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Photos by Zach Stovall

top_License to Thrill

Sunseeker claims the new 65 Sport Yacht’s SkyHelm is sports-car inspired.
We test that claim by comparing it to an Aston Martin convertible.

Modern-day humans, myself included, like nothing more than to romanticize our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Think about it. The paleo diet is cribbed right from their stone-scribbled menu. Nowadays there are establishments where the sole objective is to plant a spinning axe on a bullseye. Our ancestors never had to take Timmy to soccer practice, or Lisa to piano lessons. They just woke up every day and found creative ways to not die. Again. And again. And again.

Besides the inherent difficulties of a nomadic lifestyle—avoiding hungry sabre-toothed tigers, doing your business in the bush—the world was a much simpler place. An evolved ape’s idea of live, laugh, mate. Or, at least, that’s what those of us burnt out from the rat race, or tired of technology’s implacable intrusion into every possible layer of modern life, like to imagine.

I don’t need to remind you that a lot has changed in the ensuing millenniums. That sabre-tooth stalking us from the brush is now named something like Duchess, and she relieves herself in a plastic bin of your choosing, one filled with cement-gray clay. We are undoubtedly the masters and commanders of the world, each of us with a map, compass and translator in our pocket that we hardly even consult. Hell, why would we? We’re hunting bigger game now: namely, a meaning to our daily existence beyond the confines of jobs, social media and screens. A quick glance at the calendar confirms it: We don’t have time for much else.

Ironically, what we’re beginning to realize is that the answers to such heady, existential questions are continually being found through more primitive means. Take, for example, the first human to ride a horse. That guy was onto something! Only to be outdone, of course, by the next person to set off at a trot, then a canter and finally a full-blown gallop. Egging on our four-legged companions wasn’t to plow, or to charge a battlement—those utilitarian purposes came later. I like to think the original aim was deeper, and far more simple: It was to get the heart pumping faster, to feel the wind in our grimy, dirt-stained locks, to feel alive. That’s it. What more do you need? It was on that forgotten day in the Neolithic era when the very idea of a joy ride came into existence. Sport-yacht builders and those obsessed with horsepower and red lines have been chasing that thrill ever since.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, I fall squarely into that second camp. So, when Sunseeker announced the debut of their 65 Sport Yacht in Ft. Lauderdale, I shuffled out of the cave where I’d spent the last two years of my life, putting a hand up to shield the rays of an unfamiliar sun, and set off on a pilgrimage to southern Florida. The flickering shapes and shadows on the screen could only tell me so much. I wanted to feel more enlightened in a temple of speed.

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Apparently, I couldn’t have picked a better model to scratch my itch. “You’re in for a treat helming this yacht—in my 20-plus years in this industry, I have never driven anything more exciting,” Bryan Jones, Sunseeker’s marketing manager, told me. “I just don’t know how the designers can make a 65-foot yacht behave the way this does!”

Would Jones feel the same way about the new 65 Predator, which shares the same hull, accommodations and layout as the 65 Sport Yacht, but loses the superstructure with its sports-car-inspired SkyHelm? It’s hard to say—but good money says he wasn’t referring to driving from the lower helm station. The Predator series is for those with no need for a little wind in the hair. I pity them. But that’s why Sunseeker gives its clients a choice. The British builder has been creating dual lines from the same platform since 2013, with the inception of the 68 Sport Yacht. The core elements have remained the same over the years, but the details have changed. For instance, the 68’s flybridge helm pod looks positively boring when compared to the 65’s ultra-sleek upgrade. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to envision 007, olives clinking around a martini glass, putting the throttle down on his way to stop Emilio Largo from blowing up Miami.

Well, when you’re in my line of work, you don’t have to imagine; you can borrow a license to thrill. Which is how I found myself in a 2022 Aston Martin Vantage screaming east down Alligator Alley, the nickname for a stretch of I-75 that cuts a horizontal line from Naples to Ft. Lauderdale. Maybe not the best place to test a sports car, but certainly scenic enough, with the Everglades’ verdant swampland expanding in either direction. On the median rose an occasional palm tree. At the speeds I was traveling, if I ran into one of the dinosaur-like locals, I would be leaving behind a new pair of alligator loafers stretched out on the tarmac.

I had to be careful. In this state, there’s a fine line between James Bond and Florida Man. Still, there’s a reason the most sophisticated agent in pop culture chooses the venerable British marque. While my heart will always have a fondness for American muscle cars, raw muscle alone isn’t the British way. Poise is, and the convertible has it in spades. But it can get rowdy when it needs to. Under the clamshell hood, a 500-plus-hp, twin-turbo V8 engine puts the “tally” in tallyho. I clocked 0-60 mph at 3.5 seconds, but car publications have it even faster. And though the convertible is only offered in automatic transmission, with the top down and the pedal mashed, it put my heart in my throat—and my phone in my pocket—exactly where it should be. God forbid, if I ever forgot I was driving a sports car, the throaty roar each time I fired up the engine was the perfect reminder.

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Ostensibly, I was handed the keys to the Vantage so I could tease out for myself the similarities between driving a high-end convertible and the 65 Sport Yacht from the SkyHelm. That said, being a thrill-seeker—or loving to go fast—isn’t a job requirement. There are plenty of boats out there with a top end of 18 knots or less. Officially speaking, we don’t test for “fun”—or even have a metric to describe it, beyond maybe cruise and top speed. As opposed to safety, fun is subjective, and a little harder to measure. But when I pulled into Harbour Towne Marina’s parking lot, I was having a lot of it. Not even the prospect of maneuvering around a half-a-dozen bronze props dangling from the backside of sportfish boats could slow me down.

If I was going to continue to play Bond for the day, Ross Donohoe would be my Q. “If you want the ultimate sports-car feel, you’ll get that from the way we’ve designed the console,” said Donohoe, technical sales and project manager at Sunseeker. “It’s very sports car-esque in that sense, with that low bucket seat and the steering wheel that comes down on you. The only heartache from a manufacturer’s point of view is the boat is going to be driven hard continuously because it just encourages you to do that: flat-out everywhere.”

Okay, so I was in good company. (When I told Donohoe about incorporating the Vantage into the test, he laughed: “Lucky you. It sounds like you’ll have the best day ever! No moanin’ to your other half when you get in.”)

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In the “flat-out everywhere” spirit, I gladly traded curb appeal for dock appeal, stepping aboard the 65. Though the SkyHelm will get all the attention, it’s the things you don’t see that really up the ante on board. The hull is vacuum-infused, which allows for increased weight-savings; the manufacturer claims they’ve saved about 2,000 pounds because of it. (At 67 feet, 2 inches, every pound helps.) Previous Sunseeker models were designed to accommodate either straight-shaft or IPS drives; the 65 is entirely an IPS vessel. Donohoe explained the decision as “future-proofing the boat,” as it will be easier for Volvo Penta to integrate their hybrid technology in the next few years.

In the salon, whether by coincidence or providence, Sunseeker had laid out a couple martini glasses and a cocktail shaker. Unlike Bond’s drink of choice, when it comes to experiences on the water, my soul would like to be stirred, not shaken. Luckily, thanks to a CE Design Category “A” designation for seaworthiness, the 65 could handle winds over 40 knots and waves above 13 feet. (Previous models were rated for less.) But that wouldn’t be necessary today. Settling into the ergonomic helm seat, I was immediately taken by the similarities to the sports car I left on shore. The console had a nearly identical layout, albeit with different instruments, such as a Garmin touchscreen, Simrad VHF, switches and speedometer. Within easy reach of the wheel were the joystick and bow thruster. Under the SkyHelm there was even a raised diagonal platform to place your feet. The only thing missing were pedals.

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Out in the open ocean, with 2- to 3-foot waves, I put the 65 through a series of hard-over turns at 30 knots. It banked like a fighter jet, but never felt out of control—even when the rub rail was damn-near touching the brine. Unlike the Vantage, there was no growl emanating from the more powerful engine option, twin 1,000-hp D13-IPS1350s, enhanced with Humphree interceptors. But that didn’t matter. At WOT—35 knots—this 67-foot Sunseeker could move. (If it was a cinematic experience, it would be called No Time to Go Slow.) Donohoe and Jones were right; I didn’t want to release the throttle. Of course, if speed alone is your north star, you’ll most likely gravitate to one of Sunseeker’s smaller offerings, like the Hawks and Superhawks—or the ones chasing numerous iterations of Bond throughout his movies. But pound-for-pound in this category and size range, you’d have trouble finding another yacht as exhilarating to drive from the flybridge.

The 65 had more tricks up its sleeve. The entire SkyHelm pod is long—about 3 feet or so—to be able to rise vertically and lock into place to give owners more visibility when docking. That, plus a lower station and a starboard-side joystick on deck should instill plenty of confidence in tight quarters. When you couple those with Volvo Penta systems like Dock Assist, it’s no surprise more customers are feeling secure helming such a dignified beast.

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“First-time boaters are literally coming into the 60-foot market, which is kind of mad, really,” said Donohoe. “You think about 20 years ago, if you were buying a boat for the first time, you were starting down in the 20s or the 30s, or you’d be looking at Sea Ray or some kind of brand in that category. But now people are bypassing all that and going into a 60-footer, primarily because of IPS, and they can maneuver the boats themselves with very little training.”

Before I could fully appreciate it, the fantasy ended. The 65 was docked, the Vantage was collected, and strangely enough, I was staying at an Airbnb on Bond Way in Delray Beach. The Bond Way is to live fast, while always remaining in control. The sleepy lane was overgrown with vegetation, and without the joy rides to buoy my spirit, I was back to being an evolved ape playing in the undergrowth. But thanks to the transformative quality of speed, you don’t come out exactly the way you went in. From one ape to another, maybe the meaning of life can be found in cheap thrills. Well, not cheap, but if you can afford it, certainly worth the price of admission.

00_Sunseeker 65 Sport Yacht

Sunseeker 65 Sport Yacht Test Report

Sunseeker 65 Sport Yacht TEST REPORT

Sunseeker 65 Sport Yacht Specifications:

LOA: 67'2"
Beam: 16'8"
Draft: 5'3"
Displ.: 83,357 lbs.
Fuel: 924 gal.
Water: 211 gal.
Power: 2/900-hp D13-IPS1200s;
2/1,000-hp D13-IPS1350s

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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