If you had to pick a yacht to go sailing in the Baltic in December, the voluminous, warm and welcoming Moody 54DS would top a lot of lists. But her size can bring its own problems, reports Toby Hodges
Moody 54DS boat test – a warm welcome on a cold day in the Baltic
And it could accommodate the masses, too – incredibly, up to 30 could enjoy the tour simultaneously. If there is a yacht you would want to host a party on, it’s the Moody 54DS.
Step aboard and you’ll see why. The hull is high enough to create capacious accommodation on the lower level, leaving a one-level living area through cockpit and decksaloon unmatched by any monohull of this size. The 54DS takes the concept to a new level – it is comparable, in fact, to a motor sailer or cruising catamaran.
Bill Dixon has been very clever with the design, which looks elegant, especially when the yacht is heeled, and she provides unparalleled comfort for her size. The panoramic views and natural light are astonishing, and the incorporation of electrical appliances throughout gives this vessel the feel of a floating apartment. You can understand then, that if I had to choose a boat to sail in Germany in December, this new Moody ticked all the right boxes.
I couldn’t help but wonder, though, how such a bulky, high-sided yacht would fare at sea. In an effort to offer a quality yacht at production boat prices, the Hanse Group, owner of Moody since 2007, again chose to borrow an existing hull mould. When the initial 54DS line drawings came back from the Dixon office they were reportedly similar enough to the existing Judel/Vroljk-designed Hanse 575 to use that hull.
It can be shrewd business to use a hull of a proven yacht – 145 of the 575 have sold in two years. Many production manufacturers do it to save on building a new mould – indeed, Hanse did it with the Moody 62, which shares the mould of the Hanse 630. But at the same time it forces a comparison of dimensions that I find hard to ignore.
To put it crudely, the Moody is a two-storey Hanse. Bear in mind that the Hanse 575 is already a very high-sided boat – so high that you need stepladders to reach the hatches from below – and you begin to get a picture of the size of vessel that greeted me in the fishing harbour of Laboe, near Kiel.
The superstructure of the Moody is gracefully designed to fit her length subtly. But the second ‘storey’ introduces a lot of weight high up – she is five tonnes heavier than the Hanse. And this extra weight introduces a whole new scale of loads. The added displacement requires more ballast, more engine power and more sail area to keep her moving in lighter airs.
In turn, the added loads require larger deck gear, halyards, winches, jammers – and lots of power to operate systems. It’s a sobering linear increase in dimensions.
So however impressed I might be by the grandiose features of the 54DS, from the moment I first tried to board using the necessary ladder integrated into the guardrail, I couldn’t help feeling apprehension about the forces needed to get this big dame moving.
Of course, Moody and Dixon are a step ahead there. They know it’s impossible to market a boat to a couple if she requires an army to handle her, so deckgear and sailing systems are cleverly arranged. Indeed, I was able to sail her up and down Kiel harbour largely on my own, thanks to manageable sail systems and sheets led to the helm.
Cockpit This is the social heart of the boat, linked by sliding doors to the decksaloon and galley. This is where owners of the 54DS will spend the majority of their time, at sea or anchor. Options include a drawer-fridge and barbecue. The starboard lazarette locker provides fantastic stowage and is arranged tidily. Electronics, including bus modules and back-up 12V distribution panel, are mounted on the forward bulkhead and there is good access to the steering gear and stern thruster
Bus system Moody chose to install a C-zone digital switching bus system as standard, which reduces cable runs and provides intuitive systems monitoring on touchscreen displays. But, perhaps aware that some owners will not want to rely on such a modern system offshore, Moody has commendably also installed a back-up 12V system so that the main powered sailing and navigation systems can still be operated independently of the bus system
Side decks Bulwarks are high to give a feeling of security when walking round the deck. Stanchions are carefully curved to allow genoa tracks to be mounted here
The wind chill factor sent temperatures plummeting well below 0ºC as we prepared to go sailing. It felt more like gearing up for skiing, but at least we could layer up in the warmth of the heated saloon.
Once kitted out, we set sail quickly and easily with electric in-mast furling and two main electric winches to operate sheets and running rigging (all standard), plus optional powered furlers. Within minutes, we were sailing towards Kiel under full main and self-tacking jib into 17-20 knots of apparent wind.
The self-tacker is another winning hand taken from the Hanse deck, which allows one person to short-tack a large vessel with ease. And sailing in and out of restricted waters was a prime way of showing the benefits of a twin-headsail set-up. Sailing upwind with one sail, before furling it and unwinding the larger headsail to return, proved easy and effective.
I instantly felt a goodly load on taking the helm of the 54DS. The Moody reps were quick to point out that this was because of the second independent steering system installed, which provides redundancy should one system break – both are wire-linked to the quadrant, but if one breaks it can be disconnected. That could certainly introduce friction, but to my mind the load was more an indication of the size of vessel and the amount of water she has to displace.
The Moody pointed well and averaged 7 knots as we tacked up past the entrance to the world’s busiest artificial waterway. She is obedient and tacks quickly, assets to be grateful for when sailing in busy shipping channels. She responds to gusts and heels gracefully, clearly communicating a sense of power. But the sailing was not as rewarding as you might expect of a modern monohull, considering it was full sail in flat water. During our European Yacht of the Year trials, the 54 went out in a Force 7 and steep waves, but needed the engine to keep her tracking, and testers reported slamming.
Steering from the twin helms works well, The forward visibility is commendable over and through the decksaloon. And with push button controls for the two winches on both pedestals it is easy to tweak sheets. Having a reversible option for these winches might make more sense, however, to keep sheets held safely in the self-tailers. And although there are tail boxes in the coamings aft, these are not large enough to prevent the cockpit becoming cluttered.
Downwind we averaged 6-6.5 knots in 10 apparent, gybing the genoa past the austere Laboe naval memorial, until we met a horizon that remains empty until the Baltic meets Denmark. The Moody makes for a very comfortable platform on passage, whether taking it in from the warmth of the chart table or walking around the secure deck. With sea room to play in, we were able to clock 9-9.9 knots reaching in 20 knots.
As an impending front closed in with the last of the light, and the surroundings took on an even more gloomy turn, the breeze steadily increased. I was impressed with the Moody’s ability to stand up to full sail (main and jib), feathering the main into 25 knots over the deck. The helm didn’t overload and maintained engagement with the conditions. She certainly provides the sailing satisfaction a cruising cat cannot. But the most pleasure was still reserved for going forward into the cockpit or heated saloon to thaw out. The ability to stand a watch here in complete protection and all-round visibility is the Moody’s winning hand.
The effort required to convince the 54DS to berth alongside a spacious marina berth was a telling example of how her bulk can present problems. The local dealer from Diamond Yachting thinks 54DS owners will need a crew to help manage the boat for maintenance and docking, At least the potential to house crew is catered for, which itself is impressive for a 54ft yacht.