Possibly the most-imitated scene in yachting is the one in the film Titanic, when young Leonardo DiCaprio stands on the very prow of the steamer and shouts, "I'm the king of the world! Somehow, despite a well-documented tendency toward theatricality, I managed to control my impulse to reenact that movie moment during a recent test of the new Midnight Lace. But I admit it was difficult. Here I was, sitting in the bow cockpit of this sleek 52-footer as it sped across Seattle's Lake Washington, my face thrust into the breeze. It was so quiet at the bow that I fancied I could hear the hiss of the Cunard liner's stainless steel as it sliced the dark water below.
It was a moment from another time and place, one that helps explain the spell that the new Midnight Lace casts over you. Yacht designer Tom Fexas created the Midnight Lace back in the '70s as a paean to those vintage commuter yachts from earlier in the last century, used by wealthy Wall Street magnates and their ilk to commute from their Long Island Sound homes to their offices. As a genre, the commuter yachts had a style and class of their own. Long, usually narrow and low, they were both speedy and luxurious. On fine mornings, the tycoons might sit in the runabout-like bow cockpit and consider the empires they would conquer that day. It kind of gave the term "looking forward a literal interpretation.
On a whim, for his own edification, Fexas drew those same narrow lines for a speculative design. But a client, visiting to discuss a trawler, took one look and chose to build Fexas' flight of fancy instead. The rest is history: The boat was acclaimed at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show, Cheoy Lee built fiberglass versions, and the name Midnight Lace entered the yachting lexicon. Production lasted for a decade and 50 yachts remain today as collectors' items.
Enter Bill Gross of Seattle, a broker and yacht builder, who saw that there was a market for a "new and improved Midnight Lace, particularly in an era when retro is in and all manner of classic designs are being built in modern materials.
The early Laces were-pardon me, Tom-a bit self-indulgent. With a beam of just 13 feet on a 52-foot hull, there wasn't much room for spacious accommodations. And the puny 240 hp Renault diesels would have been scorned by the tycoons who raced to beat all other challengers to the trading floor.
So Gross convinced Fexas to update the Midnight Lace by making a few subtle (and some not-so-subtle) changes that would make her attractive in today's market. First, that skinny beam was upped by more than 3 feet to 16 feet, 6 inches. The rounded bathtub transom looked cool, but wasted acres of cockpit space, so the new Lace has a squared transom that looks just fine, thank you. And those little Euro-motors were exchanged for a pair of lusty Caterpillar C-9 turbos of 500 hp each.
The new Lace, however, captures the essence of the old version, with its gently shaped sheerline, the flush foredeck that sweeps up into a steeply raked windshield, and the throne-like flying bridge set well aft on the house. To achieve those low lines, the engines (like the original Lace) are tucked under the cockpit sole with ZF V-drives; a side benefit being superb access to them without ripping up the saloon floor.
The bridge overhangs half the teak-planked cockpit sole and, with the transom lounge, this becomes an easily enclosed all-weather room. But the saloon is also large, surprisingly so, considering the low profile of the superstructure-because it takes full advantage of that extra three feet of beam.
Your first impression is of her ribboned-teak paneling with camphor accents and the teak and holly sole. There is an airiness thanks to the curved windows. A compact but very complete helm is tucked forward to starboard, with a simple black dash that holds a well-chosen array of standard electronics (including radar, GPS, autopilot, VHF and sounder) as well as the Caterpillar MPD displays.
There's room for a pair of loose chairs to starboard, facing the L-shaped leather couch by the large windows. The cocktail table has a separate top that converts it neatly into a dining table; a dedicated compartment in the saloon stores the top when not in use.
The entertainment system is notable for being both extensive and included in the base boat price. Considerable thought has resulted in a professional installation on a Mid-Atlantic pull-out studio rack that includes a Denon DVD disc changer and surround-sound receiver, plus a KVH satellite TV system, all controlled by an AMX touch screen. A 42-inch pop-up TV is to starboard, while the master stateroom has a Sharp 13-inch flat-screen TV.
The galley is a couple of steps down but open to the saloon, with the forward windows serving as skylights so the cook never feels cooped up. A big Sub-Zero refrigerator, with a pair of freezer drawers, is teak paneled to match the cabinets, and the black granite counter sweeps around with ample space for meal preparation. There's also plenty of fully finished storage space in cabinets and overhead lockers.
Several different layouts are available; all take advantage of the added beam to create sizable cabins. Our test boat had the standard three-stateroom arrangement with the forward master stateroom, plus a double and a bunk cabin, which I'd expect to be the most popular. Another appealing arrangement puts the master opposite the galley, while two or three cabin layouts offer an office area, a dinette near the galley or a VIP stateroom.
In our standard layout, a bunk bed cabin is to starboard opposite the galley. Though you might expect it to be cramped, it's quite civilized with good standing room, a hanging locker and even a night stand.
Move forward along the offset passageway and you'll find the double stateroom to port-which, once again, is surprisingly large. Drawers are under the berth, louvered doors cover a full-length hanging locker, and an overhead hatch provides natural light and air. The day head is across the passage, with a big shower behind a Lucite door and Corian flooring for low maintenance.
The master stateroom fills the bow with a raised 6-foot, 6-inch berth (more drawers are underneath) and a large hanging locker by the entry door. A clever touch is the ladder that mates to the large overhead hatch to provide foredeck access (including that bow seat). It has hidden storage under the berth. The en suite head for the master is to port, with a comfortably sized shower and black granite counters for the vanity.
Heading aft, you'll notice that the stairway by the galley is hinged: Touch a switch and it raises hydraulically to reveal a walk-in laundry area, lined in fiberglass and fitted with separate Fisher and Paykel washer and dryer. There's also storage as well as the hot water heater for easy access.
The bridge benefits from the added beam, with a fiberglass dashboard console amidships, a pair of STIDD swivel helm chairs and a bench seat aft. The bridge is lightly crowned for water runoff, and the windshield is low and protected by a stainless steel grab rail.
Forward, the classic lines have been maintained by the rails on the cabin house that blend almost invisibly into hand rails above the windows, making for a secure path to the bow. Construction is likewise secure, solid and well-proven, with Knytex fiberglass, Corecell foam coring and oversized stringers tied to wood bulkheads. The bottom is protected from blisters by Interlux coatings, and the fuel tanks are Epiglass epoxy fiberglass.
Quality on the new Lace can only be described as top drawer, with Gross specifying only the best equipment throughout, from the Cantaluppi lighting to the Grohe bath fixtures. The same thinking went into the standard SeaRecovery watermaker, GE appliances, Cruisair a/c, VacuFlush heads, MMC Cruise Command electronic engine controls, Delta T engine air-filter system and custom electrical panel.
Underway, the Midnight Lace was a pure delight. KeyPower bow and stern thrusters are standard and, unlike electric thrusters that overheat, you can lock these hydraulic thrusters to hold the boat against the dock while you singlehand the lines.
Push the throttles forward and the Lace simply surges ahead without struggling to climb over its bow wave. The trim angle was almost unmeasurably flat and the boat ran level at all speeds without needing trim tabs, which suggests both a slippery and well-designed hull.
Our test boat was brand new and, though we topped out at 23-plus knots, Gross was disappointed. As it turned out, we were handicapped by two factors. First, we were in fresh water-measurably slower than more buoyant salt water. Second, we were underpropped by more than an inch. With a repitched prop and in seawater, Gross found that the boat was easily reaching the 24-knot design speed.
That great forward cockpit deserves one more encore. The standard boat includes Mathers shifter/throttles and a Furuno autopilot control in the bow, so you can easily run the boat from up forward. I know that would be my helm of choice-and probably Leonardo DiCaprio's. However, I did find one thing missing from the otherwise very comprehensive Midnight Lace standard equipment list: a cashmere lap blanket.
Every tycoon has one.
Contact: Yacht Enterprises, (800) 370-6358; www.midnightlaceyachts.com.