Altima 55 Pilothouse

This good-looking build soldiers through rough seas in style-without triggering sticker shock.

It's been said that a sea trial should be like a woman's skirt: short enough to be interesting, but long enough to cover everything. If that's the case, I knew within minutes of clearing the breakwaters off Ft. Lauderdale that the Altima 55 was going to be a very likable yacht.

It was one of those flawless Florida days: A cold front had passed, leaving warm sun and a clear sky. But the breeze lingering from the front had muscle in it, so when we reached the sea buoy, we were punching into a mishmash of leftover seas that tumbled and churned like a washing machine.

Sea trials are often performed on flat water, testing a writer's storytelling ability more than the prowess of the yacht. Aboard the 55 with Frank Sciortino of North East Seas Yacht Sales (Altima's builder and importer), however, I encountered real-life conditions-ones in which we actually use our boats.

I'm pleased to report the Altima 55 was less concerned about the seas than we were. Running at fixed rpm to get the performance numbers often puts a boat in an awkward attitude, mushing along just shy of a plane or going too fast for the conditions, but the 55 shrugged aside the seas, throwing spray flat and out to the side-rather than back in our faces-and soldiered on.

We also ran at varying speeds down sea. Again, this would make many boats uncomfortable, but the Altima just slid along, tracking nicely and showing no inclination to wander. It wasn't a pleasant day offshore, but the 55 offered a pleasant ride. Decibel levels were pleasingly low, and the torque of her diesels proved sufficient to maneuver her in most situations. Cruising couples and families will find the Altima 55 is more than just a floating second home.

Since she was built in China, I had approached the Altima 55 with trepidation-some past boats from behind the Great Wall reminded me of early efforts from Taiwan. It turns out I had no reason to worry. For one thing, her builder is a well-established Taiwanese yard that chose China for cost considerations; the company didn't suddenly abandon quality when it crossed the border. Second, each Altima gets a thorough "Franking before delivery; Sciortino watches every boat as she's built, inspects her before loading her onto a ship, then rechecks her when she arrives Stateside. The result is a thoroughly modern motoryacht with some clever features and a reasonable price tag.

"Our goal with all Altimas", Sciortino said, "is to provide a well-built and well-equipped motoryacht at a price that is extremely competitive."

If you really want to get a sense of the Altima, take the stairs down from the hydraulically operated hatch in the cockpit and inspect the engineroom. Actually, you'll find yourself first in a capacious lazarette that serves as an electrical flat with the 17kW Onan genset, batteries and full access to the double-ram steering.

Surprisingly for a 55-footer, there's full headroom in the engineroom, as well as access around the twin 635 hp Cummins QSM11 diesels, though Sciortino said the outboard fuel tanks will be narrowed for even more space. The 635 hp QSM11s are a $73,500 upgrade-a good choice for those who wish to reach a 20-knot top speed. Also optional are 660 hp Cummins QSM11s and 800 hp Caterpillar 3406s.

The 55's seamanlike features include a redundant pump for the Marine Air system-this way, if a plastic bag clogs the primary pump, a turn of the valve restores the cool air. A 2.5kW Heart inverter can operate all electrical systems (except the a/c) at night, so there is no need to engage the generator.

Step through the stainless-steel sliding door into the saloon, and you'll find another thoughtful touch: a full-size day head to starboard. Most boats of this size make guests descend to the lower level to find the loo, but this head is convenient to living areas in the saloon, cockpit and flying bridge.

Cherry was the wood of choice aboard our test boat (a number of materials, from teak to anigre, are available), and it was finished in a high gloss that set off the delicate inlays and burl accent panels. A Toshiba flat-screen TV is hidden behind tambour doors aft (the next 55 will have a pop-up TV), while electric Roman shades and a Hi-Lo table complete the area.

The U-shape galley, on the pilothouse level, opens fore and aft, so the cook won't be left out. This openness, broken only by overhead cabinets, gives the skipper a good view aft. The only drawback is that the refrigerator precludes a window to starboard. Gold fixtures set off the black-granite sole and countertops, and stowage includes fitted cabinets for glassware and china.

The pilothouse has a single helm seat behind the burl dash, and our test boat had an L-shape settee with table to port for lounging and formal dining. (A freestanding table with chairs is available for calm-water cruisers.) Pantograph doors open on both sides for access to the decks during docking, and the teak-and-holly sole is practical for all weather. It's a bit tight squeezing between the galley and helm seat, but that's to be expected aboard a 55-footer. The helm affords the skipper an unencumbered view forward and full management of the yacht's controls.

Wide stairs lead down to the staterooms. The full-beam master suite, positioned amidships, includes an unusual teak-and-holly sole, a queen berth and a beveled, mirrored headboard flanked by gold sconces. The starboard side is devoted to two large hanging lockers and a built-in bureau. A pocket door encloses the portside head, which includes a large shower behind an ornate tempered-glass door, black-marble counters and a separate compartment for the MSD.

A guest stateroom is forward, providing direct access to the head and shower shared by the port stateroom. While twin berths are available in the guest cabin, this 55 was fitted with a full-length desk on the inboard bulkhead, complete with a panel that slides out to create more room for office work. Outboard, a full-length settee unfolds into a small double, so the cabin can be used for guests. An ironing board is concealed in one bulkhead to go with the washer/dryer tucked in the foyer.

The flying bridge has easy stairs from the pilothouse and cockpit; each stairway is capped by a sturdy weather hatch. A pair of Devine helm chairs is behind the full-width dash with flat-screen monitors. This 55 has a full soft enclosure, as well as air-conditioning on the bridge-a welcome addition in the tropics. A fiberglass console hides the standard Jenn-Air grill and sink, and a second console aft has a refrigerator/icemaker. The boat deck is cantilevered, with no support posts, but it handled a 12-foot RIB and the Steelhead 800-pound crane without flex.

Surrounding the bridge and deck are oversize, welded stainless-steel rails that give the feel of a larger yacht. Another big-yacht feature is the backlit nameboard on each side of the bridge. At the bow, an oversize double roller plank is fitted with a Maxwell windlass, and the side decks are comfortably spacious, with deep bulwarks.

By any standard, the Altima 55 is a lot of boat, especially when you consider her base price-$875,000-and the flexibility of her builder. Good-looking, well constructed and thoughtfully designed, this yacht is going to put the Altima name on the American map.

Contact: North East Seas Yacht Sales & Brokerage Inc., (514) 352-2255; (954) 547-1011; www.altimayacht.com.