- His boat has many attributes, not least its ability to hit Cherbourg in under two hours from the south coast
- What really does it for me is the rock-solid assurance that, bar the perfect storm, this boat will always be able to cut a path back to port
- The hull uttered not the slightest complaint running at well over 30 knots through seas that would have a 30-footer down to semi-displacement speed
- You distinctly get the impression that there is no surplus fat on the Superhawk, and with its heavy lay-up and cored hull sides it can certainly punch way above its weight
Sunseeker Superhawk 48
In the latest of his series of explorations of classic used boats, Greg Copp makes the most of his time aboard one of the most solid and exciting sports boats ever built…
A while back, someone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – a day out in his Sunseeker Superhawk 48, fitted with triple 260hp Volvo KAD44s. I have always been a big fan of the Sunseeker Hawk range, and had a good idea of what the day had in store.
These rakish boats date back to 1987 and range in size from the 27ft Hawk up to the 50ft Superhawk. The best known is probably the 37ft Tomahawk, which I once hankered for until I bought the nearly identical, but bigger, 43ft Thunderhawk. These boats were the product of Sunseeker’s chief designer Don Shead, whose powerboat racing background led him to design a series of hulls based on his Cowes–Torquay winning race boat.
Though the Superhawk 48 is not the biggest in the range, it is arguably more exciting to drive than its bigger, heavier and faster surface-driven sister, the Superhawk 50. I must confess that, being a petrolhead, I was not expecting triple 260hp diesels to perform the way they did, as the Superhawk 48 picks up and is off in a shake. This 8.8-tonne boat felt just as quick on the wheel as my lighter Thunderhawk as it cut tight, sure-footed turns. You can push this boat to the point that the rubbing strake is virtually in the water without concern. It has a particularly narrow beam of 10ft 10in (3.25m), which gives it a waterline length-to-beam ratio of around 3.8 to 1. Couple this to an exceedingly rakish hull forefoot and the boat has a dagger-like appearance, which was matched by its ability to cut its way through the chop that was heaping considerably in parts of Poole bay. The helm arrangement is great, with triple race throttles falling easily to hand and good visibility over the bow, seated or standing. Electric seat bolsters turn the seating arrangement into a secure wrap-around leaning post, which on this lumpy day made good sense.
Like all of Don Shead’s Hawk range, this boat has a constant deep-vee hull, in this case with a transom deadrise angle of 22 degrees. This is sharp for what is a family sports boat, albeit a big one. The hull uttered not the slightest complaint running at well over 30 knots through seas that would have a 30-footer down to semi-displacement speed. You distinctly get the impression that there is no surplus fat on the Superhawk, and with its heavy lay-up and cored hull sides it can certainly punch way above its weight.
Eventually finding some flatter seas, we managed to run the boat to a shade over 43 knots, and I am informed that, freshly scrubbed, between 44 and 45 knots is the norm.
From a thinking man’s perspective, any of Volvo’s KAD series engines would make good sense for this boat, as you get the right blend of performance and economy. These 3.6L engines fit well into the engine bay, which is no mean feat in a skinny boat. Boats with triple 315hp Yanmars are rare, which is a shame as they are good engines offering plenty of power. I can only suppose that the justifiably bad press given to the early-generation Bravo 3 drives fitted to the portly Sealine S41 powered by twin 315hp Yanmars prejudiced people’s opinions against this power option. The first boats launched will either be KAD42/43/44 or petrol powered, as this was all that was available then. There are even a few twin KAD42/43/44 boats out there if you do not feel the need to hit that 40-knot mark.
This is, of course, a cockpit-focused boat, and it excels here. There is plenty of seating around the long starboard-side table, and a big sun pad flanked by a port-side walkway leading to the bathing platform. A wet bar sits across from the table complete with a sink and deep electric icebox. I particularly like the long main cabin as the design focuses on plenty of lounging space facing a TV on the port side. With the seats flanking the television, you can easily seat six, potentially eight at a squeeze, so if you are weather-bound in port your sanity will hold up for a while. Plenty of overhead locker storage runs down both sides of the main cabin.
The galley is the typical sports boat galley with a twin-ring ceramic hob (normally electric), a reasonable amount of storage, a sink, and sensibly a 50L fridge that is raised around 18in from the deck line, so you do not have to stoop to count how many bottles of beer and wine you have left. Headroom at the galley and into the aft section of the main cabin is comfortably over 6ft. Moving forward to the forepeak cabin door, this drops to 5ft 8in, though in reality this is not an issue. The forepeak cabin houses a large double berth with an abundance of shelving on each side. The heads, while not quite full standing headroom for a man, is still pretty good, and equipped with a shower, although I doubt, due to the absence of an enclosed shower cubicle, you will feel too inclined to use it and drench the high-gloss joinery of the oak cabinets.
This boat has many attributes, not least its ability to hit Cherbourg in under two hours from the south coast. However, what really does it for me is the rock-solid assurance that, bar the perfect storm, this boat will always be able to cut a path back to port.
- Build period: 1995 to 2005
- Designer: Don Shead
- Berths: 2 (permanent)
- Cabins: 2
- Hull type: Deep-vee planing
- Transom deadrise angle: 22 degrees
- RCD category: B for 9
- Length overall: 48ft 07in (14.78m)
- Beam: 10ft 10in (3.25m)
- Draught: 3ft 02in (1.17m)
- Displacement: 8.8 tonnes (light)
- Fuel capacity: 233gal (1060 litres)
- Water capacity: 48gal (220 litres)
- Cruising range: Approx. 220 miles at 30 knots with a 20% reserve (Volvo KAD42/44/300)
- Current value: From £80,000 to £150,000
- 30–35 knots with twin 230/260hp Volvo KAD42/43/44s
- 40 knots with triple 230hp Volvo KAD42s
- 44 knots with triple 260hp Volvo KAD44s
- 46 knots with triple 285hp Volvo KAD300s
- 50 knots with triple 315hp Yanmars
- 45–55 knots for MerCruiser 502 MPI petrol-powered boats (double and triple)
All speeds dependent on hull growth and engine health
Points to Consider
This boat was offered with a wide range of engines, so it is a case of horses for courses. All options offer plenty of performance, so you need to consider how much you want to spend, as some boats are quite a bit cheaper as a result of not having the most desirable power plants. However, what does need to be pondered carefully on engines aged between 12 and 22 years is condition and service history. The 3.6L Volvo KAD series of engines are relatively robust if they have been regularly maintained. The later 24-valve KAD44 and KAD300 engines need to have the tappets checked and adjusted every 200 hours. Also, the early 290 duo-prop sterndrive used on the KAD43 is prone to wear in the steering linkage within the transom shield – this is easily discovered when the boat is ashore. The bigger 315hp Yanmar 6LPA-STZP 4.2L engine is renowned for its durability, requiring tappet adjustment every 1000 hours. However, the early-generation MerCruiser Bravo 3 sterndrives to which they were mated did have problems dealing with the torque level of the Yanmar, and could self-destruct. That said, this problem mainly prevailed where the power-to-weight ratio was not terribly healthy, and the drives had their work cut out as a result. In the case of an 8.8-tonne boat with triple engines, each sterndrive has a smaller slice of the pie.
There are also a small number of boats with triple 420hp Yanmars driving twin-speed ZF surface drives, though I have never come across one.
With the petrol engine options that this boat came with, it is a case of scrutinising the service history, and a survey by an engineer who knows his petrol engines. There are some good petrol engines out there that have been cherished, but they do not stand the test of time like diesels. If a petrol boat does not perform like it should with clean power delivery to maximum RPM, you need to ask why.
There are a few boats that have been repowered with triple 330hp and 350hp Cummins engines on Bravo 3X sterndrives, and it is likely that there are also some 260hp and 300hp Volvo D4s on DPH sterndrives. These boats fetch prices of up to £150,000, but then you have a rejuvenated 50-knot boat with common-rail-injected economy. The Cummins option would be a great one, especially as the Bravo 3X drive is a lot tougher than its predecessor.
You could have the cost of three engines and sterndrives to service, so using a reputable independent engineer who does not charge main dealer prices will be a good idea. Often many of these independents have a better knowledge of older common-rail-injected engines. Needless to say, two healthy petrol engines will seem cheap in comparison to maintain, but thirsty to run.
To be fair, these boats have lost a big chunk of depreciation already and are not likely to lose much more, so you get a huge amount of boat for your money.
Build Quality/Fit & Finish
Sunseeker have always built solid and well-finished boats. This is evident today when looking at an example that is 15 years old, and barely looks a day. Nevertheless, with a rakish fast boat that tends to encourage spirited driving by its nature, hull stress cracks need to be considered.
Buying in Europe
These are Med boats by nature, so if you are looking to keep one somewhere warm, buying one out there can make sense, as prices tend to be lower – even with the present euro-sterling relationship. There are also many more for sale around the Mediterranean, and this is where the cheaper petrol boats ended up back in the days when petrol in Europe was cheaper than in the UK.
The mechanically injected Volvo KAD44s/KAD300s and Yanmar 6LPA-STZPs in triple form will return around 1–1.5 mpg at 25- to 30-knot cruising speed – depending on conditions. Boats with twin MerCruiser petrol engines will return about 1mpg at 30 knots. Best not speculate on the thirst of triple petrols. Triple 420hp Yanmars on surface drives will burn around 0.8mpg at speeds of between 35 and 40 knots.
I have surveyed only one Superhawk 48, and she was 6 years old at the time with approximately 640 running hours on the three KAD44 engines. Other than a few outstanding maintenance items, she was fault-free and passed the survey with flying colours. The design and build quality were very good, and I found none of the longitudinal gelcoat cracks over the position of the hull girders that I often find in other Sunseekers of this era. These fine boats are 12 to 22 years old now and so may be showing their age if they have been driven hard and lacked maintenance. If you are buying, then probably the main areas of concern should be the hull structure, in case she has been driven too hard into big seas, and the engines and drives. I would rather buy old Volvo sterndrives than old MerCruisers, but even so, after 1,000 hours of service they are probably heading for a major rebuild. The Volvo and Yanmar engines that were fitted will generally go on and on, unless they have been misused. Therefore the service records for the engines and drives will be all-important, so that you can see whether they have been regularly maintained, and whether major work may soon be required on the sterndrives.
This blue-hull example has triple 230hp Volvo KAD42s on duo-prop sterndrives, and is ready to view and sea-trial at a moment’s notice. Her teak and gelcoat look in pristine condition, as is her cream leather upholstery and light-oak high-gloss joinery. She has the all-important optional cockpit wet bar and has had a set of Raymarine electronics fitted, including a chartplotter, in the not-so-distant past. She is the only one we are aware of for sale in the UK at the moment, and the owner is motivated to sell.
Jim Pritchard BSc CEng MRINA MIIMS