Boat Review: Taylor-Made 54

There's no escaping the fact that a 54-foot custom sport-fishing boat will cost a pretty penny. People who make their livings from charter fishing often can't afford the big bucks for a luxury custom fishing yacht. That doesn't mean they should have to buy boats of lesser quality, however.

There's no escaping the fact that a 54-foot custom sport-fishing boat will cost a pretty penny. People who make their livings from charter fishing often can't afford the big bucks for a luxury custom fishing yacht. That doesn't mean they should have to buy boats of lesser quality, however.

Taylor Harrison spent his apprenticeship learning from many of the top builders on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He finally opened his own shop four boats ago and recently launched his latest creation - Aut-Top-Sea, a 54-foot flybridge convertible. Based in Charleston, South Carolina, Capt. Reed Bost charters Aut-Top-Sea out of the new Patriot's Point Marina.

Harrison-built boats turn out remarkably light for wooden vessels. The stem and stringers of Douglas fir join the juniper framing and planking for lightweight strength. A wood-composite bottom and wood composite over juniper planking topsides provide what engineers still feel is the best building material for compression, shear and puncture strength.

Unlike many boats today that take composite building to the nth degree, Harrison makes cabinets, doors and other joiner work from solid teak. To look at the boat, you'd never expect this 54-footer to tip the scales at a mere 36,000 pounds.

In fact, at that weight, I was prepared for a rough, wet ride when I saw 2- to 3-foot seas at the jetties outside Charleston. Instead, I got a smooth, comfortable passage. Aut-Top-Sea delivered a top speed of 34 knots with twin 810-hp MANs and a cruising speed of just over 25 knots at 1,900 rpm.

Harrison did a good job on the interior for a builder used to building work boats with hardly a wall covering over the ribs. Two staterooms feature an athwartship double in the master to port and a second double cabin with over/ under berths in the bow. Where you'd usually find a third stateroom to starboard amidships, the owner chose to put a tackle room with a counter, tons of storage and rigging drawers. Interestingly, the main access to the engine room can be found beneath the salon stairs to belowdecks. Lift the stairs to enter the pump room and you'll find a transverse bulkhead with a door through to the engine compartment - a good thing since the cockpit entry felt pretty tight.

The starkly clean galley on the salon level provides everything you need to make meals without looking like something out of Williams-Sonoma. But one very interesting feature is the sit-down navigation station opposite to starboard. You rarely find this superb feature on anything but a big sailboat or luxury yacht.
At first glance, Aut-Top-Sea makes no pretense of being something other than a hard-working charter vessel. Compared to other such boats, Harrison's creation stands numerous levels closer to luxury. But the real test is in the price. Check the prices of the big-name production builders, and then look at similar custom yachts. Taylor-Made Boats sell for about half, will take you in comfort and safety wherever you want to go and will fish to your heart's content.