Contemporary styling and custom features provide exciting alternatives for the serious cruiser
Some people are satisfied with the basics—a basic car, off-the-rack clothes, a standard house floor plan, a production boat. But others are not. Bob Perry's Passport Vista 515 Center Cockpit cruiser comes from a builder who specializes in satisfying sailors who like to have things just as they want them but don't want to start from the keel up with an entirely custom yacht.
"We design the yacht's accommodations to meet the ideals of the client," says Passport's Thom Wagner. "We are able to change an interior completely, and this yacht is a great example. My wife and I built this one for ourselves and put in some things that were very important to us. But then a client saw the yacht, fell in love with it, and didn't want to wait for another yacht to be built for him. So it's his now."
The yacht certainly does have a lot of amazing details. All fiddles and doorframes have laminated veneers that are bent around a form and then clamped and glued. Follow the laminate around the frame, and you can see that the grain changes direction to follow the curve. You notice many details like this when you sit in the main saloon. Wagner's wife added additional trompe l'oeil features, so as you walk around the saloon table, for example, the shadow of the wood grain changes so that the inlaid compass rose on the table's surface appears to move in different directions.
This sort of attention takes a lot of time and great woodworking skill. "Every yacht is different," says Wagner, "so each frame and door is custom made for each yacht. I marvel at it." Every time he looks around, he adds, he discovers something else that's unique and hand sculpted on the yacht. About 20,000 man-hours went into building this yacht.
Because the design is semicustom, there are limits to what can be done with the interior space. The watertight bulkhead behind the anchor locker is a fixed structure, as are the main bulkhead behind the forward cabin and the structure surrounding the mast. The bulkhead forward of the aft cabins is also fixed, but otherwise the accommodation plan is yours to create.
Many different accommodation plans are available; one popular version has the master suite forward and twin cabins aft. A variation is the accommodation plan shown above with two large staterooms, one forward and one aft. On this yacht Wagner has put one large stateroom aft and moved the nav station and an end table in the main saloon to create enough room for a third cabin in the center of the yacht, where beam is at its maximum and motion in a seaway is at a minimum. Wagner's wife also added a nice custom writing desk that folds out into the main cabin.
When a yacht has two cabins and a head forward, says Wagner, the inevitable result is that all three spaces are going to suffer. This configuration, he says, doesn't shortchange any area, "and you also get a nice cabin amidships."
The systems engineering is superb, and the yacht is built to both ABYC and CE standards. All interior fiberglass surfaces are finished with epoxy paint. There are many other interesting details. The fuel manifold, for example, is organized (and labeled) so the genset and the engine feed lines and returns are easily distinguished from each other. The manifold has two spare apertures, making it easy to install a diesel heater or another component.
Both the engine and the genset have a dual-stage dry exhaust. The exhaust mixes with cooling water in the conventional way as it goes from the engine manifold to an Aqualift muffler. After leaving the Aqualift, the mixture goes to a separator where the exhaust gas goes out one fitting and water exits another. The water separator is high up, so there is no chance of the engine being flooded by water backfilling from outside. This also reduces back pressure and allows the engine to operate more efficiently.
Two bilgepumps are located in the main part of the hull—a day pump and a larger-capacity pump for emergencies. A third pump, for washing down the deck, is in the watertight forepeak area and can pump either fresh or salt water. Because all the pumps are the same, there's no need to carry more than one set of spares. Of course, there are also several manual pumps that can be used in case of an electrical failure.
All wiring and harnesses are neat, properly sized, and carefully labeled or color-coded. There's an excellent hold-down system for the batteries, and it's easy to reach the electrical system and engine filters. Wagner prefers a manual stuffing box, which is what he has installed here. But if a buyer wants something else, he's happy to put it in.
Interestingly, you can pretty much take the entire interior apart with a Phillips-head screwdriver—floorboards, locker faces and liners, overhead panels, you name it. And there's direct access to the interior hull surface behind lockers and panels.
There are two pantries in the galley along with lots of lockers to store all the provisions needed for an extended cruise. The propane stove is a Force 10, and the Frigoboat keel cooling system helps operate the refrigerator and a 7-cubic-foot freezer. Both are front- and top-loading for easy access to items buried deep inside. A speed controller varies the compressor motor speed according to need, helping to minimize current draw.
It's easy to step up and out into the center cockpit. There you see that the raised gunwale is a bit higher than a mere toerail, but slightly lower than what I would call a low bulwark. There are good grabrails on the cabintop, and strong Dorade stanchions increase security when it's time to move forward.
There's a nice anchor-handling system at the bow contained in its own watertight locker. The locker also serves as a crash box if there's a collision. There's also a second forepeak space just behind the anchor locker with its own steps and dry stowage space. All the hatches have gas shocks and excellent gaskets for watertight security. All stainless weldments are exquisite and are produced in the builder's own fabrication shop.
As we power down Annapolis's Severn River for a test sail, Wagner remarks that Passport has worked hard to make the yacht as easy and fun to sail as possible. Nearly everything can be done by pushing buttons. Because he's a belt-and-suspenders guy at heart, Wagner prefers to have the in-mast mainsail's furling line run aft to an electric winch on the coachroof rather than electrifying the mast. He's also got plenty of manual-winch backups just in case.
Because there's a traveler for the working jib, there's just one jib sheet; when you have the working jib up, there's no need to use the primaries. When you're short-tacking, the traveler and single sheet obviate the need for any major sheet adjustments—this makes things easier on everyone. There's also a light-air 130 percent genoa, and a Code Zero is a very viable optional sail.
Perry has drawn a long waterline for speed and has given the yacht a set of lines that make it easily driven. Although the wind had been blowing hard the previous day, we are greeted for our test sail with just 6-to-8-knot breezes. Even so, the working jib and main give us over 3 knots of boatspeed, unrolling the 130 percent genoa gets us another full knot. Hardly a record-setting effort, but it's clear that this big yacht is no slug in light air.
Seeing the hollow-leech mainsail prompts me to ask a question about battens. Wagner's answer is that since this is a cruiser, his approach has been to keep everything simple. In this case that means no battens at all, although vertical battens are an option. The sail-control lines run to winches beside the companionway; the starboard winch, which is electric, controls the mainsail furling gear and can also handle the spinnaker halyard. The port winch controls nearly everything else—the vang, boom preventer, and jib and storm-jib sheets. It's an efficient layout, and Wagner has set things up so very heavy loads can be handled by electric moxie.
The cockpit seats are comfortable, and I could settle into a comfortable position on the lee side while steering. Visibility is also good from the windward side and from behind the wheel. With the working jib set, we tack consistently through 90 degrees. And as I've already mentioned, when the working jib is set, tacking is just a matter of turning the wheel. There's no need to grind any winches.
The 515 CC exhibits a lot of directional stability, which is a good trait when sailing offshore. This yacht wants to keep going where it's headed, and if you're used to getting a quick response from the helm on your present vessel, you quickly learn not to overcorrect on this helm. Under the water there's a moderate fin keel and a balanced rudder that is mounted on a half skeg.
The normal cruising speed is 2,400 RPM, and fuel consumption is about 1.25 gallons an hour. I measured 79 dBA in the main saloon at these revolutions, but we were moving at better than 8 knots. At 2,000 RPM the sound level dropped to 74 dBA and gave us a speed of about 7 knots, which is far more pleasant for someone belowdeck when the yacht is under power. Powering up to full throttle produced a speed of nearly 9 knots. The Gori three-blade prop has plenty of thrust, but does need a firm hand on the wheel when going astern because there is a kick on the helm when the yacht has to back down hard. The turning circle under power is about 1.5 boatlengths in either direction.
Although we were in no rush to head back home, when we finally decided to furl the sails and call it a day, the snubbing winch beside the electric winch was a great help keeping the outhaul properly tensioned while we wound the mainsail into the mast. It's just another thoughtful touch among many on this well-thought-out yacht.
While the 515 CC is a departure from Perry's earlier and more-traditional Passport designs, it should interest European sailors, who are, it is generally agreed, more style conscious than Americans. While the styling isn't radical, it certainly isn't traditional either. I'd call it a pleasant balance between the two, and one that is done with great attention to detail.
My association with the Passport group goes back to the early 1970s, when I designed the Passport 40. It has been a great success as a stout and easily handled cruising yacht capable of safe offshore cruising. The design goal for the Passport 515 was to create a comfortable and fast cruiser that would be stiff and easy for a couple to sail. This yacht has minimal overhang forward and a modest counter aft; it is available with two different transoms. Although different transoms usually require different sheerline treatments, I was able to draw one sheer that fit the two different LOAs.
The reverse-transom version of the Passport 515 has a transom boarding platform, 3 feet less LOA, and a more-contemporary look. The traditional-transom version has a more traditional look and 3 feet more LOA; the aft-cockpit model gains lazaret space, while the center-cockpit version has greater volume in the aft cabin. The hull has a firm turn to the bilge for initial stability and a fine entry for upwind speed. The stern is proportionately broader than those of earlier designs because beam aft not only adds usable interior volume, but also increases deck space and stability.
I've also eliminated the full skeg in order to get some balance area to the rudder blade. The feature has proven itself because this yacht is more maneuverable than previous models and has a more delicate feel, even when it is being pressed hard. In short, I'm very proud of this new design. Bob Perry
Tom Dove has been sailing for half a
century and writing about it for the past 20 years. When he's not out sailing new designs, you can usually find him aboard his Ranger 33, Crescendo.