Alex Smith heads for Amsterdam’s HISWA In-Water Show to investigate one of the most exclusive 44-foot open cruisers money can buy, the Zeelander Z44
First unveiled at the Monaco Yacht Show to a well-heeled chorus of public cooing, the Z44 is not your everyday boat. Designed and built in the Netherlands specifically to cater for a supremely solvent client base, this high-end take on the classic lobster boat exhibits the painstaking detailing of an art installation.
While most boat builders embrace straight edges and simplified mouldings as a means of increasing production efficiencies, the Z44 is all graduated curves, sweeps and seamless fluidity. In fact, it has the feeling of something painstakingly ground into pebble-smooth perfection by the sculpting actions of wind and water – and that is by no means an accident…
The idea was to create a boat that would always look in its element and the result is not just a very beautiful and distinctive craft, but one on which nothing feels ordinary. In addition to the fact that it takes 42 individual moulds to generate the parts required to build the Z44, there is tremendous pleasure to be had simply in examining the curves of the hull windows and the fabric panelling; the near perfect finish of the arching steel guardrails and the swept and faceted joinery.
Even the ‘wood’ trim beneath the guardrails is a hardwearing artificial material, individually hand-painted to look like natural wood grain by a local artist. The quality of her work confounds belief and it’s one of many touches that helps make each Z44 feel like a one-off original.
Up top and down below
The twin cockpit layout, sheltered in the forward part by the overhead roof and orbited in its entirety by easy-access side decks, is a lovely feature. It makes the main deck feel much more versatile than those with a single unbroken space and it also enables the skipper to be kept fully involved in the social hub of the upper cockpit.
With a fridge, icebox and hand-washing station to starboard, plus a huge flip-down swim platform and an overhead canvas that remains unflappable even at 30 knots in a Force 5, the space is tailormade for large gatherings.
Down below you get a central atrium with galley to starboard and heads to port, plus a raised convertible dinette in the bow space and a full-beam master double with lounge and changing area beneath the cockpit sole. And just as on the main deck, the sweeping proliferation of curves has a lovely way of inviting you from space to space.
True, the forward berth is a touch short and the convex shape of the doors for the galley’s overhead lockers sees them impede one another’s travel if they are opened simultaneously – but given the sheer loveliness of these spaces, you’re unlikely to dwell on issues such as these.
The Z44 helming experience
It takes around 17 seconds to reach 25 knots, but what the Z44 lacks in pace, it gains in refinement. Even as we creep along at inadvisably slow displacement speeds, noting our performance figures among the chop of the Lelystad shallows, the water that finds its way over the bow hits the screen with a muted ‘thunk’ that barely registers. And as we push on, things get even better…
The flared and elevated bow with double chines adds extraordinary dryness to the mix – and if the soft, virtually vibration-free ride of this profoundly solid Category B cruising machine is impressive, the absence of noise is even more remarkable. This is an open boat with a pair of 435hp diesel engines in a Force 5 at wide-open throttle, and yet it felt and sounded as refined as most boats at half that speed in calm conditions.
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With its unique combination of art and design, of engineering and aesthetics, synonymous with the Italian shipyard Riva, the 56
It’s not the fastest boat in its class and, to keep the ride at optimum softness, you do need to give the leg a decent bit of trim, which can limit forward visibility past the elevated bow – but with a 32-knot top end that is every bit as quiet as a sedentary 22-knot cruise, this is as serene and comfortable a 44-footer as you are ever likely to witness.
The Z44 is eye-wateringly expensive. In fact, at more than 1.5 million euros, it costs the kind of money that could easily buy you a high-quality 44-foot cruiser from a mainstream brand, a five-bedroom house in a pleasant part of Hampshire and a Porsche.
But the Zeelander deserves to be considered in isolation from the sobering pragmatism of the regular market because it simply isn’t like anything else out there. With its beautiful materials, its indulgent carnival of curves and the painstaking work that has gone into creating an artisan finish, this boat is for those who crave something special; something only a handful of people in the world will ever own; something with the power to evoke a tangible welling of excitement every time you step on board. Viewed in that context, the Z44 is a stupendous piece of work.
LOA: 44ft 4in (13.52m)
Beam: 13ft 1in (4.0m)
Engine options: Twin 500-600hp
Test engine: Twin Volvo Penta IPS600
Top speed on test: 31.6 knots
Fuel consumption at 20 knots: 91.4 L/H
Displacement: 14 tonnes (light)
Fuel capacity: 1,600 litres
Price as tested: €1,575,000 (inc VAT)