Gulfstar 54 Sailcruiser Review: Little Harbor-Hinckley Like Quality

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In 1970, Gulfstar Yachts started off a budget builder of beamy motorsailors. Their questionable build quality included missing backing plates, open deck cores, and formica interiors. But as the years progressed, the company’s quality began to rival that of Hinckley, Little Harbor, and other luxury yacht builders. In 1978, they switched to solid teak interiors and patented a process to camber the edges of their joinery work. Post-1980 Gulfstars are truely works of art in form and function. And maybe the epitome of this evolution is the Sailcruiser series. Inspecting one of the Sailcruisers, you can hardly believe the sometimes mistaken reputation of Gulfstar. Some sailors never realized the epic and 180 degree changes the company made. The interior is a symphony of stunning light teak joinery with Gulfstar’s legendary cambered corners, cabinetry, and cabin doors. They built 23 of the 54 Sailcruisers from 1985-1987 in Saint Petersburg, Florida. The company sold to Viking Yachts in 1990, and the Lazzara family moved onto building megayachts in the Tampa Bay area.

First Impressions
The 54 Sailcruiser is classic Richard Lazzara design with a powerfully raked bow. The foredeck is flush and the 15’9″ beam set slightly forward of amidships. At a beam over length ratio of 3.3, she is chubby but not extremely so by today’s standards. In design, we consider a beam of 3.5 average. The sheer then angled in for a narrowish stern. Aftmost is an interesting second cockpit that I will note on later. The brightwork is above average with wide teak combings, a caprail, and handrails. Four highly polished chrome dorades shine her up. The cabintrunk rises up high with deck saloon windows and then another hard dodger and top for the main cockpit. The lines blend better than the Sailmaster series but still evoke that wedding cake look. These have rather short ketch rigs of 54′ clearance. The main is a double spreader while the mizzen is single. With her twin diesels, the Sailcruiser balances the sailing and motoring worlds. Underneath is a long fin keel of 4’10” draft.

The hull is solid glass layed up with chopper guns with hand laminated stringers and floors. Lazzara was a tinkerer who invented a stainless steel variation of the snap shackle. He liked to pick up the new techniques and quickly adopted the chopper gun. The decks are balsa cored and by this time have solid radii around the hardware and mast. The hull-deck joint is the standard raised bulwark style. The caprail, handrailing, and combings are teak. When a Gulfstar is for sale, often this detoriates, and purchasers are left with a less than appealing impression. While getting the brightwork up to speed is not terribly costly, maintaining the varnish is an enduring expense that should not be taken lightly. Classic yachts with extra teak on deck have higher maintenance costs.

On Deck
Sailcruisers have dual rollers forward on the fine bow. This leads to a broad, flush fordeck where a digny can be easily stowed. They have standard ketch rigs without inner forestays. At the cabintrunk the deck quickly rises up for doghouse windows and again to reach the rather high center cockpit. The main mast is keel stepped with standard shrouds mounted along the sidedecks. The genoa tracks are mounted along the wide caprail on top the bulwark style rim. The mizzen is aft the cockpit along the end of the cabintrunk. The location seems almost like it could be the end of the boat. Instead the lines continue for a second hot tub like cockpit aft. There is a little teak door that allows access into the master stateroom. Benches wrap around the aft and sides. Here is a great place for a grill, to fish, or lounge. There is not a stern pulpit. Clearly the Sailcruiser is not the most seaworthy boat. In heavy seas, this cockpit arrangement is not ideal. But as a charterboat or better yet entertainment boat for family, friends, and business associates, the deck layout is functional. Lazarettes are along the seating and above where the mizzen mast steps.

The cockpit way up high is easy to access from open cutaway port starboard in the combings. The hard dodger and top make this another large area for lounging. The benches could fit 2 people laying down longwise. The sheeting on one I previewed was an odd setup. There was no traveller but blocks midboom and aft which coordinate with halyard to manage the boom. Three large winches aft made this posible for singlehanding. The bridgedeck is a small companionway sill.

SailCruiser 54 Layout
SailCruiser 54 Layout

Down Below
You step way down with the freeboard and high cockpit of the 54 Sailcruiser into a salon you could dance in. Headroom is excellent 7′ plus. Here, the Sailmaster really shines with her airy headliner, light teak verneer, and deck saloon windows. The sole is nice contrasting teak and holly. Starboard is a U-shaped settee with swivel chairs to port. This layout is not traditionally seaworthy but comfortable at dock. Forwardmost in the bow is a centerline queen berth. Portside aft is a head with separate stall shower. The main mast is keel stepped. The teak is classic with the mitered trim, cambered edges, and not a square corner or speck of formica in sight. A two step up into the saloon and then two step down aft. The walkthrough is starboardside with the galley alongside and engine access through a door. Aftmost is an interesting aft facing centerline queen berth. A separate head and shower is portside. The shower steps way down into the bilge centerline so that she doubles as a tub. Unlike many Gulfstar where the cockpit sole hangs below and restricts headroom, here only above the aft berth does the sole noticeably come down. The walkthrough maintains excellent headroom. Aft in the master stateroom is that little door to the aftmost cockpit.

Engine and Underway
The twin diesel engines have access through a door along the walkthrough and via a hatch in the sole of the raised saloon. The diesel might be 66 HP or 77 HP Yanmars turbo charged. The engine room has good walk-in access. The hull was computer designed and according to all reports has excellent sea handling characteristics under sail and power. Twin turbocharged diesels allow good motoring or motorsailing performance under one or both engines. They make docking and maneuvering easier than with a single. A bow thruster is a worthwhile addition. The balanced ketch rig is a low 55′ height above water, ready for Intercoastal Waterway bridges and the 4’11” draft allows access to shoal waters along the US East Coast.

The Sailcruiser series are the height of the skill of Gulfstar yachts. With their short rigs and twin diesels, these are somewhere between a power and sail boat. A great source for more information is Preferred Yacht Sales who have three for sale at the moment asking between $279,000 and $319,000.

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