BOAT TEST: BENETEAU FLYER 550 OPEN CENTRE CONSOLE

By: David Lockwood


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Renaissance man David Lockwood experiences a little joie de vivre aboard French boatbuilder Beneteau's sexy-as-hell Flyer 550.

BOAT TEST: BENETEAU FLYER 550 OPEN CENTRE CONSOLE
Beneteau Flyer 550 Open Centre Console

FROM THE ARCHIVES: First published in TrailerBoat #179, April 2004 

 

 

On the mighty Mediterranean, boaters bask in the sun like sea lions on a Bass Strait island. Their predisposition to baring all lies partly in the fact that European winters can be as cold as those on King Island. Make tan while the sun shines.

But there's something else behind the extroverted European way of going boating. Most countries fronting the Med are not averse to flaunting their style. As such, bronzed bodies spread on sunpads are as much an essential fitting as the fenders and cleats.

The new Down Under distributors of Beneteau powerboats are doing a wonderful job of introducing Australians to the French way of boating. The experience starts at the company's rather stylish new harbourside offices, which are devoted to selling and supporting a fleet of groovy French-made boats.

The Sydney office for Beneteau powerboats - and there are plans to spread into other states - has iMacs with cordless installations, sharp-white workstations, casual meeting places marked by red-leather lounges, projection screens, and a boardroom adorned with boating bits.

For a fleeting moment, at least, I am distracted by the views; the comings and goings of boats of various types and sizes on the harbour; when among them - tied to the marina, actually - I spy a fleet of Beneteaus.

Beneteau powerboats range from five metres to almost 14m in length. The boat I have in my sights is the Flyer 550 Open, a blue-hulled centre console emblazoned with the words "flying fish" on its flanks. This boat is used as a limousine to ferry passengers to the flash new namesake restaurant, which is alongside the Beneteau offices on Jones Bay Wharf.

But for the sake of conducting an honest assessment of this Beneteau trailerboat, I took Flying Fish down Sydney Harbour and out to sea. A nice swell was running and the boat was put to the acid test.

First, though, some background.

 

 

FOREIGN LEGION



Who is Beneteau? The company shouldn't need an introduction: Beneteau is the largest yacht builder in Europe. Its avant-garde boats are coveted by sailors for their exciting blend of performance and cruising comforts, design artistry and, as the French say, a certain I don't know what.

But what isn't so widely known here is that the French marque manufactures powerboats. In fact, Beneteau was formed more than a century ago on the strength of the trawlers it trotted out for crusty North Sea fishermen.

Today, thankfully, Beneteau is more of a marine giant that focuses purely on building pleasureboats. It employs more than 4000 people at 18 production sites in 30 countries. There is something for everyone, from trailerboats to a traditional 42ft trawler due for release at the Sydney Boat Show.

All Beneteau's go- as opposed to blow-boats are built to CE Certification. If you are familiar with its yachts you might notice some common features, finishes and fittings. If you are au fait with the motorboat market, you will surely find some refreshingly different thinking and contemporary design here.

 

 

JOIE DE VIVRE



The second-smallest hull in Beneteau's trailerboat range, the Flyer 550 Open comes in cabin and centre-console versions. You need to understand, however, that the French idea of a centre console differs markedly to that which is commonly embraced by thong-flapping Aussie fishos.

While you can fish from it, this is more than a fishing boat. The so-called Open is intended to be used a la Med-style; that is, bespread with some grand dames on the big forward sunpad, and parked off a beach where the Bollinger-clear water calls.

Aside from being a waterborne lounge chair, the Flyer 550 Open would also make a neat family boat and a handy cruising cabriolet for touring the local waterways.

But the most surprising thing for me was the boat's wet-track form. The Flyer 550 Open performed brilliantly on the wide blue yonder. The ride was soft, dry and quiet, too, thanks in part to balsa-cored hull sections.

So to the above duties, I can also see this boat loaded with divers heading for an offshore island or with adventurers keen to explore some distant archipelago. Further comfort can be taken from the positive foam buoyancy in the hull. It will float if swamped, Beneteau claims.

 



FRENCH DRESSING



Like all Beneteau boats, the mouldings are fair and flowing. The deck is a one-piece shell placed atop the hull.

That hull, I suppose, is a variable-deadrise or warped-plane design. I can't think how else to account for its exceptionally smooth ride despite the modest amount of deadrise at the transom.

The hull has a tremendous amount of flare in its forward sections - another trait of warped-plane hulls - that leads to a dry ride. The flared bow has plenty of reserve buoyancy for rough-water boating and for anchoring.

The wide beam and flat run aft make the Flyer 550 Open very stable too. It is a surefooted boat, with a level deck for walking around. This will please everyone from divers and fishers to family boaters.

Impressively for a boat of this length, the Flyer 550 Open is a self-draining design. The deck hatch to the underfloor storage area is traced by gutters that drain ambient water out the transom.

The self-draining feature makes this boat doubly seaworthy, but it also augurs well if you are in the market for a small boat that you can leave in the water come rain and storm. It would make a great restaurant runner tied to, say, a Gold Coast canal home.

 

 

STARE AT THE SUN



The Flyer 550 Open's layout rates highly in the lounging stakes. Centre consoles aren't usually known for comforts. An external design house, Volanis, was recruited to produce a design that maximises space without adding cost.

The bow is largely given over to a huge sunpad measuring 1.90m by 1.85m when the infills are in place. Below the sunpad is partitioned storage - the hatches lift on gas struts - for anchoring hardware, lifejackets and fenders.

The anchor is deployed with the help of a small bowsprit and roller and the cleats are stylish designer numbers. The split bowrail, meanwhile, lets you take on or drop off passengers via the pointy end.

Remove the padded cushion over the sunpad and you are left with a large area of non-skid diamond-type moulded decking. Thus, the foredeck can be used as a casting platform for pitching lures or flies at schooling fish or as a thoroughfare for setting down crew on the beach.

Attached to the front edge of the centre console is a two-person mother-in-law seat with a pair of drinkholders and padded backrests. The infill cushion connects the sunpad to this seat, hence the XOS sunpad. And at this point the drinkholders are at arm's reach.

The deck is a one-piece moulded liner with no recesses between the internal hull sides and the cockpit floor to accommodate your toes. Toe-under support allows one to lean outboard while gaining support on one's thighs. It is a coveted feature of fishing boats: not that this is a fishing boat, remember?

The gunwales are usefully high for a sense of security and freeboard, even despite the raised self-draining deck. Reaching back to midships, the bowrail provides a good handhold and the non-skid decks are nice and grippy.

There are some innovative teak handrails slotted into the gunwales and two rodholders. The gunwales aren't accommodating of a big spread of rodholders, though, and some creative handiwork will be required if you want to create a hardcore fishboat.

 

 

ENGINEERING



Under the cockpit floor is a large hatch leading down to storage space, an encased 110amp battery and a big-boat isolating switch. The 100lt polypropylene fuel tank will suffice for dayboating using a four-stroke outboard. The boat has small sidepockets for additional storage.

Unlike removable lounges on fishing boats, Beneteau's Flyer 550 Open has nice, wide quarter seats that are a permanent fixture either side of the engine well. The seats have back support and a small stainless-steel rail (which didn't strike my spine as I anticipated).

The engine well is sufficiently deep to keep the water outboard when reversing to, say, retrieve a stuck anchor. There is a swim platform and moulded steps to assist with access to the boat via the transom.

This 550 Open was factory fitted with an $1850 leisure pack comprising a glove compartment, anchoring hardware and mooring lines, fenders and - best of all - a cockpit table that slots into a pedestal base and floor recess. This way you can do lunches from the boat's four seats. A canopy would be a handy aftermarket accessory for family boating.

 

 

CONSOLE CONNECTIONS



The double-width centre console is a nice bit of interior design work that doesn't hinder the walkaround function of the boat. Skipper and co-pilot will derive some protection from the console and its polycarbonate windscreen. There are lots of rails to hold onto. Bravo.

The fully adjustable helm seats ride on Besenzoni pedestal bases - this company is often used to supply fittings for luxury motoryachts. By adjusting the seats, you can drive comfortably while either seated or standing.

There is a groovy race-type steering wheel (mounted a tad too close to the throttle), sufficient dash space for the Honda engine gauges and a 12V accessory plug for your phone. The boat hasn't a huge amount of mounting space for electronics, but there is good access to the wiring behind the dash.

A lock-up door leads down into a large storage area inside the console with two seats. You could carry a chemical toilet in here or add some kind of infill so the kids could sleep if they needed to.

As it was, the boat had the space to carry four people in great comfort and six pretty easily as per its CE classification. So the designers have succeeded in creating a spacious boat within the constraints of 5.47m LOA hull.

 

 

DRIVE TIME



The Honda 90hp was an excellent match for the French Flyer. There was plenty of buoyancy in the aft sections to support the engine weight, and the flat aft sections of the hull - which feature a step - make for an easily driven boat.

With full in-trim, the Flyer 550 Open planes at 9-10kt (17-19kmh) and holds a heavy-weather cruise of 14.5-15kt (28.5kmh) at 3500rpm with its bow buttoned down. Push the leg out and you will get 15-16kt (30.5kmh) and a freer ride.

The economical setting of 4000rpm with half trim produced 18.5-19.5kt (37.5kmh), which is a really nice speed to reel in the sea miles while keeping an eye out for marine life.

Fast cruising on the flat water came in at 24kt (45.5kmh) and 4000rpm. At full noise, about 5800rpm, the boat hit the 30kt (57kmh) barrier. Beneteau recommends outboards up to 150hp - gee, wouldn't that make a real Exocet of the Flyer 550 Open!

This French Flyer is a very capable, comfortable and commodious centre console. Offshore, it leaves a lot of fishing boats looking rather inept. It's also a smooth operator that needs only bronzed bodies added to look the part completely.

 

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS - BENETEAU FLYER 550 OPEN

 

Price as tested: $39,624 w/ Honda 90hp four-stroke outboard, Leisure Pack, plus trailer
Options fitted: Leisure pack comprising glove compartment, cockpit table and sunpad extension, anchor, mooring lines and fenders

Priced from: About $37,500 plus trailer

 

 

GENERAL


Material: GRP w/ balsa coring and foam flotation
Length (overall): 5.47m
Beam: 2.34m
Deadrise: Variable deadrise hull
Rec/max hp: 90/150
Weight: 735kg (hull only)

 

 

CAPACITIES


Fuel: 100lt
Water: n/a
Passengers: Six
Accommodation: n/a

 

 

ENGINE


Make/model: Honda 90hp
Type: Four-cylinder four-stroke outboard
Rated hp: 90 @ 5000-6000rpm
Displacement: 1.59lt
Weight: About 174kg dry
Drive (make/ratio): Outboard/2.33:1
Props: Stainless steel

 

 

SUPPLIED BY


JW Marine, Jones Bay Wharf, Pyrmont, NSW, tel (02) 9518 6977 or visit www.jwmarine.com.au

 

 

HIGHS


Excellent interior layout
Comfort, finish and quality construction
Excellent ride and handling characteristics
Attractive styling

 

 

LOWS


Can't tuck feet in below the gunwale coamings
Limited sidepocket storage
Wheel too close to throttle
Limited space for installing aftermarket electronics

 

 

Story: David Lockwood Photos: John Ford
First published in TrailerBoat #179

Find Beneteau boats for sale.

 


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