I have always admired Passport Yachts for their beauty, performance and detailing, but stepping aboard the new Passport Vista 545 CC, SAIL’s 2012 Best Boat in the Flagship Monohull category, I felt an especially strong sense of déja vu. The boat not only shares a family resemblance to other Passports, but has the same hull and rig as the Passport 515 I sailed in 2008. That’s a good thing-. Why change something that works so well?
Even the pickiest marine surveyor will smile at this boat. The gorgeous joinery can all be removed from the cabin, because it was installed after the deck went on at the factory; the wiring and plumbing are marked so they are easy to trace; the systems are elegantly installed; and handy panels provide easy access to everything. A hardcore mechanic might sit in the engine room for a while, just fondling the valves. It’s that nice.
The hull is solid fiberglass reinforced with Aramid, hand laminated with vinylester resin. Longitudinal and transverse stringers stiffen the hull, and a watertight bulkhead in the bow serves as a collision barrier. The gelcoat is isophthalic for blister resistance. The deck is cored with closed-cell foam and is reinforced where hardware is installed. It’s all very conventional, proven and strong.
The extra few feet of hull length are in the scoop stern, which replaces the more conventional transom stern seen on the Passport 515. It makes boarding much easier and will be welcomed by the many cruisers who use their dinghies as water taxis.
Elsewhere, the deck layout is typical of this builder, with high toerails, strong stanchions, an easy-to-access center cockpit, plenty of grab rails and all the other open-space comforts a sailor wants at sea. While working on deck, the crew might take a few moments to admire the beautiful stainless steel hardware and touches of teak all around.
Hard windshields are finding their way onto more cruising boats these days for good reason. The one on the Passport 545 not only provides protection against the elements, but serves as an anchor point for the dodger and awning. Visibility is excellent.
Passports all carry double-headed rigs, and our test boat had a self-tacking inner jib plus a 130 percent genoa on the outer stay, creating what is often called a Solent rig. Thom Wagner of Passport says he prefers battenless roller-furling mainsails on boats as large as the 545, since trading in a little performance for ease of handling makes sense with such a large rig. The sailplan on our test boat certainly seemed to have sufficient power and flexibility to cover a wide range of wind and sea conditions.
The furniture in the boat is not structural, so the factory can customize the interior to suit almost any preference. If you need an office or an extra cabin, Wagner can show you ways to do it. If you want the boat set up for a cruising couple with a workshop, left-handed cabinets or a cat litter box space, he can do that, too. “If you’re going to spend this kind of money for a boat, you should have it exactly the way you want it,” Wagner says.
Our test boat had a familiar, popular layout, with double-berth cabins forward and aft (each with its own spacious head with shower), a saloon with a settee to starboard and dinette table to port, an in-line galley in the starboard passageway, and a nice navigation station to port with a washer/dryer nestled into the space behind it. According to Wagner, this layout can accommodate a third cabin if the nav station is moved across the saloon to replace the settee.
That big saloon has lots of headroom, so tall sailors will be happy. It’s also bright, thanks to the oval windows, and easy to move around in, thanks to the handy grab points. The staterooms are comfortable, well-planned and spacious. Lockers abound throughout the boat. Everything is finished perfectly, inside and out.
We sailed out of Annapolis onto the Chesapeake on a brisk, brilliant autumn day. There was no need for the genoa in the 12-14 knot breeze, so we unrolled the jib and mainsail, and accelerated to better than 7 knots on a beam reach and over 6 close-hauled. The gusts began to hit 17 knots, then 20-23 knots, but the ride remained comfortable. In the puffs, the Passport 545 simply put her shoulder down and maintained a steady course as she sliced through the waves.
Passports have good directional stability, always a desirable trait in a cruising sailboat. Our test boat was not completely tuned, and loose steering cables made the helm a bit springy. But the boat was still easy to tack—through about 80 degrees—and felt responsive. With the jib’s single-line sheet led to a foredeck track, coming about was simply a matter of turning the wheel.
In sheltered waters, we stopped and backed easily, and the boat turned through about 1½ boatlengths. With the engine turning 2,200 rpm, the big boat moved along at 8.2 knots, although with a bit more noise than I expected (77 dBA).
Our test boat had a bow thruster and a two-speed Gori prop. You can set the prop at low pitch for normal motoring, then engage high pitch to increase prop walk and use the bow thruster to move nearly sideways when docking. High pitch also yields a quieter, more efficient ride when motorsailing in light air. It’s quite a versatile combination.
Passports have an undefinable quality. They embody the solidity of English boats without being stodgy, and the flair of French and Italian designs without seeming too radical. The result is a uniquely American cruiser redolent of the Old World with whiffs of the newest technology, all assembled with the greatest care.
HEADROOM 7ft 2in
BERTHS 6ft 5in x 4ft 10in (fwd),
6ft 6in x 5ft (aft)
LOA 54ft 6in // LWL 44ft
BEAM 15ft 2in
DRAFT 6ft 6in (std); 5ft 6in (shoal)
SAIL AREA 1,045ft2 (100% FT)
FUEL/WATER/WASTE (GAL) 250/250/50
ENGINE Yanmar 110 hp
ELECTRICAL 720AH house;
DESIGNER Passport Design Team
BUILDER Passport Yachts, Annapolis, MD, 410-263-0008
PRICE $1 million
Photos courtesy of Passport Yachts; Illustrations by Peter Bull