Symphony in Blue
A sporty run to a world-renowned reef aboard the Ocean Alexander 45 Divergence reveals what can happen when science and boaters work in harmony.
Okay, fine. So that’s not exactly how it happened. But what I said about admiring the shape of the Divergence, that part is true.
The truth is I fumbled and plopped into the water with the grace of a bowling ball. My fins were too tight, my mask was too loose and immediately fogged up. Should have spit in it, I thought to myself. Too late. I wish I could tell you I gained my composure and swam circles around the boat shooting photos with the practiced accuracy of Marc Montocchio—the famous underwater photographer who inspired my antics. That, alas, would also be a lie (of the few nice shots that accompany this story, there are fourfold unusable ones). Only after washing the salt from my face and reviewing the pictures on my laptop could I appreciate how the blue accents on the quad, 400-hp Mercury outboards, the fabric on the reversible cockpit seating and the paneling under the hardtop work in concert to create a symphony in blue that plays perfectly against the sky and waves. It’s from this angle that you can see what the 45 is not. It’s not a center console; at least, not what we’ve traditionally called a center console.
Di·ver·gence: A deviation from a course or standard. By that Merriam-Webster definition, this might be the most appropriately named model of all time. Before the 45 came along, OA’s next smallest yacht was the Merritt Island, Florida-built 70e and beyond that, the company is known for its prominence in the superyacht market with Taiwanese-built boats up to 155 feet. Designed to serve as a second boat for their larger yacht clientele, the 45 shares DNA with her larger siblings but sports a rebellious personality all her own.
This wasn’t the first time I admired the 45 while sopping wet. My colleagues and I were in Miami ahead of the boat shows this past February and knew that the Divergence was going to be a star attraction. We were itching to beat the competition—and boat nuts everywhere—to get a sneak peek of this exciting model. I won’t fully divulge how far we were willing to go to get into the show before it officially opened, but let’s just say it’s not the first time I was packing fins and a mask in my backpack. While casing the show for a way in, the kind folks setting up invited us through the front gate. How civilized. Humming the Mission Impossible theme music wasn’t necessary—this time anyway—but we did have one more obstacle in our way: A torrential downpour began just as we got to the Ocean Alexander display. We checked the radar; the rain was expected to last all day.
I looked to Digital Director John Turner and Managing Editor Simon Murray and saw what I was hoping for: a we’ve-come-this-far, we’re-not-going-back look in their eyes. It became clear at this point that Murray—against my reminders, I might add—had forgotten to bring a raincoat. I’ll give him an F for planning but an A for creativity and spirit; he whittled a poncho out of a couch cover in under a minute. (C- for style.)
With that we bolted to the boat and sought shelter under the hardtop. It was actually an interesting test that we rarely experience. Go boating long enough, or in Florida for a dozen-plus minutes, and you’ll encounter a squall. Huddled under the hardtop we found that there was plenty of room around the helm and forward under the SureShade to keep guests dry. There’s also an expansive retractable shade that covers the cockpit, a nice touch when taking a break from the rain or rays alike.
While we’re on the subject, it’s natural to call the space aft of the helm a cockpit, but on this boat that name doesn’t quite fit; it really is more of a salon. With room for a dozen adults to mingle, sit or swim, the space is exceptionally utilitarian. Adding to that are a pair of hydraulic tables (one in the salon and one in the bow) that lift from the sole up to table height. And the cabin below boasted more than enough space for a couple to spend a weekend aboard.
I’m known to pull rank from time to time and test a boat I’m most excited about. I wondered if that bad-editor karma was coming back to bite me as I drove into building seas off Key Largo with spray dousing the windshield. “This wasn’t the forecast I saw,” I mention to company captain Chris David. “No, those guys making predictions are warm behind their desk. I often wish I could drag them out with me and say ‘you call this two to threes!?’”
Two to threes are what we had outside of the channel. These seas were 5 to 6 feet with more than the occasional 8-foot swell thrown in to keep us on our toes. Conditions like these are always a blessing in disguise. Steep swells showed, again and again, that this boat is not a center console—at least, not what we’ve traditionally called a center console.
Myself, Capt. Chris, mate Janie Adams and service manager Geney Menendez stayed dry and for the most part, comfortable.
The hull tracked well and had a smooth ride in both head and following seas thanks to 18 degrees of deadrise, and the 1,600 ponies behind us offered the peace of mind that comes with the ability to power your way out of a bad situation.
Our plan was originally to cruise and snorkel on the Carysfort Reef, but deteriorating conditions would have made that a tall order, even for Michael Phelps. It was a unanimous decision: I was not getting into—or at least definitely not out of—the water. We changed course to the protected bay on the west side of Key Largo. Two-way-averaged speed runs offered up a top speed of 41 knots with a fuel burn of 125 gph. Optimum cruise has become such a preference these days, but an enjoyable speed of 32 knots and fuel burn of 81 gph felt like it would be sustainable for many enjoyable hours.
While we were battling a mean head sea that morning, the real war was being waged under the waves. Just a few miles from the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo is Carysfort Reef, a 1.5-mile preserve of underwater beauty.
Since the 1970s, the Carysfort Reef has seen a staggering 93 percent loss of life. It’s a trajectory that had scientists and the executive team at the private Ocean Reef Club reeling.
“Our middle name is literally Reef; we wondered how we could let this happen on our doorstep,” said Senior Vice President of Membership and Marketing Richard Weinstein from a clubhouse overlooking the marina. “You look and you see a lot of fishing boats. The coral reefs are essential to fishermen. They offer protection for juvenile fish to grow, so we know that maintaining that fishery means protecting the reef.”
The club recognized that they needed to take immediate action. They partnered with Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF), donating $1 million with the goal of restoring Carysfort to its former glory by 2020.
“The degradation of reefs are caused by what we call a death by a thousand cuts, and all of them are caused by humans. We are the cause,” explained Alice Granger, communications director for the CRF. “Human waste. Reckless anchoring. Diving down and kicking and touching them; people don’t realize how fragile coral reefs are. We also now know that an ingredient in sunscreen called oxybenzone is highly toxic to coral reefs. It actually disrupts their DNA; we think that was a major cause of damage. And of course today climate change is the single biggest threat to the reefs.”
In 2015, the CRF proved that they were able to quickly grow staghorn and elkhorn coral in a nursery and then transplant them to PVC coral trees near Carysfort. There, swinging in the current from fishing lines, they grow from a tiny strand just a couple inches long to the size of a basketball. The coral is then taken to Carysfort and glued to the reef with an underwater two-part epoxy. So far, 11,000 corals have been transplanted with the goal of planting 19,000 more. Scientists at the CRF believe the reef will then become fully self-sustaining.
“For hundreds of years we’ve been farming the oceans, we’ve been fishing hard and taking from the sea,” says Weinstein. “This is the first time that we’re putting life back into the ocean. This is an important step to helping the ocean recover.”
As the reef grows, beating the odds a centimeter at a time, we cut the 45 Divergence back toward shore and enjoy the pleasant push from a following sea. At a wide range of speeds the boat felt surefooted. I have to admit, it was more of a sea boat than I would have expected when judging its dockside amenities.
Our early start and time in the ocean built a growing hunger among our crew. The idea of stopping for lunch is suggested and conversation on where to go is short. There is only one spot our crew wants to stop: Alabama Jacks.
Located on the south side of the Barnes Sounds, it’s the last stop for a hot meal before crossing over into the Keys. We idle up to the unassuming, single-level restaurant lined with motorcycles. One by one, guests look up from their wax-paper-lined baskets of fish and chips and mahi sandwiches and gawk at the deep blue 45 heading for the face dock beside the restaurant.
“Hey, I’ll trade you for my Whaler!” one patron shouts.
“What kind of boat is that?” shouts another.
“It’s an Ocean Alexander,” replies service manager Menendez.
“Damn, that’s nice,” comes the reply, followed by a long swig of a Budweiser.
We find a seat near the 45 and place our order. The house specialty is Key West-style conch fritters that come in a large, shareable patty rather than the meatball-shaped offering you typically find. It’s a crispy, salty-yet-sweet dish that pairs perfectly with a long day on the water.
My time aboard the Ocean Alexander 45 has just about come to an end. There is a long list of potential owners waiting for their turn at a sea trial. Surely there will be countless owners of larger Ocean Alexanders who will look to the Divergence as a second boat. With its impressive fold-down gunwales and social spaces, it connects you to the water—and below—better than many other boats in this size range.
I polish off my meal and head back for the mainland, leaving with a unique souvenir: a profound respect. Respect for a yacht builder that made a seamless transition to the outboard-powered, super-console market.
I’m also filled with immense gratitude for the work being done by CRF to bring a natural resource back to life. After all, what’s the point of buying a boat that gives you unfettered access to the water if there’s nothing going on below the surface?
5 Reef Rules
● Look before you anchor. Anchor over sand, not coral reefs.
● Be careful where you empty your holding tank.
● Ensure your engines are properly maintained and not leaking oil.
● Don’t throw thrash or cigarette butts overboard.
● Buy sunscreens without the harmful chemical oxybenzone, like Street to Sea.