Can the champion from the 1980s still make its mark today? Nick Burnham puts Hanse’s new baby to the test…
Ask anyone to name an American smash hit TV series of the 1980s and chances are you’ll get the answer Dynasty. But we weren’t short of our own home-grown Dynasty – we had Howard’s Way. It packed in pastel-shaded, shoulder-padded glamour every bit as tightly as the American series, but it had something extra. Boats. Set in the mythical town of Tarrant based on the very real Hamble River, Howard’s Way explored the lives, loves and business dealings of the marina set.
In the very thick of the show was Sealine International. Its Solent office was used as the fictitious ‘Leisure Cruise’ boat building business, and its latest models frequently appeared in the programme (even the end credits featured a Sealine 285 Ambassador complete with a twin tone grey and white hull racing across the Solent). The 1980s was Sealine’s heyday. With a large and innovative model range stretching from 18 to 40 feet it was flying high at the cutting edge of British boat building. Firmly established alongside Sunseeker, Fairline and Princess as one of ‘The Big Four’, Sealine was responsible for many of the innovations that we still enjoy today such as stairs on flybridge boats where previously there were only ladders, and transom doors to aid boarding.
The recession in the early 1990s was a difficult time for all boat builders.
Upmarket Fairline, Princess and Sunseeker pursued the riches of bigger boat building. In the 1980s you could buy a 20 foot Sunseeker or a 26 foot Princess or Fairline. Today neither Princess or Sunseeker build anything under 40 feet whilst the top end of their ranges now stretch way past 100.
It was against that backdrop that Sealine struggled on through the 1990s with smaller models, gradually abandoning its core range of practical affordable craft through the noughties until even its smallest boat was 38 feet yet without claiming the superyacht market of its competitors. In 2013 the administrators were called in.
But far from being the end of the story, this is where the company is reborn. German boat building conglomerate Hanse bought the brand and much of the tooling, and Sealine is firmly back in business. Three existing models (the S380, S450 and F450) went straight back into production. Then the first new Hanse model was launched, the F380 flybridge, although this was a boat already in development and well under way. The S330 you see here, then, is the first completely Hanse conceived, developed and produced boat, and as such it is an important marker as to the direction of the company and what we might expect from it.
Immediately reassuring is the fact that Hanse has developed a smaller boat, rather than following previous well worn attempts to take the brand up market with bigger and bigger vessels.
33 feet is heartland territory for Sealine, and it is heartening indeed that the new management sees this market place as important enough to position the brand by launching their first all new boat into this segment. The other interesting facet is that Sealine has employed a British designer, Bill Dixon, to pen its first new model in a bid to instil the craft with some UK flavour. This, then, is a boat aimed squarely at traditional Sealine enthusiasts and would-be owners.
That said, there is nothing traditional about the styling.
From the bolt upright stem to the white arc of screen pillars that arch back to the transom as part of the standard fit cockpit hard top, this is firmly a product of the 21st century. What it isn’t, however, is quite as slab sided as previous recent Sealine models like the S380 with its ‘Marmite – love it or hate it’ smooth vertical flanks. Feature lines and creases break up the surface tension, adding a little visual flair.
It is on board that the Sealine faithful will finally breathe a sigh of relief. Because whilst innovation remains in features like the two-section sliding roof (forward and aft sections concertinaing into a thick central spar), the layout is entirely practical and family friendly.
There’s a large dinette to port capable of catering for the whole crew, a wet bar opposite and, at the front of the cockpit, three proper forward-facing seats (rather than the less practical chaise longue that many boats of this size sport).
Head downstairs and its the same story – a practical sensible layout. There’s an L-shaped settee to port opposite a compact galley ahead of a generous heads. And it is a two-cabin layout so there are separate cabins fore and aft obviating the need to turn beds into seats during the day. Large windows and light woods add a feeling of space, as does excellent headroom.
Criticisms? The galley is a little tight (although our test boat is a prototype – production boats will be better laid out) and if you infill the two forward singles to create a double you lose all floor space. But against that the heads is huge and the mid cabin surprisingly generous (so use that as your master cabin and put the kids in the two singles forward. Problem solved). It’s a compact craft at the end of the day – there will always be a degree of compromise.
One area where you certainly don’t need to make excuses,however, is out on the water. The twin Volvo Penta D3 220 engines are the same units fitted to the Bavaria 360 Sport we tested in the last issue, but in this slightly smaller boat performance is upgraded from ‘adequate’ to ‘sufficient’. They suit the boat well, giving strong acceleration, a top speed just north of 30 knots and comfortable cruising. A single Volvo D6 330 or D6 400 is an intriguing alternative for those that don’t require a fist full of throttles, or you can downgrade the twin install to a pair of D3-170 motors if you wish to cut costs. But the stand-out feature of Sealine’s new baby is the handling. Agile, positive and planted, it’s a great steer, completely belying its practical family boat credentials.
As a signpost to Sealine’s future under German ownership then, it is absolutely pointing the right way. It’s fair to say that Sealine’s heyday is no longer behind it in a world of shoulder pads and red braces, and instead lies glittering on the horizon ahead.