An Object Lesson in Buying Fast Vessels
How To Ensure You're Truly Testing the Boat You Want To Buy
By PETER SWANSON
This is a story about a terrible boat, told to an audience of marine surveyors by the lawyer whose job it was to defend the builder of the terrible boat 14 years ago. The builder of the terrible boat was not a terrible company. Quite the opposite, the builder was Hatteras, a venerable brand in the sportfishing niche, but the model in question was, as Jimmy Buffet once sang, “a big mistake-a.”
The boat in question was a 2006 Hatteras 64 convertible, back when Hatteras was owned by Brunswick Corporation. This story, as gleaned from both court documents and the attorney's talk, is worth retelling because it offers an important lesson to anyone looking to buy a “fast trawler.” Plus, it should be noted that other than the original sin of bringing a terrible product to market, Hatteras acted in good faith throughout what turned out to be an ordeal for everyone involved.
What was amazing about the story is that the lawyer telling it showed remarkable empathy for the people suing her client. To summarize her talk: The buyers got a raw deal and the defects in the boat they bought were incurable. In the end, the company took the boat back and refunded the $2.7 million purchase price.
So what was wrong with the boat? Pull up a chair, my friend.
She “porpoised” underway in the slightest chop. A “station wagon effect” pulled fumes and spray over the transom while running in head winds, resulting in a cockpit so wet that anyone sitting in it might as well have been undergoing an ice-bucket challenge. Water somehow got sucked into the engine room and saloon. Bow spray overwhelmed the flybridge, effectively blinding the pilot. And there were other issues as well, including a badly running engine.
For six months the builder struggled to find fixes—relocating exhausts, adding strakes, even retrofitting tunnels in the hull ahead of the props.
No joy. The owner got fed up, sued, and the company settled. It also settled a separate lawsuit filed by another owner. As I recall, fewer than 20 Terrible 64s were ever built.
But what really caught my attention was a disclosure from the lawyer that did not find its way into the court papers. She said the boat would not get up on plane with full fuel and water tanks. The slide show of the boat underway, struggling to plane, was astonishing. The forward half of the vessel was almost completely obscured by a wall of spray.
Marine magazine reviewers—of course—had praised the build and performance of the Terrible 64, which is no surprise given Brunswick’s advertising budget back then. As I always like to say, the big boatbuilders did not just purchase ad space, they purchased either our silence or our effusive praise. In the case of the 64, effusive won out.
Here is one quote with an oblique—almost Kremlinesque—reference to the boat’s wetness:
Punching through 10-foot head seas you can really appreciate the 64's blend of physical mass and deep-reduction muscle. Advance the throttles and she responds steadily, engaging the sea without a hint of hesitation or stagger. Running in a beam sea and bow-quartering sea we managed 27 knots comfortably while the big Cats loafed along at 1900 rpm… Given the weather, I was pleased to find the 64's bridge was protected with a three-sided enclosure fitted to a PipeWelders tower.
Here’s another heap of praise:
Seas were rolling with 4-foot swells, just enough to make things interesting. They were a fair test of how the Hatteras 64 Convertible can handle rough water. Coming out the Beaufort Inlet to the Atlantic Ocean, Hatterascal’s spray was deflected in enormous white sheets to either side as she cut through the whitecaps. Water droplets sparkled in the sunlight, but none came near us on the flybridge…Hatterascal made small work of the 10-to-12-foot swells while running 28 knots quartering to swells. Don’t try this with an ordinary boat.
More absolute bullshit from a third publication:
I could get into more funky design details, such as the metacentric height, stagnation lines, and waterplane area, but all that gobbledygook can be summed up as such: This boat kicks ass. I fished on it all day in a steady three-foot chop with a few four-footers and the oddball mega wave mixed in, and there was never a moment of discomfort. We trounced the seas at a 35.3-mph cruising speed, and even running wide open outside the inlet was no problem.
I happen to know a couple of these writers, and neither is an imbecile, but I can almost guarantee that neither was experiencing the vessel with a full fuel load of 2,000 gallons and 400 gallons of water—more than 15,200 pounds. Standard practice is to conduct sea trials with tanks nearly empty, which doesn’t matter if someone is testing a full-displacement boat like a Great Harbour, Nordhavn or Selene. Not so on a craft that’s designed to get up and go.
MORAL OF THE STORY
If you’re looking to buy a “fast trawler” and intend to go cruising, which means getting underway with full tanks, it would behoove you to ask that any sea trial be conducted fully loaded. If that’s not practical, include a clause in the contract that specifies performance goals with full tanks. Either could save you from making a big mistake-a.
A Hatteras 64 running, probably near empty.