So often a sea trial on a new boat involves just an hour or two at sea, a lack which focus and experience can overcome, though it always leaves you wanting more. Yet as the old saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for"-because there are boats that do not improve on long acquaintance. All this is prologue as to why, when offered a chance to make a 60-mile passage on the new Fairline 74 and then to spend the night aboard, I actually got a little anxious. For me, you see, the 74 was a case of love at first sight. And the chance to delve in to the personality of such a stunning boat was too good to turn down. But there was a worry, because when you get on such intimate terms with a boat the odds rise that some hidden weakness may show up.
Furthermore, the Fairline 74 is a custom design, built to meet a specific customer's requirements, which opened another window of vulnerability. Obviously, my first impressions were highly favorable, and I felt confident that Fairline was not going to allow anything bad to be included in the design and the standard specifications. But it was still a relief, as time and miles passed, to find my regard only growing. In the end, with the Fairline 74, I need not have worried. This flagship design from the British builder just got better and better the more I got to know her.
Externally, the 74 has the flowing lines that Fairline has made famous. In the interests of keeping the sleek visual appeal, the side saloon windows are narrow, which looks great, though this does reduce the amount of natural light inside. On the plus side, the windscreen pillars are slim so visibility ahead and to the sides is excellent. This Fairline shows that good visibility can go hand-in-hand with good looks.
I'd thought that high-gloss interiors had gone out of fashion, but the high-gloss walnut Fairline used throughout the accommodation looks superb. It creates a richness and a sense of quality that is hard to beat. When you add in leather-upholstered furniture with textured fabric panels, you get an ambiance both welcoming and intimate.
For this version of the 74, the galley is a fully open plan for the saloon, the only separation being an island counter for preparing and serving meals. This arrangement certainly creates a great feeling of space, especially as the same wood finish is used in the galley as in the saloon. The galley has most of the fittings and fixtures you could imagine, including wonderful and secure drawer fridges and freezers, the kind that are easy to use even at sea.
The square glass-and-wood dining table can seat eight, though the shape of this particular table did limit free seating-a consequence of the owner's choice. (A normal rectangular table is available.) The dining area is raised one step above the lounge where free-standing settees and armchairs create a comfortable setting for watching the huge flat-screen TV on the starboard side or listening to the Bang & Olufsen sound system.
The tradeoff for extra room in the saloon: The side decks are uncomfortably narrow and even more difficult if the electric side doors are open. Still the sunbed on the forward coachroof that they lead to is quite secure, with handrails all around. Mooring and anchor fittings here are sized perfectly for a yacht of this caliber, and the low bulwarks topped by a double rail are at a safe height. The generously thick top rail looks good, but it is just at horizon level when viewed from the helm-irritating when at sea.
Down below there are no irritations, as I can attest after a night aboard. Steps down from the helm terminate in a near-round vestibule where the doors lead off to the staterooms. This is a very welcoming arrangement with no narrow passageways: One door opens into the day head, a facility that is also the en suite bathroom for one of the twin cabins.
For my cruise, cabins were allocated by seniority, landing me the master suite, which was wonderfully comfortable. The full-width master amidships has three vertical oval ports on each side to give plenty of natural light. The en suite bathroom is large with a spacious shower and twin basins; on the opposite side is a walk-in closet. Up front the VIP double is not quite so generous with space, but it has the same warm, welcoming feel; the two twin cabins are not far behind. It all adds up to a measure of luxury that feels way beyond the confines of a 74-footer. And there are a number of options in the layout to meet different priorities.
For open-air boating, the flying bridge has few rivals in this category. While there is no sunpad up here, a complexity of settees and tables is served by a barbecue and bar. The windscreen is on the low side, so it doesn't offer a great deal of wind protection, something which can be changed. The upper helm has a good view, and for stern docking there is a mobile control box that plugs in aft.
Belowdecks, the lower helm is very sophisticated, though I do question having the chart plotter and the radar displays on opposite sides of the wheel where it is difficult to make comparisons. One other little niggle (love isn't blind after all) is the lack of any indicators for the flaps. This seems to be a growing trend among the major builders. Sorry, but I do not see much point in fitting flaps if you don't know where they are set.
The electrically adjustable helm seats are wonderfully comfortable on a passage. On the port side there are a couple of bar stools and a narrow breakfast bar, which of course is another option, but I can't help thinking that a couple more of those helm seats would be a welcome addition for a serious boater.
Winds blowing at 20 knots generated a lively sea for the passage, but the 74 took it all in its very capable stride. There was some harshness in the ride generated by the wide chines and this could get uncomfortable when the yacht is heading into the waves. The ride was generally very acceptable, however, and the performance sparkling for a 74-footer, topping out at over 32 knots; at low speed everything handled well.
My passage and single night on board the 74 may have been a short-lived love affair, but it was an experience that will not soon fade. Fairline has created not just an exquisite yacht, but one worthy of its flagship status, and for many owners who are considering moving up, this will be as far as they need to look.
Contact: Fairline Boats; www.fairline.com