“There’s the Statue of Liberty!” “Oh no, well, here we are at the aircraft carrier U.S.S Intrepid.” “Oops, sorry, look up there, okay, we’re coming up on the George Washington Bridge!” “Ah, just forget it. Enjoy the ride.” It was July 4th, 1999 and I was helping a friend run a blazingly fast, triple-powered, Sunseeker Superhawk 48 on a sightseeing cruise around Manhattan for the owner and his out-of-town guests. They didn’t see much as we whizzed by various New York landmarks. We finally pulled back on the throttles long enough to allow everyone to straighten out their faces and fix their eyelids, while we brought out some champagne and lobster salad. It was a different way to observe our city. Traveling at speeds in the high 30- and low 40-knot range across a steep, short swell was effortless. There were no protests from the 48’s superstructure, or excess pounding. The boat was a blast to drive and her sleek styling spun heads on New York’s Hudson and East Rivers. You would have to be dead to not feel a stroking of the ego.
Fast-forward nearly a decade, and I’ve had another Sunseeker experience. And now, after walking away from the Sunseeker Predator 130, I was again thinking, now that is different. I’ve followed the genesis of 130, Sunseeker’s largest launch to date, since its conception- from paper to model, to her debut at September’s Southampton Boat Show. To say that the line drawings did not do her justice would certainly qualify as an understatement. After walking around the 130 at the dock, viewing her from several angles, I realized that her looks were deceiving. This is an attribute of her Predator designation-Sunseeker’s performance yacht series. Forward of amidships, she carries the accommodations to the full beam. The side decks transition into stairs and the foredeck rises, to form a second deck. It’s as if she is giving a subtle nod to the British practice of understatement. There are so many areas where this arrangement could have been poorly executed-yet Sunseeker’s designers make it work. Further inspection reveals nuances such as the break of the line on the after fashion plate where the deck vertical supports rise up to meet the flying bridge superstructure. It cuts down on the appearance of an unruly mass of fiberglass. These details don’t happen by accident, but are the result of a strong design sense and brand identity.
Sunseeker morphed out of a small U.K.-based boat importer founded by brothers Robert and John Braithwaite more than 40 years ago. In the early 1970s, they decided to give boatbuilding a go and built a 17- and 23-footer for the local market. While exhibiting at a U.K. boat show, a French dealer was so impressed by the styling and execution, he proclaimed that with a few changes he could sell the boats in his market. And so began Sunseeker. The Poole, England-based builder has spent the last four decades stretching the design and engineering boundaries in stylish, zippy yachts ranging from 38 feet to the 130. (There is a 46 meter in development scheduled to launch in 2012.) Robert remains at the helm and his infectiously entrepreneurial spirit runs deep within the company During its growth, the yard has managed to straddle the line between being a production, semi-custom, and custom yard-an exercise that was accelerated in 2001 with the launch of the 105, the builder’s first model over 100 feet. One of the benefits of a yard with vast production experience (and now formidable large-yacht experience) is the elimination of the “unknown” factor in the build process. In my opinion, this is especially important with a new build such as the Predator 130 that is intended to reach some lofty speeds, well north of the 30-knot mark. The yard can incorporate lessons learned from building previous large, highspeed builds. Often one-off high-speed superyachts must claw through a system of trial and error in an effort to hit the projected numbers, the same way a more production-oriented yard must fine tune a prototype hull. Sunseeker can concentrate on perfecting systems, efficiencies, and the build process developed through its production business, while still offering buyers opportunities to customize their new builds.
The 130 relies on a proven deep-V hull, transitioning to wider chines aft. To reduce the draft to a paltry 4 feet, 11 inches, while still accommodating the diameter of props necessary to achieve high speeds, designers incorporated propeller tunnels. Could you imagine meandering along in a shallow area, such as the Yellow Bank, west of the Exumas, and looking over your shoulder to see this baby barreling down at 35 knots! We did not have an opportunity to run the 130, but I have run several large Sunseekers that rely on the same design philosophy and can attest to a seaworthy ride.
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One unique item that this latest Sunseeker does not share with her siblings is the inclusion of four folding terraces. There are two in the salon, and two in the forward, main deck master stateroom. Sure, there is a “gee whiz” factor, and the Southampton Boat Show was certainly abuzz with chatter about the “flash yacht and her four balconies.” However, this design element is far more noteworthy than even the best-crafted press release might suggest. The primary reason we go out on the water, is to be, well, out on the water. I’m always amused by watching people at boat shows go right from the dock, inside to the shelter of a climate-controlled cabin. Some interiors are almost like sensory-deprivation chambers! On the 130, however, the experience of walking from the partially covered aft deck through the double sliding doors is entirely different. Once in the salon, you are greeted by the cross ventilation created by two open terraces, positioned directly across from each other. Granted it was perfect, balmy English weather. But as I walked through, I could smell the salt air, hear the sea gulls protesting overhead, and feel the water lapping up against the hull. The light oak paneling and furniture with an understated matte finish helps to drive these sensations home. The interior isn’t loud or flashy, distracting the eyes from the view outside. Your surroundings are the star of the show and the expansive salon extends this sense of openness. A cubed-buffet divides the dining area from the living area. Forward and to port is the functional, commercial-grade galley. By positioning the master on the main deck, this galley is as big as it can be. It’s placed to keep the hurried flow of crew away from relaxing guests. A passageway from the galley leads forward and below to the crew quarters with a separate mess, and four double, en suite staterooms. “You have to keep the crew happy,” said Sunseeker’s Barbara Edney. A full ship’s monitoring system allows captain and crew to keep an eye on the 130’s vital signs while away from the wheelhouse.
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The same sense of style and feel carries over from the salon to the master stateroom. Two balconies flank the king-size bed. When opened, the upper portion provides shade to the terrace below. I couldn’t help but imagine waking up anchored in a secluded cove and opening my eyes to the vistas beyond one of my balconies. Then it’s a cup of coffee and the paper before a morning swim. In my opinion, the Predator 130 does not belong shoehorned into a quay, where the only view is your neighbor’s hull side. That would be a waste, indeed.Sunseeker works with owners and will customize the interior to suit their needs and tastes. The model I inspected featured a gym, with a head, in lieu of a fourth guest stateroom. A VIP stateroom was abaft the lower deck foyer with an athwartships queen berth. There are two additional guest staterooms.
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The flying bridge benefits from the sleeker, low profile of the Predator series. The compromise is a smaller wheelhouse, but it’s worth it when you consider the amount of space gained on the bridge. The line of sight from the starboard helm is excellent, both forward and aft. The outdoor entertaining space is immense, and is yet another reason to get the 130 away from the dock. Hull number one had a dining table for 10, plus another U-shaped settee that would make a great kids table. There is a Jacuzzi tub and large sunpad. Tenders are housed in a stern garage, so bring your dancing shoes- there is room to tango. The Braithwaites’ company has evolved over the years, and it seems that with each decade they enter a new market segment with a big bang. During this decade, they have carved out their niche in the superyacht world, and-judging by the 130-they don’t plan on leaving. My guess is you can certainly expect something different in the next decade. Hold onto your seats. It should be a great show. Sunseeker International, +44 1202 381 111, www.sunseeker.com