Sabreline 38 Hardtop Express

Blending Down East styling with contemporary livability and performance means classic boat lovers don't have to live like Puritans anymore.

For nearly a decade Sabre Yachts has incorporated the phrase "Crafted in the Maine Tradition" into their marketing efforts. To some this may cast a warm and fuzzy feeling of a small, New England builder, with workers dressed in flannel and watch caps methodically whittling away at a few boats a year. And "tradition may conjure up images of classic lines and navy blue hulls, but with Puritan-like accommodations. However, several years ago, Sabre realized that being known as a traditional boatbuilder could be a double-edged sword, particularly if customers believed that traditional yachts lacked the amenities found on more contemporary production yachts.

Fast-forward a few years. Sabre appears to have nailed a winning formula by combining refined tradition with the comforts and equipment found on untraditional models. "We wanted to offer a line to boaters looking to transition up a quality level, says Bentley Collins, Sabre's marketing manager. "And we wanted to appeal to more of a production market. The builder first revealed this design philosophy with the launch of the Sabreline 42 Hardtop Express in 2003 ("On Board, May 2003).

The success of the 42 was beyond Sabre's expectations. "We were very surprised at the reaction to the 42," Collins says. "We came out of the Miami show with nearly 10 orders". The company is now building about 17 of the 42s each year. Now, after having tested the new 38 Hardtop Express, I can say that Collins should not be surprised if this cruiser duplicates the success of its sibling.

From afar the 38 Express shares styling characteristics with her bigger sister, the Sabreline 42 Express. Upon further inspection, however, you'll notice the subtle tweaks and nip and tucks that naturally evolve in the design process. The transom corners have more of a radius, while the beam increases slightly from the waterline to the sheer. The forward cabin sweeps forward, transitioning in the deck seamlessly, avoiding the harsh angles often associated with traditional designs. Looking at the 38 side by side with the discontinued 36 Express, a model Collins readily admits was "getting a little long in the tooth, the evolution of the line is in your face.

Another feat by the Sabre design team was their success at creating a hardtop express that didn't resemble a squashed birthday cake. Making a hardtop look good on any traditionally inspired express cruiser less than 45 feet is not an easy task. On the 38, Sabre has kept the profile unobtrusive, relying on fabric and isinglass to enclose the after seating area. A substantial overhang should keep rain out during an average downpour.

The helm deck benefits from the 38's 13-foot, 8-inch, beam with increased space for a portside settee and table, wet bar with a U-Line refrigerator/ice maker combination, and two helm seats. The helm seats-made by Stidd-are considered by many to be the best helm seats on the market. Collins explained that they wanted to incorporate as much premium standard equipment as possible. This may bump up the base price a bit compared to similarly sized boats, but take the time to compare specifications. Sometimes you need to add another $150,000 in options to get the boat you really want.

The helm area is comfortable and the line of sight is acceptable. The sliding side window is positioned to allow the open breeze to flow on the helmsman. This may sound petty, but next time you're looking at a similar hardtop express model, take a look at the side window and you may find that quite a few have only the after portion of the window opening. This does nobody, with the exception of somebody sitting on the after section of the deck, any good.

One suggestion I would make about the helm is to angle the engine gauges towards the helmsman, placing them closer to the line of sight. Having to lean forward and crane your neck to check the engine vitals is not the best setup. The rest of the helm is arranged to allow easy operation. The transom door is placed on the starboard side, allowing the helmsman to see the swim platform while backing into a slip. The fiberglass electronics console on our test boat housed twin Raymarine 120 displays with room to spare for additional instruments.

Under way I found the 38 Express to be a solid performer. The twin 440-hp Yanmar 6KY2A-STP diesels pushed us to a top speed of 32.3 knots in calm seas. But more impressive was the easy cruising speed of around 25 knots at 2700 rpm. This appeared to be a sweet spot for the 38, as she traveled in perfect trim with no tabs applied, and we recorded sound levels at a reasonable 83 decibels. The transom has a 16-degree deadrise, producing sufficient lift to pop the 38 right out of the water when applying the throttles. Steering throughout the speed curve is very responsive.

Down below, the galley and L-shape settee are positioned almost exactly at the midsection, taking advantage of the maximum beam. By slimming the galley down to a compact yet functional unit, Sabre incorporates a spacious separate shower stall forward of the galley. Some of Sabre's competitors do not have this feature.

The settee can be made into a double berth, giving a total sleeping capacity of four. A standard flat-screen TV and DVD player are recessed into the forward cabin bulkhead. A sliding door separates the master stateroom from the main cabin. The island berth is low enough and has sufficient room on the sides so you don't have to perform a gymnastics routine to climb into bed.

After considering the fit and finish, the long standard equipment list, the performance and above all the styling of the 38, I was guessing a price as tested of around $600,000. I based this quick thinking on what similarly styled and equipped boats are commanding. But it looks like the Sabre 38 had yet another surprise-a pretty good value coming to just under $495,000 fully loaded.

Contact: Sabre, (207) 655-3831; www.sabreyachts.com.