With its graceful moves and European flair, Sunseeker's new Predator 61 is a dazzling performer...

We stood on the quay and discussed the weather, a popular pastime in Britain during the long winter months. The clouds were so low it seemed as if you could reach out and touch them. The gale-force wind picking up the tops of the waves and converting them into harsh, stinging spray. Were these the conditions in which to test a dazzling new motoryacht designed for relaxing at sea in the warm sunshine? I argued that they were. If the Sunseeker Predator 61 could conquer these conditions, then it could cope with any seas or storms experienced by the average pleasure boater.

Although the deepening depression sweeping in from the Atlantic made conditions look very threatening, I had no significant worries. Sunseeker not only builds beautiful boats, this UK-based company also manufactures yachts that are sound and seaworthy. The new Predator certainly looks glamorous, but beneath its glossy exterior there is a deep-V hull that's evolved from a racing heritage. Designer Don Shead cut his engineering teeth on raceboat and the lessons he learned back then are applied in his new sport cruiser designs, including this Sunseeker. In addition. the 61 is constructed by a company that's been building performance craft for over 30 years.

As we nosed out from the dock at the modern Sunseeker shipyard in Poole, everything was well in hand. Even though the fierce wind tried to dictate our course, the powerful 10-hp bow thruster made it easy to maintain control. As we traveled at a low speed for the long journey through Poole Harbor, one of the largest natural harbors in the world and a mecca for British yachtsmen, the hydraulic power steering was very positive, producing the precise handling of a thoroughbred yacht.

After we passed the old, established chain ferry that crosses the harbor entrance. we opened the throttles. The surge of power from the twin 1,050-hp MAN/ Detroit Diesel engines was very satifying. We were quickly up on plane and moving along at a 30- knot cruising speed. We maintained an exhilarating pace of acceleration right up to full throttle, where the Predator 61 reached a top speed of 37 knots. And that was with a wind that whipped seas into waves crowned by white water. The Sunseeker's performance clearly demonstrated that the 61 can take the rough stuff along with the smooth.

The modified deep-V hull with a transom deadrise of 19 degrees gave us a smooth ride, even when I drove the boat hard; in fact, this hull positively encourages hard driving. This is a true sports cruiser, but instead of the wind in your hair, you get the protection and luxury of the enclosed pilothouse.

The spray was flying over the foredeck, but we were snug in the open-backed pilothouse. On sunny days, this area can be opened up with a retracting, hydraulic hardtop that operates like a sunroof. Electric side windows create more ventilation and also make it easy for the captain to communicate with crew on the foredeck.

At the helm, the captain's seat is well-padded to make life at sea more comfortable. The seat can be adjusted up or down, but on the high setting, I found myself crouching a little to see under the low windscreen frame. Visibility from the helm could be better. and the wide side pillars don't help. But if you are tall enough, you can look over the frame when the sunroof is open.

The helm itself is impressive. The throttles and main controls are to starboard of the low-set wheel; the electrical switches are to port. Beyond the controls, there are three main panels; each is made of burl walnut in the British style. One panel is for the radar, another is for the electronic chartplotter and the third is for engine instruments. To port there is space for a paper chart. The helm area also has good grabrails and plentiful stowage spaces.

Sunseeker Predator 61 Performance SpecsTENDER THOUGHTS

Abaft the helm, a spacious cockpit has seating on three sides plus a well-equipped barbecue and wet bar. From here you can look aft to a sunpad, the tender garage built into the transom and the large swim platform.

Much thought has gone into the launch and recovery of the tenders from this yacht. A hydraulic swim platform provides both stowage space and launching area for the main tender, and the garage can accommodate a PWC or a smaller tender. For launching the main tender, you lower the hydraulic swim platform with the touch of a button and let the tender float off. Recovery is equally easy. To launch the PWC just roll it out of the garage and onto the platform.

Beneath the tender garage is the engine compartment where the two diesels are coupled to V-drive gearboxes. This allows for a compact installation with all the machinery aft, but it does mean you have to crawl around for access to all the servicing bits. The hydraulics for the garage door, swim platform and sunroof are all supplied from a central system. The large fuel tank, which offers a generous range of 370 miles, extends through the engine room bulkhead, with the main section under the stateroom amidships.

While a number of the systems aboard the 61 are very modern and noteworthy, this boat will turn heads with its exterior lines. Sunseeker has been a leading contender in the style stakes for the past 10 years. This builder is an innovator, not a follower. Interestingly, the Predator 61 doesn't showcase the crescendo of curves that have characterized many of the earlier Sunseeker designs. On the 61, the curves are more classical and there is a sharper edge to some of the lines; in some ways, the boat even looks more functional and less aggressive. Yet the style is still unmistakably Sunseeker.

The Sunseeker styling is most evident at the stem, where the topsides terminate in two rounded fins that are topped by the mooring fittings. The air intakes for the engines are in the hullsides and the extractor vents make a statement with their stainless steel fins. The cleats are beautifully crafted, also in stainless steel, and Sunseeker has made a design element of the teak on the swim platform.

Forward, at the sides of the pilothouse, wings house the navigation lights, and above, a tubular structure forms a low mast for antennae and lights. On the foredeck, a sun pad is set into a recessed section on centerline, which will make passengers feel more secure. The sidedecks are wide, practical and safe.

As for interior accommodations, there are two layouts available. One features the master stateroom amidships, where it occupies the full beam. The second plan divides the space amidships into twin cabins. In this layout, the forward VIP stateroom becomes the master. ln the two-cabin version, both staterooms have en suite heads. In the three-cabin version, the two twins share a head. These are superb, practical heads with generous space, Avonite countertops and stainless steel shower doors. In the cabins, solid cherry wood is used for the bed edgings and cherry veneer is used for the paneling. Each cabin is equipped with a flatscreen TV and a DVD player.

LAP OF LUXURY

The same cherry-wood paneling is in the salon, along with leather settees. The whole of the port side of the salon is the galley and bar, with its appliances enclosed below a cherry-wood counter. Among the home-style amenities you'll find here are a Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer, a coffeemaker and a ceramic stovetop. A trash compactor is available as an option. The entertainment center is built into the rear section of this counter. It includes a flat-screen TV, a DVD player and a surround-sound system.

As we pointed the boat back toward the Sunseeker shipyard, I regretted having to go back home, even with the wind and rain. With sunshine and calm seas, I can just imagine the pleasure the 61 will bring. In the rough and tumble of Poole Bay it was easy to imagine what it would be like to spend a quiet night at anchor in the luxury of the Predator 61 . Yes, this new Sunseeker was built for the serious powerboater, but it's also stylish enough to stand out at the yacht club and luxurious enough to spend many long days and nights aboard.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW OTHER SUNSEEKER YACHTS CURRENTLY FOR SALE IN CALIFORNIA

This review/article originally appeared in Motorboating Magazine, February 2002 and is written by Dag Pike. For more great yacht reviews, visit their website and subscribe at: https://www.mby.com/subscriptions/motorboat-yachting-subscriptions

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