The command “let there be light” may have first come from the heavens above, but it wasn’t the last time it was uttered—and design trends in some of today’s new boats, from well-established builders like Cruisers Yachts, Hunt Yachts, Sealine, and Sea Ray, take this phrase to heart—making their boats heavenly. New designs incorporating more and larger windows, huge retractable sunroofs, and innovative interior lay-outs have more or less eliminated that old “cave-like” feeling of being belowdecks. Even the way humans interact and entertain has been incorporated into boat designs, re-creating the way interior and exterior areas of the boat flow together. The net result? You and I get better boating.
We’ve all been there before: the boat’s rocking back and forth, and in a stuffy enclosed space with little or no view of the outside world, feelings of nausea start to creep in. “Don’t go inside when it’s rough” was the standard-issue advice. Yet going outside often meant climbing stairs or ladders, fiddling with canvas and Isinglass enclosures, or risking exposure to whatever the weather dished out. Worse, these areas of the boat were completely separated in virtually all express and aft cabin models. People on the helm-deck, in the cockpit, and in the cabin may as well have been on different planets.
In many of today’s expresses, however, you can sit on the settee, gab in the galley, or bed down in a berth while gazing outside at all times. You can prep a meal in the galley while having a conversation with someone in the cockpit or at the helm. And you can transition through these areas without climbing stairs or ladders or navigating tight walkways. You can do all this while enjoying more elbow room and livability than ever before.
In short, you get the space of an aft-cabin cruiser, with the usability of an express—even though you may not have realized you wanted it.
The first big push in this direction came in the form of the Cantius 48, designed and built by Cruisers Yachts. “The way we came up with the design was in some ways backwards,” explained Jon Viestenz, Product Manager for KCS International, Cruisers’ parent company. “All of the express boat manufacturers had been building the same regurgitated designs over and over for years. We wanted to give people something new and unique. We were sitting in our ‘war room’ looking at all of our models and those of the competition, and it became clear that the entire concept of how people use boats had to be reconsidered.”
But since people weren’t clamoring for anything in specific—actually, they weren’t clamoring for anything at all because the Cantius was designed and build at the height of the financial crunch—Cruisers was going to have to come up with that ‘something new’ on their own. “We had seen a prototype express built by a company called Savannah (which has since gone out of business) that had a flow like a split-level home, and it inspired us to make some new goals,” Viestenz said. “We wanted to get that kind of connection and flow through the boat, while tying the inside and the outside together. But we wanted to do it while getting the room of an aft cabin boat, with the performance of an express.”
Watch a video review of the Cruisers Cantius 48
Envisioning goals is one thing—accomplishing them is another. The use of a single-level cockpit, salon, and helm, along with more glass in the cabin-sides and overheads, was one obvious way to work in that direction. Sunroofs, large frameless windows, and all-glass aft bulkhead doors helped as well. But you can’t build hullsides entirely from glass, and this still left the lower cabin dark and musty. The solution? An atrium-like design that would connect the upper and lower cabins.
Instead of incorporating the usual long, broad, flat surface from in front of the helm to the base of the windshield, which creates an overhead for a lower cabin, in the atrium design this space is left open. Walk down the stairs into the galley of the Cantius, look up, and the nearest ceiling is the main salon’s cabintop—which, of course, is mostly sunroof. Natural light streams freely down to the sole, you can look up and maintain eye contact or have a conversation with people in the salon, and fresh air flows freely from one space to another. It feels like being in a house with cathedral ceilings. You could open up the sunroof, lie down on the lower cabin sole, and literally get a suntan in a sea-breeze. The last thing in the world you’d compare it to is being in a cave.
The latest builder to incorporate the atrium is Sea Ray, in their 510 Sundancer. Note: the Sundancer series is one of the most successful model lines ever built, and Sea Ray wouldn’t fiddle with its DNA without good reason. But the 510 shows that change can be a good thing. By mixing the atrium with 360-degree cabin windows, the salon becomes a “sunroom,” and Sea Ray transforms the lower cabin into a second, lower salon—a feature some boats half again as big can’t match.
“There’s clearly a trend toward blurring the line between interior and exterior spaces,” explained Matt Guilford, Sea Ray’s VP of marketing, “which ultimately adds versatility to the boats. Bright interiors are just one component of that movement; the trend includes new, interesting sliding aft doors, advanced sunroof designs, galley placement and layout, and features like SkyFlow on the Sea Ray 510, where we specifically configure the interior structures to incorporate as much light and open air as possible into all the major living areas. Opening up the design has the added benefit of promoting social interaction between areas that used to be walled off from each other.”
This new type of express cruiser attitude has raced through the industry in three short years, even jumping clear across the Atlantic. When the UK builder Sealine re-entered the American market last year they did so with new introductions like the C48, which also incorporated a single level upper deck and cockpit and the upper/lower cabin atrium. But Sealine also looked to the superyacht market for inspiration. “Large glass-filled spaces, seen on such icon yachts such as Oceanfast’s Opal C, and Never say Never, have been around since the 1980′s,” noted Sealine’s Design Director, Richard R. C. Crocker. “Once dark, lugubrious spaces are now flooded with natural light, transforming dank compartments into habitable cabins whilst also bringing in warmth and enjoyment.”
Even some builders with a more traditional attitude, like Hunt Yachts, are partially adapting the atrium design. On their 44 Express Cruiser, for example, the helm does reach forward to the windshield but to port a cut-out in the overhead enhances lighting and connectivity between the levels. The use of high-gloss teak and Carrera marble along with the extensive glass surfaces and a huge sunroof give the interior a pop and sizzle that simply couldn’t be matched with older designs, yet the Hunt maintains its traditional look and feel, inside and out.
Watch a video review of the Hunt 44 Express Cruiser
Viewing the Breakthroughs
Although design and intent are the drivers of these changes, they couldn’t take place without the flexibility that modern technology brings to boatbuilding.
“The big change that allows us to get so much into the interiors and the cabins is the new propulsion systems,” Viestenz said. “It simply wouldn’t be possible without pod drives like Volvo-Penta’s IPS. There’s no way you can fit in traditional V-drives, prop pockets, shafts, and transmissions, and enjoy the same living spaces. And that’s on top of the performance and efficiency gains.”
Crocker points to advances in glass bonding techniques, as well. “The introduction of direct-bond frameless glass has made complex shapes easier to manufacture,” he said. “Specialist marine glass suppliers are embracing this technology, and it’s actually more economic for builders to use direct bond glass as opposed to traditionally framed with aluminum or stainless steel. To an extent, the glass is now defining the exterior styling and overall proportions of deck levels.”
Another important advancement was the availability of larger, electrically-actuated parts. On these modern express models you can remove large swaths of the cabin overhead by retracting those massive sunroofs; electric sunshades roll out of the back of the cabin overhang to shade the cockpit; swim platforms effortlessly rise and lower; and in some cases, even the cockpit furniture can be re-arranged merely by pressing a button.
And as technology continues to advance, so does design. Before the resin in the 48 had fully hardened, Cruisers was at work developing the model into a series, with Cantius 41 and Cantius 45 versions. With the 45, they included another design tweak that brought even more of an indoor-outdoor mix and enhanced entertaining abilities. Instead of using the full-length glass doors for an aft cabin bulkhead, they used a single hinged door to starboard and placed a massive window to port. That entire port window swings up and open, essentially removing the bulkhead and connecting the galley, which is aft in this model, to the cockpit. The galley counter becomes a bar-top for those outside, and the cook can kibitz with the crew and enjoy cool breezes while he or she is inside—whatever “inside” means on a boat, these days.
Hunt, Sealine, and Sea Ray, have taken a slightly different tact to keep the cook and the crew together during meal prep. By adding electric grills, refrigerators, and/or sinks in the cockpit, they’ve essentially shifted the galley itself into the outdoors.
What’s coming next? It’s a fair bet that every one of these builders, as well as all of their competitors, have plenty on the drawing boards. And while we can’t tell you exactly what new model will enhance which aspect of what design, we can say one thing for sure: chances are it’ll make boating better.