A few years back, when the Americans were whipping up support for invading a couple of Middle Eastern countries, the French refused to toe the US line and were called all sorts of names for not joining in the fun.
This was viewed by some as typical of the French. They said it was down to that frustratingly Gallic habit of being out of step with everyone else, just because…
Well, you don’t have to look beyond the design of the Beneteau Flyer 12 to realise that the French dance to their own tune – but in this case because they think in original ways, not because of some innate national talent for truculence. Remember the Citroen 2CV? The design brief was for a four-wheeled umbrella, which could carry a basket of eggs across a ploughed field without breaking any. Imagine how that would have gone down at a board meeting in Detroit or Stuttgart.
Beneteau’s designers have produced a 12-metre boat whose styling could only be European. The flagship of the company’s Flyer ranger, it is a low-profile boat with saloon, galley and cockpit on the same level.
On the lower deck are two cabins and two heads. You can option a dining table, which lowers to form another double bed, but, as Adam Waters of JW Marine points out, with two double cabins at your disposal, why would you want to?
So, you can sleep two couples, or a couple and two kids, in privacy and comfort. This is a rare combination of features – the low profile, the sporty attitude and two cabins in a 12-metre hull.
The boat shown here is powered by two Volvo-Penta D6-370s; 5.5-litre sixes cranking out 363hp at the propshaft, 370 at the crank. The engines are amidships and drive conventional shafts and props. You can order the Flyer with Volvo’s IPS system (with contra-rotating props ahead of the leg) which, according to Adam, revolutionises performance and handling. With IPS, you can make the boat go sideways if you want and you can have joystick control. But you need a bigger chequebook. A much bigger chequebook.
The plan today is to take the Flyer 12 on a tour of the islands of Sydney Harbour. JW Marine, importers of Beneteau powerboats, has its headquarters on Jones Bay Wharf in Sydney’s Pyrmont. Adam moves the Flyer out of a mooring cul de sac with the aid of the bow thruster. We idle out; down to the right, to starboard; to the south is Darling Harbour, notorious tourist trap, fun park or Sydney’s epicentre, depending on your point of view.
Darling Harbour was originally called Cockle Bay and the island, Cockle Island, apparently because of the abundance of shellfish. Both were renamed for Governor Darling, and during the 1850s the gap between island and mainland was filled and Darling Island was an island no more. These days, the head of the bay, south of Pyrmont Bridge, is again known as Cockle Bay. Perhaps it always was.
We turn to port and idle down to Goat Island: “A decent boomerang throw from the historic shore of Balmain,” says my reference book, and only about 1km west of the Harbour Bridge. On summer twilights, you can see racing yachts struggling through the gap between Goat Island and the Balmain shore, in the lee of the island, battling the tide, trying to avoid workboats, ferries and each other, the shouts, threats and insults of stressed sailors echoing across the water. Sailing is such a relaxing pastime…
Goat was a nasty prison for convicts, who quarried the peanut butter-coloured sandstone, which became Sydney’s trademark. They used the stone to build the Queen’s Powder Magazine on the island; one of Sydney’s landmarks, which these days, is seen by only a handful of people.
Goat Island was headquarters for years for the Maritime Services Board; later the island achieved greater fame as the base for the TV series Water Rats. Now it is back in use as a ‘maritime precinct’ – there are four commercial slipways, which handle boats from 12 to 650 tons. You can tour the island or, for $3850, you can rent the whole rock for a party. At sunset, if you close your eyes, you can hear the clank of the convicts’ leg irons; no extra charge.
We are idling along at 1000rpm, around 7 knots. Adam opens the electronic throttles and the Beneteau climbs quickly from its hole in the water on Parramatta River. After a second or so, the turbos kick in and fling the boat onto the plane. Planing speed is 2500rpm; a slow cruise at 17 knots. A thousand rpm higher gives a comfortable cruise speed of around 23 knots. Adam reports that, for the delivery trip to and from Sanctuary Cove, this was an easy open-sea cruise speed and the Volvos drank about 100 litres an hour. Beneteau’s figures show 44.5 litres each side at 3000rpm.
On the trip north approaching Coffs Harbour, the boat held a 16-knot cruise speed punching into a 20-30-knot nor’easter and 2-metre swell.
SOUNDS OF SILENCE
At 3000rpm, engine noise is subdued and conversation is easy – but the Volvos have an edge to their note as well; they mean business. Top speed, 3590rpm, is a fraction over 30 knots. At 3000rpm, Beneteau claims the noise level in the saloon is a low 78.5dBA. This is important – for me at least – noisy engines spoil any chance of relaxing when under way.
We surf up the Parramatta River and to port is Cockatoo Island, former Naval Dockyard. Ships were designed and built, modified and repaired here for more than 100 years. For generations, the small black-hulled ferries carried workers between Cockatoo and the celebrated pubs of Balmain. The last submarines to be refitted here departed in 1988.
On Cockatoo you can find some of Sydney’s oldest buildings. Cockatoo is worth a story of its own. For a couple of decades, the argument raged about what to do with it. Was it Kerry Packer who wanted to build a casino? Cockatoo has also been designated a ‘maritime precinct’, but development is slow. NSW seems to be broke at the moment, so don’t hold your breath.
I can see Cockatoo Island from my front yard by leaning over the fence and looking left. Down the road a bit is the waterfront home I didn’t buy (at an affordable price) because, at that time, the shipyard worked 24 hours a day and I was worried about the noise. Another great life-changing decision; it would be worth $4 million now.
We circle Cockatoo and pass by Spectacle Island. Spectacle, too, has its share of fine sandstone buildings and it was here that Sydney’s gunpowder was moved when Goat Island was relieved of its duties as powder magazine.
In the 1990s, the residents of nearby Drummoyne were horrified to learn that ammunition and explosives were still stored there, in concrete lighters moored off Spectacle. My reference book says: “The lighters were designed… so that the force of an explosion would be directed downward.” Curiously, this did not placate the good people of Drummoyne, who were not amused (it had never been a secret, but no one had bothered to mention it for several decades) and the explosives were removed. Or so we were told. I, too, was not amused as I had banged into those lighters many times in my undistinguished dinghy and yacht racing career on the waters of Balmain and Drummoyne.
We send the Beneteau back downriver. We had planned to visit all of Sydney Harbour’s islands, but the cloud is heavy and there’s not enough light for photography, so we will leave the ones to the east of the Bridge for another day. Actually, we haven’t even seen all the islands west of the Bridge. Adjacent to Spectacle Island is Snapper; Rodd Island, in Iron Cove, is visible from both Snapper and Cockatoo. Rodd Island was the site of a bizarre 19th century experiment in rabbit eradication that involved Louis Pasteur’s theories and one of his offsiders, who came all the way from Paris.
On the way back, we pass Berry Island, a chunk of virgin bush within walking distance of North Sydney’s high-rise. One of the great picnic spots.
We put the boat away, have a chat, then the sun comes out with that stunning yellow light that sometimes drenches Sydney Harbour late in the day. Great for photography. Bugger.
The Beneteau’s master cabin has everything you could want, including a huge and stylish bathroom. The second bedroom has a double bed, but future boats will have a three-panel bed so the centre can be removed to make two beds for the kids. The toilet is en-suite and also acts as the day head.
You can have a full-length galley (on the portside), as on this boat, or a shorter galley and an extra seat. The two-burner cooktop is electric and there’s a convection microwave hidden in the side console. You can have a dishwasher if you want. You can also have a clothes washer/dryer installed downstairs.
The saloon and helm station have near-360 degree visibility, with small blind spots only in the aft quarters. I like electrically-operated sunroofs because they open the interior to the outdoors. The helm seat holds two.
“People like these one-level boats,” says Adam, “especially with the galley-up layout.”
The owners of this boat are probably typical Beneteau buyers – husband, wife and small family. The husband will occasionally use the boat for business entertainment.
What were they looking for? “A proper hardtop, nice styling, the electric sunroof and the one-level living,” says Adam. “Accommodation was not as important as the living space upstairs, the saloon and the cockpit space.”
Beneteau’s Flyer 12 is a lot of boat in a hull of modest size. There is also a lot of style, including the honey-coloured timber trim, the carpet in the saloon, the gorgeous interior fittings (handles, etc) which are, ummm, Italian. The size of the accommodation below decks demands a long foredeck, which the designers intend to be used for relaxing, complementing the cockpit, where the transom seat folds out to form a sunlounge.
This boat could not be Australian or American or even English. You are left in no doubt which continent it hails from and, with a bit of snooping, you would be left in no doubt which country it hails from.
It would be easy to end with a clichéd French quote, like viva la difference. But that’s a bit obvious, n’est-ce pas?
SPECIFICATIONS: BENETEAU FLYER 12
Hull length: 11.96m
Power: Two Volvo-Penta D6-370s
Base price with
The options list is extensive and includes bow thruster ($7440), teak cockpit deck, teak decking, reverse-cycle air-conditioning (as on this boat, $23,808), electric swim ladder, etc.
Base boat with 310hp Volvos and shaft drive is $577,167. The IPS drive units add about $60,000.
More information from JW Marine, Jones Bay Wharf, Pyrmont, Sydney. Phone: (02) 9518 6977, www.jwmarine.com.au.
1000rpm: 6.6 knots
1500rpm: 8.7 knots
2000rpm: 11.9 knots
2600rpm: 19.3 knots
3000rpm: 24.2 knots
3400rpm: 28.6 knots
Top speed: 3590rpm/30.5 knots