Reinventing the Motoryacht – Rise of the Sea Activity Vessel
In the yachting universe, recognizable design elements generally convey a brand while polarizing designs often create a stir. It’s an elusive emotional quotient that isn’t clearly defined. So what happens when a super-modern superstructure collides with a commercial workboat bow? Is it an emerging design trend or a one-hit wonder? Before you decide, step inside the CLX96 SAV or Sea Activity Vessel, an acronym spawned by this clean-sheet, floating biosphere where interior and exterior space expand to become an infinite number. This boat was built to make walls disappear, leaving you immersed in your surroundings and discarding the notion that no man is an island.
In September of 2022, the CL team invited me to join them for a seatrial of the CLX96. Onboard were CL’s sales director Panu Virtanen, naval architect Earl Alfaro and project manager Hans Lo, who is a multi-generational boat builder and family member at Cheoy Lee. Short of wicking fibers, these gentlemen had a hand in every aspect of the build. A quick refresher: CL Yachts is the midsize yacht division of Cheoy Lee, a commercial shipyard with over a century of yacht building excellence. CL Yachts was established to take the brand in a bold new direction, essentially deconstructing and reinventing the types of motoryachts they produce. To plot this, CL enlisted Milan-based Jozeph Forakis to pen the lines of the future; both in & out. Forakis did the design work, but Vero-based naval architect Earl Alfaro (who originally worked with Tom Fexas) did the calculations to float the boat and Al Horsmon engineered the structural design.
Clearly, the CLX96 is a radical design departure but the aesthetics are a byproduct of a uniquely utilitarian design where form is subordinate to function. For instance, the workboat bow appears to be a contrasting design element but in this case utility dictates the design. A forward swept bow wastes interior space. A reverse bow sabotages deck space. A plumb bow can be a wet ride, but when blended with a traditional swept bow at the waterline, you get a drier ride with good penetration. And FWIW, the bow is barely longer than the waterline which saves dock space dollars. The blunt-end of this boat is just the beginning of vessel packed with innovative ideas.
In the sub-100 foot category, very few boats (if any?) could match the exterior deck space of this new offering from CL Yachts. The reverse house configuration creates expansive external deck spaces, plus the overhangs provide shelter from the sun while reducing glare. We all know the benefits of a Portuguese bridge but the CLX96 converts the wrap-around walkway into a lofty terrace. While the party on most yachts is reserved for the aft decks, the CLX96 offers equally as much space up front. Think privacy when med-moored!
On the day of our seatrial the conditions can best be described by this picture. Barely a ripple. To shake it down, we crossed our own wake but nothing upset the hull. In years past, we measured interior decibel readings but there was little to record on the CLX. It was solid, quiet and sorted. In fact, the boat is both gyro and fin stabilized but the gyro was inactive during our cruise. Anti-roll devices aside, it was easy to walk around the boat while up on-plane as it runs level with very little pitch. I did find myself questioning the amount of glass gracing all of the new offerings from various boat building brands. While boats like the CLX96 are built to class and glazing isn’t part of the equation, the whole ‘glass houses’ connotation comes to mind when much of the boat is transparent.
Among the many unique features of the Sea Activity Vessel is a Beach Club that doubles as a PWC lift. This ‘raft’ for lack of a dedicated nomenclature, allows easy access to the water for dive gear, toys and toes. When not in use, it folds up and stores flush inside an enormous swim platform that rivals yachts nearly twice the size of the SAV. This feature will certainly be a hit among guests and will definitely check a box in the charter market.
Due to the CLX’s axe-bow, spray knockers are used to break the flow of water up the bow. The chines are pretty pronounced on this hull with secondary knockers tapering down past midship. In conjunction with two sets of subsurface running strakes, this near 97-foot boat runs high on the water leaving a flat table in its wake. The one element that breaks continuity; the supersize hawse pipes which may become a signature design element on subsequent offerings.
A lot of thought went into how the forward seating area would be utilized. The use of hi-lo tables quickly converts the area from al fresco dining to sun worshipping in fully padded comfort. The cushions lining the bulwarks are backed by a flip-up mechanism that converts them into backrests for comfort while seated. Not seen in this picture is a shade sail that flies from four carbon fiber poles that slip into deck receptacles.
What takes the skylounge to a new level is a full walk-around deck that leads to the largest Portuguese bridge to ever grace a sub-100 foot boat. In addition to a partially covered aft deck that can be completely opened up to the elements by way of sliding glass doors and a partition window concealed within in the indoor/outdoor bar. The aft deck features a retractable sunroof to further enhance the outdoor experience. The sheer size of the overhang is a testament to modern materials and resins, hence the lack of structural supports at the trailing edge. Infused bi-axial and multi-axial E-glass along with carbon fiber laminates have resulted in a strong, yet light boat.
The all-glass skylounge is a prelude of the visibility to be found everywhere on this boat. Adding to the unobstructed views are retractable windows to port & starboard along with glass panes along the ceiling to further expand the visual experience. The helm is also fully glassed with Garmin screens not only displaying vitals, but also presenting a birds-eye views from every camera mounted onboard the ship including the engine room, the water approaching from the bow and the wake you’re leaving behind. Among the other screens in this space is a 50″ pop-up flat screen television positioned in the cabinet next to the staircase.
This set of reverse stairs follows the lines of the inverted house design and according to CL’s sales director Panu Virtanen, they are easier to transgress when underway. Most aftdeck staircases are angled forward which makes them steeper when a boat is on plane or pitching in heavy seas. I never gave it any thought prior to boarding the CLX, but it makes sense!
A touch button sliding door opens the entire salon to the aft deck. The decor throughout the CLX96 can best be described as minimalistic and modern with a mid-century, Frank Lloyd Wright touch. As seen in this picture, the entire main deck (from stem to stern) leaves you engulfed by your surroundings. Amplifying the seascape, a set of floor-to-ceiling trifold doors are located to starboard paired with matching windows to port. A retractable flat screen is located in a starboard mounted cabinet opposite the salon sofa. The SAV theme is carried inside with teak & holly soles that further blend internal and external spaces. Structural columns and supports are reinforced with carbon fiber to exploit uninterrupted views.
HVAC and lighting are cleverly concealed throughout the boat, typically behind valances or recessed areas within the headliner. The galley bar partition exemplifies this attention to illumination with recessed lighting under the bar counter. The barstools and external deck lounge chaises were also designed by Joseph Forakis and present a common design premise; nominal and functional.
The galley on the CLX96 enjoys the same views as every other space on the boat with expansive glazing, no matter your elevation. CL could have built in a forward dinette but opted for lounge seating instead. In a chilling twist, the coffee table has a built-in wine cooler, presumably to counteract the amount of ambient light permeating the space. If privacy is preferred, the windows have pull-down shades.
Tongue & groove ceilings with recessed lighting set the stage for lounge-like seating that is elevated so guests and cooks can see eye-to-eye, even when tastes vary. It’s a cozy place that will become the focal point of a family worn out from the day’s water activities. What sets this space apart from typical country kitchens on raised pilothouse boats is the reverse windows that not only grant forward views but the brow creates an the overhang that shades the interior space.
There are two (2) master suites onboard the CLX96, one forward and the other midship. Both look similar and each benefits from a skylight, although the latter is a digital representation of the sky via a camera pointed upwards from the roof of the skylounge, then broadcast to a flat screen over the bed in the secondary master. The big benefit… you’ll never have a leaky skylight!
The secondary, midship stateroom has a slightly smaller footprint than the forward master but due to its location, will be slightly quieter underway. Wood floors and equidistant slat decor offer sound deadening properties while creating a beach bungalow experience. With ambient light flooding the rooms from generous hull windows and skylights, these staterooms feel like a seaside villa minus the mosquitoes.
Both staterooms have en suite heads and both have generous-sized windows in the hull. For privacy, the partition glass can be electronically frosted. The forward master is much larger than the secondary and has a his/hers head configuration divided by a pass-thru shower.
There are two guest staterooms located midship that maintain the clean, minimal theme with mid-century decor/elements. Both have en suite heads.
If you’re looking for a boat that has a serious presence at any marina short of Port Hercules, the CLX96 SAV will turn heads every time. The drastically different design provokes curiosity. It also makes you question everything we know about yacht design, proving that form can successfully follow function. For CL yachts, it shows their construction capability isn’t limited to the conventional while simultaneously proving that unconventional is good! CL has given this new yacht the SAV acronym for Sea Activity Vessel but I found this boat more conducive to relaxing, being at peace with your surroundings and taking comfort in knowing a world class organization and a very respected family is behind the build.
This shot conveys the all-glass nature of the entire boat; the new digital realm. Garmin-based, it features a 4kW radar, GPS, depth sounder, chart cartridge system, a 25W VHF, windsensor, 5G WiFi and CCTV camera system. All interfaced with 22″ Garmin displays. It is also pre-wired for TracPhone V3-IP. Rudder control is an electro-hydraulic SeaStar system with Mathers engine controls. For old salts, a Ritchie compass backs-up this digital delirium.