- The Portofino 32 proves you do not need to spend a fortune to own a fast and capable offshore powerboat.
- … this is a boat that can still be enjoyed as much as the boat in the neighbouring berth that costs five times as much.
- Twenty years on, the build quality is still impressive.
Sunseeker Portofino 32
Greg Copp reminisces about an old love affair – with the classic Sunseeker Portofino 32 …
It was a decade ago and I was powering out of Bembridge into a south-easterly force 6. My family and the 25ft SeaRay I had back then were taking a beating. I was the only fool out, or so I thought – until I noticed a boat on an opposite course. Minutes later a Sunseeker Portofino 32 passed me, cutting effortlessly through the troubled sea. That was a decade ago and the beginning of my love affair with classic Sunseekers, of which the Portofino 32 is probably the best all-rounder.
Launched in 1991, it was a development of the previous Portofino 31. It used the same proven Don Shead deep-vee hull but had a more rounded stern and was one of the first sports boats to have a wrap-around windscreen. Unlike the Portofino 31, most were diesel-powered boats fitted with twin 230hp Volvo KAD42s on 290 duo-prop sterndrives. There were a few fitted with twin 250hp Yamaha ME420s coupled to Yamaha Hydra sterndrives and a handful of petrol-powered boats (twin 330hp 7.4-litre V8 Volvos). In its slowest KAD42-powered form it was a 41-knot boat when new with rapid sure-footed steering and great seakeeping. The first time I actually got to drive one a few years back it reminded me very much of the Windy 31 Scirocco. It turned very quickly and, displacing only 4.5 tonnes (dry), it responded quickly to the 460hp produced by a couple of early-generation diesel sterndrives and was still capable of nudging 40 knots.
The boat featured in this article is one of the rare Yamaha-powered Portofino 32s whose owner has owned it since 1996. However, in 2006, having clocked up a lot of hours, he decided to upgrade the engines to 275hp Yamaha ME422HOs from the original 250hp ME420STIs. He found fuel consumption to be much the same, but the boat was now hitting 44 knots compared to its previous 41 knots. There are pros and cons to having a Yamaha-powered boat. As well as being faster, it should prove slightly more reliable than a boat with KAD42s. However, Yamaha have stopped building their Toyota-based sterndrive engines, so spares are not as easy to get as Volvo spares, and believe it or not they are more expensive. Personally I would prefer ME420STIs, and especially ME422HOs, to KAD42s, as the extra power, in particular the low-down torque, does this boat the justice its hull deserves.
Like many early Sunseekers from the Hawk range, the hull design exceeds the diesel engine technology of the time, with only petrol engines releasing their true potential then. Displacing 4.5 tonnes, the Portofino 32 is a realistic proposition for petrol power, but you need to be diligent in this area (see ‘Points to consider’). The engine bay is far from generous when either twin 3.6-litre Volvos or 4.2-litre Yamahas are squeezed in, with just 2 foot 10 inches between the crankshaft centre lines. However, bar the oil dipsticks, all the main service items are located forward of the engines.
Twenty years on, the build quality is still impressive. The gel coat on the Portofino 32s that I have seen is testament to this, as is the external upholstery generally. The mahogany dash is typical of Sunseeker at the time, and often gets upgraded to carbon fibre or anodised aluminium as a result of the original lacquer lifting. The cockpit extends to over half the hull length, a feature that would dominate sports boat designs to the present day. As a result, there is a large horseshoe seating area aft, of which the rear section converts to a sun pad while still leaving seating for six around two small tables. The helm seat is a double arrangement, but realistically anyone wanting to ride up front with the helmsman will have to sit portside in the navigator’s seat.
Below, the accommodation is deceptive. The saloon floor has been dropped as low as possible into the hull vee. As a result, at 6 foot I have no problem standing in the aft section of the saloon, which is unusual for a sports boat of this size. The galley is located on both sides, with a double hob, fridge, sink/drainer and a reasonable amount of storage. Forward of this sits a convertible dinette, which will become a large double berth if required. Unless you have guests or children, you are likely to favour the discreet mid cabin. Accessed on the starboard side, you get a hanging locker in the doorway and a large foot locker at the end of the bed. There is a limited 5 foot 6 inches of headroom in the doorway and not a massive amount of space above the bed, though you can sit up and read if need be. However, unless you want to roll about in the king-size convertible dinette it is a comfortable option to making up a bed in the saloon each night. The heads to port also has 5 foot 6 inches of headroom, but, complete with a shower, it is nevertheless pretty reasonable. In reality, the only shower likely to get used is the transom shower.
The Portofino 32 proves you do not need to spend a fortune to own a fast and capable offshore powerboat. In reality, it is only fractionally slower than its modern counterparts and its hull no less capable. Subject to careful or qualified scrutiny, this is a boat that can still be enjoyed as much as the boat in the neighbouring berth that costs five times as much.
- Build period: 1991 to 1995
- Designer: Don Shead/Sunseeker
- Berths: 1
- Cabins: 1
- Hull type: Constant deep-vee
- RCD category: N/A – built before RCD
- Current value: From £40,000
- Length overall: 32ʹ 3″ (9.83m)
- Beam: 10ʹ 11″ (3.33m)
- Draught: 2ʹ 2″ (0.65m)
- Displacement: 4.5 tonnes (light)
- Fuel capacity: 110 gal (500 litres)
- Water capacity: 35 gal (156 litres)
- Cruising range: 260 miles with a 20% reserve
Points to consider
As with any older sports boat, the engines will be the main point to consider. Most boats will have Volvo KAD42s on 290 duo-prop sterndrives. Look for cylinder head oil and coolant leaks on the KAD42, though it is likely most will have had this problem sorted. The service history needs to be checked as quite a lot can get forgotten or lost over 20 years. It is likely that over the years the boat has had some enthusiastic use, so a mechanical survey is a must. The Yamaha engines that were fitted as an option to the Volvo KAD42s are pretty robust, but a mechanical survey would also be wise. If you find one of the few petrol-powered boats built, only consider it if it has either been repowered relatively recently or rebuilt by a reputable engineer with receipts to prove it.
The 290 duo-prop drive used with the Volvo KAD42 is pretty robust and less prone to electrolysis than Volvo’s later drives. However, it does suffer from wear in the steering yoke located in the transom shield. From personal experience, I have found that when badly worn you can waggle the sterndrive by the propeller from side to side by up to 6 inches. You should expect only a couple of inches of movement from an unworn steering yoke. Also consider how many hours the sterndrives have done and whether they have been rebuilt in the past. The Yamaha Hydra drive is a pretty good sterndrive but costly to maintain, so scrutinise these drives carefully.
Sunseeker built these boats well, but 20 years with a sports boat can certainly result in some stress cracking. It is easier to spot when the boat is first lifted from the water. Wet marks will remain in the antifouling after the rest of the hull has dried, indicating areas of stress cracking. It can be sorted and will involve some internal work to the hull and most likely the stringers if you want it perfect. The reality is that many boats, both old and relatively new, have some degree of stress cracking that their owners are often not aware of.
The Portofino 32 was built before bow thrusters were on the options list for a 32ft boat. Some may have had a bow thruster retrospectively fitted, which is worth looking out for. Alternatively, to retrospectively fit a thruster will cost between £4,000 and £5,000.
Servicing for either the Volvo or Yamaha engines will be between £400 and £500 per engine for a 100-hour service. In the case of a boat with Yamaha engines, any parts out of the ordinary are likely to be pretty costly. Factor in the cost of a bellows service on the sterndrives every second year if you are keeping the boat in the water. I say this because the Portofino 32 is light enough to be dry-stacked at some locations, which makes good sense for a fast boat.
Both the Volvo KAD42 and the Yamaha ME420 will return very close to 3mpg (both engines) at 25 knots providing the engines are in good shape. Push this boat up to a very easy cruising speed of 32 knots and this will drop to around 2.25mpg. Flat out you will get around 1.8mpg. The later-generation Yamaha ME422s fitted to the boat featured here will be slightly more efficient.
1994 Price: £52,500
This boat, located at Chichester, caught my eye browsing the net simply because of its repower in 2006 with 275hp Yamaha ME422HOs. This does justice to the boat’s credentials, making for an exciting drive as well as being potentially more reliable and economical than either of the original engine options. She has stainless props and has been recently serviced, with new anodes and a fresh coat of antifouling. The GRP is in great condition, as are the covers and upholstery (inside and out). It has a modern chartplotter and DSC radio as well as a fold-up tender.
The Portofino 32 was a generally well-built and -designed sports cruiser and a successful model in the Sunseeker range. Although a Portofino 32 will now be a little long in the tooth, if it has been well and regularly maintained it should provide many more years of sound and reliable service. Historical care and maintenance will, however, be the key factors, and in particular the sterndrives should receive close inspection. After approximately 20 years’ service, I would expect the sterndrives to have either been replaced or rebuilt, as they are susceptible to corrosion over the long term. Also, running hours greater than 1,000 usually indicates excessive wear and tear.
A close inspection of the hull below the waterline may find stress cracks over the position of the longitudinal internal structure if the Portofino 32 has been driven hard in rough seas. However, this is unlikely to be as dramatic as it sounds, and the repair is usually very straightforward. I have also found the early stages of osmosis in the Portofino 32, and this would be discovered during the normal course of a survey, should it be present.
The Volvo KAD42s were a very good engine, but could weep coolant from the portside of the cylinder head gasket, causing external corrosion. By now, most will have had the upgraded head gasket fitted, and so this will probably no longer be a problem.
Jim Pritchard BSc CEng MRINA MIIMS
Points to consider
DPB drives: Check for side play on Volvo DPB drives as well as their service history.
Hydra drives: These Yamaha Hydra drives are generally reliable and tough, but parts are expensive.
Bow thruster: A modern bow thruster will cost around £4,000 to retrospectively fit.