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F&S Boatworks 61 Hardtop Express | Boat Review

Artistry and charm converge where friends and family gather

October 20, 2020
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The F&S Boatworks 61 Hardtop Express sport fishing boat on the water making waves.
Soul Candy is designed as an owner-operated sportfisherman that will spend time in the Gulf of Mexico as well as in the Bahamas. Courtesy F&S Boatworks / AquaPaparazzi.com

What might be as inspiring as the newest addition to the F&S fleet—Soul Candy—is her name. The 61-foot hardtop express was born out of a need for a family-friendly owner-operated vessel. After spending several days aboard a similar F&S model, owners Todd and Storey Reaves tweaked the 64′s attributes to meet their wishes in a new 61. The result? An incredibly bespoke piece of creativity that turns heads wherever she goes. While there might not be a Merriam-Webster definition for the meaning of soul candy, the Reaves certainly have one: Where friends and family meet is where candy for the soul can be found.

Ah, the mythical enclosed-express boat—something I had only admired from a distance anchored behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia or backing up offshore of the Ribbon Reefs. With not many examples of this unique form on the water, I still happily drove eight hours to Destin, Florida, to get the full-on Soul Candy experience.

F&S has built plenty of unique designs like this one, including the one I admired Down Under, so when the Reaveses decided to get out of a larger custom convertible, F&S soared quickly to the top of their list. The ­family, whether ­overnighting at the oil rigs or bouncing around the out islands of the Bahamas, wanted something to run on their own—and F&S fit the bill.

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Watch: Check out this video of Soul Candy.

Design

One of the primary challenges with a build like Soul Candy, coupled with a tall owner like Todd Reaves, is adequate interior headroom. Keeping the sweeping lines F&S is known for, while accommodating someone of height, would require some out-of-the-gate thinking. The design team created a 6-foot-8-inch character named Fred within the CAD program, who would be moved around the virtual boat to be sure proper clearance of areas such as the companionway, staterooms and showers. Fred was also integral to helm line-of-sight—both while running and to the angler in the fighting chair. And because the interior space is directly connected to all the exterior dimensions, it was necessary to consider every detail.

From a design aspect, where the windshield met the foredeck was given particular attention; it is a huge part of how sleek the boat appears from the outside, and fortunately, good looks in the result wasn’t a problem.

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The interior salon and helm of the F&S Boatworks 61 Hardtop Express.
The boat’s interior is light and airy, with excellent visibility at the helm. Courtesy F&S Boatworks / AquaPaparazzi.com

Helm Deck and Interior

Stepping into the indoor-outdoor salon, the first thing I noticed was the smooth whisper of the door operation, all thanks to a belt-driven electric system, which removes the worry that was inherent in so many of the earlier automatic doors used on sport-fishing boats. Even though the rain didn’t make for the best day for a photoshoot and sea trial, the bright interior of the helm deck is striking. The express design allows for a view of the world around her, and F&S takes the “view” to new levels by incorporating one giant piece of custom curved glass on each side. By doing so, there is little to break that uninterrupted sightline, providing a true, 360-degree perspective.

And if that weren’t cool enough, the builder designed a power retracting-window system that allows the owner to communicate with his family while they’re engaged in fishing activities—able to carry on conversations as if they’re in the same room.

The teak planks of the helm deck are natural, and the teak trim and painted cabinetry are satin-finished

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—not only for a clean and consistent look, but also to cut down the inherent glare one would expect from such a bright field. And as with all cutting-edge builders today, F&S is masterful in its ability to use space wisely—albeit with a little sleight of hand.

Reaves proudly started lifting hatches and pushing buttons to reveal all the comforts of home with the functionality of a boat that is ready to go offshore for a family vacation. The starboard side features a 50-inch TV on a lift system, and the galley-up layout contains a sink with a custom high-low faucet that is completely hidden, as is the microwave/convection oven. The Sub-Zero refrigeration drawers hide in plain sight, with satin clamshell teak pulls that float on a sea of Cloud White cabinets, and a concealed, motorized bar disappears completely when cocktail hour is over.

To port, an L-shaped couch pairs with a Release Marine table; built into the armrest, cellphone storage and a charging station keeps ­communication powered up with loads of USB ports.

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Time spent on Full Throttle—the pre-game 64-footer—allowed the owners to transcend some of her concepts, incorporating a custom rod locker molded in the hardtop, complete with a tension-dampening system with positive action to keep the door under control, even when full.

Read Next: We take a video tour of the F&S Boatworks facility in Bear, Deleware.

The helm station is complete with a full complement of navigational equipment, and when guests want to keep an eye on the spread or interact with those taking it easy on the couch, the navigator’s bench backrest flips around 180 degrees. A sliding door adjacent to the helm gives access to a lower salon, the ship’s main electrical panel and even more hidden systems. In addition to a large sofa—which serves as a bunk when needed—and television, you’ll find a sizable washer and dryer that can launder more than just release flags.

Soul Candy’s two-stateroom, two-head layout accommodates her guests in luxury, with the master stateroom situated to port, an over/under V-berth forward, and the vertically laid teak veneers, subtle curves and meticulous trim work catch your eye at every turn.

A drop-down cabinet of rod and reel storage on the F&S Boatworks 61 Hardtop Express.
Interior features include a drop-down rod rack to keep everything neat and tidy. Courtesy F&S Boatworks / AquaPaparazzi.com

Cockpit and Tower

The 120-square-foot cockpit deck easily fits the large fighting chair with an offset pedestal and on-deck tuna tubes—essential when you plan on fighting some of the sea monsters living near the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

The classic straight lines of the teak cockpit boards tame the curvy, signature F&S radial mezzanine and transom livewell. A giant lazarette is accessible by way of a Freeman Marine deck hatch located under the chair’s footrest and ensures safe, dry storage below for the multitude of systems located there.

Palm Beach Towers accentuated the pretty lines with a beefy structure that leads to a standing platform complete with all the bells and whistles needed to make a go of it offshore. Redundancy of the helm electronics keeps the towerman on the bite and in Seakeeper-stabilized comfort. The large multifunctional display pipes up any number of sources, including the Furuno commercial-sonar feed.

A clean engine room on the F&S Boatworks 61 Hardtop Express.
The engine room houses a pair of 1,600 hp MTU M96L engines, giving her excellent performance. Courtesy F&S Boatworks / AquaPaparazzi.com

Performance

Known for performance, F&S has built some of the fastest sportboats on the water. For Soul Candy, weight was saved by the usual construction techniques of glass over foam and cored bulkheads, and this, in and of itself, kept a fully loaded Soul Candy quick and nimble while enforcing the purpose-built idea of redundancy for safety and economy for the owners, even when the longest travel run is considered.

She runs smooth and quiet at all speeds, thanks to the twin MTU 1,600 hp engines, giving the 61-footer a solid cruising speed approaching 35 knots and a top end of 42 knots. The boat is tight and smooth through all rpm, with no chatter or excessive noise coming from the cockpit.

While standing at the interior helm, I felt as if I were visiting the USS Enterprise when they hit the warp-speed button. All that amazing visibility makes the open water seem to fly by in a blur, with only the distinct sound of the turbos generating boost below your feet. Capt. Kirk would be proud of this rendition, and Soul Candy is sure to “boldly go where no man has gone before.”

F&S Boatworks 61 Hardtop Express Specs

  • LOA: 61′
  • Beam: 18′
  • Draft: 4′10″
  • Displ: 60,000 lb.
  • Fuel: 1,450 gal.
  • Water: 210 gal.
  • Power: Twin MTU 1,600 HP MHP M96L
  • Gear/Ratio: ZF 2:1
  • Propellers: Veem, 5-blade
  • Paint: Topside—Awlcraft 2000, Antifouling—Interlux Ultra
  • Climate Control: Dometic
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