Over the course of its nigh on fifty-year history, no other production motorboat builder has actively embraced more drive systems than Sunseeker.ical haven.
Here is one of the boating world’s best kept secrets. Over the course of its nigh on fifty-year history, no other production motorboat builder has actively embraced more drive systems than Sunseeker. Shaft drive, sterndrive, Arneson Surface Drive, Volvo Penta’s IPS pod drive, big outboard motors, and even Fabio Buzzi’s Trimax drive; Sunseeker has designed and built boats with all of these propulsion systems. Impressive enough in itself, yet Sunseeker is also one of the very few who has frequently offered its customers a choice of drive systems on the same model. Sometimes, even the choice between two or three engines as well!
Fitness for purpose has always been the overarching motivation behind Sunseeker’s choices. Back in 2003, the handsome Sportsfisher 37 charmed the fishing fixated US market. So twin or triple 250hp outboard motors were offered because, thanks to cheap US petrol, they were a fast and efficient means of propulsion, part of America’s boating culture even. In contrast, the erstwhile 80mph XS2000 was propelled by Buzzi’s Trimax drive because it’s extremely good at making sports boats go extremely fast. Arneson Surface Drives were used on the slightly more sedate 55-knot Superhawk 40 because they’re still efficient but less esoteric.
Sunseeker also built a sterndrive version of the Superhawk 40. Doubtless its most famous sterndrive propelled boat, though, was the triple engine Superhawk 43 that James Bond (Daniel Craig) skewered with a small fishing skiff in Quantum of Solace. Sterndrives are a more efficient means of propulsion than shaft drives, principally because there is no need for separate rudders and sterngear. However, while monstrous petrol engine sterndrives do exist, largely for wannabe race boats, most diesel sterndrives top out around 400hp, so there’s a physical limit to the size of a typical sterndrive cruiser.
Fitness for purpose still drives Sunseeker’s choices. Nowadays, the far greater size of its boats decrees that shaft drive is the predominant option. Although it’s far and away the oldest propulsion system, it’s a mistake to think of shaft drive as past its best or in any way outmoded. In fact, thanks to an ever-expanding pool of accumulated knowledge, increasingly accurate and sophisticated computer programmes (notably the Computational Fluid Dynamics that is used for propeller and hull design) plus Sunseeker’s continuous refinement of its tunnel design (which increases propulsive efficiency by reducing the propeller shaft angle), shaft drive hulls have become more efficient than ever. Shaft drive boats are also the most tolerant to changes in load and trim. Although that will not concern everybody, nowadays many of us pack our boats to the gills with tenders and toys (plus, we increasingly retrofit weighty extras such as stabilisers) simply because there is so much that can enhance our boating experience.
However, in keeping with its history of maximum choice, Sunseeker offers the buyers of its three smallest models; the Manhattan 52, Predator 57, and Manhattan 66, the option of shaft drive or Volvo Penta’s pod drive IPS (Inboard Performance System). The IPS versions of the Predator 57 and the Manhattan 52 are the fastest, though only by a modest amount. When it comes to the driving experience, both drive systems have their devotees. In truth, neither is superior, they merely dish up a slightly different experience, in the much same way that a front wheel drive car will always feel different to one with rear wheel or 4-wheel drive.
Whatever the drive system, the relentless onward march of technology will always spring surprises. Sunseeker is already weighing up Volvo Penta’s new Easy Docking (currently in prototype form) which utilises sensor systems on the dock and the boat to provide fully automated, hands-free docking. It’s a pod drive system, but I have little doubt that a shaft drive version will be along soon.