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Boat Test

Hylas 54 RS

A swift and capable passagemaker with luxurious and well-thought-out accommodations

The new Hylas 54 RS Sapphire cut an impressive swath through the afternoon chop off Ft. Lauderdale Beach, Florida. Push-button sheeting tweaked the cruising spinnaker. We squeezed up to a tight reach and, despite an apparent wind of less than 10 knots, watched the speedo flirt with 7. The helm was light and the ride was silky smooth; this kind of relaxed sailing was kid's stuff for the powerful German Frers design. The Hylas 54 is a success on the water and in the marketplace. In just over three years of production more than 30 boats have been delivered, with no slowdown in sight. If you order a boat today be prepared to wait 12 to 14 months for delivery. What makes the Hylas 54 so appealing? Value. The 54 delivers the quality of a premier custom-built boat at close to production boat prices.

Hylas Yachts of Marblehead, Massachusetts, has come a long way from being an outfit that primarily sold boats into its own charter fleet. (The company is no longer associated with Caribbean Yacht Charters.) Hylas, a fixture at all the major boat shows, targets sailors looking for a capable passagemaker with luxury accommodations.

"I originally thought I wanted an Oyster 53 until I discovered the Hylas 54 RS," Sapphire's owner Bill Regan said. "The fact that it was about half the price was icing on the cake." Regan, who has set up his boat for shorthanded sailing, shuttles between Cape Cod and the Caribbean. "We consistently rack up 200-mile days on ocean passages."

The details
Hylas Yachts, which specializes in center-cockpit cruisers, also builds a Sparkman & Stephens designed 49 and a new Frers-designed 66 is scheduled for delivery next year. The 54, however, traces its pedigree to the Hylas 46, which was introduced in 1995. In many ways the 54 is a scaled-up version of this popular Frers design. Like the 46, the 54 has stretched the waterline by cutting away the overhangs, resulting in an LWL of 45 feet, 9 inches. The sheer is subtle, and the cabintrunk, even on the raised saloon model, blends naturally into the deck line. A seasoned eye will recognize the deft Frers' touch. Speaking of the raised saloon model, it outsells the standard deck layout by three to one according to Hylas Yachts President, Dick Jachney. "People just can't resist all that light below," he said with a laugh.

The powerful fin keel has a standard draft of 7 feet, although a hydraulic centerboard is an option, albeit an expensive one, for those who demand shoal draft. The rudder is a partially balance spade with a small skeg. The 54 is no lightweight-the design displacement is 47,184 pounds, and the external lead ballast is a fraction over 20,000 pounds, which makes for a ballast-to-displacement ratio of 43. The displacement-to-length ratio of 220 and sail area-to-displacement ratio of 17.6 clearly demonstrate the performance capabilities of this seagoing design. The air draft is a whopping 77 feet, which means that you won't be wasting sailing time motoring for long stretches along the Intracoastal Waterway, with its bridge clearance of 65 feet.

The Hylas 54 is built by Queen Long, a 25-year-old Taiwan boatbuilding company and one of the island nation's best-run yards. Queen Long was the original builder of the Peterson 44 and has turned out the Hylas 44 and 47 among others.

The 54's hull is built with Twaron, a carbon aramid fiber incorporated into the solid fiberglass hull. According to Jachney, the hull is literally bulletproof and is in some ways nearly as strong as a metal hull. Vinylester resin is used throughout the molding process. Isophthalic gelcoat and two epoxy barrier coats provide even more protection against osmosis.

The deck is cored except in high-load areas, where it is solid fiberglass. A step-down sail locker is part of a watertight collision forward bulkhead. The hull and deck are joined on a wide flange, bonded with 3M 5200 and through-bolted on 4-inch centers. Interior bulkheads are tabbed on all sides. Massive floors create a rigid hull with plenty of athwartship support. The fin keel is solid lead and bolted to the hull with 35mm stainless steel bolts, which in turn are supported by an 8mm stainless steel backing plate. As a delivery skipper I've logged nearly 40,000 miles aboard different Hylas models, enduring bouts with Hurricanes Bob, Grace and Mitch, and I can attest to their solid construction and seaworthiness.

On deck
The Hylas 54 cockpit is not huge for a boat of this size, but it's comfortable, well-thought-out and secure in a blow. The seats are scooped out to allow access around the Whitlock pedestal and wheel. The primary winches and the mainsheet winch are within easy reach of the helm, which is not usually the case in a big boat. All sail controls are routed aft to the deck areas just behind the coaming on either side of the companionway.

Despite the raised saloon, the visibility from the wheel is unobstructed. I would prefer a bit more leg room at the helm, and as is the case with most center-cockpit designs, there are no deep lockers in the cockpit. Of course, the large lazarettes astern and sail locker forward offer more than enough deck storage.

The side decks are wide, and although teak decks are a $22,300 option, they sure look nice and offer good footing, especially when wet. The molded nonskid is not aggressive, which is terrific when sailing barefoot but can be a bit slick when wet. The 32-inch stanchions and double lifelines are standard. The Hylas 54 features extraordinary stainless work, from an optional extended stern pushpit (a great safety feature) to massive and shimmering cleats and chocks, to stout stainless handrails on the coachroof. The stainless steel stemhead fitting with double anchor rollers is not only robust and functional, it's a work of art. Overall the deck hardware is of the highest quality. Hylas has always included a lot of standard equipment in the basic price, a legacy from the company's time spent equipping charter boats. For example, the 54 comes standard with a Nillson 2200 vertical windlass, a 60-pound CQR main anchor, a 55-pound Barnacle secondary anchor and 300 feet of 3/8-inch galvanized chain.

Standard winches include Lewmar 66 CST primaries, CST 54 secondaries and CST 48s for the mainsheet and halyard winches. Many owners, including Regan, opt for electric winches and the Seldon electric in-mast furling mainsail system. A boat of this size and weight generates huge loads and powered-up winches make shorthanded sailing a reality, especially for a couple on the other side of middle aged. Like furling systems and GPS, electric winches have become common, especially on boats longer than 40 feet, and why not, as long they have manual overrides? The standard spars are by Seldon and the discontinuous stainless steel standing rigging is Hasselford. Furlex System 400 is the standard roller furling headsail system. A quick-release inner forestay, a staysail and running gear are also popular options and provide an excellent alternative to the roller-furling headsail in heavy weather.

Down below
Despite the 54's nicely sculpted lines, efficient sail controls and excellent overall performance, I suspect most people consider breaking out the checkbook after they have dropped below. The interior is lovely and vast. Jachney is right. The cabin is flooded with light through large ports, including two to port and starboard and three facing forward. The headroom is more than 7 feet, creating a sense of spaciousness, although it also makes overhead handrails inaccessible to short sailors.

Queen Long's teak joinerwork is superb and nicely balanced with the use of practical white laminated headliners, which can be removed without major surgery. Teak veneered bulkheads and solid trim pieces and doors are well crafted and beautifully varnished. The cabin sole shimmers (which means it will be slippery when wet) and all pieces can be secured keeping them in place in the unlikely event of knockdown. Most owners put down carpet runners when under way. All cabinets and lockers are finished on the inside and have secure latches. Numerous stainless steel rimmed Mainship deck hatches and opening portlights combine to create excellent ventilation throughout the interior.

Hylas offers custom interior plans at very little, if any additional cost-a prime attraction for many buyers. However, the 54's layout for both the standard and RS model, is quite appealing and most owners end up just adding small personal touches instead of opting for wholesale changes. The three-cabin plan includes a double forward with a centerline queen bunk and port and starboard hanging lockers. The port-side cabin can be fitted with a double bunk, upper and lower singles, a workbench or as office area with a desk. The forward head includes a stall shower, mirrored lockers and a civilized amount of elbowroom.

The saloon features a solid teak table to port that can be cleverly expanded, with a wraparound settee and free-standing seat with storage inside. The table drops down to form a double bunk, although it is hard to imagine the need for more sleeping space. The starboard settee can be extended to form a decent sea berth.

The nav station is my favorite aspect of the interior design. Tucked away to port, the large L-shaped desk has an adjustable swivel chair. There is a dedicated computer desk with a slide-out shelf and plenty of room for electronics and instrument repeaters. The electrical panel, meters and battery switches are located on an aft-facing, hinged panel that can be readily opened. An inspection of the neat and clearly labeled wiring is impressive.

The galley is to starboard and consumes the outboard section of the walkthrough to the aft cabin. This arrangement works well at sea as the cook can find a secure position on either tack. More than 7 feet long, the galley has more counter space than most home kitchens, and the Wahlee Stone counter tops are very attractive. Two double stainless sinks are located to port beneath the cockpit well on the centerline for good drainage on either tack. Top-and-side loading 12-volt Grunert refrigerator and freezer are standard, as is a Force 10 stove and oven. There is a slide-out trash compactor, dedicated microwave locker and saltwater and freshwater foot pumps, just in case the pressure water system fails.

The aft stateroom is huge, accented with rich teak panels and trim, and is incredibly comfortable. The island queen berth has a split mattress with a centerline lee cloth, making the berth usable at sea, a terrific idea. There are port and starboard hanging lockers, a vanity and fold-up mirror to port, cabinets above the berths and drawers below. There is even a linen locker that is designed to accommodate a washer and dryer. The aft head also features a separate stall shower.

The shipboard systems on the Hylas 54 are well engineered, redundant where necessary and contribute to the user-friendly nature of the boat. Tankage, which is located beneath the saloon sole, can be any combination of fuel and water up to 550 gallons. The manifold systems for both fuel and water are excellent.

There is plenty of power to keep all the systems up and running with three 700-amp-hour 8 D house batteries standard. Dual alternators on the Yanmar 125-horsepower four-cylinder diesel provide a pre-wired backup should one fail. The engine, mounted below the galley sinks and cockpit well, has adequate access, although it becomes limited if a generator is added. Most owners opt for 200 to 250 gallons of diesel, which provides a powering range of more than 1,000 miles. The standard sails, a main and 135-percent roller furled genoa, are by Doyle.

Under Sail
Back aboard Sapphire we scooped up the spinnaker, unrolled the genoa and brought the boat hard on the wind. Unfortunately, the breeze was getting lighter, but I was still impressed how close the Hylas 54 could sail without pinching. We maintained 6 knots at 40 degrees apparent in very light going. We executed several tacks, bringing the boat through wind quickly and accelerating faster than you'd expect a 50,000-pound boat to in light air. Cracking off onto a close reach, we adjusted the sheet leads and kept moving smartly.

I begged off the helm and planted myself on one of the optional teak stern seats, which offered a perfect, big-picture view of the Hylas 54 under way. We eventually ran out of wind. It wasn't fair. We fired up the Yanmar diesel, and with the optional Max prop doing the work, we charged back toward Port Everglades at 7.5 knots, although it was hard to actually hear the engine running from the cockpit.

The Hylas 54 is a complete package. Spacious, comfortable, capable and fast, the boat delivers on its promise as a luxurious world cruiser. A well-equipped Hylas 54 sells for a little less than $700,000, however, when compared to other boats in its class, the value is clear.


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The author of this article is John Kretschmer.

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