Winds measuring a steady 15 knots, with occasional gusts above 20, had turned the surface of Lake Ontario into a washboard of closely packed two-foot waves. Canada geese were seeking refuge inside the breakwater leading into Wilson Harbor in upper New York, bobbing up and down in a comical fashion-to me they looked like shooting gallery targets at a county fair. What the geese thought of us as we idled the Neptunus 55 Cabriolet out through the entrance, scrutinizing the depth sounder as we tiptoed through the single digits, is not known. But I did know who was more comfortable: me.
Of course the helm on the 55's slightly raised bridge deck gave me a grand view virtually all around, as I gradually slid the electronic throttles forward and set a course at angles to the oncoming waves. Twin 825-hp MTU diesels, an option specified by this yacht's owner, spooled up smoothly and without hesitation. I knew the instant we rose up to meet the waves that we would enjoy an exceptional ride all across the power output band. Designed by noted naval architect Tony Castro, this modified deep-V hull form has all the right tools to turn rough, choppy water into a pleasant ride-a sharp-angled entry with increasingly buoyant sections above the waterline; extended chines to knock down spray forward while providing lift and roll dampening farther aft; plenty of V-shape in the after sections to minimize pounding; tunnels to help decrease overall draft.
At approximately 35 knots, and with the throttles set wide open, I spun the wheel to port as quickly as possible. Sea Star hydraulic steering took all the work out of the maneuver-I used one finger on a single spoke to turn the wheel-and the well-mannered hull rewarded me with an immediate banking turn bereft of untoward pitching or rolling. As the amount of hull in the water increased, speed fell off by about 10 knots, but the props kept a continuous bite on the water and never exhibited cavitation. As I spun the wheel back to dead center, the yacht rapidly recovered speed and level attitude. A fine mist on the starboard windshield quarter indicated that, in most conditions, this would be a dry-running hull.
At every speed I selected and every angle to the waves I set, the Neptunus 55 Cabriolet performed admirably. Control when backing down and pivoting, even in the lumpy open water, was flawless. This yacht is great fun to drive, answers the helm very quickly at low speeds, and has the wherewithall to turn a crummy day's run into a day you and your guests will be glad to be on the water.
The fact that a great performing yacht can also be a wonderful lifestyle yacht is a concept that Neptunus clearly focused on, judging by the layout. Looking aft from my viewpoint at the helm, I could admire the wide-open traffic lane for guests and crew. Fore and aft along the portside of the cockpit are two separate seating areas that can accommodate up to 10 guests in a combination of sun-drenched and hardtop-protected comfort. Perhaps most important, the cockpit is kept all on a single level.
Other touches delighted, such as the way the round table immediately abaft the helm featured a clever rim section which, when folded back over the center, would make getting in and out that much easier. Handlaid teak planking is straight and precise, definitely the handiwork of experienced craftsmen; a standard feature in the cockpit, it also turns up on the steps that lead upward from the swim platform on either side of the transom.
Topside living, as might be expected, is a major focus in so elegant a design. Neptunus includes a refrigerator and an icemaker in the curvaceous, Corian-topped locker that undulates along the portside, as well as an electric barbecue in a starboard aft locker. There will be fewer trips below to refresh food and drink with these handy features, which also include plenty of extra stowage below. When the weather is fine, the touch of a switch will retract the cabriolet roof section, which slides aft from the forward edge of the hardtop and lets in glorious amounts of fresh air and sunshine. Just to port of the helm are twin electrical panels, hidden away but easily accessed through locker doors.
Side decks are wide enough to walk fore and aft, with hefty welded stainless steel safety rails that came almost to mid-thigh on my long legs, sitting atop stout bulwarks that, like the rails themselves, extend from the cockpit to the foredeck. Large cleats are mounted in molded cutaways on top of the bulwarks to help reduce dockline friction, and the windlass leads cleanly to the anchor-storing roller, with protected foot switches close by.
Access to the engine room is through a large hatch set in the aft bench, down a four-step stainless steel ladder, into and through the enormous full-beam lazarette. A stout door, part of the noise attenuation scheme, admits you to an engine compartment that's more than large enough to contain the V-drive MTUs, the sound-shielded Onan genset, and other systems, including air-conditioning equipment. Strainers are easily reached at the forward end, as are the bulkhead-mounted Racors.
To help keep sand and water from reaching the interior, Neptunus includes a step-down well, with drains, just aft of the companionway. At the bottom of the steps is a beautiful L-shaped galley with marble floors, Corian counters and mahogany-stained cherry cabinetry. There's generous storage beneath the carpeted cabin sole, but Neptunus also includes a spacious pantry just to the right of the companionway steps to help make food preparation easy. Four guests can sit and dine in comfort, surrounded by more gorgeous cabinetry, at the dinette to starboard. A Bose Lifestyle 48 entertainment system is tucked away in one cabinet, feeding the Panasonic flat screen TV set into the aft bulkhead, as well as the sound system in the cockpit and the optional flat screen TVs in the staterooms.
Two accommodations layouts are offered, both of which include a very posh forward stateroom with an en suite head compartment plus separate shower. This generously sized suite includes two cedar-lined hanging lockers, four opening and screened portlights (plus another in the head) and a very comfortable island double bed. More intriguing are the possibilities for the after stateroom area, situated under the raised flybridge. My sense is that most owners will opt for the full-beam master, with its large island berth, double hanging lockers, built-in dressing stand and abundant drawer storage. But the owner of the yacht I boarded selected an alternate plan with a smaller cabin to port.
If you're in the market for an express cruiser with an emphasis on lifestyle that will satisfy a couple or a crowd, one with a reputation for substantial construction and superb finish, the Neptunus 55 Cabrio is well worth an inspection. And if you get a chance to take a test drive, don't pass it up. You don't need any geese watching to definitely enjoy this ride.
Contact: Neptunus Yachts, (905) 937-3737; www.neptunusyachts.com.