In Casco Bay, Maine, out of the shipping lanes but far enough away from shore to let the moderate winds and tidal current nudge the Sabre 42 Express Hard Top this way and that, we pressed a button on the dashboard and summoned Zeus to the rescue. Good ol' Zeus held us gently in place, the hydraulics murmuring, the props occasionally whispering corrective thrust.
The Zeus of which I speak is the azipod drive system developed by ZF and Cummins MerCruiser Diesel, and Skyhook is the wonderful feature that allowed us to hold station. The magic comes from the built-in GPS that communicates with the computer governing Zeus's behavior to hold the boat captive within its coordinates-give or take a few feet. No less thrilling is the way these pods enhance the 42's maneuverability, at planing speed and in tight quarters, when the speeds are so slow that conventional rudders become useless. Steerable thrust makes the difference, and anyone who's driven a boat propelled by a sterndrive or an outboard knows the feeling. Turning the wheel sends an electronic signal to the hydraulic system that operates the pods. Although this system lacks the feel of a traditional cable-operated system, it is quick and positive, even in reverse. In the docking mode, Zeus's joystick lets you move the boat forward, backward, and sideways.
Most important to Sabre Yachts, however, Zeus transforms a lovely New England-style boat into a surprisingly economical hot rod. No way around it-she looks the same, is built with the same quality and attention to detail that her conventional inboard-powered siblings are, but she's not the same boat. After Sabre's Bentley Collins and I stopped marveling at our ability to hold station for an indefinite period of time, we opened the throttles for a high-speed spin around the bay and some fancy maneuvering around lobster pots.
The Sabre 42 Express Hard Top rides on a modified V-hull, which ends in a deadrise of 16 degrees at the transom. The bottom is steep and fine forward, splitting waves into kindling and easing the way for the shallower after sections. Lifting strakes and chine flats add lift, and the latter enhance the boat's stability when she's at rest or at displacement speed. Nothing special here, just sound design, so I wasn't prepared for her handling prowess. The 42 accelerated briskly-not like a muscle boat, but quickly enough-and sprinted to a top speed of 34 knots. I turned sharply left and right, and then put the Express into a 360-degree turn at full throttle. The G-load surprised me, as the boat banked into the turn and carved a tight circle, losing only about 200 rpm. The boat simply digs in and hangs on in perfect control, even when I crossed our wake.
During acceleration, the built-in trim tabs of the Zeus pods automatically deploy, so the boat lifts onto plane without squatting and blocking one's view of the water directly forward of the bow. After the 42 Express leveled off at planing speed, the tabs relax and become available for the helmsman to use in the normal fashion.
Notwithstanding the 42's ability to deal with our adolescent antics and the Skyhook's magic, maybe the most valuable characteristic of the Zeus system is the way it keeps a course in changing sea states. When the seas knock the boat off course, Zeus's built-in autopilot corrects automatically. No more sawing on the steering wheel.
And quiet-you may have a hard time believing how quiet a relatively small motoryacht can be. Each 425-horsepower Cummins QSB diesel exhales through the hub of the contrarotating props and doesn't require a conventional muffler. At idle, each engine burbles through a bypass, which exits the topsides a little above the static waterline near the transom. During my sea trial, I never smelled the diesels' exhaust fumes.
Economy of operation comes from a reduction in drag, as compared with propshaft and strut arrangements, and the parallel thrust versus the down angle required by shafts and struts.
The less obvious advantage of employing these drives shows in the general arrangement plan. Zeus allows the designers to place the engines farther aft. This let Sabre move the generator into the machinery space forward of the engineroom. The design team was also able to put the washer/dryer combo and a freezer into this space, freeing room in the accommodations for additional stowage. Maybe the greatest benefit to owners is the increase in the size and shape of the second stateroom. It now contains a queen-size berth.
Belowdecks, I found other reasons to like the 42. Stepping into the accommodations transported me into the world of traditional New England craftsmanship and sensible design. Sabre has raised the quality of woodwork in production yachts to an enviable level. The satin varnish, dovetail joints in the drawers, and barely discernible join lines in the handrails and doorframes will survive the closest scrutiny. The pièce de résistance, however, is the glossy inlaid table at the dinette. It's the first thing I saw when I stepped below. Sabre's design team also has made good use of every nook and cranny, giving the 42 an abundance of stowage space, which ought to satisfy the needs of most couples on a two-week cruise.
Tied up in a slip or anchored in a quiet cove, the Sabre 42 Express Hard Top begs its owners to enjoy the cruising life. Stow the soft enclosure at the after end of the pilothouse and let the evening breeze waft the day's passage into a pleasant memory while you relax on the settee and sip a fine Sauvignon Blanc.
Sabre Yachts, (207) 655-3831; www.sabreyachts.com