Regardless of the builder, most catamarans have predictable similarities. At the 2010 Fort Lauderdale boat show, however, Axcell Yachts introduced a yacht that, from the side, resembles a catamaran about as much as a panther resembles an ox. And with all the technology behind it, the difference between this and every other single- or multi-hulled yacht on the market is even more apparent.
Story by Liz Pasch
Bruce Barsumian grew up exploring the canals and waterways of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He tinkered with most of his dozen or so boats, as boys tend to do, and he modified them to look or perform a certain way. He learned something new with each boat, and then, as an adult, he realized there wasn’t a boat on the market that could offer what he wanted: a big boat that could go fast economically. “Other companies just put in bigger engines, higher horsepower, bigger fuel tanks, but more weight, which counters the effectiveness,” says Barsumian, an electronics engineer with 15 patents for counter-surveillance detection equipment. Barsumian knew there was a better, more efficient solution. His quest to find the answer took not only 13 years of research, repeated testing and the knowledge and experience of dozens of marine experts, but also a relentless desire that led him to develop a technology based on scientific principles recorded nearly 300 years ago.
Barsumian’s aggressive goals forced him to consider every component of yachtbuilding. Early on, he determined foam sandwich construction would reduce weight, and surface drives would be most efficient. He researched multiple technologies and applications, including those used in the racing circuit where he spent time as a youngster hanging around the pits at the Miami Marina Stadium and watching the mechanics tweak engines, props and hull designs for optimum performance. He then studied the military and commercial application of the hovercraft technology, where pressurized air is forced under the watercraft in order to lighten the load, which in turn makes it easier to move and consequently makes it more economical as well. While the design of typical hovercraft-type boats was far from what he envisioned for his yacht, the technology achieved the results he sought after. He discovered the “Surface Effect Ship” (SES) technology had also been used in Navy ships and ferryboats with a twin hull design. One of the distinct advantages of a skirtless SES is there is nothing to break or tear; the shape of the fiberglass hull bottom contains the air.
The Tennessee-based engineer knew he was on to something and built a 16' prototype in his basement. “I took it to the lake and had video cameras and pressure gauges so I would know what was going on under the boat, and took [it] to the lake on the weekends and drove it,” says Barsumian, who built the boat with modular hulls in sections that would unbolt. “If I didn’t like the way the video looked underneath, we could take it apart, re-fiberglass it, change the shape and go out and test it again.” Barsumian had eight different versions of the hull and made 50 to 80 changes to the initial design. As results improved, he asked well-known naval architect Donald Blount to calculate the speed and horsepower scalings, the positive results of which, Barsumian says, “gave me more enthusiasm to keep going.”
Throughout the testing process, Barsumian continued to improve on previous technology. The patented new hull shape named “High Efficiency Surface Effect Hull” incorporates a large open chamber along the bottom of each of the catamaran’s twin hulls into which pressurized air is forced for an air-cushioned, hovercraft-like effect. To achieve enough air pressure for his desired speed and efficiency, the engineer combined a mixture of technologies and equipment. “The air blower is all automatic. The pump takes four to seven percent of the engine’s power. It’s controlled and automated by a computer so when you press the throttles forward at 1,300 rpm, the fan starts to create pressure and the boat starts to run lighter and faster. The air chamber is on the center of gravity of the boat so it lifts the boat equally,” explains Barsumian about his trademarked HybridAir Technology. Lift fans connected to the main engines engage automatically at 1,300 rpm and force pressurized air into the air pockets beneath, creating an air cushion that relieves an astonishing 50 percent of the yacht’s weight (approximately 31,000 pounds) and provides a 30- to 40-percent speed advantage without having to utilize bigger engines. Forcing that much air from an enclosed engine compartment, however, requires a significant air source. Six stylish-looking gills on each side of the boat provide needed airflow. “Those first four are how it breathes enough air to pump it under the hulls. The last two is where the engine gets air,” says Barsumian about the twin six-cylinder CAT C-18 turbo diesel engines that pump enough air to simultaneously lift and propel his yacht to a speed of 40+ knots.
Barsumian sought the styling talent of renowned yacht designer J.C. Espinosa to achieve his other goal of making the catamaran look less like the traditional multi-hulls and more like a yacht. “We started at 48', but I couldn’t get all of the goodies to fit, so then it went to 52', then when it got to 57' it started to work, but at 60' everything started to fit really well.” From the open salon and spacious master to the lower-deck galley, guest staterooms and laundry, from bow to stern, space is ingeniously functional while maintaining the luxury of a true yacht. On the aft deck, a grill and sink offer convenience for casual alfresco dining. In addition to its technologically advanced design, the Axcell 650 sports a 15' RIB tender loaded head-on in a concealed garage behind a stern door, a bonus feature virtually unheard of on a 65' yacht.
Barsumian has been asked to compare his creation with other catamarans, which has proved a difficult task. “There are some cats with very thin hulls that aren’t meant to plane. They’re more displacement hulls like canoes; they go a max of about 25 knots. Typically on a boat of this size, that would be the speed limit. Those are very efficient if you’re happy with running a max of 25 knots.” Barsumian, clearly, is not. His cat tops out at more than 40 knots and cruises nicely and efficiently between 26 knots (the “sweet spot” at .53 miles to the gallon) and 36 knots. Now, if one wants to compare the ride, “Well, the boat is light but acts much lighter than a typical yacht of its size. When you get about 1,300 rpm the air pressure starts and you’ll feel one side lift a little, then the other side, and then it comes up on plane; it just gets up and goes with the added stability of twin hulls,” says Barsumian.
With 14 years in the making, Barsumian is happy with the results but still isn’t finished. “I doodle from time to time. An 80-footer would be a nice jump, with a full-beam master. A catamaran is a beamy boat anyway, so the room would be like a hotel room,” he says with a glint in his eye. A true inventor, Barsumian is open to sharing his technology and partnering with other visionary yachtbuilders to create exciting new designs. Time will tell what new creations he comes up with, like the dream yacht he started in his basement. ■
For more information, contact Axcell Yachts at 931-261-2261 or axcellyachts.com.
LOA (including swim platform): 66'5" (20.24m)
Hull Length: 60' (18.29m)
Beam: 20'8" (6.30m)
Draft to Props: 48" (1.21m)
Weight: 29.5 tons
Shore Power: 50A 230VAC 60 Hz
Water: 190 gal. (719 L)
Fuel: 650 gal. (2,461 L)
Engines: 2 x Caterpillar C-18 1150 HP ZF surface drives
Max. Speed: 40 knots
Cruise Speed: 36 knots
Generator: 15kW Westerbeke with Sound Shield