In the saloon of the Royal Pacific 540 Sport Cruiser is a bronze plaque that speaks volumes about the boat and her builder. The plaque looks as though written in Sanskrit from a distance, but, viewed closer, it's simply covered with the engraved scrawl of signatures. Everyone who helped build this boat, from the person who first buffed the hull mold to the person who washed the last window, signed the plaque.
It is a testament to workmanship in the same sense that, when rebuilding a classic Rolls-Royce, today's restorer may remove the dashboard to find the half-century-old signature of the man who made it. It is, quite simply, pride of craftsmanship.
The 540 is built in New Zealand, the only sibling to the Royal Pacific 47 Sport Cruiser. Before you assume she's just another rough-and-ready sportfisherman from Down Under, note that she's not called a sportfisherman or a convertible. She is a Sport Cruiser. She may have the long bow and big cockpit of your traditional war wagon, but her finish is more five-star hotel than fishing pier. From the interior of cherry and burled maple to the supple leather upholstery on the flying bridge lounges, she is an elegantly finished yacht.
That isn't to say, however, that the 540 can't fish with the best of them. Her transom conceals an immense bait tank, a bulkhead locker is dedicated to lures, and the skipper has a perfect view of the fishing action from either the tournament-style bridge helm or the hidden cockpit helm.
You don't find many motoryachts designed to back down hard at 12 knots in reverse, but the 540 handles the task easily. Even if a sea breaks into the cockpit, a hinged "doggy door in the transom empties the water immediately. The trim tabs have safety chains to keep them from bending under such speed.
With full wraparound windows (unlike many sportfishermen that have solid windshields forward), the saloon is bright and airy. The galley is immediately inside to port, making it convenient for both cockpit and bridge. With plenty of blue Corian counters, the galley has a four-burner cooktop, an electric oven, a microwave and a dual-voltage refrigerator-freezer.
The galley has some thoughtful touches, such as lockers with automatic lights so you can actually find things, a big Lazy Susan that makes full use of the corner space, and an easily cleaned teak and inlaid maple sole.
Just forward is a U-shape dinette in soft leather, with an L-shape settee opposite. Both share a good view of the 21-inch flat-screen television on the aft bulkhead. There's also a hidden bar with glass and bottle racks, plus stowage under the seating. Even the table has cleverly designed stowage inside its base.
Several interior arrangements are available, and our test boat had a large master suite to port with a queen innerspring berth, UltraSuede wall coverings, a three-drawer bureau and a hanging locker. The master head is spacious, with a VacuFlush MSD and a generously proportioned one-piece fiberglass shower with seat.
Forward is a VIP cabin with a round queen berth, a large cedar-lined hanging locker and, like the master, a flush-mounted television. This particular 540 had the third guest cabin converted into an office with desk, computer and built-in files. If you would rather have more guests, this can be a double bunk stateroom sharing the large day head and shower with the VIP. I would have liked the VIP to have direct access to the head so guests don't have to wander the passageway at midnight, but Royal Pacific is more than happy to accommodate such requests.
The bridge is enclosed forward with wraparound windows. With soft enclosures aft, it becomes a delightful all-weather living area with air conditioning and heating. Seated on the pair of comfortable lounges that wrap around forward, guests can enjoy fresh air from the sliding side windows as well as the twin overhead hatches thoughtfully aimed fore and aft to create a breeze. A cabinet forward conceals a pullout cocktail table, and an ice maker is to starboard.
The pod-shaped helm is offset to starboard, with a leather swivel helm chair and an array of electronics in a simple black dash, including a computer linked to the lower office. The forward portion of the helm pod also conceals a foldout bar and liquor locker.
Of particular note to anyone tired of clambering up steep flying bridge ladders is the gentle, curving stairway from the bridge to the cockpit. With teak steps and an ascent so easy your Aunt Mabel can make it, the stairway also provides the skipper with lightning-quick access to the cockpit controls when something hits one of the 'riggers.
With twin Volvo 6-cylinder diesels punching out 700 hp each, the 540 is what car enthusiasts would call "a sleeper: a vehicle that has an unexpected turn of speed. Link 1,400 high-torque Swedish horses to a pair of five-blade Tiger propellers, and you can expect something to happen when you mash the throttles forward.
At first, it seems like you're wrong, and then, right around 1500 rpm, the turbos kick in. You can't hear them, but you can sure feel the surge of power before the 540 is up flat and hunkered down. We did our speed trials, heh-heh, in the neighborhood of a couple of sportfishing boats. When they put their throttles to the firewall to head for Catalina Island, we waited a few moments and then took off.
Remember the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Butch and Sundance are looking over their shoulders at a posse catching up with them? This was the nautical version of that scene, and you could practically hear the skippers on the other boats wondering, "Who are those guys? as we quickly caught up with them.
In spite of the speed, however, we also were recording some pleasantly low fuel consumption figures. At just shy of 20 knots, we got 1 mpg from each engine. That isn't bad when you're pushing 25 tons of luxurious cherry, suede and teak through the water.
Construction is traditional, with solid fiberglass below the waterline and Divinycell coring above the chines and in the decks. The big deep rudders are Type 2205 stainless steel rather than bronze, the prop shafts are a muscular 3 inches, and the fuel tanks are welded stainless steel with 21/2-inch crossovers. In case you've ever had to clean out a diesel tank, you'll appreciate the oversize clean-out hatches. There are no fewer than four watertight hull compartments, too.
The details are what make the 540 so exemplary, however. Raised bulwarks (with teak caps) surround the foredeck and make the wide side decks comfortably safe, and the fuel fills are recessed in their own lockers to port and starboard so any spilled fuel stays off the decks. A big freezer is built into the cockpit, and the transom conceals a stainless-steel barbecue and a sink with shower. From dovetailed drawers to oversize mooring cleats, the 540 is obviously built with pride.
The plaque is there to prove it, but the seamanlike construction, thoughtful details and luxurious finish tell the story just as well.