Boating: Rider on the Storm

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In mid-march, during the 20th Maine Boatbuilders Show, a late-winter storm pummeled the Maine coast. The blizzard dropped 7 inches of snow on Portland, the city hosting the event, and whipped its harbor into a frenzy of whitecaps and waves. But the weather did not dissuade Sabre Yachts CEO Daniel Zilkha from launching his company’s new 52-foot Salon Express into those waters. Rather, Zilkha viewed the storm as an opportunity to demonstrate the motor yacht’s capabilities.

Sabre Yachts, which is based about 25 miles from Portland in South Casco, Maine, premiered its first vessel, a 28-foot sailing yacht, in 1971. Eighteen years later, the company introduced what it calls a fast trawler: a 36-foot motor yacht, styled after a Down East lobster boat, with the roominess and comfort of a trawler but with about three times the speed. Since then, Sabre has built several versions of these pleasure cruisers, ranging from 34 feet to 47 feet in length. “To a sailor, a powerboat was always considered a stinkpot,” said Zilkha prior to the ride in Portland Harbor. “Ours are built to be as elegant as a sailboat.”

The harbor trip did indeed demonstrate the new 52’s virtues. The boat’s deep-V hull sliced cleanly through the waves, producing a remarkably smooth ride. Inside, the main salon provided a comfortable setting for watching the blizzard through the ice-caked windows. “We went through many computer iterations to see what this boat would do, and they were better than we expected,” said Zilkha, stretching out on the salon’s U-shaped lounge. “Because we had so much more room, we were able to add a lot of sound-reducing materials. You’ll notice that even at full speed, the cabin remains very quiet.”

The Salon Express is not the fastest Sabre cruiser—that honor goes to the Sabre 38 Express, which reaches 38 mph—but she performs capably. In normal conditions, her twin 865 hp Caterpillar diesel engines will deliver a cruising speed of 28 mph and a top speed faster than 35 mph. The boat contains two staterooms, both with queen-size berths, cedar-lined closets, and LCD televisions with DVD players. The master stateroom also features a large shower compartment and shoji-style pocket doors. Teak decking and a dinghy lift system off the stern are among the options that Sabre offers.

Zilkha said he plans to build only boats that owners can crew themselves, which means that the $1.3 million Salon Express probably will be the largest of his motor yachts. Sabre expects to produce a 52 every month for the rest of this year, and the company has a backlog of about 18 months. In April, the firm also introduced a new sailboat, the 36-foot Sabre Spirit. The $225,000 vessel, the largest in its line, includes sleeping accommodations for four and has interior headroom of almost 6 feet.

As for the 52, it emerged from the nor’easter unscathed. “To all those from out of state who ask why we chose to do this in March,” said Sabre vice president Bentley Collins following the boat’s return to shore, “well, we wanted to wait until the weather was great.”

Sabre Yachts, 207.655.3831, www­.sabreyachts.com

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