LAKELAND BOATING: JANUARY 2009
“I think the weatherman lied,” Al said, gazing through the spray-splattered windshield at the low gray sky and heaving, slate-colored lake.
We were nearing Gray’s Reef, a well-known Lake Michigan waypoint en route to the Straits of Mackinac, and the lake’s mood had changed drastically. This didn’t really surprise us. Great Lakes boaters, and the majority of coastal landlubbers, are familiar with some version of the adage, “If you don’t like the weather on Lake _______, wait five minutes. It’ll change.” Most are also aware that this truth is equally timeless in reverse; sublime can turn to snotty in a heartbeat.
So it went with Paragon on this late May day. I was aboard the new 520 Cruisers Yachts 520 Sport Coupe for an unusual assignment: accompany her on her delivery from the boatbuilder’s Oconto, Wisconsin, headquarters to her home port of Penetanguishene, Ontario. Capt. Al Stewart, who handles deliveries and training for dealer Angus Yachts of Orillia, Ontario, and Paragon’s owner, David Welstead, picked me up in Sturgeon Bay and we were on our way, motoring through the ship canal and setting a northeast course across the lake.
The weather couldn’t have been lovelier, with blue skies and northwest winds at 10 to 15 knots. By the time the Manitous slid past to starboard, however, that friendly breeze strengthened and the clouds closed in. We cruised farther toward the Michigan coast, putting the Fox Islands to port, and aimed for the channel at Gray’s Reef.
The wind soon gusted to 25-plus knots, and the seas built to 6 and 7 feet… with quite a few steep, breaking 10s. This was turning into one hell of a ride.
Paragon’s sport coupe design was a major plus. With the integrated fiberglass hardtop and sturdy fiberglass windshield, she shook off the rain, spray and even blue water that occasionally rolled aft. Nestled within the enclosed bridge and cockpit, we never got wet; and thanks to the heating system, we didn’t get cold either.
Then there were the engines. Paragon boasted Volvo Penta’s triple 370-horsepower D6 IPS 500s, with a cruising range of approximately 300 miles. This power plant, along with her capable engineering and construction, gave her the authority she needed for such a tempestuous lake crossing.
Although the 520’s official cruising speed with the triples is 30.5 to 32.5 miles per hour, we kept closer to 28 for most of the trip. When the rough weather hit, we dropped to the 17-to-22 range.
The run down the straits toward the Mackinac Bridge proved equally exciting. Cruising at 21 or 22 miles per hour, Paragon would surf with a following sea to 28, 29, even 30. Al observed that if you have a seaworthy boat and appropriate experience, rough offshore conditions can be manageable.
“Just go slow and know how to handle the waves,” he advised. “If you do that, you’ll get through it.”
And we did. After nearly seven rock-and-roll hours on the lake, we wearily motored into the Mackinaw City Municipal Marina. Pulling into Shepler’s fuel dock, we spotted a young attendant in a winter coat, hat and gloves — apparently the weather had changed here as well. What had been nearly 70 degrees in northeast Wisconsin was barely 40 degrees in northern Michigan.
“I think I’ll need a sweatshirt,” Al joked. “I’m tough, but not that tough!”
I explored Paragon as soon as we docked and found that not only is the 520 fully capable offshore, she’s fitted out with the amenities necessary for a comfortable cruising experience.
Ease of movement was clearly a priority. She has dual cockpit entrances from the extended swim platform, a 15-inch side boarding step to port and to starboard, wide side decks and a walk-through windshield, rare in this class. I particularly liked the four transom storage areas for lines and fenders, which minimize deck clutter.
Additional topside features include custom captain and companion helm seats; port-side companion lounge; cockpit air-conditioning and heating; windshield defroster; cockpit grill; wet bar with refrigerator, icemaker and available 26-inch LCD TV; stereo system with iPod/MP3 interface; and adjustable cockpit table that, with the L-shaped cockpit seat and clever rotating aft seat, converts to a sunlounge. The 520 also has transom “rumble seating” and, for the hardcore sun-worshippers, an available chaise-lounge-style foredeck sunpad.
Moving below, I immediately noticed the impressive amount of natural light in Paragon’s interior due to six vertical salon portlights. This warm, cherry-wood living space incorporates a crescent-shaped convertible dinette/sofa with double incliners or available sofa/sleeper, 32-inch LCD TV and full galley with Nova Kool refrigerator/freezer, two-burner electric stove, microwave/convection oven, coffee maker, lighted bottle-storage cabinet and attractive tile backsplash.
The full-beam master suite, which lies aft, has a queen-size island berth, private head with separate shower, ample storage and six vertical portlights. The guest stateroom, located forward, also features a queen-size island berth and has separate access to the day head. An alternate layout with split twin berths is available.
“She’s the perfect boat for me,” said Dave, a former sailor and married father of three who is looking forward to family cruising. “I like the enclosed cockpit with hardtop. It has a big sunroof if you want the light and air, but you don’t have to mess with canvas.
“She has nice, big accommodations too, which are comfortable and private for two couples,” he added.
Before calling it a night, we indulged in a late-evening cheeseburger at Mackinaw City’s Bridgeview Diner, where the cook noted to our amusement that we wouldn’t be “bothered by any distracting view of the bridge.” Then we were off again at 6:45 a.m., leaving the distracting bridge to port and pointing Paragon’s nose into Lake Huron.
Although the water temperature remained a frigid 43 degrees, the day warmed up with blue skies and a gentle breeze. Al opened the sunroof, and I marveled at how quiet it was; plenty of fresh air swept the cockpit without a conversation-ending roar.
We refueled in Tobermory, at the end of Ontario’s picturesque Bruce Peninsula, and then set out across Georgian Bay for Midland, Paragon’s port of entry. The wind had kicked up again, but we were running with the seas and saw just a few whitecaps among the spindrift. At last, just before sunset, we harbor-hopped to Penetang and snugged Paragon into her berth.
The truth is, it’s hard to truly put a cruising yacht through her paces in an hour or two on a calm afternoon. You need to take a real cruise and see how she handles the conditions her home waters will likely throw at her.
So even as we braced ourselves into our seats with Paragon plunging through a cranky Lake Michigan, I couldn’t help but enjoy the experience. In a two-day delivery, we got to sample everything the Cruisers Yachts 520 Sport Coupe has to offer — from the carefully designed comforts and many little luxuries to the serious offshore cruiser behind a decidedly pretty face.