We all know what it’s like to fall in love, be it with a person or an inanimate object like a boat. Emotion overrules logic, and not always with adverse results. Sometimes the heart really does know better than the head.
Boatbuilders are theoretically immune to emotion; they must be governed by the rules of commerce. But every once in a while you come across a boat that you’d swear had emotion behind it too. That’s how I feel about the Sabre 54. After all, she’s from Maine, and up there they’re more likely to build the boat they want than the one the numbers guys tell them to.
Then there’s the 54’s interesting pedigree. Her hull, with one minor exception, is identical to the Sabre 52’s. The first 16 hulls of that model all had Caterpillar inboards, but for the 17th the owner requested pods, Volvo Penta IPS900s to be exact.
Number 17’s hull was identical to the previous 16 except for mold inserts that created the openings and mounting flanges required to accommodate the Volvo Penta IPS900 pods. Because pods typically distribute more weight farther aft, significant attention had to be paid to weights and balances to achieve proper trim. Weight was a special concern; that extra tooling dropped about a ton of fiberglass into the after sections, so engineers began pulling weight out of the boat. A second generator was eliminated, some tankage was reduced, wiring was changed, and pounds were shaved here and there. In the end the boat ended up actually weighing less than the inboard version.
And here’s where I think the emotion came in. The 52 was selling well thanks to a pretty profile, spacious but flexible interior plan, and good performance. Why not just eliminate the inboard option and keep building her? Could it be because Sabre engineers wanted to see how good the boat could be if designed for pods from the start?
Their case was strengthened by the appearance of the IPS950. It puts out 25 more horsepower than the 900, but the big difference is a belt-driven supercharger that generates boost when the turbocharger does not. The result is much faster torque rise and thereby much faster planing. Other improvements include exhaust modifications that eliminate idle-speed burbling.
So in the depths of The Great Recession, Sabre set about redesigning the 52’s hull to accommodate the IPS950 (and become the 54). No hull inserts this time. The new engine room, no longer partitioned by intermediate bulkheads, is one big, uninterrupted space. The motors are still jackshafted to the pods but sit a foot farther aft. To compensate for the weight shift, saddle-type fuel tanks have been replaced with a single athwartship tank forward, which cost 100 gallons in capacity but improved balance and created the kind of 360-degree engine access you rarely see in a boat of this size.
I never ran the 52 so I can’t compare it to the 54; but their performance numbers are very similar. My one-hour run from Palm Beach to Jupiter on the outside left the impression of a near-perfectly balanced vessel. Running angles (3 to 4 degrees) are moderate, even during planing, which is unusually quick (credit that supercharger), and making a fast cruise of 31.1 knots (2250 rpm) through 3-footers in no way taxed her. It’s hard to imagine a better mating of IPS to a hull.
Thanks to our boat’s Volvo Penta Glass Cockpit system and IPS, each controlled by a joystick mounted in the armrest of the Stidd helm chair, plus a C-Zone solid-state electrical distribution system and automatic Lenco tabs, running the 54 was weirdly reminiscent of a video game—a really good video game.
And like a good video game, the emotion’s there. The 54 generates the kind of pleasure you get only from a boat that feels totally integrated instead of an agglomeration of individual components. She’s just the kind of vessel that a real boater could fall in love with.
Sabre Yachts, 207-655-3831; www.sabreyachts.com
: 50,000 lb.
: 700 gal.
: 200 gal.
: 2/725-hp Volvo Penta IPS950 pod drives
: 13.5-kw Onan
: Volvo Penta with 1.70:1 gear ratio
: P5 propset
*Range based on 90% of advertised fuel capacity.