2009 Boat Review: Seahorse 52 Pilothouse

After years of slaving away at the coalface of life, those who have done well are literally champing at the bit to have a little adventure. Some hitch the car and caravan and join the grey nomads for a twilight drink atop a cliff with a spectacular view. For those less restrained in their spending, the lure of the sea and the spirit of unshackled freedom have them ready to ride the ocean waves.

Enter Seahorse 52 Pilothouse. Originally designed and built as a motorsailer, the Seahorse 52 Pilothouse has for some time been sold direct ex-factory in China for those well experienced and primed to glide into Asian waters before moving on to the Seven Seas. Up until now, its market has been Americans foremost.

If you have slightly less experience and are not quite ready to deal with pirates lurking north of our shores, it will be a far less stressful experience to contact Andrew Baumber, who is now importing the Seahorse 52 Pilothouse into Australia, and to collect the keys at the local marina.

A shakedown cruise either north or south of the Gold Coast will provide ample opportunity to be hooked on cruising, a lifestyle which has been thoroughly embraced by thousands of boaties worldwide with thrilling and life changing results.

Born from the passagemaker genre, our test boat (Seahorse 52 #24) had taken good advantage of design trends that have been tried and tested by other manufacturers in this specialised field. As with many of these smaller yards, Seahorse offers a degree of customisation to meet the requirements of most seasoned sailors.

The boat comes in two or three-cabin variants, with a single John Deere 225hp high-torque diesel engine or, as per the boat driven hereabouts, twin 135hp John Deere engines for 11.5kts top speed. However, we're told the Seahorse 52 Pilothouse has hit 17kts with twin 1645hp John Deeres.

But we reckon the big engine option defeats the purpose of this long-range trawler designed for reeling in the sea miles. And with 2950lt of diesel and the twin 135hp engines, the boat's range is at least 2000nm at eight knots. Some 1000lt of water will keep the crew sated for a few weeks away from dock at least.

Located in China, not far from Hong Kong, Seahorse has a new 12,000m² fibreglass factory engaged in the specific production of this boat. In another factory, it builds steel Diesel Duck passagemakers. While no international standards of construction are claimed, the handlaid fiberglass hull for the Seahorse was well specified and appeared robust and sea kindly. No lightweight, it displaces 20,000kg dry.

While our visit aboard wasn't exactly a comprehensive sea trial, many versions of this hull have been very successful in ocean-going service. The style of boat here is a round bilge design with a full keel and flat sections aft for stability, in either twin or single screw, and with bowthruster, small mast and steadying sail.

With a single engine, the boat's draft is 1.65m but in the twin-screw guise hereabouts draft is reduced to 1.35m. Another nice thing is that the keel protects the props and running gear. And when you are boating on the Gold Coast's skinny waterways, that's always a good thing.

The fine bow clearly displays the yachting heritage and gives a more rakish appearance to the boat, yet the superstructure with its reverse sheer windscreen imparts a purposeful look reminiscent of some of the more attractive commercial vessels, and possibly better than some of the bluff and chunky styles of the passagemaker competition.

One of the more unusual yet practical ideas is the removal of the sidedeck on the portside, creating an asymmetrical saloon layout, which gives a great boost to internal volume. The forward section of the sidedeck morphs into moulded stairs that reach the large upper deck or boat deck, with the flying bridge up a few more steps and forward. This is a clever idea that enhances space.

Deep bulwarks give a valued sense of security when trouncing around the sidedeck and operating the boat in inclement or heavy weather. The aft cockpit is on the small side, however, the agent advised that the next Seahorse 52 would have a longer cockpit that incorporates the swim platform.

In fact, the Seahorse is advertised as 50+2 meaning 50 feet for the hull and two for the platform, which is actually part of the moulded running surface of the hull in any case. Nevertheless, four to six guests would not be uncomfortable doing drinks or light lunch in the cockpit on the test boat.

A transom door allows easy access to the swim platform, equipped with outer railings and a sturdy swim ladder. Entry to the spacious saloon is via two large sliding doors which have a waterproof appearance. Two picture windows are fitted on either side of the doors.

Saloons are saloons and most of these types of boats are of a similar yet practical layout. An L-shaped sofa to port with a convertible table is the usual offering, with space for two occasional chairs to starboard, while an entertainment unit, spacious bench top and wall-mounted cocktail bar adjacent are strategically located for those ready to hoist the gin pennant and whoosh out a tray of drinks.

On the port side is the galley, a transverse U-shaped area with combi/microwave, electric cooktop, oven, garbage compactor, and domestic capacity Fisher & Paykel stainless steel fridge/freezer. The sink faces out the picture window and the bar-style counter points aft where it's ideal for the aspiring chef to remain connected with the chatter on the sofa.

The removal of that sidedeck to port sure makes for a big saloon for this size of boat and one can easily understand the logic in the design.

An offset companionway leads forward and up to the pilothouse, where our new skipper will be dusting off the charts. But before looking at the helm station, the sensible guest makes a beeline for the forward accommodation to ensure that the best bunk has been bagged.

A full-width owner's stateroom with queen-sized bed looks very inviting and a vast number of lockers are ready to swallow the contents of your bags for an extended trip. The en suite was also comfortable and included a shower with small bath for those requiring a little soak after a hard day's cruising/eating/drinking or whatever. I would certainly ensure the watermaker option was ticked to make good use of this delightful option.

Forward is the twin-share guest cabin, with the ever-practical upper and lower bunks, plus the added benefit of a small desk, which might be handy to operate as an office. There was no proper hanging locker. This cabin is available with an island bed instead, however, not everyone travels as couples so the spacious singles are not a problem with me. As touched on, a three-cabin layout is available on request.

The guest head and shower are slightly smaller than the owner's amenity but by no means cramped. They are also cleverly ventilated for those who detest smells or steamy showers with dripping walls. Tecma toilets can be operated with fresh or saltwater. The floors in both heads were not particularly attractive, however, and would require some cosmetic assistance to improve their appearance.

Everyone loves to get into the helm chair, admiring all the dashboard goodies and promoting themselves to either Captain or Admiral depending on the mood or the number of guests aboard. Awaiting instructions are a pair of John Deere four-cylinder 135hp turbo-diesels coupled with Twin Disc gearboxes and operated by electronic Glendinning controls.

John Deere returned to the boating market about nine years ago having not made marine engines since the 1970s. Their reputation in the agricultural equipment market is quite legendary in respect to quality, reliability and fuel efficiency, and our skipper would expect nothing less. Those who sneer should be reminded that Caterpillar evolved from their earthmoving equipment and any complaints quickly fizzled out. Suffice it to say, the engines prove smooth, free from vibration, and willing.

The (9kVa) Northern Lights generator will also earn respect from those in the know, being standard fitment on many superyachts or commercial vessels where continuous operation is required. Commercial fishermen are not known for their tolerance of rubbish and most of them insist on Northern Lights.

The electronic specification was comprehensive with Raymarine colour radar, plotter, ICOM radios, autopilot, spotlight, and a host of other goodies. An Aussie-made Muir Cheetah winch and suitable cruising tackle were mounted on the stout bowsprit, with fresh or saltwater washdown systems.

To keep our would-be Captain amused, a spacious L-shaped sofa with table allows the crew to congregate in comfort and with the added pleasure of windows all around. Commercial-style side doors and the reverse sheer windscreen make one feel as though they are ready for the wild blue yonder and all its pleasures.

A map table and capacious cupboards will house all manner of navigational and cruising equipment used by the competent sailor. But in fine weather the crew would be opting for the superb visibility from the flying bridge, which is especially high and commanding, with most of the control systems replicated.

Before getting underway, the lazarette hatch is opened to reveal the dry storage area housing ancillary pumps and heat sensitive electrics. A door with porthole to the engineroom gives easy access to a neat and tidy installation.

A sea chest arrangement provides saltwater for all pumps from one through-hull point - a popular design idea and less likely to clog than separate small raw-water intakes. Two primary fuel tanks are supplemented by the popular third or day tank that allows extra filtration of fuel. An experienced cruising skipper is very well aware of the dangers of substandard fuel and this rather nice option, combined with an intelligently conceived fuel and oil polishing systems, alleviate any worry when bunkering at unfamiliar destinations. All told, some 2950lt of diesel are at your and John Deere's disposal.

A clever ventilation system brings fresh air from a front deck vent and exhausted through two side tunnels to the aft wings on each side of the swim platform. The engineroom was very cool, comfortable and free from sickness-inducing fumes. The saloon floor can also lift for access in heavy weather or when the cockpit is in use for lunch or drinks. All very practical.

There is no need to go without on the well-conceived Seahorse and electricity is, of course, the juice of choice in our modern boating world. The 9kW Northern Lights generator pumps all the power you need and is nicely complemented by a Victron Phoenix inverter/charger to keep 240V on standby and not disturb a silent ship. AGM batteries for engines and house power are made in China - but what isn't these days - and they will probably give a good service life.

The comprehensive electrical panel, located at eye level in the bridge, was neatly executed with all wiring numbered for easy examination. The inverter is also located in this position, which is a good spot for this heat-sensitive piece of equipment. The control panels show charge and discharge rates and amp hours remaining in storage, allowing the skipper to easily manage the power usage. All very well thought out. Air-conditioning with a heat option is standard.

While there were many pleasing details in the design and layout of the Seahorse 52 Pilothouse, there were a number of trim and detail items which had not been well executed according to the beady eye of this writer. Other items such as the teak louvre doors and cupboards were very well made and attractive, yet the bathroom floors and sections of the dash were not quite up to the mark.

Needless to say, the Seahorse 52 is competitively priced - just $950,000 for the boat tested here in cruise-away guise - and one would need to make some sort of value assessment against the better finished yet significantly more expensive offerings of the competition.

Meantime, we note the addition of aftermarket stainless steel barbecue and cutting board with rodholders to enhance the Australian way of boating life. The boat also has an icemaker, vacuum system, washer-dryer and aerial points in the cabins so you can piggyback on the TV system. A 3.0m Rib with 25hp Yamaha two-stroke outboard was fitted as well, rounding out a very complete package. An owner's forum also exists to discuss the finer points and your passages.

With the engines idling, the generator purring and the refrigeration deftly chilling the drinks, we slid down the Gold Coast Broadwater quietly and with a minimum of fuss. The Seahorse 52 Pilothouse responded well to the helm and an easy and economical eight knots was a pleasant speed with which to make tracks.

The hull speed is calculated at 9.1kts yet the John Deeres powered us to 11kts at full speed when 'take charge power' is required. Although comfortable at all speeds, the purpose here is a leisurely cruise with life's stresses sliding away in the wash, so we sensibly throttled back.

An 8hp Sidepower electric bowthruster assists maneuvering, however, those not used to a full keel would require a purposeful push with the throttles to confidently berth or handle this boat in close quarters. Thankfully, the big four-blade props shunt the boat this way and that.

In short, the Seahorse 52 Pilothouse is a value package for those wanting to reduce the initial outlay without compromising their creature comforts or cruising ability. A custom order would offer the ability to personalise the layout and equipment, and given that the manufacturer's claims of sea keeping and structural integrity are correct, family and friends can plan coastal passages and the dreams of a lifetime. It's down to the corral and saddle up!

Specifications: Seahorse 52 Pilothouse 

$950,000 w/ twin John Deere 135hp diesel engines, options, and aftermarket accessories

Twin John Deere engine upgrade, Glendinning electronic controls, Northern Lights 9kW generator, Raymarine electronics package, Reverso oil-change system, Griffin fuel polishing system, washer-dryer, galley fitout (including compactor, icemaker, and vacuum system), 3.0m RIB on demonstrator, and more

As above per demonstrator
Material: Handlaid fibreglass
Type: Round bilge semi-displacement hull with full keel
Length overall: 15.75m
Waterline length: 13.85m
Beam: 4.54m
Draft: 1.35m
Weight: 20,000kg

Berths: 4 to 6 (depending on layout)
Fuel: 1950lt
Water: 1000lt
Holding tank: 175lt

Make/model: Twin John Deere 135hp
Type: Four-cylinder turbo diesels
Displacement: 4.5lt
Rated HP: 135 at 2600rpm
Gearbox make/ratio: Twin Disc/3:1
Props: Bronze four-blade

Seahorse Marine Australia,
PO Box 3190,
Sunnybank South, QLD, 4109
Phone: 0413 752 535
Email: sales@seahorsemarine.com.au
Website: www.seahorsemarine.com.au