by George and Rosie Day
Blue Water Sailing
The December morning broke clear and warm as the trade winds filled in nicely off Fort Lauderdale. Rosie and I had joined Vela and Joel Potter, the Amel representatives for the Americas, aboard their new Amel 54 Hollis and had set off for a pleasant daylong sail south to Biscayne Bay just south of Miami.
Motoring out Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades Channel, we put the throttle down and watched as the 54 gathered steam and plowed purposefully through the running chop and boat wakes that always turn that short stretch of water into a washing machine. The boat's ample displacement, long waterline and powerful engine made the ride, even in the slop, smooth and comfortable. And, sitting in the large center cockpit, behind the permanent windscreen and under the neat canvas top, we were protected from both the spray and the wind.
Beyond the sea buoy we rolled out the genoa, mainsail and mizzen and then shaped a course south toward Miami. The wind was fair at 14 knots or so, the sea slightly lumpy and under us the big 54-footer seemed to glide effortlessly at eight knots.
By late afternoon, we had come in through the Miami's Government Cut, motored south through the city and emerged into Biscayne Bay. The sun was still warm and the breeze, in the lee of Key Biscayne, blew a very pleasant eight knots. Instead of heading into our anchorage, we rolled out the sails again and spent the rest of the afternoon sailing to and fro on the bay while sipping one of Joel's lovely, cool Sancerre wines.
As dusk crept over the bay we found a spot to anchor and settled Hollis down for the night. We had done a bit of ocean sailing, a bit of bay sailing and we had a safe anchorage for the night.
Joel manages his night watch from the comfort of the enclosed helm station
Like all of the Amels before her, the new 54 is as distinctive a cruising boat as you will find. From the tall ketch rig with electric roller furling on the genoa and mainsail, to the long flat sheerline, to the low cabintops with the hard dodger over the center cockpit, one look tells you that the boat has been designed from the top down for a couple to undertake easy and efficient offshore sailing.
The French company Chantiers Amel was founded by Henri Amel 40 years ago and has been dedicated ever since to perfecting the science and art of cruising boat design, construction and systems. A strong willed visionary, Amel, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 92, believed a true cruising boat should be safe, fast and conceived as a whole and complete system. That is why each new Amel is a direct evolution from the previous model and why the boats come equipped with all of the gear a cruising couple could need or want.
From the windlass (one standard, or two as an option) on the bow, to the deep freezer, washer, dryer and much more, Amel engineers specify every detail. There is not much room for an owner to customize his or her own boat; you either buy into the Amel system or not.
Yet the holistic approach, the dedication to engineering detail and the long experience of the Amel team ensures that the boat and systems are not only the best available but also have stood up to the rigors of longhaul sailing and liveaboard cruising. Moreover, since the Amel program is consistent, the company's representatives around the world can work seamlessly with the factory to make repairs when necessary.
A key element of the Amel way of building boats is to isolate all of the machinery in a watertight and extremely well insulated engine room beneath the cockpit sole. As Joel Potter notes, why would you want a hot, smelly engine right in the middle of the cabin? Why not, instead, put all of the machinery in one dedicated watertight compartment and then insulate it well and make sure that all engine and generator mounts, all pump mounts and all ancillary equipment runs as silently as possible? Good question.
Doing it the Amel way, you can sit in the cockpit while the engine or generator is running and not feel the least vibration; as far as we could tell, the generator is virtually silent and the engine only becomes audible when throttled up to fast running revs. Moreover, all of the machinery will remain dry and running, even if both ends of the boat are flooded. It seems, if you ask the right questions, you will come up with the right solutions - something the Amel team has worked at over 40 years.
Another basic precept is the notion that the boat should be as unsinkable as possible. To that end, the builders created the hull with two fixed watertight bulkheads and two watertight interior doors. As Potter notes, you can flood the whole forward cabin behind the forward watertight door and the boat will trim nine degrees down by the bow but will still be able to get home under her own power. Again, right question, right solution.
When you buy an Amel you not only buy the boat you in effect buy the whole company's philosophy about offshore sailing and offshore equipment. You become part of the Amel fleet, part of the Amel family, and you will find that this large family has spread worldwide.
You could call the allure of the Amel philosophy "the Amel Mystique."
The previous model, the Super Maramu, was in production for 16 years and some 497 were built. A lot was learned along the way. And during those years the demands of new owners changed a bit as well.
The new 54 is an entirely new boat yet it incorporates much that was learned through the life cycle of the Super Maramu. Compared to the Super Maramu, the new 54 is sleeker, has a lower cabintop, a more streamlined hard dodger and, overall, looks more modern and purposeful. We like the Super Maramu; the new 54 looks better.
The first really noticeable difference aboard the 54 is the interior. Like the earlier 53, the new 54 has a large kitchen-style galley and a huge comfortable dinette. Unlike the 53, the 54 has the large centerline double berth aft, stall showers in both heads, and two cabins forward instead of one. Importantly, the whole look of the boat has changed. In short, while the Super Maramu was an example of form following function, with the emphasis on function, the new 54 is a highly elegant cruising yacht that embraces all of the functionality of the Amel tradition while adding a truly luxurious feel to the interior.
Using African mahogany throughout and handsome fauxteak- and-holly flooring, all finished to a high level and varnished to a fine luster, the builders have created living spaces below decks that are as close to pure yacht style as possible. Recessed halogen lights, judicious placement of reading lamps and built-in shades for the hatches and curtains for the ports allow you to create a warm and subtle ambience throughout.
Another improvement incorporated into the 54 is the new hard dodger design. The angle of the windows forward appears to be steeper and more streamlined; the hard top has been removed and replaced with a Targa-style beam and from that a small canvas dodger can be rigged to provide protection from sun and rain. The look is elegant, modern and functional.
For years Amels have had a unique downwind rig, designed by Henri Amel, that allowed you to fly twin genoas on dedicated poles that were rigged to the side stays. This system worked fine but was time consuming to set up and had a kind of jungle gym look. The new boat still has a rig for flying downwind twins, but it has been simplified with the poles attaching to the base of the mainmast.
The helm remains on the port side of the cockpit where you can sit under the hard dodger with a commanding view. The new boat has a neat system that allows you to stand at the wheel in rough weather; and the floorboard can be adjusted up and down to accommodate any sized helmsman.
A new hull and deck, a new stylish interior and dozens of innovations make the 54 a truly new Amel and a real statement that the builder is committed to building luxury cruising boats that are as well thought out and functional as possible.
The rudder is laid up by hand with a stainless steel rudder post and internal stainless steel webbing for stiffness. The rudder is mounted to the full length skeg and the hull at three points; the rudder post emerges into the hull behind the third watertight bulkhead.
The hull is left in the mold while the interior bulkheads and furniture are laminated into place. This process allows the hull laminate to cure thoroughly in its designed shape and stiffens the hull. The deck is attached before the hull is removed from the mold and is laminated in place with six layers of cloth and resin. The whole structure is what the French call "monocoque," or all of one complete engineered piece. This is the strongest way to build a cruising boat hull.
Amel builds its own masts and booms as well as the electric furling systems on the mainsail. The headsails have Bamar electric roller-furling gear. The spars are extruded aluminum and painted with polyurethane for consistent color and protection. The masts are deck stepped and supported inside the hull with a combination of bulkheads and compression posts. It is worth noting that mast cables that run through the deck are captured in a dripstop shelf that drains directly into the sump.
Four sails are supplied with the basic boat - mainsail, mizzen, genoa and mizzen staysail. For extended cruising you can add a forestaysail, a second running sail and even an asymmetrical spinnaker.
The 54 uses single, large tanks for fuel and water - 237 gallons each - and these are rectangular, which makes reading fluid levels reliable and makes it possible through the many inspections ports to monitor and clean the tanks when necessary.
The standard house battery bank packs 420 amp-hours of reserve (at 24 volts, which is equal to 840 amp-hours at 12 volts) in a large deep-cycle bank that is stowed under the pilot berth in the aft cabin passageway. The box can be locked and sealed with positive bolts and, like the engine compartment, will remain serviceable even when the boat is flooded. With both the source of generating power and the battery reserve protected from water intrusion, the chance to maintain pumps and lights during an emergency is greatly enhanced.
The engine installation deserves special mention. The 110-horsepower diesel engine is mounted facing aft with the transmission and drive unit lead forward and down through the back of the keel via an Amel-designed U-drive. The engine is mounted on a stiff-back frame which in turn sits on soft mounts; the installation reduces vibration and engine noise. The U-drive transmits engine power through two angle-gears to the prop, which is mounted on the back end of the keel. The forces developed by the prop in forward and reverse are transmitted directly to the keel structure instead of to the engine mounts as in most engine-prop configurations.
This piece of engineering is both more efficient than a direct prop shaft and greatly reduces engine vibration. In the Amel world, engine silence is golden. For most boat buyers, electronics and navigation equipment fall on the "options" list and can cost many thousands of dollars to buy and install. Amel has taken the leap for new owners and provides a proven suite of tools that are installed at the factory and supported by the company and its representatives. The list includes a B&G Hydra network of sailing instruments, a Furuno 1832 radar and GPS, a Raymarine 7001 autopilot and Ray 240 VHF. Standard equipment also includes a helm compass, a barometer and ship's chronometer.
You get the idea. The new Amel 54 arrives at the dock ready to go cruising and ready to be a fine and well thought out home for dedicated cruisers. There are items you may want to buy, but those won't include a dishwasher, washing machine, dryer or microwave/ convection oven, all of which come standard. Aboard Hollis, Vela has a really nifty coffeemaker, so we would add that. And, budget willing, we would add a chartplotter, SSB, SailMail for e-mail, a laptop with a modern charting program, a sat phone and the Ocens weather and e-mail systems.
From the comfort of the center cockpit, the sensation of speed, the sound of water rushing by the hull, were muted, but we found ourselves sailing at an easy 8.5 knots with the autopilot managing the details of steering. A few hours later we were back at the Potter's dock in Fort Lauderdale, refreshed from two days of sailing and good cruising company. And we were impressed with the ride.
With a plane to catch we had to pack up and get on the road once Hollis was well moored and put to bed. But we couldn't help but look back as we walked away. The new 54 is something different in the cruising fleet and had left us impressed.
Amels are a statement and are designed and built within their own particular aesthetic. If you embrace that view, and come to understand the completeness of the Amel design and engineering program, you may well become a devotee of the Amel Mystique.
We have sailed across oceans in the company of earlier Amel models and have always found that their crews arrived in port better rested, better fed and calmer than those of us on smaller, simpler boats. Certainly, complex boats like the 54 require a heightened level of owner expertise and learning, but the builders are there for you. Every new owner is offered a full week of onboard introduction to their boats with all the coaching in systems, maintenance and operation that they will need to get rolling and off toward the horizon.
That is why we call the new Amel 54 "The Complete Cruiser."