The new Elite sports sedan from Bill Upfold and Bluefix Boatworks showcases new concepts in the arrangement of spaces in motoryachts and superstar quality in build.
You know that old saying: ‘You had me at Hello’? Well, the new Elite Sports Sedan 15.8m had me at Bliss, her name on the transom. Not only for the word, but for its perfectly matched typeface, Beloved Script. Such a stylish introduction promised attention to perfection throughout the boat – and Bliss delivered. As for the subtle, shapely windows in the hull, I think they were flirting with me. Upfold has designed more than 80 motoryachts, but he pulled out a new piece of paper to draw Bliss for a Hamilton couple and their eldest son and son-in-law. They’d owned large trailerboats and were new to motoryachts, but they knew what they wanted: a twin-engine sports sedan with sleek lines, classy looks and comfortable accommodation for two couples, plus an overflow cabin with two berths. As the project progressed, the owners presented the designer and builder with favourite concepts they’d seen in boating magazines and specific requests throughout the interior styling. Oh, and they wanted lots of space and light.
I met Bliss at Sandspit Marina, near Warkworth. The son of the ownership quartet was our skipper. Also on board were Bill and Christine Upfold, and Charlotte Rowe, co-managing director of Bliss’s builder, Bluefix Boatworks.
Pretty soon we were off the dock and heading across Kawau Bay. Bliss excels in what our skipper describes as ‘liveability’. Notably, in three distinct areas: the raised saloon and helmstation; the cockpit and galley; the accommodation below decks. Bliss’s raised saloon is her place of visual drama. The windows either side are tinted, 6mm single panes which run from windscreen to cockpit without mullions or internal furniture to break the view. The effect is stunning. Upfold admits the window manufacturers, Seamac, had concerns about the installation of such large panes, but several Bluefix Boatworks staff have worked on superyachts; they are expert at managing big, fragile components. The three for’ard, windscreen panes are 10mm glass, untinted to maximise night vision. The internal view is equally blissful. The raised seating, to port, is upholstered in half-sanded Italian leather and within chatting distance of the helmsman. The coffee table is another demonstration of superyacht skills: it’s grain-filled walnut, inlaid with a light timber, bathed in 16 coats of gloss varnish. It rises, accepts a central insert and becomes a dining table. There’s also a two-seater and single-seater to starboard behind the helm, so there is plenty of seating for 10, often required on this family boat.A remote control operates the TV which rises from a bulkhead between the saloon and galley and swivels for viewing from the lounge or cockpit. Other comforts include air conditioning, stereo speakers, power points, and strip and down lighting throughout. Even so, Bliss is a relatively simple boat, which was a priority throughout the build.
The BEP switchboard manages all electrics, including circuit breakers and remote battery switches for the engines, inverter and genset. Later, when I inspected underfloor lockers, I found sensible access to sea cocks, black and grey tankage, and shower drains. Generally, the father and son had input into the mechanical aspects, and the mother and son-in-law, a graphic designer who created the Bliss logo, worked with an interior designer on the decor. The helmstation reflects contributions from all of them. ‘I wanted a modern looking dashboard that would be part of the boat’s decor rather than utilitarian,’ says our skipper. They selected Simrad multi-function screens, because his parents were familiar with the brand. We anchored at Mansion House Bay, Kawau Island for brownies and whipped cream, while Christine and Charlotte launched the dinghy from its garage in the transom to take some photos. A remote control activates twin electric, linear actuators which lift the transom and central section of the boarding platform, allowing the dinghy to slide on rollers into the water. Retrieval is easy, with a barber hauler to help. A door on the port side of the boarding platform accesses the utility area under the cockpit seating. All fishing gear is stowed in dedicated holders, along with a washing machine and water maker. If it’s ever necessary to replace the washing machine, it can be removed via a panel in the adjacent dinghy garage. We decided to idle over to Moturekareka Island for lunch. The bow camera proved its worth as it revealed an old inner tube coming up with the anchor. With the anchor and windlass concealed in a massive bow locker, the foredeck is clear space.
Bluefix Boatworks has its own painting facility, giving it control over its build schedule and quality, which is immaculate. The exterior paint is International Awlcraft 2000. And so to lunch at Entertainment HQ: the arrangement of cockpit and galley. The cockpit’s L-shaped lounge seating is diagonally opposite the L-shaped galley bench which extends into the cockpit, where it extends even further to reveal the Weber barbecue in a large ‘drawer’. At some point, you’ve transitioned between galley and cockpit, but it’s difficult to say just when. In social-dining mode, the full-height sliding door between the cockpit and galley stows to port. To secure the boat or close the saloon while underway, the door slides all the way to starboard into a slot in the galley bench, so there is no need for a bulkhead. An infill fills the slot when it’s needed for galley duties. The galley has all the ingredients of a modern kitchen: full-height Liebheer refrigerator, Fisher & Paykel dishwasher, Bosch Combi oven and pull-out cabinets that make full use of storage potential. All of these are concealed behind walnut panels.
The other showpiece of walnut craftsmanship is below decks. A companionway beside the helm leads down into a foyer-like space, rather than a corridor. Here, the windows in the topsides come into play, bringing light into the accommodation. The interior panels are tastefully furnished with vinyl over foam. The for’ard cabin has an island bed at the same height as the for’ard windows either side with a headboard in crafted walnut. Bedside shelving doubles as structure to strengthen the bow sections; there is a small wardrobe and en-suite bathroom with room including electric toilet, shower, mounted basin and even a linen cupboard – nice.
The overflow cabin is to starboard off the foyer. Mostly, it’s a couch for quiet space, but it converts to a top and bottom bunk. Don’t tell anyone, but it also hosts the secret cupboard in which the owners’ niece/granddaughter stows her crayons. Double bi-fold doors offer privacy; when closed, they secure to magnets to avoid having clips in the carpet. The midships cabin with en suite is the star. The island berth lies athwartships, the pillows level with the lower, aft window in the topsides: what a view to wake up to. The unusual feature is the en suite bathroom which runs the length of the cabin, along the boat’s port chine. Long and slim, it has plenty of vanity space and benefits from the lower topside window. The bulkhead separating the cabin from its en suite is furnished with an extensive set of drawers.
It’s quiet down here, too, thanks to Upfold’s signature silent chine, which prevents the lappity-loppity of wavelets against the hull. A full height door conceals the half-height fire-proof door which leads to the engine room and home of the twin Cummins QSB 480hp engines. Upfold recommended Cummins for reliability and power to weight ratio. The engine room is well designed, with ease of access to all routine maintenance, and space for the inverter, Kohler genset, steering system and hot water cylinder. There is even a retractable clothes line with a peg basket.
It was time to head for open water. The Elite Sports Sedan 15.8 is a soft-riding, planing hull with a fine entry and a lifting strake just below the waterline at rest. As Bliss gains speed, she climbs up on to the lifting strake, which directs the spray down. Any spray that gets past that is knocked down by the upper, silent chine. Upfold describes the sports sedan shape as a slightly warped, planing hull in which the deadrise diminishes from about 27 degrees for’ard of midships to about 13 degrees at the transom. ‘That’s the most efficient planing form for boats designed for speeds up to 30 knots,’ says Upfold. ‘She starts to clear the wake at about 11 knots off the transom and is fully planing at 15 knots.’ The twin, five-bladed, 26-inch Australian Veem propellers are in hull tunnels, which protects the propellers, reduces draft and provides the most efficient shaft angle to power the boat through the water. ‘Veem propellers are the bees’ knees,’ Upfold says, ‘because they are completely CNC-manufactured, so you’re guaranteed that every blade is identical. It’s more expensive, but putting a good set of propellers on your boat is like putting Perellis on your car.’ Bliss has a top speed of 30 knots and cruising speed of 20 knots, but mostly she cruises at around 8 knots because her owners are enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
‘It’s incredibly economical,’ the skipper says. ‘Coming across here today at seven knots, we were doing 4 litres an hour on each engine.’ Bliss is a joy to helm with power-assisted Hydrive steering, making turns confidently and smoothly in a flat attitude. The Cummins engine controls enable synchronisation to run the engines at identical revs – apart from keeping course in a straight line, according to Upfold, synchronising the engines can reduce motion-sickness, since our inner ears pick up the difference in engine revs and sound, and feel confused even if we’re not aware of it.
We headed back to Sandspit, an estuary surrounded by native bush and farmland, and a marina of narrow channels, tight turns, strong tide and often a boat or, in our case, a dredge barge coming the other way. To prepare their clients for such scenarios, Bill and Christine Upfold did a weekend cruise on Bliss in the Bay of Islands with the retired owners. Coming into Opua Marina, Upfold directed the owner in operating the twin propellers and Maxpower bow thruster as he practiced berthing Bliss in a strong tide. The owner was allowed one sigh of relief before Upfold made him take the boat out, turn around and berth her again. The son of the ownership admitted he’d also faced a big learning curve in boat manoeuvring and benefitted from some tips from staff at Bluefix Boatworks. His top tip? ‘Just go slowly and think about what you’re doing.’ He had no problems putting Bliss back in her berth at Sandspit. Bliss is the first Upfold boat built at Bluefix Boatworks, which appointed Tim Hight as project manager. Clearly, it’s been a happy working relationship with great communication all round. Construction in timber and fibreglass composite over temporary framing began in January 2022, and Bliss was launched in March 2023. Bluefix Boatworks employs around 27 staff, including 11 apprentices.
Bliss is a stunning example of the arrangement of space and design aesthetics. She is also a reflection of Upfold’s stage in his career. In his early 60s, with more than 35 years’ experience, almost exclusively in motoryachts, he is designing at his best. The sleek, soft lines of the exterior are star quality. The new window styling in the topsides and its integration with accommodation below decks is genius. Always one for a pun, I’m totally blissed out.
- LOA 15.8 m
- LOD 15.2 m
- Beam 4.9 m
- Draft 1 m
- Displacement 16,200kg
- Fuel 1500L
- Water tanks 750 L
- Deadrise 13 to 27 degrees
- Engines Cummins QSB 480hp
- Gearboxes ZF85a 2:1 ratio
- Genset Kohler
Fuel run on 6/6/23: Seas choppy, 8 pob, fuel 90% full, water 50% full