Altima 61

From the engineroom up, the Altima 61 is a cruising boat with a comfort zone that's easy to find.

Frank Sciortino, the importer of Altima yachts, Tom Hindson, the Altima sales manager, and I were sitting around chatting about the various features of the new Altima 61 Motoryacht. The fact that we happened to be sitting in the engineroom gives away part of the story. The space is simply huge for a yacht of this size.

What intrigued me, once I got past the full standing headroom and the superb access, was the absence of the usual stabilizer mechanisms. There was room for them, but I couldn't find them. "The Altima doesn't need stabilizers," they said. I would get a chance to assess their statement.

I tested the Altima 61 in South Florida on one of those days when fronts had been passing through, dumping rain showers and turning the Gulf Stream into a mishmash of washing-machine slop.

As we cleared the sea buoy off Ft. Lauderdale, Sciortino handed over the helm. When builders make sweeping stabilizer statements, I'm tempted to put them in their place. So I put us broadside to the seas, where a yacht is most vulnerable to rolling.

Hmmm. That's odd: unlike the snap-roll found on many boats in seas that can turn even seasoned sailors pea green, the motion is bearable and predictable. OK, I thought, let's put her into a quartering situation where most boats start corkscrewing up and over the seas. But the motion remained more or less mild, with just a bit more pitching as the bow rose to the seas. I gave it my best shot and darned if I could make her uncomfortable. So here's a short course on bottom shapes that explains why the Altima 61 doesn't need stabilizers.

We all know that a deep-V hull slices the waves cleanly and softens the ride and is why most ocean-racing powerboats have deep-V hulls. But at slower speeds, deep-Vs can roll like an amusement park pendulum ride. On the other hand, a hull with flattish lines and little deadrise aft has what naval architects call "form stability:" The flatness helps stabilize the boat, especially when combined with hard chines. But a flat hull can pound mercilessly in a choppy sea.

So the trick is to create a hull that has enough V to slice through the seas, and enough flatness aft for stability. It is, to say the least, an exercise that some builders simply don't get right. Altima and naval architect Howard Apollonio, on the other hand, did.

The low center of gravity is another reason for her pleasant ride. The design and build team at Altima have taken pains to keep the weight as low as possible, avoiding that snap-roll sensation, which is why most Altima owners don't order stabilizers.

The Altima 61 is a development from previous models, with the same 17-foot, 4-inch beam and a stretched hull. In the case of our test boat, it was even longer because it had a really cool optional hydraulic swim-platform-cum-tendercarrier. This frees up the boat deck so you can host a party for, say, 20 guests and it also eliminates the davit, a move that contributes to keeping that center of gravity low. It makes launching and retrieving the tender as easy as pushing a button. And with the tender down, you can lower the platform just below water level, to the delight of kids and adults alike.

The longer Altima also benefits from a redesigned deck that eliminates any step from the side decks into the cockpit. This also turns the lazarette into a truly big space: We first sat in there to chat before moving into the engineroom. The one slight downside concerns the step from cockpit to salon level that is a bit higher than I'd like. Given Altima's flexibility as a builder, you could add a mini-step if you want.

The salon on the 61 is surprisingly spacious, especially considering that the side decks are plenty wide so you don't have to do the usual edgy narrow-deck shuffle as you go forward. Contributing to the visual size of the salon are the very large windows with good views even when seated, and also the absence of bulkheads: The house stretches from the stainless steel cockpit sliding door to the pilothouse windows.

The layout is straightforward and comfortable with a pair of barrel chairs on one side, a curved settee on the other, and a flat-screen TV set in the forward china cabinet. Makore, a ribbon-grained cherry, was chosen for our test boat, but teak and anigre are no-cost options. The teak-and-holly sole is standard throughout.

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The well-equipped galley has two features I really liked. First, the marble sole has brass strips separating the tiles rather than grout for ease of cleaning. Second, the counters have stainless steel backsplashes on both the forward and after sides.

The pilothouse has an oversized burled instrument panel that can accommodate an array of monitors along with Glendinning electronic controls, and SidePower bow and stern thrusters. A single pantograph door leads to the side deck, and wide stairs make access to and from the bridge a snap.

The flying bridge is well protected behind a venturi-topped bulwark, with a fiberglass hardtop overhead. Our test boat had a soft enclosure, but you can opt for just about any combination you want up to a fully enclosed and decorated skylounge. We had twin helm chairs and a big fiberglass dashboard, although I would have preferred the two Cat digital monitors be angled for better viewing.

The bridge has a pair of 12,000-BTU air-conditioning systems with vents that cool without a draft. A console to port hides a Jenn-Air grill and cooktop with a sink (the solid fiberglass cover could use a gas-assisted lift) and the starboard console has a refrigerator. Finishing off the bridge is an L-shaped settee with dining table.

With the tender allocated to the Opacmare 1,800-pound hydraulic swim platform, the boat deck begs for a set of stylish chaise lounges for owners and guests.

Two layouts are offered in the large master and I liked the one on our test boat, which creates a private stairwell and entrance rather than having entry from the foyer forward of the pilothouse. This gives the Altima a "big boat" feel, and adds to the privacy of the master. With this layout, the head moves to the forward corner, giving it enough space for a bathtub/shower combination. There are big hanging lockers, built-in bureaus and counters.

The guest stateroom is forward and has a private entry to the head with shower. Altima offers a cleverly designed third cabin that can be arranged either with twin berths or with the sofa and desk setup that we had on our test boat. This creates a spacious desk with twin knee wells, plenty of counter space for laptops and papers, and a storage cabinet with file drawers.

Since we started in the engineroom, let's take a second look. This particular Altima was equipped with the optional 800-horsepower Caterpillar C15 Acert diesels, but you can also choose up to C18 Cats with 1,000 horsepower. The standard Altima 61 comes with an Onan 21.5 kW genset and ours had a second generator. The engineroom is nicely finished,and all the plumbing and wiring is done in a seamanlike fashion. Even a novice could figure out the intuitive manifold system for the fiberglass fuel tankage.

The standard bow and stern thrusters simplify maneuvering and I found steering was light but positive. It took a combination of heavy-handed throttle and head seas to get spray onto the bridge enclosure. We topped out just shy of 21 knots, and settled into a comfortable 16.5-knot cruise speed at 2000 rpm, using about 52 gallons per hour.

I liked the Altima 61 very much. She's comfortable, well planned, and the builder has the flexibility to create a personalized yacht at a very competitive price.

Altima Yachts, (866) 925-8462; www.altimayachts.com