Cruisers 520 Sports Coupe

With smart use of space, the Cruisers 520 Sports Coupe provides plenty of reasons to smile.

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As I stood in the cockpit of the new Cruisers 520 Sports Coupe, I had to keep repeating to myself: This is a fifty-two-footer. This is a fifty-two-footer. This is a FIFTY-TWO-FOOTER! It was like chanting a mantra to remind myself how much the nautical world has progressed.

While driving to Ft. Lauderdale to test the new 520, my mental Rolodex flipped back to a custom 52-foot motoryacht that a friend had owned nearly four decades ago. Fiberglass was a newfangled material at that point and his yacht was wood-more specifically, plywood. That allowed the designer and the builder (both long gone) absolutely no design flexibility because they were constrained by a four-by-eight sheet of plywood. Not only was it slab-sided and slabdecked and sort of slabbish all over, it was really, really cramped. In the cockpit, there was room for perhaps two deck chairs, but even they were in the way.

Once aboard the nearly 16-foot-wide Cruisers 520, I thought it seemed as though the old wooden boat could have fit in her cockpit- and left space for the barbecue! Unlike that earlier boat, the 520 is all swoops and curves and vents and chines and not a flat panel to be seen. Fiberglass really does give designers a free hand.

My second thought was "Gee, they've used most of the length of this boat to accommodate an alfresco lounge area, with curving sofas and wet bar and Star Wars helm." But then I looked below at the spacious master suite, the comfy VIP stateroom, and the airy saloon just begging to entertain guests, and I wondered, "How did they do it?" I didn't actually take a tape measure to see if they had fudged on the stated length, which they claim is just 52 feet, 3 inches, including the swim platform, but it seems clear that they achieved a sweet feat.

Many builders are able to shoehorn cabins and galley and heads and living areas into a boat, but it often winds up looking, well, shoehorned. Cruisers, always known for maximizing usable space, has done it again in this boat.

Normally, I'd start at the cockpit, but let's save that for last. Instead, I'll begin in the bedroom, er, master stateroom. I made that slip because it's a lot more like a room in a fine hotel than a yacht cabin. First, it's squarish and it's got a real queen-sized berth right in the middle, which gives each occupant a chance to enter and exit gracefully. And those of you who have spent nights trying to tuck and retuck a queen-sized sheet onto one of those strangely shaped yacht beds with multiple sides, this therapeutic foam mattress will not only soothe you to sleep, but accepts standard fitted sheets, as well.

There's plenty of light in the master with three big lozenge-shaped stainless steel ports on each side, and because each opens, you can have a cross-flow of breeze on a pleasant evening. The berth nestles between a pair of night tables and against a padded and mirrored headboard that blends into a curved overhead treatment with hidden lights.

The en suite head lives up to the standard set by the master stateroom, with a Euro-style vessel sink, a Dometic head, and a very spacious shower.

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Up at the pointy end, there's a VIP cabin comfy enough that it's likely guests will want to extend their stay aboard. There's a queensized berth on a raised island with steps on each side for access and large drawers underneath. Another hanging locker (no secret door in this one) and a flat-screen TV finish out the cabin which has private access to the day-head with another large shower.

In between the two cabins is a large area that combines a dining space, galley, and media room in one saloon. To starboard is a J-shaped sofa (our test boat had the optional dual incliner seats) with a pair of cocktail tables and stools.

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The galley fills the port side of the saloon with cherrywood cabinets and ample faux granite counters. This is a galley intended for entertaining, with the emphasis on a backlit bottle display, a built-in optional wine chiller, and a built-in coffee maker. Serious cooks may find themselves challenged by the two-burner cooktop, shallow stainless steel sinks, and smallish refrigerator/freezer. Some of the galley storage space on our test boat was also dedicated to a 32-inch LCD flat-screen TV angled toward the sofa.

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The real living area on the 520 Sports Coupe is the cockpit, as I discovered when I first boarded. Dealers had asked for a coupe version of the 520 Express and Cruisers delivered an outdoor entertaining area in fine style. They completely rearranged the layout of the Express version and, with the protection from a sleek fiberglass hardtop and side windows, added an alfresco dining area and TV lounge.

Aft, a curved seat is on slides so it can link up with the settee toport for viewing the big pop-up TV, or it can remain in the aftermost position for easy access to side decks and the swim platform. The starboard side has been devoted to what homebuilders are calling a "summer kitchen," with a built-in Force 10 barbecue grill and undercounter fridge, icemaker, and sink.

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While the after end of the cockpit is open, it's sealed with a canvas enclosure. A pair of 16,000-btu air conditioner/heater units can cool or heat the cockpit in any season. Overhead, Cruisers has created a huge sunroof and half of it slides open electrically. The entire opening can also be sunproofed with a concealed shade.

Just forward of this "outdoor saloon" is the helm area, which is both seamanlike and stylish. The skipper and a companion get dedicated helm chairs with tilt-up bolsters for standing and fold-down armrests for lounging, as well as a perfectly placed fiberglass footrest.

Neatly arrayed in a console reminiscent of a fighter cockpit are the engine monitors and a pair of Raymarine E120 screens in an easily scanned and highly visible configuration. The engine monitor is raised on centerline below the compass, while the two nav screens can be configured for a wide variety of displays, showing depth, radar, chart plotter, aerial photos, and data in an infinite combination.

The throttles are directly under the skipper's hand and the wheel tilts, but the most important feature on the 520 Coupe is the diminutive joystick just outboard of the wheel. This is a Volvo Penta IPS pod powered yacht, with not just two of the IPS-600 diesels (435 horsepower each), but three! Ill talk about the handling in a moment but these IPS units let a first-time skipper do tricks that most pro captains can't achieve with conventional drives.

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Surrounded by a broad expanse of windows, the skipper has a clear view of the waters around the yacht and the corners when docking.Yes, the Coupe top requires some fairly serious pillars for support, but I didnt find them particularly intrusive on the skipper's sight lines.

Opposite the helm is another curved settee with an aft-facing backrest, a console for the stereo, and a pair of a/c vents. The 520 Coupes walk-through windshield features a walkway next to the settee and a sturdy stainless rail for security. One panel of the windshield hinges outboard, providing access to the foredeck. The boat also has pleasantly wide side decks, and these are protected by full stainless steel rails, plus grabrails on the house.

Once on the deck, there is an oval sunlounge with a built-in back- rest that can be tilted upwards and, a thoughtful touch, the foredeck rails are doubled for security. Forward, a Maxwell anchor windlass and a rode locker with 180 feet of 3/8-inch chain are concealed under a hatch. Our test boat also had the optional anchor washdown system.

There has been considerable discussion about the proper hull form necessary to get the most from IPS pod drives, and Volvo Penta works very closely with builders and designers to optimize the design. In this case, Cruisers already had experience with IPS (this is their fourth model with pod drives) and they decided to stay with a carefully modified 520 Express hull, which has V-drives.

For our prototype, they built a 520 hull and sawed it off at the waterline. They then created a new hull mold that eliminated the strakes (these confuse the water flow to IPS drives) as well as any of the mold features for props, rudders, and shafts.Then they revised the mold to accept the pod mountings, grafted the underwater hull onto the existing 520 topsides, and, voila! an IPS-driven 520.

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Of course, the question is whether it would perform to expectations, and I can vouch for the fact that it does, beautifully. Our test boat topped out at just over 35 knots at full throttle and, even better, had a pleasantly rapid cruise speed of about 28 knots at 3100 rpm, with the three engines consuming just 47 gph.

Even without using a bit of trim tab on hard acceleration, the bow rise never hid the skippers horizon and, at speed, the tabs are needed only to counteract weight placement or windage.

Speed and economy are always appreciated, whether you're running out a squall or sidling up to the fuel dock, but the real beauty of the IPS drives is their incredible maneuverability. A sophisticated computer system determines what each engine needs to do to achieve a desired end, and the engines then do it perfectly.

For maneuvering, the middle drive centers itself at idle, while the outer drives rotate to ease the 520 into a slip with no fuss. All it takes to counter strong side winds or currents is the touch of a fingertip to the joystick, and the boat responds instantly. The IPS has the same magnetic pull to a dock that a drop of marinara sauce has to a freshly laundered white shirt, but without the mess.

Despite the fact that the 520 has three engines, the IPS drive system liberates engineroom space that conventional drives would hog. There's easy access to the important service points and the mechanical installations are seamanlike throughout.

All in all, the 520 Sports Coupe successfully mates a well-proven hull and interior layout with IPS drives and a hardtop to produce the next generation, a boat that feels like more than an improved 520 Express. With a host of fifty-ish footers arriving on the market, this beauty should definitely be on your short list.

Cruisers Yachts, (920) 834-2211; www.cruisersyachts.com