Elite – Sahara

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Elite Sahara

Author : Barry Thompson

‘Sahara’ is your typical Bill Upfold designed mid pilothouse motor yacht, but with one major departure from the norm. It is the first to be powered with Volvo Penta IPS.

When the owner first approached Upfold, he already owned a Mk2 Corsair and knew what he wanted in his new boat. Over a period of a few years he continued dialogue with the designer and when he eventually sold his Corsair was well advanced in his planning for a new build and placed an order.

It was originally to be a typical mid pilothouse with variable deadrise through the hull and conventional shaft drives. However, just before the final drawings were started, he asked Upfold to explore the possible option of Volvo Penta IPS.

Although no changes would need to be made to the layout, the underwater profile was something completely different. “I had to totally change the running surface to a typical monohedron with constant deadrise from amidships aft”, Upfold explained.

With the shaft drive the engines are typically well forward and the design calls for less deadrise aft to lose buoyancy so that the boat will trim properly. With the engines aft you need more buoyancy in the stern area to support the weight of the engines.

There was the added bonus of more depth under the cockpit sole thanks to the deeper deadrise and the traditional engine room under the main saloon was able to provide a massive storage area. The generator, washing machine, water maker, auxiliary pumps and water tanks are housed in the ‘ex engine room’. The down-side was that the lazarette space was significantly reduced.

“We got onto Volvo and after discussions with its technical people I drew a set of lines with a running surface that fitted into their criteria for IPS”, said Upfold.

“It came with a few challenges to make the IPS package work properly, but nothing too drastic”.

Faster Than Its Sistership

Initially, ‘Sahara’ was to be almost a sistership to  Day Break, another 15.2m Elite Mid Pilothouse and in fact apart from the powertrain the two are still very similar. Physical dimensions are the same and there is only 400kg difference in displacement.

Interesting comparisons can be made between Day Break which runs a pair of 430hp Cummins through conventional shafts and ‘Sahara’ with twin IPS600s @ 435hp. There is very little difference in fuel burn between the two boats up to 22knots. However from 25 knots and above the Volvo Penta IPS starts to come into its own, with ‘Sahara’ running up to 32 knots, a full 4 knots faster than Day Break.

At the top end of the speed range ‘Sahara’ really feels like it wants to go and is a real pleasure to drive. It has the IPS trait of heeling over more in the turns, than if the boat was fitted with shaft drives, but it’s certainly not excessive. It tracks like an arrow and is hands-free driving in the rough water. It’s also exceptionally quiet right through the rpm range.

Volpower representatives have commented that Sahara is possibly the best all round performing IPS boat that they have been involved with.


‘Sahara’ was impeccably built by Bartlett Marine of Silverdale, Auckland and is the fourth Upfold the firm has built but its first mid-pilothouse design. “There was a lot of discussions with the designer in the early stages as to how the build process would go, based on the historical information of so many previous boats to the similar design”, said builder Chris Bartlett.

“That consultation certainly made the building of the boat that much easier and took any guesswork on our part out of the mix, so we were able to build on time without any construction issues”, he added.

By the end of launch day Volvo had signed off on the engines and two days later Sahara was on her way to Great Barrier to complete sea trials and ready for hand over to her owners. This reinforces the attention to detail and organizational skills of Bartlett Marine

The hull was built using a ply/balsa/GRP combination, with the cabin tops in a lightweight composite. Mitchell’s Interior Joinery built the entire teak interior that is presented in a semi gloss finish.

Improving With Age

There is something very familiar every time I step aboard an Elite mid-pilothouse that characterises the design. ‘Sahara’ is the 55th Elite to be launched and the 31st pilothouse. I had the privilege of reviewing ‘Samurai’, the very first Elite mid-pilothouse back in 1985 and whilst the furnishings and fittings may have changed, becoming more sophisticated and stylish, the basic concept of the layout has not. The major difference has been that twenty plus years ago no one was building enclosed hardtops. Today that’s all that’s being built!

It’s that basic concept that’s what is so unique about an Elite mid-pilothouse. No local designer has been able to emulate the success Upfold has achieved with this design format and although he certainly doesn’t want to be ‘pigeon-holed’ as a mid-pilothouse designer, he has unquestionably taken the model to a whole new level.

‘Sahara’ carries on the same theme of accommodation both fore and aft with a lower galley, mid saloon and raised pilothouse with internal access. The modern and comfortable interior design is by Kim Lilley of Parkhurst Design and features an interior colour scheme that can be easily maintained. The colours are timeless with an overall warm and inviting presence, with large windows playing a central role in complementing this ambience as well as offering great sea views.

The main saloon has port and starboard matching L-shaped settees with a dual-purpose ottoman that can be used as a seat or a coffee table. To port is the bar, with drinks locker and fridge, with the main switch panel hidden behind teak panelling in the centre aft bulkhead flanked by access ways to the pilothouse above and the galley below. This is very typical of all Elite mid-pilothouse boats and centralises the switch board panel for ease of access.

There is also a small servery area with storage to starboard that tastefully separates the galley from the saloon without actually disrupting the openness of the layout. From the starboard settee in the saloon you can see right through uninterrupted to the transom and beyond. The expansive main saloon also has a flat screen TV mounted above the galley entrance.

Like all Elite mid-pilothouse designs the galley and dinette area is situated starboard aft, three steps below the saloon and opposite the third cabin. All the appliances are electric and include an induction Miele hob, F&P dishdrawer and microwave. There is also a top-loading freezer with the fridge built-in above the sink and like the bathroom vanities, solid surface benchtops have been used. Storage is plentiful below the benchtop, in a port side pantry and behind a roller shutter door at bench level.

The dinette area is raised for better external viewing and even has a pull-out step to assist access. One of the neat features is the electric drop-down rear window that opens to a pull-out dining table extension on the rear of the cockpit bulkhead. This almost doubles the dining area and gives a whole new meaning to indoor/outdoor dining.

Karndean Flotex high definition flooring is used on the sole, giving a three-dimensional depth and richness. The reclaimed pine contemporary wooden plank design offers the effect of natural, stylish flooring and doesn’t have any of the disadvantages of real timber flooring. When you drop something on the Karndean flooring it doesn’t dent as is typical of a real teak sole that can be easily bruised.

Owners’ Choice

‘Sahara’ is a three-cabin boat, two being forward and one aft. While the majority of owners claim the aft cabin for their own, the owners of ‘Sahara’ have not yet quite decided between the forward cabin and aft cabin. Forward, the spacious cabin has a central island berth with hanging lockers and seating either side. Extra drawers under the large berth as well as shelves either side help with further stowage.

The port side guest cabin has a large single berth with limited storage space, with an opening overhead hatch for ventilation and light. There are also non-opening side ports in both cabins. Along with the forward cabin the guests share the same bathroom. Trezzini has been used for the vanity surface, with a large shower unit complete with internal seat and glass doors.

The third cabin aft is generous in size and offers an athwartships double with storage both under the bed and in a large hanging locker drawer unit. Alongside are the day head/shower and a separate dedicated rod locker.

Although the internal sole may be faux timber, the cockpit is all teak. The owners’ choice was for a reasonably simple and open cockpit with more emphasis on entertaining and easy living than serious fishing. While there are rod holders – on Tallon mounts – the focus is on external loungers either side, a large dedicated BBQ area, freshwater sink unit and extra wide transom doors. ‘Sahara’ has only a small boarding platform and a clip-on stainless ladder to assist swimmers and divers.

There is also another freezer and extra storage under the starboard lounger, with a specially designed deep locker beneath the port squab for stowage of three deflated, inflatable kayaks.

By activating the electro hydraulic rams the massive floor hatch is raised to reveal the twin Volvo Penta IPS600s. This makes any regular maintenance on the engines a simple task and also gives access to storage areas around the engines.

Dual Access Above

A port side staircase leads through to the enclosed bridge, which has dual access from the saloon. The layout is again reminiscent of previous Elite mid-pilothouse boats, with a large central helm catering for plenty of the latest electronics with large display screens and a double helm chair built onto a raised base. In ‘Sahara’ there is also a pull-out table aft, ideal for drinks and nibbles when parked up in a quiet bay. Below this table, sliding drawers keep your charts safely stowed. There is a sliding sunroof above, with the addition of a smaller opening hatch plus sliding side windows for extra ventilation. ‘Sahara’ does not have air conditioning but it does have a Webasto diesel heater that the owners say has proven itself during recent mid winter cruises around the Gulf. Twin settees complete the pilothouse seating arrangement, with a sliding door opening to the upstairs deck where there is also a full-width day lounger. The Walker Bay RID 310R inflatable tender is mounted on the aft deck and launched with a Kiwi made Checkpoint Engineering davit.

‘Sahara’ is unpretentious and very practical. It is a welcome newcomer to the market of custom boats in New Zealand and further enhances Bill Upfold’s stake as the country’s foremost exponent of mid-pilothouse designs. However it would be remiss of me not to mention his other achievements such as his foray into sportfishing boats, sedan cruisers and latterly, trawlers. His ability to move into any medium – and now power source – is testimony to his versatility as a designer. ‘Sahara’ is another superb example.


  • Boat Name: Sahara
  • Design Name: Elite 15.2m Mid-pilothouse
  • Builder: Bartlett Marine
  • Designer: Elite Marine Design Ltd
  • Interior Designer: Parkhurst Design
  • Year Launched : 2009
  • LOA: 15.2m
  • LWL : 13m
  • Beam: 4.9m
  • Draft: 1m
  • Displacement: 16,900kg
  • Max Speed: 32 knots
  • Cruise Speed: 26 knots
  • Fuel Cap: 2200L
  • Water Cap: 1000L
  • Construction: Epoxy timber composite
  • Engines: Volvo Penta IPS 600

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