BOAT TEST SELENE 55
The Selene range of long-range trawlers are made for going a lot farther than around the block. DAVID LOCKWOOD returns smitten and bitten by the bug
After taking delivery of their Selene 59 and a subjecting it to a shakedown cruise in Sydney last year, Aussie adventurer Dick Smith and his wife Pip set sail for Tasmania. They plodded along the coast - as you do in one of these so-called trawlers - before crossing Bass Strait and ranging down to the pristine southwest corner of Tasmania. What eventuated was a three-month private cruising odyssey without the hassles of crew or the constant hum of a ship's generator that plagued them aboard their former $6 million 104ft adventure ship, Ulysses Blue.
Minus the human cargo and onerous payroll, Dick Smith and his wife Pip are now able to go places as a footloose cruising couple in command of their boat. At 59ft, the Selene is an owner/driver boat. It's got all the qualities of a mini expedition ship, but none of the intrusions of a bigger boat.
Not that the capabilities of the Selene boats are a well-kept secret. The long-range liveaboard boats are made by Jet-Tern Marine in China for the demanding American passagemaker market. Company founder Howard Chen from Taiwan sent the first boat to the States in 1999 and the following year, yours truly tested the Selene 47 rebadged as a Solo 47 in Sydney. In better times, production hovers around 35 boats a year.
Unsurprisingly, Selene trawlers can be found gadding about the world's premier waterways, but they do so at leisurely displacement speeds. The brochure talks of negotiating rapids in British Columbia, icebergs in Alaska and before long, they will probably add some words about the wilds of Tasmania or New Zealand where there a number of Selenes located.
Mark Halvorsen, of the famous boating family, imports the boats to Australia, with a half dozen on the way, but most of the 100 or more trawlers are found in North America, were rendezvous are held and brand-loyal enthusiasts share their trials and tribulations on an owner's forum. Only now, as boats and dreams are realised from orders in the last few years, are the Selenes starting to enjoy a real following Down Under.
Unlike a run-of-the-mill production boat, each Selene is a semi-custom cruiser tweaked to meet the needs of it owners. Enter John Bradley, whose Selene 55 pictured hereabouts was designed to have the ultimate in 'dockability'. Like most Selene buyers, John, an avid sailor who jumped ship to an Island Gypsy 30 and then a Grand Banks 42, researched the long-range cruiser market for months before settling on a Selene.
"The family always liked the high bulwarks of the former boats. The wife is happy. She doesn't want to go over the side," says John, before explaining his reasons for buying the Selene 55, a carefully considered cruiser and the boat of his dreams.
"I have friends with go-fast boats, a mate with a 60-footer who went from Sydney to the Whitsundays on 16,000 litres of fuel - and burnt the same back down. That's not on. Fast is not sensible and the older you get the more sensible you become," explains John from a teak chair before a teak table on the teak deck of his Selene 55 with timeless teak interior.
The antipathy of a go-fast boat, the Selenes are round-bilge displacement trawlers with, in the case of the 55 I drove, a top speed of about 11.5kts. Power comes in the form of a torquey single diesel engine that lopes along rather than races. The idea is that you enjoy the journey, take your time and live aboard as you travel. Or engage a skipper to undertake the delivery legs and fly in to the ports of call.
The Selene 55 that we tested was hull number 85, but it broke the mould. The boat was fitted with the upgraded turbocharged 525hp John Deere diesel engine instead of the standard turbocharged Cummins MerCruiser QSL9 406hp donk. But the big difference between the engines is the torque: the John Deere is a 12.5lt block, whereas the Cummins has an 8.9lt capacity. And the John Deere's torque curve is rapid, meaning it makes maximum power down low where you want it on a displacement boat.
Furthermore, the 55 was spinning a huge 43in four-blade propeller in a semi-tunnel that provides blade tip clearance. Put the engine into gear and the boat lurches. There was a docking remote with 20m lead, but fear not about docking.
The 55 had a second (turbocharged) 121hp John Deere auxiliary engine that can get you home, but its primary purpose is to power hydraulics and electrical-generating equipment. Like Dick Smith, John plans to cruise the Australian coast as a husband-and-wife team. But he is also cognisant of the fact that a 50-tonne private luxury liner isn't something you want drifting out of control in a crowded marina.
So John turned to Canadian company KeyPower, which specialises in small-ship solutions for private luxury liners and commercial craft including a number of trawlers operating out of Queensland, I'm told. The answer lay in a hydraulic docking system with four different stations at all corners of the boat.
Each docking station has a joystick that engages the auxiliary engine and hydraulic coupling that spins the shaft and propeller (after the main engine is disengaged). Alongside are toggles for hydraulic bow and sternthrusters that, unlike electric thrusters, can be used continuously without overheating and tripping out.
Importantly, the joystick and docking levers have proportional control, meaning you move them incrementally to adjust your speed and thrust up and down. Suffice to say, decamping and docking the Selene 55 proved to be a fingertip affair. But we also used the docking station and hydraulics to exit the marina and weave our way down the no-wash zone of Cowan Creek. All with the push of a finger.
BUILT TO LAST
What you don't see counts for plenty on the Selenes, too. The factory has ISO 9001 accreditation and the boats ate CE Certified by Lloyds for Category A as in open ocean, trans-Pacific, hey, wherever you want to go. Suffice to say, the high-volume 55 hull, which is a stretch of the popular 53, is built like the proverbial brick outhouse, handlaid with lashings of resin and rovings, and vacuum-bagged balsa-cored sides and decks to reduce weight up top. The boat also has some 3000kg of lead ballast to boost stability. Detailed hydrostatic data is provided by the factory.
The 55 we tested had its running surface extended all the way to the back of the swim platform, thereby increasing waterline length and with that, hull speed as well as aft buoyancy. There is a full-length keel that protects the running gear should you go aground and the 55 had KeyPower stabilisers with urethane rubber fins each measuring nine square feet to reduce the rocking motion in cross seas and swell. The stabilisers have three settings to suit different speeds of travel.
As with all long-range, liveaboard boats, fuel, water, power and refrigeration come in spades. The 55 had 4000lt of diesel for a range of 2500 to 3000nm at seven to eight knots. Hull speed is 9.95kts and above that you only use more fuel without many more knots.
Although the 55 wasn't fitted with a desalinator you can easily add one. Meantime, John hopes the not inconsiderable 2000lt of freshwater keeps them respectable for a couple of weeks at a time. By which time, he envisages, they will have swung by a marina somewhere or other.
At first, refrigeration capacity seemed just okay for a liveaboard boat. But then I climbed the ladder into the lazarette and found room for stowing victuals and grub in an oversized built-in freezer. Load up the insulated space with half a dead cow before you cast the lines.
Power generation is more interesting. The boat doesn't have the usual diesel generator, but uses its engines (the auxiliary when not underway) to power a 10kW electro-hydraulic generator and/or oversized 7kW alternator that, I'm told, will charge the boat's batteries in just a few hours.
There is a 4kW inverter that turns the DC power back into AC that runs the refrigeration, microwave oven, television, lighting, and one of the two air-conditioning units for a couple of days. The combination stove, oven, grill, and the barbecue up top are gas powered, with three bottles aboard. Thus, you should only need to run the auxiliary or main engine for an hour in the morning and at night to keep the boat powered up.
Back in the watertight engineroom I also note Reverso oil-change and fuel-polishing systems, redundant Racor fuel filters for the engines, GRP wing fuel tanks with inspection hatches big enough to climb inside, seawater intakes with glass-inspection bowls, and the impressive hydraulics from KeyPower, including a trick manifold system and hydraulic bilge as well as engine-driven pumps.
Although there is standing room in the engineroom, there is a surfeit of servicing room around the main white John Deere and aft-mounted yellow auxiliary donks. And there's outdoor engineroom access for tradespeople, as well as access through the full-beam stateroom and galley floor.
BIG COCKPIT, BRIDGE AND PILOTHOUSE
As with all good passagemakers, there are deep bulwarks tracing the boat so you, the crew, grandkids or dog can range about at sea without fear of falling over. But as ever, you strike tradeoffs and the cost for making the saloon as wide as possible is pinched sidedecks that may confront the girth challenged. High-gloss teak capping adds to the nautical style.
Solid wingdoors and clears (to come) provide protection to the cockpit, as does the extended flybridge up top. The cockpit was a 3.3m long model, gaining almost a metre on the standard boat, thereby offering room for a lunch setting for six or more. And you don't need to ask guests to move their chairs should you want to extract yourself from the outdoor setting.
Up front is a signature Portuguese bridge and high bow designed to shed water when underway. In fair weather, you can use the lounge for sightseeing. The views over the bow from the protected pilothouse are unfettered, but you can also drive from the flybridge in fair weather.
Among the nice details were the Selene branded jam cleats that let you attack fenders in a matter of minutes. Rather than put a tender and davit up top as intended, the owner had the ducky on the transom on snap davits. He was intending to put a rowing scull up top instead. You need to exercise some way on a liveboard boat.
All told, six doors at various heights flank the boat, allowing you to provision or board from floating and fixed jetties, wharves and marinas. But the owner had the standard-issue moulded aft staircase to the flybridge removed to keep the cockpit clean and uncluttered. And the internal ladder is all you need.
Without the tender and crane, the flybridge is an even bigger entertaining space, traced by stainless steel safety rails and with a good grade of non-skid. Back under the hardtop with clears is the must-have amenities centre with barbecue and fridge or icemaker opposite an L-shaped lounge that, with twin swivelling helm seats, can seat about six for dinner or drinks up top.
Much of what graces the primary helm station down below can be found at the flybridge helm station. Though the pilothouse was yet to be fitted with a helm chair - which you mightn't need given that the autopilot has a remote and there's a lounge nearby - there were plenty of electronics by way of twin Raymarine E120s linked to three CCT cameras, Interphase forward-facing sonar, the Keypower hydraulic control panels, Keypower stabiliser controls, and mighty Kahlenberg horn with commercial capacity. Ouch!
The Twin Disc Power Commander electronic shifts each control an engine and in the helm photo hereabouts, you will see the white lever for the main 525hp John Deere and the yellow lever for the 121hp auxiliary. Oh, and the hydraulic propulsion and thruster controls. A timber ship's wheel adds to the sense of purpose, designer Georg Jensen clock and weather stations add some style, while overhead lighting and bilge plans, water and fuel gauges point to the practicality of the pilothouse.
I was just as taken by the excellent pilothouse lounge for three with fold-down timber armrests with drinkholders, the dinette and the extendable night berth for catching 40 winks when you are off watch. The extended chartable, chartlockers and tombs of manuals underscore the fact that this is the heart of the Selene 55 and the boat owners retreat in fair weather and foul.
The saloon on the 55 is the same as the 53, with a number of L-shaped or U-shaped lounge configurations set around a wonderful timber dinette with compass rose inlays that cleverly extends to create a bigger indoor dining setting. The L-shaped leather lounge faces two tub chairs across the floor, with built-in furniture, television and storage creating a real lounge area. And the picture windows were at the right height for enjoying the views.
On the same level as the saloon is the galley traced by imposing marble counters, with three-burner stove, oven and grill that will appease those gourmands accustomed to cooking with gas. There's an upright fridge and freezer, big dishwasher, twin sinks, clever foldout stainless steel splashback, dedicated crockery storage and supplied stamped Selene cutlery.
I really like the fact you are cooking alongside a big, opening window. Cross-flow ventilation is derived by opening the window in the dayhead opposite. Although it's near the galley, it will prevent guests ranging down to the accommodation if not a splash of the boots mid-passage.
Accommodation is down nine steps, pointing to the great internal volume of the Selene's in the forward sections, and ranges from a full-beam stateroom amidships, where the motion of the boat is smoothest, to a VIP guest's cabin with queen bed in the bow. There are two en suites with Tecma heads and shower stalls, but the optional third cabin was deleted to provide a gargantuan shower especially for the owners.
Should grandkids want to stay over there's a sofa bed in the saloon, not to mention the passage berth behind the helm for when you are off watch. More granite counters, timeless teak joinery and planking, and mood lighting add to the salty ambience (overlook the plastic in the photos protecting the leather from tradesmen). Needless to say, storage space is in terrific supply. And owner's also get a vanity/dresser and quasi office space. Everything you need on a real liveboard.
ON THE TRAIL
From an impossibly tight berth, with just centimetres to spare, with the bow of another Selene protruding imposingly from its berth dead ahead, Captain Bradley decamps his Selene 55 with aplomb.
Besides controlling the hydraulics, the auxiliary engine has a Get Home Drive or gearbox in case the main engine fails. In this mode, the boat will do five knots, I'm told. Otherwise, go places at eight knots.
Of course, you need time, lots of time, to appreciate a boat like this. The best part of an autumn day disappeared while roaming around Cowan Creek. And our time spent on the anchor listening to the waterfall - instead of a pesky generator - at the head of Houseboat Bay proved soothing.
The Selene 55 was still at pre-delivery shakedown stage and modifications were needed to the keel to better accommodate the huge prop, says John. But those loping John Deere engines sure suit displacement hulls. At 1250rpm, we were going places at 8.5kts for just 23lt/h (according to engine-manufacturer's supplied data).
But what you need to remember is that the engine is shifting more than just a boat. The Selene 55 is a home-away-from-home with everything but costly crew. Turn the key and move your house interstate and overseas. If it's good enough for Dick Smith, it's good enough for me.
After all, the famous Australian adventurer has voyaged where others dare to fly, sail and tread. And at $1.9 million as tested the Selene 55 is a lot of boat for your buck.
SPECIFICATIONS: SELENE 55
PRICE AS TESTED
Approx $1.9 million
Upgraded 525hp John Deere main propulsion engine; 121hp John Deere auxiliary diesel engine; Keypower hydraulic system for thrusters, Get Home Drive and electro-hydraulic generator; upgraded alternator; extended cockpit and hull running surface; full electronics including Raymarine E120s with GPS chartplotter, radar, radios, pilot; custom soft furnishings; AV systems; air-con, and lots more
Approx $1.6 million
Material: Fibreglass w/ balsa-cored, vacuum-bagged decks
Type: Round-bilge displacement monohull
Length overall: 18.92m
Weight: 49,800kg (loaded standard engines and gear)
Ballast: Approx 300kg lead
Make/model: John Deere 6125AFM
Type: Four-stroke six-cylinder diesel engine with turbocharging, aftercooling
Rated HP: 525 at 2100rpm (continuous)
Gearboxes (Make/ratio): ZF 2.63:1
Props: Four-blade bronze
Halvorsen Boat Sales (Australia) Pty Ltd,
C/o Empire Marinas,
Bobbin Head Road,
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park,
Turramurra, NSW, 2074
Phone (02) 9457 6725
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