Centre console boats are undeniably the keystone of the boating scene in the United States. They boast almost universal appeal amongst buyers of all ages and types. They use their centre consoles for every conceivable purpose including fishing, diving and watersports. That’s in addition to cruising and generally exploring the many different bodies of water, both inland and offshore, that the country and its coastal neighbours have to offer.
But while there are many centre console boats on the market in the US, there are none quite like those offered by Solace Boats. And now, hot on the heels of its headline-grabbing appearance at the Caribbean Charter Yacht Show in St Thomas in December 2022, we caught up with the diverse team behind Solace Boats to get the inside scoop on this dynamic brand.
A history of high-end
Based in Edgewater, Florida, Solace boats manufactures a range of high-performance, high-end centre console boats serving primarily the upper end of the centre console market.
The company was established by co-owners Sarah and Steven Dougherty, who boast an impressive pedigree within the boatbuilding industry in Florida. Steven’s father enjoyed an illustrious 30-year career at Boston Whaler as Senior Vice President where he was intimately involved with the development of that company’s entire product line during his tenure.
After leaving Boston Whaler, Mr Dougherty Sr and son Steven went on to establish - and then sell - Edgewater Boats and then Everglades boats, before Steven and Sarah decided to open Solace Boats. “The bulk of my career has been spent building high-end saltwater fishing boats,” Steven recalled. “When we started Solace Boats, we decided there was room within the market to build a higher-end boat than those we’d built in the past, and we already knew that there were customers who’d be interested in that.”
Redesigning a classic
The process of designing the range of Solace Boats involved rethinking every aspect of typical centre console boatbuilding, Steven explained. “We were looking to improve every square inch of a typical centre console boat. We looked for a better way to do everything, with better technology. We stepped outside of the box in the design of the whole boat, from the running surface to the way we designed our console and hardtop. We weren’t concerned about trying to do it cheaper. Our mission was how to make it better. Price wasn’t a concern.”
Naturally, the materials used in Solace Boat construction are a key factor. “All of our frames are carbon fibre, there’s no aluminium,” he continued. “Carbon fibre is used on 100 per cent of the hull bottom, as well as in our transom, our stringers, our console and our hardtops. The resin we use is the best resin available. The vinyl we use is a silicon material that doesn’t develop mould or degrade in the sun. We even use the best gelcoat on the market that doesn’t develop thermal shock over time.”
All Solace Boats are manufactured in its vast, 180,000-square-foot facility in Edgewater. The factory is fully equipped with a massive array of sophisticated machinery and equipment, including several multi-axis CNC routers, overhead cranes including bridge and monorail cranes, a high-tech vacuum facility, an in-house steel fabrication shop, and a complete machine shop. The factory is staffed by a large but close-knit team of industry specialists, as co-owner Sarah Dougherty explained. “We have a great team behind us, some of whom have been with us for over 20 years and who are more like family. We’re certainly not a corporate boatbuilder where employees are numbers. They’re our amazing team; they’re our people.”
Solace Boats currently offers four models ranging from its 30-foot Solace 30 HCS, to its latest and arguably most unique offering: The Solace 415 CS.
Propelling the perfect partnership
The Solace 415 CS is a high-performance 41-foot centre console that is as unique as the partnership that developed it.
The boat was designed and built in close collaboration with engine manufacturer Volvo Penta. According to Jens Bering, Vice President of Volvo North America, the company conceptualised the relationship with Solace as an opportunity to showcase its propulsion technology for the recreational boating market. “Day boating has become extremely popular and from our side, we wanted to showcase what a stern drive can do in that market. While it’s very intuitive to put an outboard on a centre console, and while we respect the fantastic job those companies have done with the tech, we equally have good technology. We wanted to show the market that you can put two diesels into a centre console like this and be extremely successful.”
Volvo Penta, he said, was intentional about selecting Solace Boats as their partner for the development of a boat platform for its propulsion technology. “We needed a boatbuilder with the comprehensive in-house manufacturing capabilities at Solace, and the creativity and ingenuity of Steven and his team. That really gave this project legs. The speed with which Steven and his crew could turn around the project by doing all of the modelling and prototyping in-house with their own tooling was imperative to the project’s success. Without that, this project wouldn’t have happened.”
Under the hood
The 415 CS is propelled by a pair of Volvo Penta’s new Aquamatic Sterndrive D6-DPI diesel motors, with some models offering as much as 440 hp - one of the most powerful drives for the recreational market. Jens explained that this new powerplant was designed and built specifically for application in recreational boats. “Within the Volvo group, we love to create solutions, and this engine is no different. It’s an in-house built engine built from top to bottom for the marine market. It’s not offered in a truck or a bulldozer, for example. It’s an in-line 6-cylinder, 5.5-litre common rail engine with all of the modern amenities. And torque is the name of the game here because if you can’t transfer horsepower into the water, then it doesn’t matter, so our mission every day is creating torque and transferring power into the water. That torque and acceleration allow you to easily and safely manoeuvre at low speed.”
Volvo Penta supplies its Aquamatic sterndrives as a complete package that - apart from the motors themselves - also includes Volvo’s glass cockpit integration, joystick controls, all of the wiring harnesses and the propellors. This holistic approach benefits the builder in terms of ease of production, but ultimately also the user. “The boatbuilder doesn’t have to design a single harness,” Jens added. “For the end customer, that means that no matter where you are in the world, if you need a spare part, you can go to the parts manual and order the part. Nothing is bespoke.”
The end customer also benefits from substantial fuel savings and efficiency improvements, with the Aquamatics boasting as much as a 50% increase in range versus similar outboard motors. Fuel consumption is reduced by up to 42 per cent at cruising speed as well.
Blowing away the competition
The Solace 415’s powerplant is concealed beneath a large aft sunpad, leaving the transom and swim platform completely open. The availability of the swim platform is a major selling point of the boat. “A clean transom is important because that’s where a lot of the fun stuff on a boat happens,” said Jens. “This proves just how great it can be when you have two diesel engines in the boat.”
“It’s an awesome package that is arguably the best system on the market,” added Steven. “You no longer have to have these big outboards taking up space, hanging off the back. It drastically changes how the boat works and looks. Volvo has enabled us to build a boat that’s like any outboard boat, but powered by diesel engines that are inside the boat. The weight distribution is better and the general experience of using the boat is a lot better. The new boat will even fish significantly better.”
The Solace 415 has proven to be a major hit with everyone who’s spent time on her. “I’m blown away by how fast she gets up on plane, her efficiency and her ride quality,” said broker Max Parker of Denison Yachting. “The overall quality of the boat also speaks for itself. I was impressed by the efficiency of the Volvo engines. Compared to outboards, the helm is also very quiet. Overall it’s a very impressive boat; it’s like a unicorn, in my opinion.”
Arjen Steegstra, Volvo’s National Sales Manager for Marine Leisure Diesel, agreed. “I’ve had it 140 miles offshore, and I’ve had it in four feet of water, so you can go offshore comfortably or fish in the shallows, whichever you prefer.”
“Its competitors don’t have the comfort, the cabin space and all of the other bonus features,” Max added. “I love all of the cool features that the Solace 415 has that you don’t see on its competitors. I strongly recommend that people go for a ride on it.”
And that’s exactly what a number of people did at the Caribbean Charter Yacht show hosted at IGY Yacht Haven Grande, St Thomas. The Solace 415 proved to be a true head-turner at the show, where the company thoroughly proved the new boat’s effectiveness and suitability as a superyacht tender.
In closing, Jens reflected on the success of the partnership with Solace Boats. “The relationship and the project have been a fantastic investment from Volvo Penta. There’s nobody in our company that doesn’t know about this boat, because it’s that important for us. There are many propulsion systems out there, and we have the deepest respect for all of our competitors, but we believe in our system and we feel that we have a great story to tell as well. We’re all about better boating for everyone and the Solace 415 CS is proof.”