Talk to any professional fisherman and you will find an immense respect for the sea and a refreshing pragmatism about its often-romanticised character.
The fact is that offshore can be a dangerous place. The ocean is powerful, unpredictable and quickly probes the weak points of boats and overconfident skippers and crews.
So when Horizon director Gary Wahlstedt, who spent seven years in all weathers fishing the waters off South Australia’s rugged Spencer Gulf, decided to re-configure one of the brand’s most popular models for Australia, it wasn’t going to be a simple makeover.
The result, in collaboration with Mark Western, is the Horizon E56 XO, directly tailored to the unforgiving sea state and climate we choose to make our playground.
The XO’s reworked exterior aesthetics make an immediate stylish impact. Dockside you appreciate its sleek profile thanks to a subtly lowered gunnel height. Replacing the E56’s flybridge is a new roofline with a Targa top supporting the radar and satellite domes.
The designers have done a great job on the XO’s exterior styling. Its proportions (17.07 metres in length and a 4.80-metre beam) aren’t appreciated until you’re up close and realise the sheer volume of the hull and spacious rear decks.
Complementing the XO’s undeniable cosmetic appeal are attractive design and construction characteristics that extend right through the boat’s interiors into the hull and engine room.
Above all, however, what Gary wanted was “a single layer boat for Australian conditions”.
“It took me six months or more to convince Austin [Austin Lin, Horizon president] to do it,” he says with a laugh. “We set it up primarily as a family boat, either for the day, a few days, or as a live-aboard.”
One of the XO’s targeted design features is aft cockpit amenities, and the result is a fantastic multi-use transom module, with a lift-up lid that is securely closed underway.
“The whole idea,” Gary says, “is that fishing rods, wetsuits, diving gear, everything for the water, is on the back, and on the other side obviously the live bait tank, filleting bench, sink, and barbecue. That way everything’s incorporated in that whole back module.”
The expansive swim platform is roomy enough for suitable chairs to recline as the seriously fun water-based activities take place. It can submerge to 1.2 metres, while its 450-kilogram lifting capacity allows for easy stowage of a 3.5-metre RIB tender.
Just two wide teak steps and you are back in the cockpit, with 316- grade stainless steel grab rails and a safety gate. A locker on the port stairwell houses the transom shower and water inlets. At the top of the stairs is an icemaker and fridge strategically located in arm’s reach of the cockpit table.
There is another design option available with more seating and a bigger table instead of the U-Tec fridge, but the arrangement in our review boat is perfect for those afternoons when you are cooling off in the water, shuttling in to the beach every now and then, before settling in for an alfresco dinner in the L-shaped lounge around the high-gloss cockpit table.
Wide side decks with no trip hazards ensure safe access to a separate dining/entertainment zone on the bow, another of Gary’s initiatives.
The hinged table unfolds and there’s lounge seating for six to eight adults. Or stretch out on the double sunbed, complete with recessed cup holders and handy ice bucket well, plus speakers for those who don’t find a measure of tranquillity in the lapping wavelets against the hull.
When conditions finally dictate its time to retreat to the saloon, the single-level multi-function deck plan comes into its own.
A hopper window opens up the entire aft cockpit to the saloon, with a lot of thought going into the location of the galley.
“With the rear galley, we wanted to be able to entertain out the back with guests with that indoor/outdoor scenario,” Gary explains. “Obviously when you’re travelling you’ve got all your guests sitting around the table – you’re at the helm station so everyone’s integrated together.”
The XO achieves this, thanks also to excellent noise and vibration dampening, keeping the space extremely quiet as the ocean or coastal panorama slips by the swooping windows.
Just inside the sliding saloon door to starboard are two cabinets: one for the air-conditioning unit, the other housing AC and DC power switches and operating panels for the Cummins Onan generator and the inverter/charter. All are extremely well laid out. A full-height Fisher Paykel fridge/freezer stores the catch or provides ample provisions for cruising.
Opposite to port is the galley with Corian benchtops, featuring a Smeg cooktop and convection oven. Snacks can be served up to a breakfast bar with weighted stools, while racks in the cupboards secure glasses of varying sizes.
For other occasions there’s the polished white oak dinette with highly comfortable seating on the Ultraleather L-shaped lounge. The table converts into a double bed for extra guests. The natural tones of the décor are carried through to the saloon’s oak panel floor finish.
While you’re reclining on the lounge, the XO’s comprehensive entertainment package can cater to virtually any request, whether its satellite TV, internet downloads or simply pumping the tunes out via the top-of-the-range Bose system. The 50-inch TV is recessed into a cabinet, ready to emerge on movie night.
Forward are dual-stitched leather helm seats modelled on Bentley perches, with classy Horizon branding. The helm station itself sits atop a two-drawer cabinet.
Twin E165 HybridTouch Raymarine screens display radar, autopilot, VHF and fishfinder, and are CCTV integrated, while the twin Cat 312s have their own monitors with alarm functions. There’s also monitoring systems for critical equipment such as bilge pumps and blowers, along with trim tab and bow thruster controls. It sounds crowded, but the layout is very intuitive and after a couple of goes, selections come easily.
Ocean tested the E56 XO in a half-metre swell off Sydney Heads. The deep-V hull and chines running well aft carved through the chop and we were impressed by the smooth-riding sure-footedness of the hull.
That should come as no surprise, as the boat has a solid FRP bottom, with high-density foam coring above the chine line. It is constructed with Horizon’s licensed SCRIMP process which the company says give its hulls greater strength with less weight.
Down below in the owner’s stateroom offshore at 15 knots there was a reassuring lack of banging and bumping, helped no doubt by the plush surroundings. The earthy tones of the carpet are offset by the crafted dark woodgrain joinery and stain finish headboard.
‘Opulent’ can be a maligned descriptor but I don’t think I’ve ever been in the stateroom of a boat of this size that quite matches the E56 XO.
These days, engine rooms are on designers’ hit lists as they try to squeeze extra space into the staterooms. Horizon manages to deliver both spacious accommodation, and a fully-fledged, serviceable engine space.The non-slip aluminium grating lets you walk right between the big Cat engines taking you to the main switching panel. There is full headroom and access around the Cats. All wiring is colour-coded for easy identification. The Onan 17.5kW generator has a sound shield, plus there is sound and heat insulation in the engine room’s bulkheads and ceilings. The twin cats develop 715hp each, pushing the XO’s 23 tonnes along at 10 knots at 1080rpm, consuming a very respectable 20 litres per engine per hour. At the designated cruising speed of 20 knots registering 2000 rpm, fuel consumption was 79 litres per engine per hour, giving a cruising range of 400 nautical miles. The best speed we saw during the test was 26.5 knots, which seemed slower given the XO’s armchair ride. Really, this boat combines the best of two design dynamics. Horizon is the market production leader in producing effective custom models to individual owners’ exacting requirements. And the XO, specially engineered to capitalise on Australia’s open-air, adventurous lifestyle, can do it all with Horizon’s enviable engineering and construction pedigree. www.hmya.com.au