After the boom of flashy sports cruisers and the era of ‘bigger, faster, better’, genteel motoryachts configured for bluewater cruising are enjoying a renaissance.
If trends at recent boat shows are any indication, buyers are seeking more from their big boat than a day’s pottering around the harbour. Exotic waters beckon and time is no longer of the essence, as modern communications have made it possible to keep in touch with the office and family remotely.
The Fleming 55 Pilothouse is just the boat for these longer sojourns. It feels like and has the features of a small ship, without the need to have Captain Stubing and crew (remember The Love Boat?) manage it.
Fleming prides itself on building some of the finest and safest long-range motoryachts in the world. Owner Tony Fleming travels thousands of ocean miles each year, using and testing his boats like his customers do, and it shows in the finished product.
A note at the end of a 16-page specification list states: “The question most manufacturers ask themselves when considering a new feature is whether it is necessary to include it in order to sell the boat. In the case of Fleming, we ask only whether its inclusion will make the boat safer, better or more convenient.
“That is why we have introduced literally hundreds of refinements since we started construction in 1985 and why we continue the process today,” it continues.
I had the chance to view two Flemings on our test day and, true to form, there were many subtle differences between the boat that was over 12 months old and one that had only just been delivered.
Some were owner-selected options but others were found when delving deep inside the boats. They’re not rectifications but rather they represent the continual evolution of a design that harks back to the late 1980s.
When the pilothouse first went into production in Fleming’s Tung Hwa yard in southern Taiwan, it was a 50-footer. By the 1990s it had stretched to 55 and since then almost 200 have been delivered around the world.
The two Fleming owners who I spent the day with talked endlessly about the intricacies of a vessel that is very much the focal point of their lives.
Rafted up for lunch just off The Basin in Pittwater, they compared build changes and the personal options each had requested, but never was there talk of problems or shortcomings.
While the Australian agent for Fleming, Egil Paulsen, had given me a thorough briefing on the 55’s numerous inclusions and hidden gems before leaving the wharf, the detail became hazy the further we went. What endured was the overall sense of joy and fondness that Fleming ownership inspires.
The cabin, saloon and pilothouse areas are all tailored to give the owner everything they could possibly want, with superb joinery work and extensive use of Burmese teak.
Below deck there’s a fairly conventional three-cabin, two-bathroom layout. A big island berth dominates the owner’s stateroom in the bow, with adequate storage via lockers and cupboards, and a cleverly concealed hinged access step to the foredeck escape hatch.
The other cabins either side of a central companionway can have various layouts. In the newer of the Flemings, the owner opted for a double berth in one cabin (plus a slide-out and folding single bunk overhead) and single over/under bunks in the other.
The washer/dryer consumes some space in this second cabin, opening off the companionway.
On the main deck are the galley and saloon dining area, while portside steps lead forward to a Portuguese (pilothouse) bridge that’s large enough for guests to keep the skipper company while he or she watches over a console brimming with every conceivable electronic navigation and safety gadget.
With walkaround decks, fore and aft decks and a huge hardtop-covered bridge – all with teak inlays underfoot – there’s a heap of space to stroll around and enjoy the pleasures that gentle cruising offers.
California-based naval architect Larry Drake penned a traditional, semi-displacement hull with a fine, deep entry that flows to a semi-vee aft. A long keel protrudes 300mm below the rudders and props, protecting them from an accidental grounding.
Being foam filled, encased in stainless steel and laminate sealed, the keel won’t allow leakage into the hull if compromised by damage or failure.
Fleming states that this appendage also imparts stability and accurate tracking in a following sea, with the slight trade-off being the loss of a couple of knots of boat speed.
POWER TO PLEASE
Twin 500hp Cummins diesels achieve a maximum of 18 knots (33.3km/h) while retaining good economy at a leisurely 12 knots (14.8 to 22.2km/h) and delivering a range of up to 2000nm.
According to Tony Fleming the Cummins 500s were chosen as the perfect power match, being fast enough when you need it, fuel efficient when you don’t. They are the only engines available.
The power also enhances low-speed manoeuvrability, though for docking the 15.5kW Sidepower bow and stern thrusters come into their own.
While I’m no service technician, I’ve seen plenty of enginerooms that would require a contortionist to navigate and access the most basic items. By comparison, in more than four decades of boat testing I can’t recall ever coming across an engineroom so well laid out, so accessible.
A lazarette provides the main access into the engineroom through a watertight bulkhead door. It also houses, among other things, the water tanks, inverter, air conditioning and master switch panel.
Given that service can sometimes be required in remote areas, the Fleming 55’s design affords excellent access to just about everything. The engineering has to be seen to be believed. Right through the boat there are concealed access or flush hatches into all sorts of through-hull fittings, valves, pumps and the like.
An Aquadrive CVA anti-vibration system takes care of the shaft and large-diameter propellers. This coupling, slotted between shaft and engine, dispenses thrust back into the hull rather than to the engine. It allows the engines to be installed on softer mounts, reducing vibration and noise transmission.
The generators are soft mounted too, with the result being very little sense of either engines or generators operating.
Unfortunately the best part of a day is nowhere near long enough to test and experience the delights of what’s considered to be one of the world’s benchmarks in pilothouse motoryachts.
Suffice to say this day left my mouth watering for more from these truly remarkable craft.
SPECIFICATIONS: FLEMING 55 PILOTHOUSE
Waterline length: 15.4m
Engines: 2 x Cummins QSC 8.3 500hp diesels
Price: From $2m
For more information: Fleming Yachts www.flemingyachts.com or Egil Paulsen on 0414 233 030.