Kanter 54.5 • strong, nimble and aluminum—is slated to carry a crew of two on an upcoming extended world cruise. BWS joined Steve and Karyn James aboard Threshold for a 300-mile shakedown from Greenwich, Conn., to Annapolis, Md.
Got any dinner plans this evening?” asks captain and
owner Steve, as details of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge sharpen to the southeast.
“No,” I reply, drooling at the thought of crabs and buttered silver-queen corn, Old Bay seasoning raining down from the heavens above, and pools of cold local brew bubbling among tall grasses.
“Good. Let’s mess around out here for a while. Crack off to a beam reach. Karyn, ease the genny. I’ve got the main.”
In variable breezes common to an autumn afternoon on the bay, Thresh-old’s versatility shines. Not only is she a solid passagemaker and a comfortable boat to live aboard, as she has proven again and again over the past two days on Blue Water Sailing’s 300-mile trip to the Chesapeake from Connecticut, but what’s more she sails like a demon, handles sweetly and moves well in light airs. Does it get any better than this?
Threshold is a Kanter 54.5, the latest in Chuck Paine’s celebrated Bermuda series of light-displacement, high-performance cruising yachts. True to the tradition of the line, she is a long and relatively narrow boat, with a bulb keel and deep rudder—plus a true pilothouse and an engine big enough to power a comparable motorsailer. She’s got a fine forefoot to pierce the water and a flattish bottom as you move aft to keep resistance down, with sections deep enough to avoid pounding and a powerful raked bow on a rising sheer to mitigate water on deck. Moderate beam carries aft to a reverse transom. Aims of the design include maximizing performance by stretching the length/beam ratio while maintaining sufficient heft toward the stern, and enhancing stability by keeping ballast low and centered. The result is a quick, comfortable boat that remains stiff in a breeze, spares the autopilot or skipper’s forearms and won’t get tossed around a lot in following conditions.
The vessel is constructed of aluminum at Kanter Yachts in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. Paine and Kanter have collaborated for close to a dozen years; it has been a very fruitful arrangement, demonstrated most recently by the striking Bougainvillea collection from Paine’s Bermuda series of which Threshold and her 62-foot inspiration Dawnbreaker, also built by Kanter, are both members. Paine understands and appreciates aluminum as a boatbuilding material that lends itself to custom fabrication, light weight and strength. Manfred Kanter not only shares Paine’s dedication to custom work, personally overseeing each Kanter project, but also his view of a “proper yacht,” which “should be fast enough to outrun a storm, yet strong enough to sail through one. It must be spacious and comfortable, and it must reflect the owner’s personal style.”
Steve and Karyn James, looking for a “safe, comfortable cruising boat that two people can handle, one that is also a sailing machine” and features a pilothouse, found the ideal designer/builder team for their vision in the Paine/Kanter connection. At the top of their priority list was ensuring that they themselves be intimately involved in the process. With 50 years of sailing experience between them including two noteworthy projects previously undertaken by Steve—the building of a Westsail 32 and a rebuild of a Bob Perry–designed Tatoosh 42—they knew what they wanted. And they wanted to get it right, the first time. This is their retirement home after all, and they’re heading for shores far and wide.
Well, get it right they did, thanks to three years of dreaming, working with Paine on the design, researching existing Kanter yachts and enjoying the cooperation of the yard. After making six visits to monitor the boat’s progress, they lived at the site for the final 45 days of construction, putting their hands on, and two cents into, every last detail.
A moderate-aspect fin keel ends in a bulb that might be described as pure sculpture—shaped like a torpedo from the front, it diminishes to a flat plate on the trailing edge. The space-age foil, along with a deep seven-foot rudder, provides lift and minimizes drag which contributes to heightened upwind performance. The deep rudder works in concert with the boat’s relatively wide stern, keeping her attached to a following sea and diminishing the threat of hobby-horsing. Concentrating the ballast in a bulb moderates the draft, allowing Threshold to enter anchorages that otherwise would be out of bounds for a vessel her size.
A quick look at the numbers confirms Paine’s design ethos: The Kanter 54.5 is a capable, spirited performer though hardly a tricked-out racing yacht. She exists somewhere in between—built solidly, furnished with the rig, waterline and appendages she needs to sail well without compromising safety or comfort.
Sail Area/Displacement (SA/D) at 16.16 places Threshold in the middle to upper range for performance cruisers. Comparatively she falls close to the new Moody 54, for example, at 16.51, and beneath the powerful J/160 at 22.2. This bodes well for light winds—especially when you factor in sail area beyond what is represented by the 100-percent foretriangle measurement used in a standard SA/D calculation, area conferred by genoa overlap, a drawing staysail and the lightweight reacher at the ready in its sock in the sail locker. At the same time, it is moderate enough for the boat to remain manageable for a crew of two, or even one—the James’s plan on competing in their third Bermuda One-Two in June. Cockpit-led reefing, dial-in furling headsails, sufficient beam and a good 36-percent ballast ratio help ensure this.
Dispacement/Length (D/L) calculates to 189, placing Threshold well within the ranks of light and responsive cruisers. Again for comparative reference, the Moody 54 shows a respectable 201, the J/160 a bantam 130. Being aluminum allows her to achieve these benefits without sacrificing strength or safety—the outer hull ranges in thickness from 1/4 inch in the freeboard area to 5/8 inch at the keel interface. As non-dimensionals go, a D/L of 189 suggests that the boat is brawny enough to provide a comfortable motion at sea while light enough to achieve good quickness, acceleration and speed.
A noteworthy Bermuda-series signature is the pilothouse, likened by Paine to the porch he built on his old Maine farmhouse. It’s a great go-between, a place to get your bearings and to gear up before engaging the elements, a place to remain on watch should there be no immediate need to go outside, to unwind and shed
wet oilskins, to nap if you want to be available to those on deck. Virtual-ly every activity—navigating, steering, watchkeeping, eating and sleeping, can take place in the pilothouse; indeed Steve spends much of his time there while under way.
With an eye on safety and functionality, Paine has designed Threshold’s pilothouse, as he has those of his entire Bermuda series, so that it can be sealed from the cockpit and the main cabin sealed from it—double insurance, as it were, by way of a hinged door and sliding hatch aft and conventional hatchboards with a sliding top forward. This way, the chamber can be kept dryish and climate controlled while still maintaining vessel integrity—should any water breach the pilothouse through a broken window or open hatch, it is kept from fouling or flooding the sacred environment belowdecks.
About half of the projects Paine takes on now are aluminum, for three simple reasons: First, as mentioned, its strength-to-weight ratio is unbeatable and allows him to design a light-displacement boat without sacrificing durability or structural integrity. Second, when designing a one-off of good size, working in aluminum is cheaper than working in fiberglass: You don’t have to build tooling and changes can be incorporated more easily. And third, the medium encourages owner participation—as Paine says himself, “If you’re building a metal boat, why not customize it to fit your needs and desires?”
INTERIOR AND SYSTEMS
Belowdecks, the James’s idea of a comfortable, practical floating home takes form. They will be moving aboard soon and plan on making most passages without additional crew. Indeed, can you think of a better two-person crew than these, a jet pilot and a physician’s assistant? Therefore, they put a premium on storage and functional space, replacing the aft cabin with a huge engine/systems room and dedicating the space from well abaft Station 1 forward to a deck-accessible sail locker and separate chain locker. Both the fore and aft areas are sealed from the main living space by watertight bulkheads.
Entering the pilothouse, there is a settee to starboard and a forward-facing chart table with instruments, flat screen and VHF. A cushioned athwart-ships divider serves as a backrest while sitting at the desk, or as a place over which to drape your knees while reclining. To port, a U-shaped settee surrounds a folding table. All cushions are covered in high-wear, water/sun/stain-resistant Ultraleather. Snakelights and 12-volt DC fans hang from the corners, and the aft-facing windows are removable to induce airflow in the tropics.
Moving through the companion way, the main cabin greets you warmly in classic Herreshoff fashion—white bulkheads and surfaces accented by cherry and ash woodwork, cranberry cushions and brass fittings. Immediately to port is a crew’s cabin with two snug sea berths. The James’s typically sleep here, in the pilothouse or even in the cockpit on passage, saving the luxurious V-berth forward for calm nights underway, at anchor or in a slip. Access to the engine room is gained through a watertight door in this cabin.
Further access to the spacious engine/systems compartment happens through the hinged port cockpit seat. A formidable 100-horsepower Yanmar turbo turning a V-drive sits on mounts amidships, with superior access to all parts of the engine from the injectors down to the PYI dripless shaft seal. The installation nearly vaults Threshold into the realm of motorsailer, enabling her to cruise under power at eight knots. The rudder post, as big around as a genetically-altered grapefruit and surrounded by a volcano of aluminum supports and brackets, inspires confidence, and that feeling is amplified when you look up at the steering system’s huge quadrant connected by cables led as directly as possible from the helm above and overseen by a pair of identical Raytheon hydraulic autopilots. Marelon seacocks plug the thru-hulls, with properly sized bungs standing by.
CruiseAir reverse-cycle air conditioning/heating, Webasto diesel heating, hydraulics and a SeaLand Va-cuFlush system are readily accessible with well-marked plumbing and wiring. Through removable panels you gain access to the boat’s six 8-D batteries, inverter and air/water dual-cooled refrigeration system. Commonsense items such as dual fuel filters and an oil-change pump facilitate maintenance. A 6 kW Northern Lights generator and a high-output alternator keep the boat’s batteries well topped. Threshold is wired for solar, and the plumbing is in place for a watermaker.
A U-shaped fore-and-aft galley is located to starboard as you descend the companionway steps, with double sinks inboard on centerline and a SeaFrost refrigerator with top and front access; a separate freezer compartment expands provisioning parameters. The cabinetry has been customized to fit Threshold’s dishware. Aft of the galley is a voluminous pantry with washer/dryer aft and the circuit board and an engine access panel on the inboard bulkhead.
Across from the galley athwartships is the aft head, complete with sumped shower/wet locker, freshwater pressure-tap and foot-pump, and a VacuFlush head that uses only one pint of fresh water per flush. Throughout the boat, ventilation is excellent, with 11 hatches and eight Dorades. Hatches in the galley and heads open aft to protect gas burner flames and to whisk odors and heat out of the boat.
The starboard side of the saloon is devoted to an office—a large desk complete with flat-screen computer, printer, file cabinet and bookshelves, flanked by luxurious swivel chairs. The boat’s charts, stowed in three horizontal drawers at the base of the V-berth, can be surveyed here or on the adjacent folding dining table, which seats six and within which you can store tall bottles or stacked cans. The gorgeous forward cabin features a berth that can be accessed from either side, a closet and a manual Raritan head.
Not surprisingly, the cockpit is designed to be ergonomically sound. The wheel is wide enough for the helms-person to see around the pilothouse from a seated position. A folding cockpit table fabricated of stainless steel includes a sturdy bar at its base that acts as a convenient foot chock when heeling. There are good hand-holds everywhere you want them—in fact, each step from saloon to helm is a secure one. The two drains under the helm have been super-sized to guard against cockpit flooding. The starboard bench opens to a large lazarette with plenty of room for safety gear and removable panels for access to the refrigeration and the engine. Two 20-pound propane tanks reside under the helmsperson’s seat.
Steps on Threshold’s reverse transom lead to a platform, complete with swim ladder and heated freshwater hose. However, the helm does not feel open to the sea as is often the case with this setup; stainless railings continue all the way around the stern, with a gate in the middle. A large locker under the steps has space for scuba gear and fenders. To increase cockpit security even more, the James’s are considering replacing the radar tower that now stands on the port hip with a stern arch that would come forward to connect with the pilothouse, making a cage around the helm and a great Bimini support.
Moving around the deck is a secure experience, aided by stainless railings that run to the forward edge of the pilothouse, handholds on the roof, Dorade guards, beefy shrouds and the boom rack—something that we’ll be seeing more of no doubt. It consists of aluminum bars welded to the boom every two feet or so, running perpendicular to the boom and slightly upward, supporting a long rail that runs parallel to the boom and meets it at 45 degree angles fore and aft.
A very impressive anchor setup designed by Steve graces the bow. Two massive anchors, one 80 pounds and the other 66, hang clear of the hull over equally massive rollers, held in place by thick pins at their heads and chain stops aft. When deployed, the pins are installed to keep the chain from popping off the roller. Both can be raised or lowered by the Maxwell 3500 windlass. Both salt- and freshwater hoses make clean-up a breeze. The chain locker, which holds 275 feet of 3/8-inch chain and 150 feet of 3/4-inch double- braid rode for the primary anchor (30 and 250 feet, respectively, for the secondary), is separated from the sail locker to avoid fouling.
RIG AND SAILPLAN
Threshold is a three-spreader, cutter-rigged, masthead sloop. Her rig and sailplan are the yang counterpoint to her yin underside—together they create the fast, well-mannered performance yacht that she is. The aluminum spar is positioned forward in the sloop configuration, with an inner forestay added so she can shift gears in varying conditions. Furling headsails, cockpit-led running rigging and a smooth Antal system of cars and blocks allow dial-in reefing protocol. A conventional-hoist full-batten main falls through lazy jacks to rest in the nest provided by
the boom rack. The James’s chose this method over in-mast or in-boom furling, deeming these systems problematic (having once stood on the top spreader in a howl to kick a jammed in-mast mainsail free, I must agree). For light air, a free-flying lightweight reacher is tacked at the stemhead.
This sailplan is supported by hydraulic backstay and vang, running backs, stout shrouds and the two forestays. Mast steps reach to the first spreader to access spreader lights, hailer and mainsail hardware, and to provide a lookout for coral heads and reefs; two more near the top of the mast mean you can stand securely all the way aloft. There are four Andersen electric winches in the cockpit and one on the coach roof on centerline aft of the mast. The latter does service as a midships capstan—well placed to manipulate the reacher halyard, to hoist someone aloft or to control a long, taut spring line when you’re getting blown off a dock.
On our two-and-a-half-day trip, Threshold encountered a variety of conditions. She is a very steady, surefooted boat, keen to keep good way on and to track confidently. Off Atlantic City on the New Jersey shore in 25-to-30 knots with a swell off the starboard quarter, she behaved well with a single reef and full staysail. She put negligible strain on the autopilot or helmsperson, and moved along solidly at eight-and-a-half to 10 knots. On a reach in 23 knots she made nine-and-a-half knots on rails. Closer to the wind, the lift from her foils helped her tack crisply and easily through 90 degrees and carry on with very little weather helm. The sailplan proved easy to manage; indeed, watching Karyn steer the boat in light air just off of Sandy Hook while Steve retrieved the reacher from the sail locker, set it up, released it from its ATN sock and ultimately reversed the entire process, was joy to a shorthanded sailor’s heart. Reefing of all sails went smoothly and efficiently.
An afternoon spent tacking around the Chesapeake Bay offered the best glimpse of Threshold’s versatility. She is very responsive and comes back easily from a luff. One incident in particular really drove this point home. Two sailboats were making their way toward Baltimore on a track that would take them across our bow. In eight knots of breeze as we gave way, we headed up into the wind and danced the dance of luffing sails to let them pass. She maintained way and showed incredible control throughout the maneuver, as the helmsman of one of the passing boats noticed and was compelled to acknowledge through the afternoon air, “Couldn’t do that in my boat!” Once they were clear, we fell back onto our board with a mere suggestion from the helm. As the wind speed dropped to five knots true, she still made three-and-a-half through the water and sped up steadily when the wind increased, gaining about a knot for every two of wind speed until she was doing six knots in 10 knots true. As it rose into the high teens she accelerated, using her momentum and balanced design to make 10 knots through the water.
Another good test of a boat’s performance is sailing upwind with the mainsail alone. Doing this in 12 knots of breeze at 30 degrees apparent, Threshold responded in kind, making four knots and maintaining control and tracking.
Threshold is a superior blue-water sailing yacht. In the right conditions she’ll make 200-mile days and more, she’ll survive a collision and she’ll provide comfort almost to the point of luxuriousness. The collaboration between the James’s, Paine and Kanter has been a great success; they took a dream and made a boat out of it.
Customizing a boat affords great freedom and satisfaction. It’s like playing with a full deck of cards, including jokers. You’re not limited to the jacks, threes and queens common to most modern production boats; you can pepper the equation with aces and wild cards yanked from the sleeves of experience and innovation to turn an uninspiring anchor setup or humdrum saloon into something that truly fits your needs and desires. As Steve puts it, customizing a yacht is “a fantasy, a dream, a nightmare.” After sailing with this couple, hearing about the genesis of the boat and considering their future plans, it is clear that the experience for them has gone the way of the two former options, and that the latter has reared its head just enough to root the whole thing in reality and make each decision a conscious one.
Ballast 16,000 lbs.
Displ. 44,000 lbs.
SA (100%) 1,259 sq. ft.
Air draft 75’2”
Ballast/Displ. 36 %
LPS (IMS) 125 degrees
Per inch immersion 2,200 lbs.
Fuel 220 gal.
Water 200 gal.
Auxiliary Yanmar 4JH2–UTBE 100 hp
Base price $775,000
C.W. Paine Yacht Design Inc
PO Box 763
Camden, ME 04843
11 Barrie Blvd.
St. Thomas, Ontario
N5P 4B9, Canada