Its predecessor was a hard act to follow but thanks to an all-new hull and superstructure boasting a vast expanse of glass, the latest Sunseeker 76 Yacht lifts expectations to another level. We find out if it delivers
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. So say career advisers to youngsters preparing for job interviews, and one wonders if this snappy iambic heptameter is also emblazoned over the door to Sunseeker’s design office, for few boats have ever made a better first impression than the Poole shipyard’s new Sunseeker 76 Yacht. Stroll up from the quayside, kick off your shoes in the cockpit, step over the threshold into the saloon – and pause.
An expanse of hardwood floor stretches out in front of you. Understated, low-level furnishings either side lead the eye forward: there is an open-plan galley on the starboard side, facing an elegant dining table. Beyond, a step up to the helm deck and its inviting sofa, nestling beneath a rakish windscreen. And on each side, huge windows that frame the seascape and flood the interior with the warmth of natural light. It is a pretty spectacular space.
That was mine, anyway – other first impressions are available. Of course it was happily influenced by certain choices made by this yacht’s owner, who had elected to have the American-style open galley rather than the enclosed space, which Sunseeker reckons is more likely to appeal to buttoned-up European sensibilities.
His selection of the ‘antique brown’ granite for its work surfaces helped it disappear into the background. Dark wenge flooring, with its subtle reflective qualities, enhanced the feeling of space in a way that carpeting probably wouldn’t, while with its intense, mirror-gloss finish the dark hardwood dining table seemed more like a lighting fixture than an item of furniture.
Room for improvement
The Sunseeker 76 Yacht was launched last autumn, a completely new design that takes the place of the old 75 in the company brochure. The Sunseeker 75 was a success by any measure – along with its predecessor, the 73, a total of 104 were built, according to the shipyard – but even Sunseeker’s people acknowledge that it wasn’t perfect.
One problem was the tight, curving companionway linking the main and lower decks. Another was engineroom access, which was confined to a simple hatch in the cockpit sole, unless you demanded expensive modifications to the crew cabin.
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Footage of the Sunseeker 75 Yacht from the 2014 London Boat Show
In addressing these concerns and bringing the new model up to the levels of the latest competition – Princess’s prize-winning 75 Yacht in particular – Sunseeker designed a new hull some eight inches (20cm) wider than the old one and focused from the outset on building as much practicality into it as they could.
In the confined spaces of a yacht’s hull, even one this size, practicality generally means straight lines and right angles. Curves look cool but can also be wasteful, and for a perfect example compare the 75’s curved main companionway with the Sunseeker 76’s new, straight-edged counterpart, which has a useful locker halfway down, a wardrobe-sized space at the bottom, and a huge stowage void concealed beneath its lower three steps.
There is never enough stowage on a boat, but this largesse makes the recessed hull window on the landing seem less of an extravagance. And note how the glass balustrade at the top renders it practically invisible, further emphasising the spaciousness of the saloon.
The crew cabin aboard the Sunseeker 76 also represents a major improvement. Fitted as standard with a double berth on the port side, a sofa beneath the transom window and a very reasonable head and shower compartment to starboard, it is exceptionally comfortable for crew on a yacht this size and would do very well for extra guests, whose only cause for complaint might be that access is through a sloping, bottom-hinged door in the transom – less than ideal if it’s raining. An extra drop-down Pullman berth can be added. A short, full-height passageway leads forward past the washer and dryer to the watertight engineroom door – which, oddly, is an optional extra.
The new square companionway brings many benefits and just the one drawback. The port side of the lower deck accommodation has been rearranged to accommodate it, and most of the squeeze is felt by the VIP cabin, which occupies slightly less floor area than it did on the 75.
It is still a comfortable space, however, albeit with the berth set well forward and up two steps, and along with the starboard double cabin and the port-side twin, it offers a good compromise between furniture and floor space. Headroom throughout the lower guest areas is a comfortable 6ft 6in (1.98m), none of the berths is shorter than 6ft 4in (1.93m) and all cabins, naturally, have ensuite heads and shower compartments.
This particular Sunseeker 76, the second to roll out of the Poole assembly sheds, was the property of an American owner who was clearly experienced enough to appreciate the value of stowage space and understand the practicality of the new design. So the tall locker at the base of the companionway contained an extra fridge.
He even did away with the standard sofa on the starboard side of the master cabin, deeming the extra lockers and drawers fitted in its place to be more useful, even allowing for this suite’s existing shelving and hanging space, not to mention the drawers in the bed base. It’s a sensible swap: if you need to sit down to put your socks on, there’s always the bed. The guest cabins are less well endowed with storage volume, but each has a fair-sized hanging locker as well as under-berth drawers.
Best laid plans
A number of layout alternatives are available on the Sunseeker 76, on all three decks. So you can have a hot tub at the after end of the flybridge, or a crane for a PWC, or a simple sunbed like the one on our test boat. On the main deck the galley can be partitioned off with ‘electric glass’, fully enclosed, or banished down below to take the place of the port guest cabin, to make way for a big circular dining table. The hydraulic aft platform is designed to take a Williams 385 tender, but if you’d like to install the larger 445 it can be upgraded to take the extra weight.
Choices of floors and finish are offered too: cherry veneer, black American walnut or silver oak, all varnished in either satin or gloss. Standard items include eight place settings of Royal Doulton’s ‘Fusion’ white bone china, complemented by cutlery from Robert Walsh, and Dartington crystal glassware.
One of the most significant decisions most owners will make will be the choice of engines. MAN’s 1,400hp V12s are the standard fit, but for another £60,000 or so our owner had specified the growlier 1550s. Without a direct comparison with a lower-powered example it’s hard to say whether it was money well spent, but the test boat seemed happy with the decision, recording a two-way average in the tidal waters off Old Harry Rocks outside Poole Harbour of just on 33 knots.
Our Sunseeker 76 Yacht was also fitted with conventional trim tabs, and Sleipner’s Side-Power Vector curved fin stabilisers. The first weren’t needed during our test: the yacht felt well balanced, and while the tabs could be useful to correct a crosswind-induced heel, they had no effect on top speed and we left them up during the trial.
In the flat conditions of our test the Vector fins weren’t necessary either, but unfortunately the helmsman doesn’t have a choice in the matter. At speeds over 15 knots the system bleeps grumpily if the fins are inactive: there is apparently a risk that when locked in place they might have an adverse effect on a yacht’s high-speed handling. So they were switched to active, in automatic mode, and they worked well.
At speed things got a little more interesting, as the fins tried manfully to resist the hull’s natural tendency to heel in fast turns, before giving up and letting the laws of hydrodynamics have their way. But as we straightened up the fins also wanted to have their say, resisting, just for a second or two, the boat’s urge to right itself. Charging along in a straight line at an obstinate angle of heel was strange. It didn’t feel like progress.
The Sunseeker 75 Yacht may have been a hard act to follow but it was beginning to show its age. Starting afresh with a new hull and superstructure was undoubtedly the correct course of action, and while the layout of the Sunseeker 76 is similar to that of its predecessor, the Poole shipyard has effected significant improvements. The design department has also introduced ideas, which move the game on. The 76’s foredeck arrangements are noteworthy – one shipyard spokesman said they seemed to have been stolen from a hundred-footer, and you can see what he means. The little sunroof over the lower helm is unusual – perhaps unique – on a full flybridge yacht, and a nicely unexpected touch. In the meantime yacht design generally has developed, and the main deck spaces aboard the Sunseeker 76 benefit from the current fad for massive windows, along with cutaway bulwarks to make the best of them. The results are truly impressive. Sunseeker’s latest can look its competitors squarely in the eye.