Doral Alegria

Doral didn't simply add length to an existing hull when it created the Alegria; it recalibrated its design approach.

There's a world of difference between an express cruiser and a yacht. One is designed for speed and access to the outdoors; the other is all about comfort. There is style to an express, substance to a yacht. When those worlds collide, you could end up with a disastrous hybrid-the equivalent of an Appalachian express or Mongolian motorcruiser. If it's done right, however, you come away with a fresh design like Doral's new 45-foot Alegria.

The Alegria is Doral's first attempt at a boat over 36 feet, a fairly bold undertaking for the Canadian builder. Designer Christophe Lavigne realized he had to come up with a new paradigm for the project. He had to think Chris-Craft Roamer or Riva Rivarama and envision high-end materials and components without a stodgy exterior or slow running surface. Like some of the company's U.S. competitors, Doral wanted a boat that combined European styling with American features.

"Each step was a challenge, from the cleats to the engines, Lavigne said. "We went to boat shows around the world-Genoa, Cannes, Paris and Miami-to see the big boats and gather up ideas. Everything is on a much grander scale on a boat this size.

After months of research and development, Lavigne had ironed out most of the yacht's details-almost everything but the name. As he mulled over the project during his drive to work one day, the song "Alegria, from a Cirque de Soleil performance, came on the radio. "That's Italian for 'joy', Lavigne said. "It seemed very appropriate.

It does indeed. The Alegria has an express cruiser's sleek profile, without the arrowhead shape of many expresses. Her pronounced flair and sharp entry at the bow and hard chine starting a few feet back from the bow make her an ocean-runner. The hull tapers gracefully, almost to the end of the swim platform.

The protruding platform could have been an eyesore, but it incorporates a soft-edge lip that adds curves and visual styling to the Alegria's shape, as well as a step for climbing aboard. The teak-covered platform is a safe space, with a width greater than 14 feet, a depth of 4 feet, 6 inches and a center walkthrough to the cockpit. Doral realized that time-challenged owners might not want any teak, so it's optional on the swim platform, walkaround, and cockpit. I thought the teak dressed up the boat nicely and provided visual continuity.

The Alegria can handle a Roman toga party, as I discovered during my test run on Ottawa's Outaouais River, when 10 other people climbed aboard for the ride. Even with the crowd in the cockpit-and it felt like six more could have fit without overcrowding-the Alegria hit a high note at 31 knots, just a hair under her published top speed.

The river that afternoon was dead calm, but judging from the wake, the 26,000-pound hull was well balanced under way. The hull construction includes sandwiched 11/4-inch balsa-cored fiberglass backed by fiberglass-encapsulated wood stringers. A fiberglass inner liner encompasses two-thirds of the boat and is bonded to the hull by Plexus for added structural integrity.

The Alegria accelerated like a much smaller boat. She comes on plane in just under 10 seconds thanks to the direct-drive configuration of the twin 480 hp Volvo TAMD75s. The mahogany helm station puts everything at your fingertips. The standard bowthruster is controlled by a joystick, and the mahogany steering wheel not only tilts but can be quickly removed for theft prevention. I felt in control during hard turns, though the hydraulic steering did take some manhandling. All in all, the hull was comfortable to drive.

The cockpit's curvy layout gets high marks for comfort and ergonomics, and the mahogany accents on the dash and lounges add understated elegance.

A removable teak table and semicircular lounge, which seats three or four, are to port. A longer L-shape settee lines the starboard side and is interrupted by the transom entrance as it curves to port, almost like a broken question mark. Forward of the aft lounge to port is an outdoor galley, which has an ice maker, a fridge and an optional electric barbecue that would make George Foreman smile. Another nice touch is the standard retractable radar arch. You can see the quality in the double-stitched, rippled upholstery and the fit and finish of the decks and woodwork.

This is a winning design, though I'd go back to the drawing board on the green-acrylic chart cover. Sure, it's shatterproof, but it bangs against the windshield as it lifts. The company said it should be fine in big seas, but I'd still love to see a latch or magnetic catch. I wasn't taken with the twin bucket helm seats, either, which look a bit odd on this style yacht. A two-person lounge is optional.

The boat had some nice surprises. With the push of a button, the center panel in the windshield slides into a fiberglass housing on the deck. It is the industry's first automatically retractable full windshield panel, making it much easier to get on and off the foredeck. It's a clever idea, and the teak covering boards keep it discreet.

Up front, the covering boards, slatted chairs (which fold flush with the deck while the boat is running), drink holders and even a chair built into the bow rail are teak. Beefy 316 stainless-steel rails, hip-high at 32 inches off the deck, run along the 11-inch-wide walkaround. The rails have a built-in LED lighting system in case you have to check the anchor at night. Our test boat had an optional 45-pound 316 stainless-steel anchor-maybe overkill, but it sure looks yacht-like with the matching bow scuff plate. Ditto for the custom through-bolted, 12-inch 316 stainless-steel cleats-four on each side of the hull. A Quick electric windlass is standard. Overall impression: quality components and thoughtful design in an area that's often an afterthought.

The cabin is where the Alegria really shines. Forty-five feet isn't much space, but the cavernous saloon makes it feel much bigger. Headroom here is 7 feet, according to the company, but my tape measure read 7 feet, 2 inches.

More important is the European styling. Curves are everywhere, from the lounge to the mahogany doors and paneling. Even the black galley countertop wraps around you. My only criticism of the galley is that the cabinet interiors are painted silver, a step down from the boat's otherwise impeccable joinery.

Up in the master stateroom is another option I'd leave out: a queen berth called a Z-bed, which vibrates and folds like those automatic beds on TV. Its motor takes up a lot of space underneath, an area already made tight by the bowthruster and 7,000-BTU air conditioner. (I'd move the air conditioner since it blocks access to the bowthruster.)

But those complaints are fairly minor in light of the boat's many nice touches, including the all-fiberglass master head on one side and the all-fiberglass shower (with teak floorboards) on the other. Three 28-inch-diameter Bomar hatches and 10 portholes flood the cabin with natural light. The crescent-shape UltraLeather settee converts to a double bed, and the optional teak-and-holly flooring works well with the mahogany paneling. Cedar-lined hanging lockers provide plenty of stowage. A 16,000-BTU air conditioner keeps the space cool.

The Alegria has a second, smaller head abaft the galley, as well as an aft cabin with twin berths or an optional queen berth. You can't stand up in this stateroom (one of the drawbacks of a level cockpit), but there's more headroom here than in many aft cabins. A small "office in the corner has a cherry desk and stool. It's midget-size and could use an air-conditioning vent overhead, but it'll be fine for working at the dock.

Of course, what you don't see on the Alegria is just as important. Access to air-conditioning strainers in the cabin sole is immediate (though some of the hoses need protection from chafing), and the electrical panel is conveniently inside the cabin door. The 14-by-14-foot engineroom has plenty of working space, with easy-to-reach Racor 900 fuel filters and good access to the 8kW Kohler genset.

The quality of a boat is often determined by intangible factors-it's not so much in the details you see, but in the way you feel about the boat. That's the case with the Alegria, an express yacht that feels just right.

Contact: Doral, (888) 843-6725; www.doralboat.com. For more information, contact: (866) 922-4877; www.yachtingnet.com/yachting/productinfo.