BOAT TEST: BELIZE 52 HARDTOP
Recharged from a sabbatical, two long-serving local marine luminaries return with a cool retro-chic cruiser designed from the lounge up with unisex Yin-and-Yang appeal. DAVID LOCKWOOD reports
Imagine if you could start anew knowing what you now know. If you could harness the power of hindsight, right your wrongs, and do things better. Start with a blank sheet of paper and rewrite history. What a luxury! The duo behind the all-new Belize has managed just that. Two wise men communicating in the language of the people is a sure-fire route to success. Indeed, three boats were sold before the first one even lobbed last month.
Wes Moxey and Lee Dillon need no introduction, but here goes. Moxey is the former CEO of Gold Coast-based Riviera - so he knows all about the realities of building onshore - while Dillon sold rafts of Rivieras during his retail rein at Rushcutter's Bay prior to joining the same board. These big names in the pleasureboating industry have now teamed their talents, in-depth knowledge of boatbuilding, and shared love of luxury conveyances to create something new and refreshing.
The first thing they agreed on was the need to build offshore. Their virtual manufacturing model uses the established Kha Shing yard in Taiwan. There are obvious monetary advantages in using an Asian-based artisanal boatbuilder - though not as great as you might suppose - although their new venture reportedly cost a multi-million-dollar sum using their own backing.
Well-known in the global market, Kha Shing has a reputation as one of Taiwan's best yards. The moulds for the Belize 52 Hardtop tested here have been described as the fairest in the land. You can see the design elements that go beyond your normal pop-out production boat. I'm told virtual armies of shipwrights attacked the task with torture-boards in hand. Sanding, sanding, and sanding some more.
Moxey has a lot of experience building boats in Asia before. But in today's virtual world he was able to use software programs that allowed him in Australia to overlay real-time sketches over projected plans on whiteboards in Taiwan. The Taiwanese are visual shipwrights and what they can't translate from English, they more than make up for in diagrammatic interpretation.
Design-wise, the all-new Belize 52 Hardtop takes its cues from the automotive world. The leather and carbon dash was inspired by Bugatti, the electro-polished stainless steel fins adorning the tender garage suggest Audi R8, while the hip line is said to hail from a Bentley Continental. Thus, there's something old and something new. While the boat hasn't a history to trade-off, you could be forgiven for thinking it's the latest incarnation from an established yard with provenance.
Despite holding different ends of the stick, Moxey the boatbuilder and Dillon the dealer seem to enjoy a meeting of minds. They will tell you the chance to start with a carte blanche has been both invigorating and challenging. Change for the sake of it wasn't good enough. They tried to do everything better, a luxury enjoyed only by small-scale boutique boatbuilders. Belize has a limited production output of nine boats in the next year growing to a maximum output of 30 per year by 2015.
Besides the intricate moulds, the custom brightwork from Taiwanese contractor Aritex shines. The elliptical bowrail is a sturdy 60mm diameter with invisible welds. This sets the theme for much of the deck gear including the custom fairleads, rub protectors and inspiring cleats with Belize insignia. You might also notice all the fastenings (bar screws for extended canopy stanchions) are recessed hexheads not self-tapers.
Head indoors and the boat is something else again. Tradition makes way for a new level of luxury that, to my mind, is made to woo pre-existing production boat owners to the fold. Marine interior designer Giorgia Drudi had a hand in the superyacht-like finish. Italian fittings and fabrics abound, along with leather, marble and austere American walnut rather than run-of-the-mill cherrywood or teak joinery. Intentionally, there's nigh a plain white fibreglass surface to be seen.
Among the options on Belize number one was a full rear awning to create an extended al fresco lunch setting. After all, that's pretty much all most pleasureboaters do these days. Out for lunch, home by mid-afternoon, boat squared away and driving home. An optional dishwasher was fitted to help with the clean-up, while teak sidedecks and a stunning Mercedes taupe paintjob ensure you don't go unnoticed while swinging on the anchor. To my mind, Moxey has always been good at designing a lunch setting aboard.
The engineering is above usual production standards. Owners won't have to look far to find the Racor fuel filters on the centreline, the pared oil dipsticks, the strainers with big inspection bowls that border on sea chests. There's a backup bilge pump, separate generator-start battery among the low-maintenance banks, plus 24V Mastervolt charger and standard issue 2000W inverter that can be upgraded. A Cablemaster was fitted.
It should be noted that Moxey and Dillon have used local contractors - and local gear like Davco worm drives for swimplatform and sunroof - with whom they've had relationships before to plan and install the electrical systems and electronics. Evidently, this Belize was the first with the BEP C-Zone switching on the AC as well as the pre-existing DC panels. The controller near the aft galley was to be relocated a tad higher on future boats, while individual switches in the engineroom let you override the system in the unlikely event of failure.
Meantime, all the main seacocks are labelled, with colour-coded plumbing lines, and a separate SmartCraft screen for in-situ engineroom servicing. The 2400lt alloy fuel tanks near the fulcrum have nice, big sight gauges and are said to have a fast balance line. Only the 54,000btu Crusair units could be considered a little tight to access, but how often do you need to reach them?
There's room to fit a watermaker to supplement the 700lt supply and you could add a gurney if you want one. Yet everything else, including the obligatory joystick docking device, comes standard. The stainless steel rails around the engine blocks and the rubber hose-clip tag protectors are nice touches, while 17.5kVa Onan genset is over-spec'ed.
Moxey and Dillon are fans of the rear-facing Zeus pod drives from Cummins MerCruiser Diesel. There are advantages: the pods are recessed in tunnels that reduce draft and improve holeshot. Rear-facing props might be considered less likely to get damaged should they hit something underway. And you still get the obligatory joystick at the internal helm and optional external docking station.
Interestingly, due to the size of the tender garage, the albeit compact engines are mounted forward and fitted with carbon-fibre jackshafts ranging back to the Zeus pods with separate access hatches above. After an easy exit, the twin 600hp Cummins QSC common rail diesel engines proved smooth and smoke-free as we idled down Pittwater.
Close the impressive convex safety glass saloon door and adjoining saloon awning window and noise levels are subdued to the point the engines seem rear or outdoor mounted. Underwater exhausts and a gas/water splitter on the generator also keep things to a barely audible murmur at rest. Oh, one last thing, should you need to remove an engine, no worries, the rail-mounted Cummins can be slid to the centreline and craned out. Engine vents are inboard to minimise salt ingress as well.
Lay-up is all handlaid solid glass from keel through hull bottom to chines. The stringers are foam-cored, while vinylester resin is used in the first two hull layers to guard against osmosis. The main bulkheads and forward floor are resin-infused. Hull warranty is factory-backed five years, while the rest of the gear has two years' cover, with the option of the usual extended engine manufacturer's pleasureboat maintenance package of plus-one year. Aftersales service is Dillon's forte, while the Kha Shing yard has a good reputation for building boats.
Quite some effort and tank testing went into creating the Belize 52 hull, which is made in a two-piece mould to facilitate easy removal of the aforesaid Bentley hip and sponsons either side of the swimplatform. The near vertical stem adds to the retro look, while double chines with big downturns ensure water is pushed aside. The white water seems to be shunted out about one-third of the way along the hull and I couldn't discern any blowback or station-wagon effect.
With fixed Interceptor trim tabs fitted and the Zeus autotrim function, the boat doesn't need a lot of driver input in respect of trim. The half keel helped with tracking as we barrelled our way into and back home on a brisk Broken Bay. Remember, you can't put keels on boats with Volvo Penta's IPS pods. This is seen as another advantage of the competing Zeus system. The integrated Precision Pilot autopilot with Skyhook station-holding function still needed software when we tested it.
The deck caters to the likely owner, with a full walkaround design featuring 250mm high bulwarks topped by 500mm high rails with an intermediate rail/wire. Add the teak decks and dot-pattern non-skid, with recessed Muir windlass (there's a plug-in winch remote rather than deck-mounted foot controllers), and self-stow stainless anchor, and it's all very clean, safe, secure and trip-free.
With six drinkholders alongside the sunpad and speakers under the cabin brow, the foredeck serves as another lifestyle station. However, the moulded lids for the cavernous rope/chain lockers most definitely need gas struts to prevent them cracking your hand, toes or noggin. And while the foredeck sunpad has flip-up backrests it's a pity you can see the upholstery staples when sitting at the helm. These are small pre-delivery first-boat issues that I'm confident will be resolved.
CCTV cameras monitor the anchoring space below the bow, the engineroom and cockpit, while snap-in hoses let you switch from saltwater to freshwater washes. The beautiful circular deck hatches are from Taiwanese firm Man Ship, while the location of the navigation lights on the gunwale was chosen to reduce glint. Such things come from previous boatbuilding experience. Naturally, LED lights are provided on deck and back inside. But the black radar and communications domes (Raymarine 37STV Gen 2 Satellite TV) on a lovely mast perhaps bests underscore the melding of old and new.
While looking well-proportioned on paper, the swimplatform could be enlarged on latter boats. We all like our waterfront real estate. With 200kg-lift rating, the submersible mid-section of the platform facilitates launch and retrieval of the substantial 3.1m Brig RIB with 20hp outboard <I>without</I> getting your feet wet. The garage lid is electric, the sole is raised to help stop water slopping inside and creating a haven for marine growth, plus there are internal lights. Pop cleats provide somewhere to tie the painter, while the swimladder has teak treads.
The top edge of the garage has a lift-up lid with inbuilt amenities centre featuring Kenyon hot-rock barbecue, moulded sink and LED lights. The transom shower is concealed nearby with a trick one-piece twist-grip head. Very neat and tidy. Take either flight of steps to the cockpit and you'll find handy triple-fender lockers in the corners that also let you stow the tails of the aft mooring lines. Such things ensure the Belize looks tidy even while moored.
The transom lounge has an overly deep base and firm foam that will be modified on future boats, I'm told. As it was, it could double as a daybed. The teak table has an impressive high-low pedestal, creating a coffee table with the leaves folded. Add some stools and you can increase seating for eight at lunch. The full awning and side clears (from Craft Coverings) add to the amenity, while the teak capping is a solid 22mm with 11mm-thick decks. A custom boat hook and flagstaff with chrome-brass-look cap are nice boatie touches, though the former is heavy to wield.
A casual aft-facing seat to starboard sits alongside a timber cabinet with servery, drawer fridge and aerial/TV mount. Opposite are two swing-out bar stools fronting an awning window that, when open, let you watch proceedings over the small return at the aft galley. With the grand, convex, saloon door slid open you get a single-deck feel - some 18ft long from transom to galley end - even though there's a small step to meet CE requirements. I also like the pared back stainless steel door framing that lets other design aspects sing. The Sikaflex or silicon wipes - always a measure - were neatly executed and, thus, point to quality construction.
The aft galley on the Belize is galley-style or longitudinal. Without an obtrusive island, you get a greater sense of flow through the boat. The Corian counters have twin sinks with stowed cutting-board covers; there are three Vitrifrigo fridge/freezer/icemaker drawers; dishdrawer; Miele combo microwave/oven/grill and three-burner induction cooktop; extractor fan and plenty of 240V outlets or GPOs. Opening windows and a sunroof up front assist with ventilation, while genuine teak flooring flows underfoot. Perhaps some carpet runners are needed in high traffic areas.
But where the Belize takes a different path is with the integrated interior design. The two-pack taupe and American-walnut finish reduces the visual bulk of the cupboards. This theme is carried throughout the boat and down below to create an ambience that's reminiscent of a five-star hotel. It's a holistic rather than organic approach to the design and the consistency adds to the luxury.
An especially plush U-shaped leather lounge to starboard opposite the galley avails its guests of the surrounding views out the picture windows in the saloon, while drawers in the base of the dinette harbour a full Villeroy and Bosch dining and tea setting for eight, along with cutlery and forward, pots and pans. The cupboards, meanwhile, have dedicated cutouts in their timber base to hold appliances. A place for everything and everything in its place.
Triple helm seats on a quasi raised bridgedeck maximise your vision when underway. There's even a forth aft-facing seat so it's possible a family of four or two couples can cruise and converse. There's a sunroof above with skylights that seem otiose given all the light anyway. There's also no effective way to screen them. So they will likely be dropped in future. Last but not least, a decent flatscreen television pops up near a bookcase beside the aforesaid main lounge and there's a dedicated wetbar.
The three-cabin three-en suite layout carries the designer finish through to the collision bulkhead, but the full-beam stateroom aft is the clincher. The king bed is flanked by a step-up lounge before big picture windows with opening portlights for fresh air and views. Even with the air-con running it's peaceful. Inbuilt bedside tables and leather bed surrounds add to design integration. It's just a great cabin for a 52, with full headroom at the entrance, though full-depth hanging space is light on.
VIP guests have the obligatory queen-sized island berth in the bow with Oceanair blind and insect screen over the escape hatch, but fixed portlights in the hull sides. The mattresses on the boat are all innerspring numbers, while the hanging lockers have cedar lining, internal lights and slide-out hangers. A dresser with pull-out pouf might be the final visiting place before heading back to the throng dressed to kill.
There's scope to turn the third cabin with twin two-metre long berths into a media room or lower lounge room. The atrium above the spiral companionway outside the door directs natural light inside here. You might notice the air-con vents are timber and there are timber-lined drawers under the beds. The optional Miele washer-dryer was mounted in a cabinet down the companionway.
All three en suites have Kohler porcelain sinks, Grohe fittings, Tecma freshwater heads and, leading off the foot of the stairs, the VIP doubles as a dayhead. Plumbing manifolds are underfloor in case you need to isolate a leak, while the 380lt holding tank should last up to a week. Marble vanity tops look chic, though the heated towel rail is a bit too close for comfort in the stateroom's en suite.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
As with many first boats, this Belize was said to be some two-tonnes heavier than the original target. Certainly, it felt rock solid underfoot as it doesn't bob about like some lean production craft. A top speed of 29.6kts has been seen on the dial, adds Dillon, as I manage to squeeze 28.8kts perhaps against the tide. But with some of the weight stripped out of future boats and bigger propellers they're confident of 32kts.
As it was, 2700rpm and around 75 per cent engine load gave a relaxed cruise speed of 24kts using 183lt per hour. Based on 90 per cent of the 2400lt fuel tank, your ocean cruising range is about 285 nautical miles. At displacement/hull speed of 9kts, the engines use 25lt/h for a range of almost 800nm. But you can find satisfaction and comfort going nowhere much at all on the Belize 52 Hardtop. The script is written. Just kick back and enjoy.
Facts & figures
BELIZE 52 HARDTOP
AT THE HELM
One of the things I like about this Belize is how well it travels at go-slow speeds. Unlike a lot of fast boats, it doesn't run downhill when idling and, instead, there's a good amount of freeboard to cross waves and shed water. With big walkaround sidedecks and 750mm of support from the bulwarks and elliptical rail, it's a safe boat to circumnavigate at champagne speeds when you might leave the sunroof and side opening windows open.
Ramp up your revs and the impression is that the Belize 52 Hardtop has a very good engine installation. It feels smooth, refined, and it responds to the wheel. Sight lines remain clear. The Bugatti-inspired leather dash flaunts twin Raymarine glass screens under brows that prevent reflected glare in the windscreen at night. The cool stainless steel buttons in place of switches look smart, too. Wipers are multispeed and auto numbers.
But in the capacity that we drove the Belize, it wasn't a great sea trial. So let's defer to Rob Hurley, who delivered the boat from the Gold Coast through 1½m to 2m of southeast head seas. The experienced skipper said the boat had a very solid feel and, in a word, describes it as "comfortable".
PRICE AS TESTED
$1.47 million pre-delivered Gold Coast and then delivered to Sydney
TRIM TAB TABLE
KNOTS ENGINE LOAD (%) TAB
1.5 5 0
3 10 0
4.5 15 0
6 20 0
7.5 25 0
9 30 0
10.5 35 50
12 40 50
13.5 45 50
15 50 50
16.5 55 50
18 60 50
19.5 65 65
21 70 65
22.5 75 65
24 80 65
25.5 85 65
27 90 65
28.5 95 65
30 100 65
Twin 600hp Cummins QSC diesels, average WOT 3070rpm, half fuel (1300lt), water full, two persons with M8 props
RPM SPEED LT/H
1000 7kts 6.25
1200 8.35kts 9.7
1400 9.4kts 16
1600 10.1kts 24
1800 10.85kts 38
2000 11.65kts 51
2200 15.15kts 57.75
2400 19.4kts 66
2600 22.6kts 79
2800 25.8kts 93
3000 29.15kts 112.5
WOT 29.65kts 119
* Official data supplied by Cummins. Averaged over two south and north runs.
Full rear awning, painted hull, teak sidedecks, dishdrawer, 20hp outboard, washer-dryer, and more
$1.395 million w/ 600hp Cummins QSC Zeus Pod Drive
MATERIAL: Solid fibreglass w/ vinylester resin and foam-cored stringers and bulkheads
TYPE: Moderate-vee warped plane hull with fine entry, double chines, and keel
LENGTH OVERALL: 16.1m
HULL LENGTH: 15.35m
DRAFT: 1.05m (inc. props)
DEADRISE: 11 degrees
WEIGHT: 18,500kg (dry)
BERTHS: 6 + 1
HOLDING TANK: 380lt
MAKE/MODEL: Cummins QSC Zeus Pod Drive
TYPE: Six-cylinder common rail diesel
DISPLACMENT: 8.3lt (each)
DRY WEIGHT: 896kg (each)
DRIVES: Zeus steerable underwater pod drives
PO Box 264,
Arundel, QLD, 4215
Phone: (07) 5582 0000
All the carefully chosen words hereabouts represent a mere summary of a lifetime of lessons learnt from building and selling pleasureboats by partners Wes Moxey and Lee Dillon. The resulting Belize is special and unique, a blend of experience and risk taking, old and new, utility and fashion, with a step-up executive finish throughout. There's still some tweaking left to do, but there's now time for the pair to draw breath after a long journey from concept to auto-inspired conveyance that has a bit of the Bentley without the price tag about it. Look for our follow-up tests of future Belize 52s in both Hardtop and Flybridge guise.