Sunseeker Hawk 38, A Fabio Buzzi Legacy: Yacht Style Review
A world premiere at Cannes, the Hawk 38 is currently Sunseeker’s fastest boat, topping 62 knots. Yacht Style puts it to the test on England’s south coast.
It was the photos that made me nervous, even though Sunseeker had already confirmed that the Hawk 38 was hitting its anticipated top speed of 62 knots. Earlier, the British builder had fuelled interest by announcing that hull designer Fabio Buzzi – 43-time holder of world speed records and winner of 55 world titles – had driven the prototype 68.7 knots in Italy, where the hulls are built by his company, FB Design. Headline making? Yes. Attention grabbing? Yes. But they were still just numbers.
Even the name Hawk was suggestive of the new model’s power, a tip of the hat to Sunseeker’s former Tomahawk and Superhawk series of yachts, both renowned for their speed and performance. But they’re all just names.
Instead, it was the photo shoot that made me realise what really fast really looked like, with images of Sunseeker’s quickest yacht flying through the air, soaring above the water, as it tore up and down England’s south coast. It also showed a huge design departure for Sunseeker, almost a cross between a Cigarette racing boat and an Axopar.
To test the Hawk for myself, I travelled to Sunseeker’s home in the large coastal town of Poole, where the late Robert Braithwaite founded the company over 50 years ago.
However, I had to admit – personally and to Sunseeker staff – that flying yachts weren’t exactly my thing. I have a fear of heights. When a plane plummets during turbulence, my stomach ‘drops’ and I’m among the first to grab the armrests. Sure, I like rollercoasters, fairground rides and bungy jumps, but that’s only because I’m petrified to start with.
After a quick check-in at Sunseeker House, we headed to the builder’s nearest production facility on Poole Quay, in the town centre. After passing by a 131 Yacht being delivered to her owner from the Middle East, I caught my first sight of the Hawk.
Sitting still and low in the water, she didn’t look so scary up close, more tender than tearaway. And very slim. The Hawk is almost 39ft long overall, but the beam of the triple-stepped, foam-cored hull is just 7ft 8in, her slender shape designed to slice through the water.
The two Mercury 400R outboards stood to attention, set for the upcoming onslaught, while the inflatable Hypalon 866 Stab tubes each side of the hull offered reassurance – or more specifically, lateral stability, as I’d soon discover.
“She’s a pussycat,” said Bryan Jones, Sunseeker’s Marketing Manager and coordinator of the sea trial. “I wouldn’t advise a full turn at full speed, but you can pretty much do anything else with her and you’re safe.”
BUILT FOR SPEED
Racing is in Sunseeker’s DNA. Braithwaite himself raced extensively and it was the company’s collaboration with renowned powerboat designer Don Shead from the 1970s that enabled the company to break into the-then performance-led Mediterranean market.
Sunseeker’s recent quest to revisit its speed-driven past with the Hawk led it to renew a collaboration with Buzzi, having last worked with the Italian veteran two decades ago on the XS 2000 and XS Sport.
One of two Sunseeker models featured in the 2006 James Bond release Casino Royale, the XS 2000 (2001-04) was designed for offshore racing and hit 65 knots with Arneson surface drives. It remains the yard’s fastest-ever boat and the only one quicker than the Hawk.
As we step on board the newcomer, Chris Schreiber, Sunseeker’s Senior Test Engineer, takes charge. I soon discover he’s a former offshore powerboat racer, so we’re in safe hands. He spends much of his time testing Predators, previously Sunseeker’s most performance-focused series, but can’t disguise his enthusiasm for the new kid on the dock.
“Of all the Sunseeker boats I’ve tested, this is the most fun, by far, and kind of goes back to my racing roots,” says Schreiber, who reveals that he’s reached 62.5 knots on the Hawk.
“It’s a really nice, solid, smooth boat. Very impressive and very reassuring, especially because of the tubes and the foam-filled hull. Usually on faster boats when you’re getting some airtime, you get a lot of crashing, banging and slamming, but on this it feels really solid. You’re in for a treat.”
Looking around, orange Silvertex upholstery offers a nice contrast to the metallic-grey hull and is used on all seven forward-facing seats – including four shock-absorbing racing seats – plus the social seating and sunpads in the forward half of the boat.
After a quick tour of the boat – more on this later – we settle in to the helm station. Situated centrally, the area is well protected by a double-curvature glass screen, a black carbon-fibre hardtop and two small side screens with aft edges that curve out to deflect wind away from the passengers.
Amazing details abound. At the bottom of the windscreen, ventilation inlets allow enough air in to help alleviate wind and spray getting ‘sucked’ back into the seating area.
The console unit is fitted with a Simrad navigation system and features two 16-inch Evo 3 touchscreen multifunction displays, with GPS and Wi-Fi capability. The screens give access to the CZone DC switching system to allow integrated control of all essential systems.
The steering wheel sits in front of the left of the twin seats. The leather-trimmed tilt wheel offers power-assisted steering and also has its own comprehensive set of buttons that enables the driver to use the navigation system without having to reach for the dashboard.
Because hull one is the first of 10 Limited Edition models named after the company’s founder, there’s a small plaque on the dashboard that includes the inscriptions ‘RB-001, Robert Braithwaite’.
ENGLISH CHANNEL, HERE WE COME
After cruising slowly out of Poole Harbour, the world’s second-largest natural harbour after Sydney’s, we cross the 12-knot limit line. Schreiber doesn’t need a second invitation as the rugged English Channel opens up before us and we go head-on with wind-whipped 3-4ft waves, up to 5ft on several occasions.
I take a firm grip on the small horizontal grab rail in front of the co-pilot’s seat and before I know it, we’re planing and doing 45 knots at 5,400rpm with four people on board. Even at this speed, the Hawk is pretty much faster than the vast majority of today’s production yachts.
“She can sit at this speed all day,” Jones remarks from the second row of racing seats.
We’ve already taken flight a couple of times, especially as we get stuck into the wake of another boat, yet the landings are soft, comfortable, although just as noticeable is that there’s no deviation right or left. At this stage, the Stab tubes are just skipping the water, but already proving their worth.
Like a dog on a leash, Schreiber is keen to push on: ‘Happy to go a bit more?”
I am, but not before I can put away my recording device and also hold the vertical grab rail aft of the side screen.
As we get up to 56-57 knots, I’m a wide-eyed mix of emotions, keeping one eye on the figures on the dash, one eye out for upcoming waves, and both hands on the boat.
‘Holding on for dear life’ would be a stretch, but it’s my first time at these speeds – and it’s absolutely awesome. The adrenaline has me grinning ear to ear as Schreiber attacks the waves and doesn’t change course, whatever the sea has to offer.
As well as the thrill of the sheer speed, the boat really flies off the waves and I ‘lose my stomach’ regularly, but with the knowledge that this is supposed to happen, so more rollercoaster than plummeting plane.
After several minutes, Schreiber brings the action to a close and lets us catch our breath. It’s a spine-tingling ride and just as dramatic as the photos suggested it would be. He then takes the boat for a few turns to illustrate how the Hawk grips the water, even at tight angles.
“Well, we’re not having you come all the way from Asia and not drive this yourself,” Jones then pipes up.
As I swap places with an experienced powerboat racer, I warn the others that the ride won’t be quite as exhilarating with me at the helm. Yet strangely, driving the Hawk 38 offers a completely different experience to being a passenger.
Now pointing back towards shore, I follow Schreiber’s lead and we’re cruising at 45 knots in a matter of seconds. Driving with the tide, it’s a smoother ride than heading out, and I’m amazed at myself – and with the boat – that it all feels so easy. The adrenaline is replaced by confidence.
After getting the nod from Schreiber, I adjust the trim and push on. In truth, I don’t even know if I pushed her full throttle, but we were soon hitting 57-58 knots and I barely needed to touch the throttles or trim tabs as we soared off waves, landed with authority, and never veered off line. I never felt like I wasn’t in control. Jones was right: the Hawk 38 isn’t a scary monster, but, yes, a playful pussycat.
One takeaway was learning how to relax into the racing seats, as my instinct was to stand up with each jump – as you might while riding a bike or horse – but the seat’s 12cm of vertical suspension works well when you trust it.
Keen to make the most of our time at sea, I try a few turns and, again, the boat feels as reassuring as we’ve been told. We then head east to Bournemouth, easily eating up the short distance even in the mid-40s, and this short run illustrates how useful it would be to be the first to the beach, restaurant or marina, a practical reason for speed, aside from fun.
Sunseeker has delivered on its aim to make the Hawk easy to drive, as it’s not pitched at powerboat racers but yacht owners and maybe crew, as it would also fit the role of megayacht tender.
TOYS, TABLES AND MORE
So, speed and performance aside, what does the Hawk 38 have to offer? Well, visitors to this year’s Cannes Yachting Festival could see for themselves, as the yacht made its world premiere.
After stepping on to the swim platform, which partly wraps around the outboards, you board the main boat by stepping over or through the central back seat, which can open like a door.
On this boat, you want to see where you’re going, so there are seven forward-facing seats, comprising a triple bench seat at the back and two pairs of adjustable racing seats, specially designed by FB Design with Besenzoni.
Its dayboat potential is highlighted by the surprising amount of social space forward, centred around an aft-facing C-shaped settee, which can be accompanied by a carbon table that can be deployed or stowed in seconds.
Forward is a sizeable sunbathing area with headrests, providing good space for two people to lounge in comfort. Sunseeker’s great detailing includes a diamond-quilt pattern on the forward sofa and sunpads, as well as most of the aft seats. More importantly for those who want shelter from the sun, the foredeck can be covered by an optional sail canopy.
The fun continues with a built-in sound system that features speakers throughout the boat including on the swim platform, where there’s also an integrated swim ladder to port side.
It’s not often a head steals the show, but it’s arguably the Hawk’s party piece, cleverly hidden in the front of the centre console and accessed by a hinged door. It’s compact, but designed to allow you to be able to walk full-height down the steps to use the facilities, which include a toilet, sink and a hand-held shower.
There’s loads of storage including under the sunpad where a locker can be custom-designed to hold two SeaBobs, with brackets and dedicated bulkhead-mounted charging units, while the hatch is secured by racing- spec compression latches.
Forward of the console, a large central deck locker can hold a life raft or inflatable paddleboard, while the aft bench seat also offers storage options, such as two drawer fridges. The Hawk 38 is a fun-filled dayboat, but one distinguished by astonishing speed and performance.
On the cruise back to Poole Quay, Schreiber shows me a video on his phone, from when he was racing as a navigator with driver David Toozs-Hobson in the 2015 P1 SuperStock Championship in Gosport. Competing in gale-force winds and rough water, the pair suddenly slam into a wave and are launched out of their seats and head first into the water.
If he’d shown me that video at the start of the sea trial, I’d have quickly seen how the Hawk could handle a U-turn at 12 knots.
The original six-page Review appears in Yacht Style Issue 49. Email [email protected] for print subscription enquiries or subscribe to the Magzter version at: www.magzter.com/SG/Lux-Inc-Media/Yacht-Style/Fashion/