BOAT TEST: ALASKA 54 SEDAN CRUISER

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Chill out on deck, cruise places, and rub fenders — if not noses — on the excellent Alaska 54, a crew-kindly boat designed for discerning motorboaters. TONY MACKAY takes the reins. Mush, mush…

BOAT TEST: ALASKA 54 SEDAN CRUISER
Alaska 54 Sedan Cruiser

A well-superannuated Eskimo will, on retirement, be quick to defrost the igloo, pack up the fishing rods and head south to Australia for some fun in the sun. While perusing the offerings at the Sydney International Boat Show, a twinge of homesickness will have him briskly hopping aboard the Alaska 54 Sedan Cruiser to make enquiries. He will be amused to know that she is designed by Australians for Australian boating and built in China without a hint of his Alaskan heritage. Still, may as well have a sniff around while the harp-seal boats are off…

For those sick of 'flavour of the month' styling that goes off quicker than pate in the hot sun, the Alaska 54 has been cunningly designed to be traditional and conservative. This is not to say she is dreary or dull, rather more timeless and elegant and, as such, more likely to command a strong resale value in 10-years time when the other boats are passe. How many times have we all walked down a marina and spotted some horrible styling tragedy and asked ourselves: "Did I ever actually like that dreadful mess'? A quick check of your 1970's photo albums will confirm the awful and horrible truth. However, fear not. The Alaska looks smart and sleek, and rather arrow-like without the flying bridge

Leigh-Smith Cruiser Sales at the Gold Coast, a family of great boating repute, are responsible for the Alaskan cruisers. The 54 is an altogether new hull with a Euro-style transom and twin-cabin layout. All the boats in the range have a signature crème gelcoat , which is soft to the eye, and they appear well laid up in solid fibreglass designed to meet or exceed ABS specification and European Survey standard.

At 54ft (16.4m on the waterline) and with a 16ft9in (5.15m) beam, she is well proportioned and the lumpy seas at the Southport spit posed no problems, as she charged out into the wild blue yonder. Our test boat was powered by twin Cummins QSM 11 turbo diesels rated at 670hp each. Suffice to say, they had little trouble easing the Alaska's 26 tonnes up to her top speed of 26kts. The full spectrum of pre-delivery testing had not been finished and there were some air bubbles in the usually responsive Capilano hydraulic steering, so we were not able to do our usual nautical theatrics. But at any rate, she felt good, riding the seas with a most comfortable motion.

 

 

 

AUSTRALIAN DECKS
The inveterate sticky beak will swiftly move about the enclosed decks and take in a number of very well-conceived details that combine to make boating much more pleasant. I was delighted to see that an experienced 'liveaboard' boater had made these inclusions: Bruce King, or Uncle Brucie to the crew, is the design engineer for Alaska and responsible for attending the factory in Shanghai where he deals with quality control. Clearly, he has been a major force with so many thoughtful and practical details that will make the first and last cruise a pleasure.

A huge submersible hydraulic swimming platform - laid in teak - lowers in seconds to pop the tender into the water without fuss. It would be rather nice to loll about on the partially submerged section on a very hot day, making it a semi-sharkproof spot for the phobic. Transom gates on either side allow access up and onto the cockpit, where I particularly admired the full-sized roof that will shield you from the blistering tropical sun.

Our test boat had the 'tropical cockpit' mesh covers to further protect you from sunburn or the ravages of insects, both of which are part and parcel of Queensland cruising, but they could just as easily be exchanged for clears in wintry climes. The banquet-sized table is far more generous than the skinny offerings on other boats and its support poles did not impinge on the opening of the lazarette hatch. Now, this is a bugbear of mine, as often the whole lunch table and guests have to be moved to gain access below decks. Here, the table rather conveniently tilts up to allow the hatch to fully open when performing more serious stowage - a clever feature, indeed. The engineroom hatch is forward and provides equally unimpeded access when required. To port is a storage cupboard and to starboard is a covered sink and a deep eutectic freezer.

The Alaska has very smart stainless steel window frames, as evidenced by the twin bi-fold doors which open the saloon to the rear deck, thereby giving a feeling of flow-through for entertaining. They incorporate varnished teak panels in the lower sections and glass in the upper.

The saloon side-windows are fixed, although according to Dean Leigh-Smith one can order sliding windows. The usual trouble with these is that owners become over excited with their water blasters, probably a childhood hangover from water pistols, and blow out the tracks and seals causing water leaks. Better to stick with the fixed units and blast away with abandon.

There is no centre-opening windscreen, however, without the flying bridge, several roof hatches waft the breeze in from above. As the boat has a trunk cabin above the forward accommodation, and large stainless steel portholes and roof hatches, natural ventilation is excellent.

Wandering up the sidedecks, covered by wings for shade, you find plenty of handholds on the cabin and around the hull with which to keep a firm grip. Large stainless steel extractor air vents supply the engineroom with filtered dry air. The fillers are mounted on the starboard cabin side and the fuel fillers have special overflow catchers that drain into little containers in the engine compartment, so our Eskimo friend will not have to relive the tragedy of the Exxon Valdez. Over-rated breathers allow a fast fill of the 4000lt diesel capacity.

Heading forward, there is a sturdy pulpit and anchor platform, 60lb stainless steel plow anchor and 75m of 10mm chain with two lockers. The Muir HR 3500 12V winch, with remote control, is set into a recessed well that catches mud and muck and drains overboard leaving the decks spotless. We like spotless. And various fairleads and cleats are intelligently placed for mooring or rafting up for a party.

At the opposite end, swimmers are provided with a hot and cold shower, recessed ladder for boarding, and fittings for fishing stuff and BBQ. A special fitting allows shore water to be connected to give adjustable mains pressure when alongside the marina, and two 15amp shorepower leads keep the lights and equipment purring away. Salt and freshwater washdown is provided fore and aft.

There are lots of little hidden goodies everywhere and one develops a growing respect for Uncle Brucie's special touches.

AUSSIE MECHANICS
Turning our attention to mechanical matters, and with the Cummins idling away, it was pleasing to note the underwater exhaust system that rids the boat of sickness-inducing smoke. Thank you. The engineroom installations are carefully executed including dripless shaft seals, fuel tanks with sight gauges and inspection ports, Victron inverter/charger, a 12kVa Onan generator with exhaust water separator, so no splashing and snorting, and the Bennett hydraulic trim tabs. Three Marine Air reverse cycle air-conditioners will keep mummy warm and cuddly in winter, and avert those pesky headaches that materialise in summer.

The dash layout is well conceived with electronic controls, Cummins SmartCraft monitoring systems and a comprehensive array of equipment that you would expect in a boat of this calibre. Any options can be installed in a jiffy. The boat is intentionally serviceable.

A smart stainless steel helm with an extra large Navigator helm seat will ease the skipper into cruising mode and he or she will delight in the excellent visibility. A sidedoor allows access to the deck and, with the throttles mounted adjacent, it is very easy to lean out the door while maneuvering on the starboard side. If you are coming in portside too, then a very sneaky throttle and thruster station opens from the port aft corner saloon, allowing our skipper to remain in the cockpit and look forward or aft while berthing.

Sidepower bow and sternthrusters will assist the novice with complex situations, however, I did not ascertain whether these units had their own battery supply. A large centre part of the dash below the windscreen was done in a high-gloss burr walnut finish which I felt, after a lifetime of English cars with similar dashboards, might not last the (long) distance. I would prefer some better storage under this section, too.

LIVING ROOM
Enter the saloon through the big doors and there is a very spacious L-shaped dinette to port with another banquet-sized table. Ahead of this is a concealed flatscreen TV of cinema proportions, which raises electrically when its 'showtime'. Other guests can relax on the full-length starboardside sofa that pulls out, allowing two to canoodle during a romantic film. Ahead of this is a cabinet with drawers and storage, bar and U-Line fridge with icemaker - hallowed space for the entertainer.

On the port side is the galley, which I felt was perhaps a little small, at least storage-wise for the number of people who would be joining the party. A single sink, ceramic four-burner hotplate and a microwave, mounted under the helm seat, with cupboards and drawers and a Nova Kool under-bench fridge and freezer, complete the package. A corner garbage receptacle is accessible from the sidedeck so the trash need not be carried through the cabin. A nice touch.

The joinery throughout is North American cherrywood in satin finish and it was generally well executed, with perhaps a few minor issues with the galley drawers. But throughout the boat, quality vinyl headlining, upholstered bed heads, attractive leather sofas and laid teak cockpit add to the quality finish. The more adventurous might swish up the décor, however, the addition of personal items and the usual boating accessories will bring a level of settled comfort that is at once attractive and relaxing.

BUNKING DOWN
The forward accommodations are via the galley and down an offset companionway that leads up the port side. A daybed or single bunk is in this corridor and is most suitable for afternoon naps or banishing hubby if he snores.

To starboard is the master stateroom with a queen-sized island berth and its 5in latex mattress, twin side tables and plenty of other storage opportunities. An overhead hatch and two portholes have screens to retard pesky insects and keep the cabin well ventilated on balmy nights.

The en suite is comfortable with Vacuflush toilet, extractor fan and portholes. The shower stall, as with the guest head, is done in grey Corian that I thought rather dull compared with other offerings. I would be quick to order a lighter and brighter finish. Back into the corridor and the guest head is situated on the centre line, fully enclosed without a porthole or hatch. The shower could be bigger.

In the bow, the VIP stateroom, as they call them these days, has another queen-sized berth and spacious cupboards, reading lights, CD stereo and TV for additional entertainment. Another hatch and more portholes will keep things bright and breezy. And the boat will work equally well with a couple, two couples, or a family or four or more.

But entertainment is the key with the Alaska 54, and on a more spacious and generous level than some other types of picnic boats. They all have their plusses and minuses and, well. it is really a matter of personal choice by a genuine buyer to determine what constitutes value to them. Certainly a broad spectrum of practical details have been well thought out here, making the Alaska a pleasure to cruise.

DRIVE MISS DAISY
Underway, the ride is smooth and she tracks well. The Cummins engines are quiet and the installation is vibration free. A mere 1200rpm gives 9.5kts with only 24lt/h and a range of 1528nm. A faster planning speed of 14kts is found at an unfussed 1600rpm while consuming 98lt/h combined, which will take you 571nm.

A fast cruise can be made at 22kts at 2000rpm for 148lt/h and 594nm, so this is the boat's preferred cruising groove. Flat out, the Cummins sing at 2300rpm and 27kts on the GPS, with 236lt being sucked from the tanks and taking the theoretical range to 455nm. Do your maths and adjust your throttles accordingly. Whatever the choice, a huge variety of coastal trips awaits and you always have a little squirt up your sleeve to zip out of trouble.

In short, the Alaska  54 Sedan Cruiser is a well conceived craft with real benefits for enjoying the pleasures of our warm climate without being scorched in the process. The safety and convenience, traditional lines and sparkling performance will suit most buyers, and two couples or a family could set off on some fabulous adventures. Just be sure to save some ice for the drinks when you defrost your own igloo and cast off.

Specifications - Alaska 54 Sedan Cruiser

PRICE AS TESTED
$1.45 million w/ Cummins QSM 11 diesel engines and options 

OPTIONS FITTED
Opacmare 600kg hydraulic swimming platform, Raymarine C140 electronics package with autopilot, cockpit controls, Samsung HD 42in LCD TV, and more

PRICED FROM
$1.35 million w/ twin Cummins 540hp diesels

GENERAL
Material: Handlaid GRP hull
Type: Modified V-bottom
Length overall: 16.7m
Hull length: 16.4m
Beam: 5.15m
Draft: 1.17m
Weight: 26,000kg

CAPACITIES
Berths: 5 to 7
Fuel: 4000lt
Water: 1200lt
Holding tank: 150lt

ENGINE                    
Make/model: 2 x Cummins QSM 11
Type: Turbo-diesel
Displacement: 10.8lt
Rated HP: 670
Max. RPM: 2300
Gearbox (Make): Twin Disc
Propellers: Four-blade NI AL bronze

SUPPLIED BY
Leigh-Smith Cruiser Sales,
76-84 Waterway Drive,
Coomera, Qld, 4209
Phone: (07) 5502 5866; 0408 758 887
Fax: (07) 5502 5832
Email: dean@gccm.com.au
Website: www.lscruisersales.com.au

Find Alaska boats for sale.

 


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