Nautical Development 56 Review: Old Fashioned Success

Nautical 56 PDF Brochure (Click to Download)

Nautical 56’s seem to be following me lately. I went with another broker to preview a local one for sale in town. Then, I happened to be on sea trial in Longboat Key and ran into a Nautical 56 at the tiny Bradenton Beach Marina. The happy owner was living aboard in that hidden harbor. Finally, I came back to our Fort Lauderdale office, good ol’ Royale Palm, and a Nautical 56 soon was docked in a slip at the far end. For a boat with not too many made seeing 3 in a couple months seemed unnatural. Kevin, another broker argued, “But considering the size, they made quite a few of them.” And Nautical 56’s seem to hang around south Florida. They are high freeboard, dry ships, well built and powerful bluewater cruisers. Stephen Seaton the designer told me this about the origins of his highly successful Nautical 56 design.

She is a “copy” of a boat I designed in 1969. The company who built the Nautical’s used about 90% of my design and changed (or omitted) several things. The deck house is a bit different than I wanted but close. The hull and rig is from my design but not the same as the first and most successful build. This first boat (Limmershin) had a much taller rig and a very high aspect ratio centerboard that let the boat go to windward very well. I even raced her in the SORC back in the early 70’s. She would point as high as some of the best race boats out there.

Nautical Development Corp. was located in Key Largo, FL from the late 1970’s to early 1980’s. After modifying Seaton’s Limmershin design, they starting production of the 56 Nautical in approximately 1979.

Limmershin, Seaton's original Nautical design
Limmershin, Seaton's original Nautical design

First Impressions
Most striking is the freeboard of the 56. Stephen Seaton, the designer, pulled off the freeboard as well as you can even though he did not plan on it. Stephen says, “One of the main design things that has always made me very upset is the lack of ballast in most (but not all Nauticals) which gave the boat about 4-6 inches higher freeboard than I designed.” As he mentions not all Nauticals have the extreme freeboard. A few have more ballast than others. But all of them have a powerful, shippish look. Onboard you can image sitting high up in comfort and safety and sailing the seven seas.

Beyond the freeboard, the bald clipper bow is prominent to me. The combination of the sharpness and flair gives her that look. I picture almost duel hawser holes in the bow front like you see on megayachts these days. It is a definitively look that gets to the core the Nautical’s charm. The molded rub rail that runs from 1/4 aft of the bow almost to the stern is another identifying trait. Nautical 56’s are all ketch rigged, centercockpit hulls. The deckhouse on most Nauticals has high combings and overall a fatty, sluggish look that contrasts with the hull and is unattractive to me. The stern has a slight overhang and clipperish touch.

First of the true Nautical's
First of the true Nautical's

Nautical Development has a good reputation in the brokerage world. The 56 had a beefy rig, hardware, solid fiberglass hull layup, and thick foam cored deck. Teak and holly floors throughout down below. The actually design of the different Nauticals varies. As Seaton noted, some have less ballast than others which really grates at Stephen’s nerves. They are encapsulated ballast. I’m not sure the mixture but common in the Tampa Bay area were lead slurries. As well, others have different deckhouses. The first Nautical 56 (the blue one to port) was built for the owner of Nautical. She had a flush deck layout with a flybridge. The really toyed around with Seaton design. While keeping around 90% accurate, they continued to make minor modifications. Another change you will note on the blue hulled Nautical is the squarish portholes like on Seaton’s original Limmershin. They later dropped these portholes as seen on the nice, while hulled one at the top of this review. Most Nauticals look like the while hulled one.

Nautical 56 Interior

What To Look For
As Stephen Seaton notes, the best 56’s have considerably more ballast. This sinks the hull to a more understandable freeboard. When looking at a Nautical, try to compare her to others and get an idea of how the better ballasted boats ride. But, ones with the correct ballast are rare and as seen by the success of the Nautical, underballasting is not a condemnation. Just know what you are buying. The 56’s I have seen have varied in condition. Of course, one reason is that after 30 years most have been owned by a budget boater or two. When you go to 50 feet and above, boats need more maintenance, or they deteriorate quickly. A less obvious reason is the charter trade. With their great accommodations, Nauticals have been logical boats for charter.

Nautical 56 Layout
Nautical 56 Layout

On Deck and Down Below
The Nauticals have beefy rigs and oversized hardware. The ketch mizzenmast is aft the cockpit taking space there. The cabintrunk runs most the length of the deck with the high combings takes up quite a bit of room on deck. You would think on a 56′ boat there would be more. The cockpit is dry, large, and comfortable seating 10 or so. Down below, the 56 has great accommodations. Forward most are 2 heads port and starboard. Just aft are 2 matching staterooms each with double bunk beds. This layout would be fun for kids and great for visitors. Amidships is the saloon with 2 “L” shaped settees. Aft of the saloon is a nav station and work area starboardside which gives engine access. Portside is a walkthrough galley. Aftmost is the master stateroom. I have seen athwartship kings and centerline queen layouts. There is a little office starboardside and a private head/shower.

A Nice Nautical 56's
A Nice Nautical 56's

Engine and Underway
Looking through old brokerage Nauticals, most seem to have 120HP Ford Lehmans. When a boat displaces 51,000 pounds you better have a serious engine. Now 30 years later, look for the condition of these and hours. The engine room access is from the starboardside workroom aft of the companionway. It’s a great room with freedom to work and everything up on your eye level. To repower you would cut away the cockpit sole and pull out or drop in what you need. If correctly ballasted, Seaton says these boats can sail. Although he notes they are under canvased as his racing Limmershin had a taller rig. The goal is not to race but to cruise in comfort. And with their roomy accommodations you can guarentee that. A full keeled, under canvased, under ballasted, 51000 displacement boat is not going to get anywhere the fastest.

In general, the Nautical 56 is not fast but a high freeboard, dry ship with large accommodations for a family. It is a perfect boat for a couple with 2-4 kids which wants to travel the Caribbean and beyond. After the 56, Nautical Development made 60′ and 62′ Nauticals before going out of business in the early 1980’s. Stephen Seaton also designed the 62′ Nautical. Seaton writes, “All in all this class of boats has been a success with their owners so I should not complain. No one has ever told me they were bad boats, just old fashioned.”