BOAT TEST: FAIRLINE SQUADRON 55
JOHN ZAMMIT jumps aboard the stunning Fairline Squadron 55, and finds that beauty is more than skin deep.
Technology, where would we be without it? We live in an age where information is available at a touch of a keystroke, we think nothing of calling someone on a mobile phone, or texting them, we send emails all over the country and the world, and expect an immediate response. I love it!
I know, though, that there are some people out there who aren't quite into it all, but not me. I've got all the good gear: iPhone, iPod, digital headphones. I've got computers at work, at home, a laptop. Then there's the Wii system and just about everything else that's digital or electronic. Even the headlights and windscreen wipers on my car come on automatically when required.
But while I don't understand how it all works in the background, I don't care. That's the beauty of technology - things just happen… too easy.
LET THE PILOT DO IT
Where, you may ask, is all this heading? I recently tested the Fairline Squadron 55 on the Gold Coast and one of the things that grabbed my attention was the Fairline onboard PILOT system. It's standard on this boat and puts controls for all onboard functions right at hand. It's also easy to use, intuitive and impressive.
Everything including lights, fridges, fuel, water, waste tanks, batteries, even entertainment systems are monitored and controlled by PILOT. It even operates like a giant inverter, running all 240V systems without the generator running or a shorepower connection.
When the batteries start to run down, the system automatically shuts things down to compensate, doing so progressively in order of priority with the least essential items first. As power returns, the system reinstates operations, again in order of priority.
Also, if the boat were plugged in to shorepower on a marina and had 15amp coming in but was operating at 20amp, PILOT will deliver the additional amps seamlessly and switch off when amp-load diminished.
The onboard systems are divided into zones displayed on the screen. If an issue arises, an alarm sounds and a light flashes. By actuating the light by touchscreen it's possible to "drill down" through a series of screens to identify not only the issue but also the location, highlighted on a schematic of the boat. It's that simple.
While the electronics are impressive, that's not the only thing to like on the Squadron 55. Fairline is an international luxury brand that's been building boats in the UK since 1967 and exports all over the world. In 2008, Fairline was awarded the Queen's Award for Enterprise, a prestigious accolade for international trade.
The immediate impression after stepping aboard the Squadron 55 and entering the saloon through the wide, sliding glass doors is how contemporary and stylish she looks - just like a modern luxury apartment. The designers have put a lot of thought into this boat resulting in an elegant interior that's also practical. From the saloon you can see right through to the forward windscreen, which, together with the large side windows, gives a light and airy feel to the interior.
The saloon has large, luxurious U-shape seating to port and built-in cabinets opposite that accommodate almost every need including a dedicated audio-visual section housing the Bose sound system, iPod dock, with space for DVD, satellite TV and anything else you can imagine. By the way, the TV pops out of the top of the cabinet at the flick of a switch.
Up two steps from the saloon floor is a platform on the starboard side that can be used as a dinette with L-shaped seating, or, if you fold up the table, as a casual conversation area. Directly across and a small step down is the galley, fitted out with fridge and freezer, dishwasher, four-burner electric hotplate, double-bowl sink with built-in macerator, and all of the niceties that chefs' prefer, like Avonite bench tops, extractor fan, and lots of storage.
The different areas here are all subtlety, but clearly defined and flow naturally together. So for entertaining large groups, everyone will feel like they're in the one interesting space and not isolated. Just a minor criticism, however (and purely subjective), the sole of the living areas is of a light oak timber, while the walls and cabinetry are a beautiful gloss walnut, which seem a bit odd to me. I would have preferred plush carpet, but then the timber floor was an option and I guess there's no accounting for taste, mine included.
Up forward is the lower helm to starboard. Seated in one of the twin, adjustable Recaro seats, facing a woodgrain dash with an adjustable/tilt woodgrain sports wheel, you get the feeling of driving a luxury British sports saloon ? Bentley comes to mind. Volvo engine controls with engine monitoring gauges, touchscreen Garmin electronics (including depthsounder, autopilot, GPS/plotter, bow and sternthrusters), map lockers and other hidey holes in the dash, and in an overhead console, complete the picture. The whole dash lifts up to service the electronics if required.
Good design on this boat is in evidence everywhere, including the narrow passageway behind the helm seats leading to the sidedoor. Along with a small gap between the skipper and co-pilot's chair, it means anyone can access the helm door without disturbing the crew in control.
GET UP AND GO
But this boat is not just all about show, there's plenty of go, too, and she's easy to drive. The Fairline Squadron 55 handles well, has good vision forward through the toughened-glass windscreen with wipers, and responds even when thrown around sharply on the wheel.
The twin 775hp Volvo D12-800 engines on the test boat are rated to 2300rpm. They're a good match for this motor yacht and provided more than enough power when the sticks were pushed forward and she was popped the question. Fairline claim the Squadron 55 will do 31kts. On test day, travelling against the current with 25 to 30kts of wind blowing, we took her up to 2200rpm and managed 27kts. It was noted that at 1800rpm the engines sounded like they were ticking over nicely and gave a comfortable 21kts cruise speed.
In respect of the latest technology, I was smitten by the Garmin autopilot. It has a feature allowing the skipper to take control of the helm when the autopilot is engaged simply by turning the wheel. It then lets you know that you have the helm and, if the wheel is not moved again for 10 seconds, the autopilot regains control. I love it!
Engine access is through a cockpit hatch and I liked the way the engineroom was laid out. With both engines forward and the 13.5kW Onan generator and the other ancillary bits aft, everything is easy to get to. There are twin Racor fuel filters for each engine and water strainers with glass tops ? which I like ? that allow you to see levels at-a-glance. There are blowers to the engineroom and good head height as well. If anything, it's a bit of a squeeze outboard of the engines, but overall, still a good layout.
CABINS FOR ALL
The accommodation is another highlight. Down a flight of steps and towards the stern is the huge master stateroom with en suite, running athwartships. You'll also find lots of headroom, a king-sized bed and a mirrored wardrobe. Panoramic hull windows bathe this cabin in light and have venetian blinds for privacy at the dock.
The guests stateroom in the bow is also impressive, with an interesting and large forward-facing window that follows the line of the raised foredeck and admits loads of light. There's aare central queen-sized bed, drawers and stowage, and access to an en suite bathroom, which you also get to from a landing on the stairs thereby acting as the dayhead. The third cabin to starboard has twin beds and there's a utility room that can be fitted out as crew quarters and accessed from the cockpit.
The Squadron 55 is a great boat for entertaining, inside or out. The fully covered cockpit has bench seating across the stern, while wide walkaround sidedecks, with raised bulwarks and siderails, get you to the bow safely. On the foredeck is a cushioned sunbed with clever lift-up fender storage either side.
You reach the flybridge via a moulded staircase from the cockpit and the luxury theme continues. Crew get comfortable, twin, bolstered helm seats facing a dash with instrumentation duplicated from the lower helm. The VHF radio is mounted on the vertical surface under the co-pilot's seat, probably not the best spot as far as I'm concerned and not a major issue, but I would move it.
There's a large sunbathing area forward of the helm and a big table aft with seating around and along the rear of the flybridge. A built-in wetbar with fridge and an electric griddle means you can make a day of it up here. It's a nice, roomy flybridge, well set up, and I can imagine it being just as comfortable for a couple as for a large group.
There's a low-profile radar mast at the rear of the flybridge and I'm not sure if I should be concerned or not. Depending on who you speak to, some tell me it's an issue if the radar is too low and skipper and copilot are in the line of the beam. As I said, I'm not sure, but just the same I think I would err on the side of caution and not drive from up here if the radar was going. Having said that, it's perhaps unlikely you'd be driving from the flybridge if you needed the radar anyway, so perhaps it's a moot point.
My overall impression of the Fairline Squadron 55 is of a stylish luxury cruiser that goes as well as she looks. I can picture myself spending time on board, cruising the coast and entertaining friends, or perhaps just kicking back with my partner in our own floating apartment, comfortable in the knowledge that the onboard technology is taking care of business in the background. Too easy!
Specifications-FAIRLINE SQUADRON 55
PRICE AS TESTED
Sternthruster, Garmin touchscreen electronics, oak timber flooring in dinette and saloon, macerator in galley sink, CCTV cameras to cockpit and engineroom, stowaway cockpit table, LED underwater lights, icemaker in flybridge, washer/dryer, and more
$2,250,000 w/ Volvo D12-800 engines , bimini and full air-conditioning
MATERIAL: Handlaid fibreglass
TYPE: Dee-vee monohull
LENGTH OVERALL: 17.31m
WEIGHT: 22,160kg (dry)
BERTHS: 6 + 1
MAKE/MODEL: 2 x Volvo D12-800
TYPE: Electronic six-cylinder turbo-diesel
RATED HP: 775
WEIGHT: 1400kg (dry)
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