong, but the 95 is one of the first to be built at the new state-of-the-art shipyard in Doumen, China.
She is also the first launch from the new pairing of Cheoy Lee with naval architect M.G. Burvenich, and it's clearly a comfortable match. Burvenich had worked in the Fexas design office on previous Cheoy Lee projects; now on his own, he's stamped the yacht with his imprimatur.
The most obvious difference is the absence of the typical Fexas sheerline forward with its drooping clipper bow. Instead, the new 95 has upswept bulwarks surrounding the foredeck and a stainless steel handrail that rises subtly to give an even higher effect. There's no question that the designer had to push the cabin house far forward in order to accommodate the on-deck master suite, but the proud bow defuses any appearance of being heavy.
The most unusual feature of this 95 is the "non-pilothouse" pilothouse in between the saloon level and the enclosed flybridge. In profile, the 95 looks like a typical raised-pilothouse motoryacht but, in fact, the usual lower helm has been turned into a comfy lounge with a curved sofa, wide table and a great view through the forward windows. You can opt to have Cheoy Lee install a helm here but, with an enclosed flying bridge just steps away, why bother?
Besides, this "observation lounge" is a great place to watch the world go past. You're close to the galley, amidships for minimum motion and protected from wind, spray, heat or cold. David Sale and I settled into the deep leather cushions; Sale grinned and said, "I'm gonna like this."
Sale is a yacht broker's dream. "I saw the 95 at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show, walked through her at six o'clock, and bought her at six forty-five. 'Course, then I had to call Bernice to tell her what I'd done," he says with a wink. "But she was good with it."
Bernice Sale probably had a pretty good idea what her husband, an automobile dealer and former owner of a race-car team, had in mind. Although the couple had been away from the water for five years, they'd owned a Cheoy Lee 81 before that.
This 95 had been built as a spec boat but, unlike many plain-vanilla spec boats designed not to offend potential buyers, had been given a warm and inviting look by interior designer Lisa Pirofsky. With raised mahogany paneling, it is reminiscent of a fine men's club.