Cultural Blend

The Alaskan 77, created by a knowledgeable builder and pair of experienced owners, proves a team effort can really shine.

Oviatt Marine promotes its Alaskan series of offshore cruisers as tough, customized turnkey boats. Though I haven't had the opportunity to kiss the trades searching for azure waters on the new 77-footer, I did spend some time with the owners of the Alaskan 77 Five Star, and I walked away with the firm conclusion that the company's product more than satisfies its demanding credo.

Gary Oviatt, president and owner of Oviatt Marine, capitalized on his 30-plus years of marine brokerage experience to develop the Arthur DeFever-inspired Alaskan series. His goal was to offer a well-built, well-designed line of cruisers that allowed for a large dose of input from owners. Craig Hockelberg and Mila Bright, Five Star's owners, may just be Oviatt's poster owners. They worked closely with the company, relying on the vast experience they gained from living aboard their Hatteras 61, to create a tailor-made, good-looking cruiser well suited for their ambitious cruising plans.

"We don't have floor plan A, B or C", said Oviatt. "We give the buyer several plans of previously built boats, and then they have 30 days to go over the plans, make changes and suggestions. We then generate revised CAD drawings." And the yard enjoys the process, as well.

Indeed, this flexibility was a big selling point for Hockelberg and Bright, who looked at a host of other boats before settling on the Alaskan. "The more enthused we were", said Bright, "the more enthused they were."

For instance, the couple did not need a cockpit and preferred a larger covered afterdeck with a Euro-style transom for entertaining. Since the 75 and 77 models are built from the same 80-foot mold, this was not a problem. The result is functional and pleasing to the eye. Two gradual staircases serve the large swim platform from the afterdeck. On Five Star, access to the optional crew accommodations is through a watertight door. Though Hockelberg and Bright can easily manage Five Star themselves, their extended family created the need for an extra cabin. Judging by the large group of spring-breakers on board for the week, this was a good call.

Owner input, however, went beyond major items like the transom and interior layout and extended to countless details. The flying bridge, for example, would be tough to improve upon. The fiberglass hardtop shelters a generous seating area served by a grill, wet bar, ice maker and refrigeration unit. If plans call for extensive cruising, I'm a fan of going for the largest tender possible without diminishing the yacht's seakeeping ability. Five Star accommodates an 18-foot Nautica RIB in a fore-and-aft orientation that still leaves space on both sides.

A grand, sweeping staircase flows from the flying bridge to the pilothouse, one of my favorite areas of the 77. The staircase is a big chunk of wood, but it does not intrude on the space. In fact, the handcrafted teak-and-burl staircase complements the pilothouse, giving it a homey atmosphere.

"This is like our family room", said Hockelberg with regard to the large dinette and family-style galley in the pilothouse area. The two Stidd helm seats turn to face the dinette, expanding the area to accommodate seven.

The galley reflects the owner's personal preferences and the company's generous appliance allowance. Five Star easily concealed the provisions needed for a several-month cruise through the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. A large pantry abaft the bar allows them to provision in bulk.

The business end of the pilothouse offers a good line of sight forward, and the helmsman can see aft through the saloon with a slight bend of the head. Expansive side windows help make this second helm very workable. I've operated pilothouse designs from the lower helm on long legs, but the cramped feeling usually makes me head for the bridge. This is not the case on the Alaskan 77. Even for diehards who believe the only place to run a boat is from the bridge, this pilothouse will be tough to beat on a chilly night watch offshore.

The interior décor is best described as British Colonial with a mischievous wink. Bright worked closely with interior designer Susan Mingledorff of Mingledorff Design to create a traditional, classy atmosphere that does not suffer the dark, dated feel of some other yachts with heavy doses of teak. The settee on the port side of the saloon is wrapped in a dark-beige fabric and is about as comfortable as you can get on a yacht. Two wicker armchairs and matching bamboo-style stools, accented with leopard-print fabric, convey a West Indies feel. The forward mirrored bulkhead helps to visually expand the saloon, so the large, freestanding furniture does not overpower the space.

Access to the forward accommodations is through a staircase descending from the pilothouse. Hockelberg and Bright worked with Oviatt on tweaking the plan on a previous 75 and created a luxurious, yet functional space. The full-beam master stateroom is amidships and incorporates a little Asian flair. Shoji screens conceal the ports, while burl and golden teak work together to provide a semi-formal atmosphere. Since the owners plan to run a business while cruising, a desk is on the port side with the necessary outlets.

Though they expect to use the desk area a fair amount of time, the couple decided not to turn a stateroom into a dedicated office. Instead, the 77 has two guest staterooms, as well as a utility room fitted with a freezer, washer and dryer, and even more stowage, a great asset on a liveaboard. No longer will washday overtake the entire vessel.

Not only did Hockelberg and Bright devote time to the appointments of Five Star, but they were careful to ensure that the equipment met their goals for long-distance cruising. Two Trace inverters allow them to anchor out without using one of two Northern Lights generators. The 250-amp Balmar alternator will feed the battery bank of 12 8Ds.

They also like the 800 hp Caterpillars and generally prefer to cruise at around 10 knots instead of in the low teens. At this speed, the Alaskan 77 sips about 10 gallons per hour, making her well suited for extended island hopping.

One thing an owner won't have to think about is optional equipment. Oviatt wanted to make sure each build includes items often listed as extras on other boats. Highlights include stabilizers, a bowthruster, dual generators and a davit.

Oviatt seemed almost apologetic that the 77 costs less than $3 million. I can see his point. A good value is often viewed with suspect eyes, and a buyer's natural question is, "What's the catch? There really is none, except that Oviatt is both the dealer and the builder. This removes a layer in the money trail, giving owners the benefit of dealing directly with one person.