As we pulled in the last of the lines that tethered us to our slip at the south dock of Palm Beach’s Sailfish Marina, someone watching from the quay as C’est La Vie’s captain began sliding the big boat out into the channel and free of the land smiled and said, “Have a nice flight.” Within minutes of clearing the inlet, and with the calm open ocean before us, it was quite evident what that remark meant.
The bow of the 90-foot C’est La Vie, the latest build from Dominick Lacombe’s Stuart, Florida-based American Custom Yachts (ACY), rose a bit at first, and then I heard the turbochargers kick in. The big boat lifted herself out of the water as the engines spooled up past 1,100 rpm, past 1,500, and then settled in at 1,750. And just like that, displacing some 190,000 pounds, she was flirting with 39 knots and flying across the relatively calm water off Palm Beach Inlet. At 1,950 rpm, we hit just under 42 knots, and the boat finally topped out at 44.6 knots while turning 2,100 rpm.
“For me, it all started when I was a kid fishing the offshore canyons back in Cape May, New Jersey,” Lacombe says. “In those days, if you had an 18-knot boat and you were running 70 to 80 miles offshore, well, that was pretty good. I knew back then that big, fast boats were the kind I wanted to be involved with. The faster you got to the fishing grounds, the more time you could spend there.” The 90-footer seemed to echo Lacombe’s principles as the captain put the big boat through a series of exhilarating turns and maneuvers, one of which involved backing down hard and watching the ensuing water drain remarkably fast out of the huge cockpit.
Never wavering from his fast-boat philosophy, by the time he was 29, Lacombe was running the Monterey boat company. In June of 1992, with the initial launch of a 58, ACY was born. The company then built a 63- and a 65-footer; all of the boats were named Freedom.
Lacombe told me of a previous build, whose over-the-top galley was its central focus, but C’est La Vie’s owner, and also the owner of ACY, had a much different focus. This boat would be built around a pair of massive MTU 16V 4000 M93L 9,200 hp engines.
Constructing C’est La Vie, with her noticeably low profile for such a big vessel, required a fine and exacting blend of technology, vision and boatbuilding savvy. Having a boat of this size that can deliver the kind of performance expected from a sport-fishing machine is something else; and that is what Lacombe and his crew are dedicated to achieving.
“There is a period of time from when you start talking to a customer until the contract is signed,” Lacombe says. “Our owners are seasoned veterans of the build process, and when they finally decide on ACY, we’ve already gotten to know them very well, and know just how they are planning to use their boat. We don’t try and tell them what they want; instead, we explain what we’ve done in the past and what will fit their needs, and then we discuss what they are looking for.”
C’est La Vie is a cold-molded jig boat built with five layers of 12 mm Okoume plywood on the bottom, with Kevlar and fiberglass inside and out. From the waterline up, it’s two layers of the ply, again with Kevlar and fiberglass inside and out. To help save weight, ACY uses Divinycell composite coring in the decks and Nida-Core in the deck hatches. For the cabinetry and any nonstructural bulkheads, they use Tri-Cell. For the structural bulkhead, ACY uses vacuum-bagged marine-grade plywood over balsa core.