Step­pin’ Out

TWO STEPS, TWO CHINES AND LOTS OF CLASSY PA­TROL-BOAT STYLE. THE NEW AXOPAR BRABUS SPEED­STER LEAVES US SUIT­ABLY IM­PRESSED. BY CAPT. BILL PIKE

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE -

Two steps. Two Chines. Lots of classy pa­trol-boat style. The 37-foot Axopar Brabus Shadow 800 is ready for ad­ven­ture.

While I’d seen an Axopar or two at the Amer­ica’s Cup races in Ber­muda in 2017 (high-pro­file Cup racer and Olympic sailor Sir Ben Ains­ley had one on hand for his per­sonal use), my first for­mal in­tro­duc­tion to the Fin­nish brand took place last sum­mer in France. While I was tak­ing a morn­ing stroll around the Cannes Yacht­ing Fes­ti­val some­thing truly cool tran­spired.

Jan-Erik Vi­itala, Axopar’s CEO, stuck out his hand, slapped me on the back and sug­gested I test drive his hottest new model, the 37-foot Axopar Brabus Shadow 800. I’d ap­pre­ci­ate her high-speed, high-horse­power, dou­ble-stepped per­for­mance, he said, as well as her glam­orous style, cour­tesy of Brabus, a Ger­man com­pany fa­mous for its af­ter­mar­ket tun­ing of top-shelf au­to­mo­biles. “What time?” I in­quired. “Well,” he said, squint­ing off to­wards the gun­metal gray of Cannes Bay, which was just then start­ing to show its sporty side. “How about 5 o’ clock this af­ter­noon?”

I ar­rived dock­side an hour be­fore­hand, pri­mar­ily be­cause I wanted to ex­am­ine the Shadow in an un­hur­ried man­ner, well be­fore the ex­cite­ment be­gan. The lay­out, for starters, was sim­ple—the boat is es­sen­tially a large walka­round, with a longish T-top, three rev­ersible seats at the helm, four seats aft (fac­ing a fold-out ex­pand­able table), a crisply up­hol­stered lounge area for­ward and, be­neath it, a cabin with V-berth, elec­tric MSD (with pri­vacy cur­tain), flatscreen TV and lounge seat­ing. The Brabus in­flu­ence, how­ever, was un­mis­tak­able, with ev­ery­thing from a mono­grammed leather steer­ing wheel at the helm (with in­set switches for con­trol sur­faces and me­dia) to a pha­lanx of in­tri­cate badges in all the Sil­ver­tex up­hol­stered seats.

Once I got be­hind the Shadow’s wheel, the first thing I had to do was ask my­self—was it re­ally go­ing to be pos­si­ble to safely record per­for­mance num­bers at the present time? I mean, the sea state was a freakin’ mess, with a six-to-eight-foot swell rolling in from the south, sur­mounted by a honk­ing melee of mondo megay­acht wakes, each rois­ter­ing off in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

“Rough,” I opined, as the boat rolled and lurched at idle speed. An Axopar Finn, who’d been del­e­gated by the su­per-busy Vi­itala to come along for the ride, gri­maced. “Rough,” he agreed, shak­ing his head.

A cou­ple of miles south of the JetŽe Al­bert Edouard, I pointed the Shadow’s bow to­ward the city of Man­delieu-de-la-Napoule well to the west and eased the throt­tles up to 3500 revs to gauge the boat’s re­sponse. Given the com­plete ab­sence of flare in the for­ward sec- tions, I half ex­pected to catch a bucket or two of sea­wa­ter in the face as a re­sult of the ex­er­cise. But nope, not a drop. And con­sid­er­ing that the propul­sion pack­age at the Shadow’s tran­som con­sisted of two, brack­eted, 400-hp Mer­cury Ver­ado 400Rs, weigh­ing in at 668 pounds apiece, I also half ex­pected a whop­ping bow rise com­ing out of the hole. But hey, nope again. Ac­cord­ing to my in­cli­nome­ter, just a lit­tle over five de­grees of run­ning at­ti­tude had put us on plane.

Of course, the fun fac­tor was kick­ing in. Thanks to Mer­cury’s Ac­tive Trim, a GPS speed-based sys­tem that was au­to­mat­i­cally trim­ming the two 400Rs for op­ti­mum ef­fi­ciency, speed and han­dling ease, I was now bop­ping across a lit­eral pan­de­mo­nium of waves and wakes at 20 knots with lit­tle more to do than steer and en­joy.

So, what the heck! I bumped ‘er up to 5000 revs, tweaked the west­erly

course slightly, saw our speed jump to well over 40 knots and, with quick glances aside, watched the white caps whirr smoooothly past.

What the heck in­deed! I fire­walled the sticks, watched the revs climb to 6000 and soon hit al­most 50 big ones, al­though a slightly lesser num­ber recorded on a re­cip­ro­cal run would bring the av­er­age wide-open speed down to 48.4 knots. The Shadow seemed to darn near fly across the wa­ter. And the hardover turns? With­out a hint of blowout or slide? Whoooeeeeee! What a ride.

Based on the driv­ing im­pres­sions I sub­se­quently logged over the next hour or so, as well as some videos I later watched show­ing a Shadow run­ning in open wa­ter, I’d say there are three ba­sic rea­sons for such fast, easy-driv­ing ath­leti­cism. First, thanks to the steady but dis­tinc­tive run­ning at­ti­tudes the boat dis­plays at speed, with that long, nar­row, lift­ing-strake-laden bow held high, her deep-V run­ning sur­face doesn’t en­counter the wa­ter un­til it’s well abaft her snubbed bow. This vir­tu­ally negates the ne­ces­sity for bow flare. Spray sim­ply blasts away—low and di­ag­o­nally—from a slab-sided spot amid­ships. In­deed, once I’d fin­ished tear­ing up Cannes Bay, of­ten at close to 50 knots, with tight turns and fig­ure-eights ga­lore, there was nary a drop of sea­wa­ter on the wind­shield.

Next comes hull form. Al­though the Shadow is a fiber­glass speed­ster through and through, her un­der­body is very much like that of a high-per­for­mance, rub­ber-col­lared RIB. More to the point, above the boat’s pri­mary, stem-to-stern chine, there’s a sec­ond chine that sta­bi­lizes the boat trans­versely in the same way a RIB’s col­lar does. Com­bine this fea­ture with an ex­cep­tion­ally low ver­ti­cal cen­ter of grav­ity—while the Shadow’s in­wales are con­fi­dence-in­spir­ingly high, her deck is only inches above the wa­ter­line—and you get re-

mark­ably solid track­ing, both in turns and on the full-throt­tle straight and nar­row.

And fi­nally, there are the two, siz­able steps. Lo­cated ap­prox­i­mately amid­ships, they un­doubt­edly en­gen­der oo­dles of lift, most of it in the vicin­ity of the lon­gi­tu­di­nal cen­ter of grav­ity, thereby help­ing to gen­er­ate the afore­men­tioned, dry-rid­ing run­ning at­ti­tudes. In ad­di­tion, they also un­doubt­edly boost speed and syn­er­gize with the chine de­sign to even fur­ther im­prove trans­verse sta­bil­ity, es­pe­cially in chal­leng­ing sea con­di­tions. I com­pleted my test of the Shadow rather mem­o­rably. In or­der to ac­com­mo­date all the new boats that make the trip to the Cannes show each year, a pon­toon is stretched across the mouth of the port and pe­ri­od­i­cally re­tracted to of­fer ac­cess to Cannes Bay for sea tri­als.

So, af­ter en­joy­ing a jolly good test drive, I found my­self ner­vously hold­ing sta­tion, just in­side the jet­ties, amid a ver­i­ta­ble slew of ves­sels, from megay­achts to run­abouts, all jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion, wait­ing for the pon­toon to re­tract so they could get back into the show. It was to­tal may­hem. And it only took a minute or two for me to de­cide to trade valor for dis­cre­tion un­der the cir­cum­stances and hand the helm over to my Fin­nish friend, who promptly took a savvy lit­tle ac­tion I’d failed to think of my­self. He hit the Sky­hook but­ton, thereby en­er­giz­ing the dy­namic po­si­tion­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of our test boat’s Mer­cury Joy­stick Pi­lot­ing sys­tem. In sec­onds, we were hov­er­ing peace­fully in the midst of chaos, en­joy­ing the ap­pre­cia­tive looks our fel­low boaters were giv­ing the Shadow’s dark, spare, pa­trol-boat pro­file. Some folks even waved, rather en­vi­ously it seemed. “Cool,” I en­thused. “Yeah,” agreed the Finn with a big grin. “Cool.”

Ex­tra-deep gun­wales in­spire con­fi­dence while driv­ing at speed.

The Brabus touch is ev­i­dent in the pre­cisely fin­ished in­te­rior.

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