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SAIL Magazine Boat Review: Passport Vista 615

Passport Yachts has been building semi-custom voyaging sailboats for three decades. For the last 20 years these boats have been produced in a modern facility in China. Thom Wagner has been the force behind the company from the beginning, and he still is the man to see when you are ready to buy one. His latest project is the Passport Vista 615 Twin Cockpit, designed by Bill Dixon. It is the biggest model in the Passport line and was created to be the ultimate world cruiser.

I sailed hull No. 1, Renovatio, which belongs to a couple who plan to sail around the world with their small child. When I asked Wagner about the limitations of cruising in a boat with a draft of 7ft 11in and an 84ft-tall mast, he said Renovatio’s owners had requested both features and added that there is an optional 6ft 6in keel and a shorter rig for those who want to spend time sailing in more coastal settings. Ease of handling has also been a primary focus for Renovatio’s owners, and Wagner’s observation confirmed that premise: “It’s a lot like a big dinghy and is as easy to sail as any boat I’ve helmed—even some mid-sized 40-footers.”

Construction

All Passport hulls are built of solid glass to eliminate any chance of core saturation should the boat be holed. An uncored structure is also easier to repair, which is important on any boat sailing around the world. This boat’s layup schedule includes Kevlar reinforcement in critical areas and vinylester resin throughout to eliminate osmotic blistering. The watertight compartment forward has dual bilge pumps and also provides a large stowage space for fenders and lines—at least until there’s a collision. An extensive grid of stringers and bulkheads, all of them fused to the hull, provide further reinforcement.

“Everything has a primary bond,” Wagner said, “even the little bulkheads that form lockers. That’s why, when you’re out sailing, everything is so quiet.”

There are no solar panels aboard but the wind generator, from Eclectic Marine, puts out so much current in high winds that a heat dump diverts the excess to the immersion heater in the hot-water tank. There’s a watermaker, a dive compressor and a large multimedia installation that includes four TVs, surround-sound and a computer system containing 1,500 movies plus music. There’s also an Iridium satellite communications system. There’s no satellite TV, but with all those movies on board, who needs it? The boat is like a giant iPod.

According to Wagner, the electronic navigation package is not excessive because, “The owner is big on electronics and knows his way around it.” Even so, I was glad to see there is still a full inventory of paper charts stowed in a custom locker under the companionway steps.

I suspect that Passport keeps a few full-time nitpickers on the factory floor in China just to be sure every detail is right. It’s always pleasant to peek into a compartment under the cabin sole of a Passport and see the neat, well-labeled plumbing and wiring runs. One surprise on this boat is the dry exhaust system, which services both the main engine and the generator. It’s quiet, has low back-pressure and is supposed to be maintenance-free.

The engine room is a delight for those of us who have had to twist around in dark, cramped machinery spaces trying to reach those hidden bolts you now find on any number of contemporary production models. If I were the owner of this boat, I’d set aside a few minutes each day to sit at the entrance to this engine room and just gaze at the beautiful machinery. I might even fondle a valve or two from time to time.

On Deck

The triple-spreader rig is equipped with in-mast furling. The foretriangle has a self-tacking blade jib along with a 120 percent genoa mounted on its own stay. Electric winches make the combination versatile and sturdy. Of course, anything is possible on a boat this size, and the second 615 will have a carbon-fiber mast, rod rigging, a fully battened mainsail and a Code O headsail. Owner No. 2 is obviously more performance-oriented and doesn’t mind working harder to sail fast.

A twin-cockpit layout is practical on a boat this size and gives the feel of being aboard a larger yacht. The forward cockpit is a pleasant place to lounge in. I predict the owners and their guests will spend many enjoyable hours here. The steering station immediately aft is partially separated from it to keep steering and line-handling activity from intruding. The aft deck is a perfect spot to place the 11ft RIB dinghy (with a crane to launch it) and will become another nice platform for relaxing at anchor.

Accommodations

Handsome joinery belowdecks is standard on all Passports. Most of the custom work is done at the factory in China, but it can also be done at the company’s facilities in Maryland and Florida. “On this boat,” said Wagner, “both the owners like to cook and enjoy being in the galley together. But neither wants to get in the way of the other, which is why there is a large amount of galley workspace and storage areas. We have fitted drawers, shelves and lockers everywhere.

“We are still adding custom touches. When the dishes and cutlery come on board, for example, we will modify the storage arrangement accordingly. We’ll also put a handrail here, and a shelf or two there. It’s all part of the process. At this price you should get the boat the way you want it and not the way someone tells you it should be.”

Renovatio has a three-cabin layout with the owner’s stateroom aft, a pilot cabin to starboard ahead of the saloon for the couple’s child and a guest cabin forward. The interior looks unusually spacious, thanks to long sight lines that run through the galley and the saloon. There’s also a four-cabin layout with a slightly smaller engine room.

In the owner’s cabin, I particularly liked the custom stainless foldout vanity/computer station seat fabricated by the factory. There’s lots of storage back here and it’s divided equally into his and hers spaces. The owners have selected marble and granite counters for both the head—which is very spacious—and galley.

The collapsible dining table in the saloon opens and expands with a leaf. Eight can dine comfortably here.

When I commented on the nice treatment of the settee corner, Wagner explained, “Those C-shaped settees you often see do hold a lot of people, but there’s no place for someone to cuddle up in the corner and read a book. And you can’t sleep on them unless you like to sleep in a C-shape.”

“Because everything today is virtual, we give an owner a weekly report while the boat is under construction,” Wagner said. “It’s kind of like getting baby pictures. We also keep all the photos in a master file, both for future reference and for any modifications the owners might want to make later.” Renovatio’s owners, like 40 percent of all new Passport buyers, also flew to the yard to see firsthand how things were progressing.

Under Sail

Sailing off Annapolis, Maryland, in late October we were greeted with a lovely 8-12 knot breeze, with temperatures in the 50s, clear sky and smooth water. As we entered the bay, we unfurled the main and the 120 percent jib. As soon as the two sails began to draw, the big boat heeled over a little and began to pick up speed. It was a splendid ride that, again, felt as though it was being made aboard a much larger vessel. On this particular boat, Wagner said he would carry the genoa to about 18 knots of true wind and then switch over to the self-tacking blade jib. At this windspeed, the balance was perfect and the steering was effortless.

A few minutes later, simultaneously furling the genoa and unrolling the blade jib, there was no need to tack to trim sheets thanks to the boat’s powerful electric winches. Tacking angles with the blade jib were about 85 degrees, and even with the wind at a steady 12 knots, the speed loss from the smaller headsail was negligible and the boat did stand a bit more upright.

Under Power

Renovatio is surprisingly agile under power with a turning circle of just over one boat length. It can also stop and then go astern quickly, thanks to its well-matched VariFold four-blade prop. The boat powered up easily to a predicted speed of over 9 knots at 2,200 rpm and 8 knots at a cruising rpm of 1,600. Sound levels in the saloon were a rather low 72dB. Burning 1.75 gallons per hour at cruising rpm, the 510 gallons of fuel will take you a long way if you run out of wind.

Conclusion

Any boat this size that is finished to this standard won’t be inexpensive. Even so, the Passport 615 provides good value, and as an added benefit is handsome, comfortable and safe. It can also produce a good turn of speed under both power and sail. “It doesn’t look like a production boat,” Wagner said. “It looks like a custom boat, but it costs about a million dollars less.”

That shouldn’t come as a surprise because both the designer and builder have well-established records of achievement. On a more personal note, unlike many other boats this size, this one is also a lot of fun to sail.

Specifications

LOA 61ft 6in  LWL 53ft BEAM 17ft 6in

DRAFT 7ft 10in

DISPLACEMENT 67,776lb

BALLAST 22,00lb

SAIL AREA 1,741ft2

FUEL/WATER/WASTE 510/425/65 (GAL)

ENGINE 180 hp Volvo Penta Diesel

ELECTRICAL 792 aH (24 volts)

SA/D RATIO 18.1  D/L RATIO 203

What do these ratios mean? Visit sailmagazine.com/ratios

DESIGNER Dixon Yacht Design

BUILDER/U.S. DISTRIBUTOR Passport Yachts Annapolis, MD Passportyachts.com

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