It may not be pretty, but an old favourite is making a comeback, thanks to the spacious quarters it allows below decks, writes David Lockwood.
Before the new millennium, just about every big boat builder had an aft cabin in its fleet. Boats such as the Island Gypsy 44, Mariner 45 and classic Grand Banks 42 were mainstream and much loved by Australian boating families. Eventually, these boats fell out of favour as more contemporary cruisers took hold. Yet their legacy remains.
Aft-cabin cruisers still lay claim to an inordinate amount of marina space around this country and, it has been noticed by astute boat brokers, command a premium compared with other boats of the same age. A hit with grey nomads, the aft cabin offers more of everything except, perhaps, good looks.
But what you lose in aesthetics, due to the bulk of that aft cabin, you more than make up with utility. In today's pared-back pleasure boat market, the aft cabin is once again making dollars and sense.
Well-known Queensland boating family the Leigh-Smiths have just released a "new" million-dollar rendition of the aft cabin in their popular Asian-made Alaska cruiser range. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in Australia, Alaska has made its mark over the years with some 80 imports of the Taiwanese-built flybridge and sedan cruisers. But rather than rest on their laurels, brothers Dean and Ryan Leigh-Smith decided to invigorate the quiet market with a modern take on the aft-cabin cruiser.
While it is no oil painting, the Alaska 49 Aft Cabin Yacht Fisher is a veritable floating holiday house. Owners are treated to a full-beam stateroom featuring a king-size bed and their own en suite. At the other end of the boat, there are two guests' cabins and another bathroom. As such, the layout is ideal for accommodating extended families.
The bit in the middle is a communal saloon with a loaded galley and lower-helm station, while outdoor areas range from a sun pad on the bow to a cockpit perfect for fishing, up to a rear entertainer's deck and a fair-weather flybridge with second helm. None of this breaks new ground but it does update the aft-cabin concept by packing the latest cruising kit, full electronic diesel engines and adding a decent cockpit where the old renditions had none.
"We looked at the market and considered our own family boating use and discovered that the aft-cabin cruiser hasn't really been about on the new-boat market since the 1990s," says Dean Leigh-Smith from the family's Gold Coast City Marina. "But it's a great family design.
"Our parents could have the big aft cabin with en suite and there are two cabins up front with another split head and shower compartment for us.
"Essentially, the boat was built around a king-size bed. Although this is a 49-footer, we're offering owners a stateroom and living experience in keeping with a much bigger motor yacht."
To update the interior, there is about half the amount of joinery than its Alaska sister ships. The increase in mouldings, upmarket Macrosuede upholstery, Blum soft-close drawers and Grohe bathroom fittings are among the comforts.
Of course, price is a big consideration and Leigh-Smith says there is a psychological barrier where most of his clients don't want to spend more than $1 million. To this end, the 49 Aft Cabin Yacht Fisher sold just days after it landed here for $999,999, with the first pair of Cummins QSB 6.7L 480hp engines in the country.
Bow and stern thrusters made exiting the marina a snap and, before long, we were ranging down the serpentine Coomera River to the Broadwater. Top speed was 23 to 24 knots, with a comfortable cruise of 17 to 18 knots, before we pulled on the reins and settled for a frugal nine to 10 knots displacement speed. Smoke was noticeable by its absence and the boat is eager to please.
Whether the boat is anchored or under way, safety has been a key driver of the design, with plenty of (elliptical) handrails, walk-around decks with LED lighting and a nice flat foredeck that doubles as seating.
And with that, the time-proven aft-cabin cruiser has been given a new lease of life, with the latest clean-running electronic diesel engines, a modern interior and mod cons such as a water maker and washer-dryer.
The Alaska 49 Aft Cabin Yacht Fisher will be on display at the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show this month.