Hatteras GT54 Boat Test

Hatteras Yachts are a world leader in gamefishing boats, with over 50 years experience designing ocean-taming, fuel-efficient craft in the Carolina style. The recent release of their spectacularly good GT series takes the evolution of Carolina style in a slightly new direction, as Warren Steptoe explains.

Hatteras GT54 Boat Test

Boat Test Hatteras GT54: CAROLINA STYLE REDEFINED
Author: Warren Steptoe Photography: Warren Steptoe; courtesy of Hatteras Yachts

This boat test ran in ISSUE 97 of BlueWater magazine – MAY-JUNE 2013

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here

When offshore sportfishing boats are being discussed, the word ‘Carolina’ is usually associated with either ‘flare’ or ‘style.’

Boatbuilders in the State of North Carolina, USA, didn’t invent flared bows, but they did popularise a hull design incorporating highset, deeply flared bows with a ‘broken’ sheer line (Stateside, ‘broken’ describes a sudden curve in the sheer, put there to step the boat’s sides down from those high bows to workably low fishing cockpit sides), a distinct tumblehome at the transom, and another less obvious feature referred to as the ‘S-Curve’ or ‘S-frame’. This feature helps maintain interior space in a hull with a notably steep deadrise in the hull’s bottom at the bows and an almost flat deadrise at the transom. These ‘Carolina-style’ hulls are recognised as such worldwide, and these days the style is built all over the world.

As things tend to be in the fishing world, the Carolina style owes its beginnings to fantastic fishing off North Carolina, accessible via a series of inlets (what we Aussies refer to as coastal ‘bars’) between a string of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks. To reach the fishing, boats first had to run an inlet (cross a nasty bar) and then, once offshore, face steep head-seas created by the northward-flowing Gulf Stream and the southward-flowing Labrador Current meeting off Cape Hatteras under the influence of the North Atlantic’s ever-moody weather.

The final parameter of what became known as ‘Carolina style’ developed because many of the boats built in North Carolina and fishing the area were working charter boats – which dictated an almost-flat transom deadrise to make the hull faster and more fuel efficient on the way home after a day’s fishing. This need is relevant to a great many fishing spots indeed, and thus the Carolina-style hull’s popularity worldwide.

Meanwhile, to round out the story of the Hatteras GT54, to understand not only where it came from but where it’s headed, it’s worth persisting a little longer with some history…

History, Carolina-Style

Carolina style had its beginnings when North Carolina charter boat captain Omie Tillet developed the habit of escaping North Carolina’s severe winters by heading south to Florida, where he couldn’t help but notice the advantages offered by boats built in Florida by the likes of the Merritt Boat and Engine Company and the Rybovich family.

Manteo boatbuilder Warren O’Neal is credited as the ‘originator’ of the Carolina style. It quickly established itself among several North Carolina boatyards until, legend has it, May 1959, when hosiery magnate Willis Sloane became frustrated by a period of strong northeast winds making the inlets suicidal and closing down any fishing offshore. He was so frustrated that he vowed to find a boat capable of fishing despite the conditions.

So the story of the Hatteras GT54 begins with Willis Sloane founding Hatteras Yachts and launching their first boat in the Carolina style, a 41-footer named Knit Wit in March 1960.

Half a century later, Hatteras Yachts are one of the leading offshore sportfishing boatbuilders in the world (they also build luxury motor yachts) with every right to claim over 50 years experience designing and building boats in the Carolina style. They’re also one of the largest, which is particularly relevant when you consider the volumes of scale they can apply to the development of hull designs, and to the development and application of technology to hull construction and production.

Enter now the Hatteras GT54. Hatteras’ GT series began with a single model, the GT60, which has just undergone a second-generation redevelopment, and been joined by an all-new GT54, reviewed here, and another all new model – the GT63. The three hulls are obviously 60, 54, and 63 feet in length respectively.

Hatteras’ marketing declares the GT series as having “Redefined the Carolina style,” which, given the history just related, is a big statement! Even for a company with Hatteras’ history in the field.

Any student of gameboat hull design will immediately notice that the GT54’s bows, while definitely flared, don’t have the really pronounced flare characteristic of Carolina-style hulls. Neither does it have as pronounced a tumblehome at the transom as some, while the ‘break’–where the sheer line drops the hull sides from bow height to cockpit height – has been softened substantially.

So does ‘redefined’ just mean ‘toned down’, or maybe made more conservative? Might it be that Hatteras have been building too many luxury motor yachts? All of these elements contribute to interior space, and arguably (perhaps) safety, by reducing the effectiveness of a hull-style developed over generations to deal with challenging sea conditions; and which hasn’t, when all is said and done, become renowned worldwide for no reason.

What's A Boat Test?

I’m going to state straight-out that a couple of hours aboard a boat conducting a photo shoot off the Gold Coast might constitute a boat review; but in all honesty it leaves a great deal to be desired as a boat ‘test’. As you can see by the spray getting thrown about in BlueWater’s photo spread, it wasn’t an overly nice day, but the boat certainly handled the conditions very competently indeed, running comfortably at 30 knots-plus off Main Beach.

On the strength of my day’s ride alone, I for one wouldn’t invest all the zeros following the dollar sign on the Hatteras GT54’s price tag. However,a trip by sea from Sydney to the Gold Coast with one of the east coast’s more accomplished skippers, in even less kindly weather, would lead to a much stronger conviction. Graham McCloy, it must be said, sells Hatteras boats from Game & Leisure Boats’ yard in the Runaway Bay Marina on Australia’s Gold Coast (where he is Dealer Principal), so he obviously has a vested interest. However, I can offer a personal comment on his impartiality by mentioning he’s also a bloke known for offering forthright opinions about boats when he’s asked.

So I asked his opinion, to which he quickly replied, “I’ve driven a few boats in my time, and this is the best bloody offshore boat I’ve come across so far.” That’s an opinion based on a five-hour passage from the big smoke to Port Stephens into what Graham described as a “black northeaster”, followed by five hours from Port Stephens to Coffs Harbour with a 25-knot straight southerly “up their bum”. From Port Stephens to the Gold Coast was a relative doddle apparently, the wind swung south-easterly, putting it at an awkward angle over their stern quarter while Graham says he sat comfortably at the helm on watch while the auto pilot drove the last leg home.

Looking into the part of the Hatteras GT54 you can’t see in BlueWater’s photo spread may offer insight into why Graham was so impressed.

Hull Advantage

Hatteras have for some years advocated a variable deadrise bottom-shape to achieve the (in many ways contradictory) characteristics of a soft-riding hull that’s fast and fuel efficient. The new GT series hulls take this philosophy a step further. As it did before, while maintaining a steep deadrise angle at the bows, the GT series hull’s deadrise angle flattens out as it travels aft, until it’s nearly flat at the transom – that’s what a variable deadrise is.

However, Hatteras have access to test tank and computer modelling facilities that competitors envy, and as a direct result, as part of the development of the Carolina hull-shape – using bespoke technology to build it – they mounted the GT series hulls’ propellers in deep ‘tunnels’ moulded into the hull bottom. This achieves several things at once.

Draft is reduced because the props only partly protrude from the hull bottom. The tunnels also reduce the angle the drive shaft has to run to deliver power to the propellers, which in turn makes for a more efficient drive-angle, allows the engines to be mounted more horizontally inside the hull – lowering the all important centre of gravity – and reducing overall stress on the drive train couplings, the gearboxes and so on.

I suspect the tunnels may also help contain prop wash, allowing the bottom sheet to get on with its job while dealing with greatly reduced flow anomalies. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they contribute to the hull’s ability to track straight and true down-sea that Graham McCloy reported.

In strictly technical terms then, apparently the underwater hull shape creates, “The best bloody offshore boat I’ve come across so far,” an opinion which could be said to be worth every bit of the computer modelling and test-tank games.

Although an admitted cynic regarding advertising and marketing talk, I have to say nevertheless that I found a presentation Hatteras offer prospective buyers explaining the GT series’ hull design and how it works on the water is worth sitting through. With simple graphics this presentation depicts how the GT series hulls’ hydrodynamics work at different speeds. You don’t need a PhD to understand it, and also explains in simple terms how the hull is constructed and why.

Construction-wise, BlueWater’s time aboard can only report the hull proved absolutely creak-free, moving throughout some reasonably enthusiastic driving for the cameras as an impressively singular unit.

Moulded GRP Composite

Hatteras are indeed an industry leader in the construction and production of moulded GRP composite hulls, and the new GT series utilises their whole toolbox. The hull and superstructure are both single mouldings joined initially by being screwed together every three inches, followed by internal lamination to form a singular unit. The hull bottom is solid fibreglass reinforced with an interlocking system of resin-infused stringers and bulkheads. Even the fuel tank is structural – it’s centrally located to avoid changes in the centre of gravity as it is filled and empties, and has its own internal structure forming a ‘honeycomb-style’ reinforcement to the centre part of the hull structure, while also serving as baffling.

All the internal cabinet work is tabbed for positive location and laminated in place to make it integral to the structure. The decks, superstructure and hull above the waterline are cored with high-density Divinycell foam creating a stiff structure that’s light-weight yet durable under challenging conditions, in the best traditions of the Carolina style.

Interestingly, Hatteras paint the entire exterior of their boats rather than simply colouring the gel coat. This has numerous advantages, including a durable, rich gloss-finish, which can simply be waxed to make it look good as new. The paint job also provides an extra layer of water sealing, contains a UV filter to prevent fading and oxidation, and is easier to match after repairs.

Hatteras specify the GT54 hull as displacing 34,019kg, 34 tonnes in round figures; which is four tonnes lighter than a 52-footer of another brand reviewed in BlueWater a couple of months back.

Quality Finish

The weight factor and an innovative, advanced hull design no doubt contribute to Hatteras’claim of 40 knots-plus top speeds for all three boats in the new GT line. We weren’t able to put this to the test, but can report that the boat is often running at over 30 knots in our photos. A pretty impressive cruising speed offshore in a fair-sized swell reflected in the point-to-point times Graham recorded during the trip up from Sydney.

The boat seen here ran twin freshwater-cooled Caterpillar C18 engines, collectively producing 1135hp. C18s are the less powerful engine option, the other is the C32s –providing 1600hp between them. According to Hatteras’ own performance tests, the C18s offer a cruising speed of 34 to 36 knots at 2300rpm, compared to the C32s with 40 to 42 knots at the same revs, although with a roughly 40 per cent greater fuel consumption. Even so, the boat felt anything but underpowered with C18s, although the 4500-litre fuel tank and 680-litre water tank were far from full, and of course this new boat had yet to be graced with the ‘stuff’ every boat owner puts aboard. How much that might weigh I wouldn’t dare speculate.

After time offshore in front of BlueWater’s cameras we returned to Runaway Bay, and while Game & Leisure Boats’ staff washed the boat down, I had time to take a good look around inside it. I have to say that the standard of finish top-shelf American production builders like Hatteras and Cabo achieve amazes me. To say the GT54 was beautifully finished is no overstatement and the quality of its fittings is never compromised.

I was surprised to learn that Hatteras are more than happy to accommodate customer preferences, which is a little unusual in production boats, to put it mildly.

If I was disparaging about Hatteras also building luxury cruising motor yachts, inside the GT54 is where that expertise pays off, and real stone countertops and designer decor gets blended with the fair dinkum fishing stuff on the outside. So, all at once the GT54 somehow manages effortlessly to be one hardcore, dead-set serious fishing machine, and a superbly comfortable almost-luxury-cruiser.

A Real Fishing Boat

On the outside, describing the GT54 as a ‘fishing boat’ covers every aspect even pedantic people like myself enjoy nit-picking over. I spent quite some time checking out the cockpit and ’bridge, with an eye to their all-important ergonomics and the kind of things typically overlooked by builders who call their boats ‘fishing boats’, but who rarely, if ever, actually fish themselves. Despite this, I couldn’t find a single thing I was uncomfortable about – a rare thing during fishing-boat reviews, believe me!

Describing the GT54’s fishing amenities in detail would fill this entire issue of BlueWater, while a brief listing would have to mention an easy-to-keep-clean cockpit with wide covering boards that provide complete leg support around the periphery; a comfortable aft-facing seat mounted one step up on a ‘mezzanine’ level in the cockpit; a tackle centre on the starboardside behind the ‘bridge ladder; reinforcement in the centre of the cockpit to mount a heavy-tackle fighting chair; under-deck fishboxes; and a dedicated locker for gaffs, boat hooks, etc.

Up on the ’bridge, the helm sits behind a ‘pod’ with acres of dash space behind an acrylic panel for the electronics suite, and a panel beside the wheel lifts on struts to reveal those instruments and switches needing more protection from the elements.

Inside Liberty, the GT54 BlueWater reviewed, there were two double-bed staterooms, one to port and one in the bows, with a bunk-bed cabin to starboard. The portside double-bed master
cabin had a dedicated ensuite, while the bow and starboard cabins shared a starboard-side head accessed via a companionway entrance, so this bathroom could double as a day-head for above-deck guests. Alternately, the bow cabin can be optioned with separated bunks.

The salon has a central island-style bench separating the lounge area from the galley, with the dining lounge to starboard. The kitchen has easy-to-clean Amtico vinyl flooring; a four ring cooktop plus a microwave/convection oven; LED lighting; an under-counter drawer-type fridge/freezer unit; and a half-horsepower continuous-feed garbage disposal. Did I mention the real stone countertops?

Only genuine timber veneer, either American cherry or mahogany, is used for panelling, where many boatbuilders use reconstituted wood – chipboard in other words. The use of soffits and window framing is minimised to maximise the view through the huge windows, and the big L-shaped sofa is upholstered in real leather.

Yeah, it’s some boat…

Liberty was the first Hatteras GT54 to arrive in Australia (late last year). A second GT54 arrived in January and headed off to New Guinea. It won’t be long before they’re joined by others!

Highlights

  • Excellent finish and quality fittings throughout.
  • Interior decor.
  • Superior ride and handling offshore.
  • Seamless combination of a comfortable cruiser with a serious fishing boat.

Capacities

  • Fuel: 4524 litres
  • Fresh water: 681 litres
  • Holding tank: 359 litres

General

  • Material: Technically advanced GRP composites
  • Hull type: Development of Carolina-style mono hull
  • Length: 16.18 metres
  • Beam: 5.26 metres
  • Draft: 1.28 metres
  • Deadrise: Variable
  • Displacement: 34,019kg

Engines

  • Options: Caterpillar C18A or C32
  • Make/model: 2 x Caterpillar C18A in boat reviewed
  • Type: turbo-charged, after-cooled 4-stroke diesel
  • Rated hp: 567
  • Displacement: 18.1 litres
  • No. Cylinders: 6
  • Weight: 1675kg
  • Gen Set: Cummins Onan digital Quiet Diesel series, freshwater cooled, 21.5kW

SPECIFICATIONS: Hatteras GT54
Options fitted: Pipe Welders hardtop, Release Marine fighting chair, flybridge clears, cockpit teak package, outriggers, tender davit.

Hatteras GT54 Boat Test

Boat Test Hatteras GT54: CAROLINA STYLE REDEFINED
Author: Warren Steptoe Photography: Warren Steptoe; courtesy of Hatteras Yachts
Supplied by: Game & Leisure Boats

This boat test ran in ISSUE 97 of BlueWater magazine – MAY-JUNE 2013

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here