Pama LX540

This new cruiser from China will make you rethink the true meaning of value.

With centuries of highly evolved civilization, China can hardly be called an emerging country. Yet, in the yachtbuilding world, she is exactly that. In the past few years, the Chinese government has not just encouraged but actually subsidized the growth of yacht construction with the result that boatyards have sprung up like Shiitake mushrooms after a spring rain.

But while China may be able to perfectly imitate products such as electronics or clothing, a yacht is a far more subtle challenge and it's easy to pick out the differences between a world class yacht and one from an inexperienced builder. It took Taiwan half a century to reach its present status in the yachtbuilding community and, in fact, some of the early Chinese offerings evoke the pioneering days of Far Eastern boatbuilding.

That isn't the case with the new Pama LX540 which, though built in China, arrives in a state of grace comparable to production yachts worldwide. The reason for this fast-track learning curve is that the builder is, in fact, a highly experienced Taiwanese boatbuilder taking advantage of the low costs and incentives offered on the mainland. It is, in many ways, the best of all worlds: minimal overhead, a skilled labor force, and a thorough knowledge of what makes a great yacht.

Don't be misled into thinking this is a "price boat just because the base price seems remarkably low. I looked long and hard, and the quality is there from the triple layers of vinylester resins in the hull to the long list of American-made equipment to the granite counters and flawless joinerwork.

The starting point for this raised pilothouse motoryacht is a hull by Howard Apollonio that uses deep prop pockets not only for shallow draft (4 feet) but to use the long keel for prop protection. The underwater construction is solid fiberglass, while the topsides and superstructure use Nidacore honeycomb for strength and weight reduction.

The lines of the LX540 are thoroughly modern, with softened curves, sweptback windshield and European transom. The wide swim platform allows easy access, and twin gated doors lead to the teak-planked cockpit. Our test boat had been modified for the client, a two-time Pama owner, and the sculptured stainless steel flying bridge stairs are an option, while the standard fiberglass stairs are less artsy but amply sized.

The nearly full-beam saloon is a showplace for the ribbon-grained mahogany as well as the craftsmanship of the woodworkers. It's notable that most of the cabinet doors are curved and yet the grain and the edges still match perfectly. French-doored china cabinets are to port and starboard, and a U-Line wine cooler is tucked under the counter.

The portside couch (11 feet long!) is built in with swoopy curves, but the starboard side is left open for loose barrel chairs and a 36-inch Panasonic flatscreen TV hinges from the forward bulkhead to face the sofa with its inlaid Hi-Lo electric table. There is capacious stowage under the sofa and even the two hassocks that tuck neatly under the table are actually stowage boxes.

At pilothouse level is the galley, with speckled black granite wraparound counters open both fore and aft so the helmsman can see the stern and the chef is part of both the saloon and pilothouse. The sole is mahogany and holly to match the bulkheads and every locker is finished in either wood or mica.

The pilothouse is notable for huge windows and a great line of sight, plus twin side doors that slide into pockets and dog securely. The curved mahogany dash aims the electronics panels at the Stidd chair, and a dinette is to port for guests and casual dining.

Down from the pilothouse is the foyer with bird's-eye maple inlays and a concealed washer/dryer. The master stateroom is amidships, with a curved door that fits perfectly into the curving forward bulkhead giving the cabin extra walkaround space.

The detailing, including a single perfectly matched piece of mahogany that wraps around the entire king-size berth, is exquisite. The huge walk-in closet, in addition to two hanging lockers, is a surprise, as is the oversized head with a fiberglass shower.

The forward stateroom also has good floor space and curved bulkheads, and the entire berth raises easily to reveal a finished stowage area. Both guest cabins share a head.

The flying bridge is designed for entertaining, with a fiberglass console holding a fridge, Gaggenau barbecue and sink opposite a wraparound dinette, yet there is still room abaft for the 1,000 lb. capacity crane plus a good-sized tender.

The engineroom will delight hands-on owners with its space and accessibility, starting with the fully finished systems compartment under the cockpit with a 12 kW Northern Lights genset, air conditioning, plus full access to batteries, steering and rudder posts. There are three Aqua Air a/c systems, by the way, so the 540 can easily handle tropical summers.

A watertight door leads to the engineroom, which is large enough to provide man-sized outboard access to the twin 660 hp Cummins QSM-11 diesels. Standard power is a pair of 440 hp Yanmars, and options include Cats as well.

Underway, the LX540 is well-behaved and, in spite of carrying a lot of optional gear and larger tankage, we still topped out at over 27 knots. I'd certainly order the optional bow thruster, but the Teleflex steering was positive and fast acting. We didn't have any swells except our own wake to challenge the hull, but it sliced easily and the spray knockers forward threw the water aside rather than back. Even with the extensive use of hardwood floors, which resonate sound, the noise levels remained low.

If you don't fudge by looking at the specs, you probably won't guess the LX540 base price within a hundred thousand dollars. Even then, you'll have to spend time poking into lockers and rubbing your thumb across the joinery to realize the level of quality.

Once you do, you're likely to put the Pama LX540 on your short list of yachts in this size range.

Contact Premier Yachts, (561) 627-4646, www.pamayachts@premierys.com/pama.htm.