Captain's ReportBy BoatTEST.com staffJetboats. When they first came out, these radical personal watercraft took the market by storm. Jetboats are driven by a powerful stream of water instead of a propeller, so they offer shallow draft, quick acceleration, and unprecedented, spin-on-a-dime performance. And since they have no running gear under the hull, jet boats are safer when swimmers are around, and there’s nothing to foul on lobsterpots or underwater obstructions. Our on-water tests have shown that on all counts, jet power has lived up to its billing, and that’s one reason why big-boat manufacturers have taken a big interest in this alternative form of propulsion. They don’t want to build yachts that can spin like a Frisbee, but they do want such attributes as shallow draft and an efficient means of delivering power to the water. The latest example of this is the Little Harbor 55 Whisperjet from yards of Ted Hood in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.In very broad strokes, the 55 is an open, stretch version of the 52 Pilothouse we tested back in September, 1997 (“Three From The Hood”). In this case the owner wanted some additional seating in the cockpit, so since Little Harbor is a custom-builder by nature, it was easy for them to add an extra three feet to the hull-form aft. But the longer hull form (read: extra buoyancy) also gave them a chance to test an awesome power package—twin 1,200-hp MAN diesels hitched to a pair Hamilton waterjet drives—and that combination turned in a top speed that’s tough for any cruising yacht to beat. But is this speed just a natural by-product of raw horsepower and a low-windage design?If you look at the 55 head-on, you’ll see something remarkable. Though she boasts a generous 16’9” beam, her hullsides curve inward just above the waterline to create two chines along her length. This effectively reduces wetted surface while maintaining the same walking areas on-deck. According to Mike Silverman, sales and marketing director at Little Harbor, “We designed the hull this way to fool the water into thinking the boat is narrower than she really is. The narrower beam at the waterline gives us more speed, yet we still have a lot of furniture out of the water,” for extra roominess within the hull. The company also says this reverse-radius curve “eliminates annoying `wave slap’ common to many boats while at rest, ” which is especially attractive to ex-sailors who’ve hung up their rags yet still enjoy peace and quiet at anchor. The view from the side, however, is a different story. Here we see fairly traditional lines, with a raised down-east bow, classic cabin trunk, teak grabrails, and all walking surfaces securely rimmed by either a single-piece stainless steel bowrail or sailboat-style lifelines along the sidedecks. The extra-high windshield and rakish lines suggest she’s ready for the blue water, but you’d never suspect her performance as she slowly tugs on her docklines.Stepping aboard, you’re surrounded by a classic example of a “proper yacht.” The cockpit features teak decking, teak coaming, and traditional benchseats in all four corners. A centerline transom door leads out to the swim platform which is easily wide enough to carry a PWC on chocks. Walking up a slight incline in the deck, you arrive at the spacious bridgedeck. For dining under cover of the hardtop, an L-shaped lounge with hand-made teak table is to starboard , across from a benchseat for three to port. All totaled, I counted seating for 14 guests between these two areas.Fully forward there’s a navigator’s station to port (complete with a full-size teak chart table), across from the helm to starboard. Both areas feature Stidd leather pedestal helm chairs which raise and lower electrically, and these are the same ones you’ll find on megayachts. Another megayacht touch is the autopilot joystick in the right armrest of the captain’s chair, and it’s your first hint that the Little Harbor 55 is not your normal cruising boat. Other key features here include air conditioning and a console that tilts aft for easy access to the steering, controls, and instruments. I especially liked the size of the vertical dash. Ours was big enough to house a Pinpoint DVS 1200 LCD PC navigation screen, Raytheon R41XX radar, Raydata instrument, and—for homesick sailors—an Autohelm wind indicator to round out a complete, long-range navigation package.Leaving high-tech astern, you descend down four steps to the decidedly sailboat-looking interior. You’ll find no overhead mirrors or tri-tone carpets here, just a shipshape interior of teak-and-holly soles, stainless steel-rimmed portlights, and hand-rubbed teak bulkheads.. Immediately inside the companionway sits a U-shaped galley to starboard, positioned for easy serving in- or outdoors. Since Silverman says, “The owner likes to shut down the whole boat when at anchor,” the refrigerator and freezer boxes have Grunert cold plates to keep food fresh, so there’s no need to run the 15-kW Northern Lights genset while at anchor. When cooking is underway, however, the genset will power the three-burner Kenyon electric stove and Panasonic microwave oven. Just forward of the galley is a U-shaped dinette for six, with built-in TV, CD system, and bookshelves along the inwale. As the owner plans to use this 55 as a mobile office, our test boat also had a printer/fax hidden away in a drawer, and jacks to connect a laptop PC to both the printer and a landline.Interestingly, the balance of the interior is devoted to just two cabins and a unique head and shower arrangement. The owner’s stateroom is in the forepeak, and features two cedar-lined lockers, a centerline queen berth, and leather settees on either side. Just inside the companionway to port is the guest stateroom, with twin upper/lower berths. Between the two is the head and shower. From the master stateroom there’s direct access to the head and then onto the shower through a second door. But if the guests want to use the head, they enter the shower area from their own door and a concealed head slides out from beneath a vanity. This was done specifically to meet the custom request of the owner. So even though the 55 comes with a “suggested” layout, it’s really just a starting point as you will literally create your own yacht in concert with the company’s designers.Once your guests have been fooled into thinking they’re on a sailboat without a mast, you will have the last laugh when you leave the dock. Thanks to her jet power the boat can move sideways—and I mean absolutely sideways-- away from or back to the dock, and that’s without the use of the bow thruster. To slide the boat to port, for example, you center the helm, put the port jet in reverse, and use forward and reverse on the starboard jet to control the boat’s fore/aft motion. By using a little bit of steering, the 55 will actually slide to port without going forward or astern. Why can’t you do this with traditional inboards? Two reasons: first, you can steer the direction of the jet’s reverse thrust. And because the jet’s reverse-bucket position is infinitely adjustable, you can equalize forward and reverse thrust so the boat actually draws itself away from the dock. We tested this against a 15-knot onshore breeze, and the powerful jets couldn’t care less. We slid lengthwise away from the dock, then pivoted around the boat’s centerline and idled away down the channel. If you tend to cruise in populated areas, your docking problems will be solved with the 55 Whisperjet, and it just takes a few minutes of practice to master the technique.Once you’re away from the dock, it’s just as easy to learn how to handle the 55. The first thing to remember is that the main engines are always left in gear, so the jet impeller is always turning. You control all of the boat’s motion by raising or lowering the buckets at the rear end of the jet nozzle. To accelerate, put both jets in forward (buckets fully up) and advance the throttles. The 55 comes up on plane in about 8 seconds from a standing start, and the MAN diesel/Hamilton waterjet combination showed good acceleration throughout most of the rpm range. Incredibly, we powered the 55 to a top speed of nearly 51 mph, and that’s while dragging 14-degrees (70% deflection) of Bennett trim tabs down in a 50,000 lb. yacht!At speed, my test showed you must run the boat with tabs down for a good reason. As a jet boat with a modest 15-degree transom deadrise and a fairly round bottom, the 55 has nothing—no keel, no skegs, no rudders—beneath the boat to help her track the straight and narrow. While that equates to minimal underwater drag, it also means that if you let the bow rise too high the nose will wander, so you must keep the deeper-V portion of the bow down to control yaw. The narrowed beam on the 55 has a slight downside as well. At high speed the boat tends to roll a bit, but you can easily counter this with minor steering inputs and a little practice. Against all of this, however, the 55 turned in a powerful performance, shouldering down easily and smoothly through turns and absorbing two-foot head seas (at 50 mph!) as if she were running across a mirror-flat lake.Meanwhile the boat showed some noticeable vibration at speed, due primarily to the configuration of the drive train. The diesels are mounted beneath the bridgedeck and are connected to the jets via long jack shafts. Since the engines are at a down angle and the jets are at an up angle it’s not a straight-line connection between them. As a result, the jack shafts are angled up and linked into the drive train with universal joints. While there’s some debate within the company as to the exact cause of the vibration, rubberized CV joints instead of the metal universal joints might go a long way towards solving the vibration problem at speed.As you can see, the Little Harbor 55 is a yacht with a secret. On the surface and throughout her exquisite build, she appears to be a traditional yacht well suited for the cover of Chapman’s Piloting. But if you see her coming in your rear view mirror, you’d better move to the edge of the channel since she actually has the power to blow you away.
Test Result Highlights
- Top speed for the Little Harbor 55 is 50.4 mph (81.1 kph), burning 126.0 gallons per hour (gph) or 476.91 liters per hour (lph).
- Best cruise for the Little Harbor 55 is 30.1 mph (48.4 kph), and the boat gets 0.51 miles per gallon (mpg) or 0.22 kilometers per liter (kpl), giving the boat a cruising range of 550 miles (885.14 kilometers).
- Tested power is 2 x 1200-hp MAN D2842 LE 406 diesel.
Standard and Optional Features
Full Warranty Information on this brand coming soon!