Meridian 441By Capt. Richard Thiel
A lot of boatbuilders struggle to find their groove. They just can't settle on exactly whom they want to appeal to. In fact, they seem to want to be all things to all boaters.
Meridian appears to be one of the few builders that really knows its target: average cruising couples and families. Not gold-chainers, 'round-the-world dreamers, or YAH-ting wannabes with blue blazers and khaki pants. No, Meridian designs and builds its boat for—well, folks. Whether it's the Pilothouse, Motoryacht (aft cabin to you and me), or Sedan Series, Meridians are designed from the keel up to be easy to buy, easy to own, and easy to run by just about anyone.
The newest and largest Sedan, the 441, continues that tradition. The first thing I noticed about her was not her styling (although I believe she's the best-proportioned Meridian to date, especially with the optional hardtop), but how easy it is to get around her. Getting aboard is unchallenging, whether from the side or via the three-foot-deep swim platform. So is entering the saloon from the seven-foot-long covered cockpit, through an easy-sliding door and over a low threshold. Headed up to the bridge? The trip's a snap, thanks to an enclosed, molded-FRP stairway. And the passage to the foredeck will be a low-drama event even for landlubbers and little ones, thanks to nine-inch-wide side decks, 28-inch-high rails that come all the way back to the cockpit, and grabrails that run the length of the house. As for the foredeck, it's nearly flat and covered in aggressive nonskid (and optional sunpads), and the bowrail rises to nearly chest height to protect you when anchoring. (The anchor and rode are also optional.)
Inside, you'll find a layout not only easy to move around in, but quite similar to that of the 411, the boat the 441 replaces. Only a single step divides the saloon from the galley-dinette deck, elevated to provide room for the midcabin beneath and to enhance visibility from the optional starboard-side lower helm. With 360-degree glass (a window on either side tilts open about four inches) and 6'5" headroom, the area feels quite expansive.
As for the galley, it's simple and efficient, with Karadon countertops, two big and deep stainless steel sinks, and a three-burner Origo stove. Both sinks and cooktop have Karadon covers to maximize workspace; the one for the latter is big, heavy, and hard to stow. It'd be easier to handle if divided into two.
The three steps down to the accommodation level are inclined to make them easy to navigate and lead you back to the aforementioned midcabin, which, unlike the 411's, has port and starboard windows that really open up the area. At the foot of the stairs is a head with doors to the hallway and midcabin, making it a good day head. There's no enclosed shower here, just a combination faucet-shower head. The larger forepeak en suite head is about a third bigger and has an enclosed shower.
One way to make sure a boat's interior is easy to get around is to make sure there's plenty of stowage to keep things uncluttered. The 441 has a big area beneath the saloon that's also easy to get to, thanks to a large hatch, stairs, and a tilt-up handrail. A dividend of the V-drive configuration (the engines are under the cockpit), the space yields two 31"x28" areas for anything you don't need to get to quickly.
There's really only one space aboard the 441 that's not easy to get around, and that's where the engines live. Climbing down into the under-cockpit area is easy, and so is checking oil and coolant. But the outboard sides of the engines are essentially inaccessible, and worse, so are the Racors, which are buried in a forward corner. If you want to check for water or sediment in the fuel or change the elements, you will need to unscrew port and starboard panels from the under-saloon stowage space. The standard Onan genset, aft of the engines, is easily serviced, but I'm not sure it could be removed without major surgery.
There are no access problems on the bridge, which is where the 441's layout differs most from the 411's. This one's way more flexible, with a big, L-shape settee/dining area that converts to a sunpad, an especially worthwhile feature if you don't order the hardtop. Other seating includes a three-person bench to port of the helm and a single helm chair, a configuration that enhances conviviality without intruding on helm ergonomics. Said helm was redesigned to accommodate two large displays side by side. This places the analog gauges at either extreme, which made it difficult to compare the tachs. Standard electronic synchronization makes that point somewhat academic.
It's here at the helm you'll find the best evidence of Meridian's dedication to ease of use. This builder's been on a mission to simplify the most difficult aspect of boating: docking and close-quarters maneuvering. In the past it fitted every model with bow and stern thrusters and an intuitive control system for them called Docking on Command. The 441 takes that a step further with Total Command, which also controls engines and gears. On our test boat, Hull No. 5, the system hadn't been totally debugged; I kept tripping a fault circuit that required shutting down and restarting the engines. But when it worked it impressed me. Within a few minutes I was at ease with it, regardless of whether I was facing forward or aft and felt I could put the 441 just about anywhere I wanted, despite the 15-knot crosswind. My only criticism was the joystick's location right behind the thruster control pads. When Total Command went offline, I had trouble manipulating the pads and longed for good old thruster joysticks or, better yet, the old Docking On Command thruster control.
Once the Total Command is debugged, boaters will find the 441 enjoyable to operate in any situation. Her nonpower-assisted steering is a bit heavy at either end of its four-and-a-half-turn range, but that also means the boat tracks like a downhill skier. With a turning radius of about four boat lengths, she's also easy to maneuver, and although she does have a bit of a hump coming onto plane—courtesy of the engines being so far aft—visibility was never an issue, and tabs were never needed, not even in crosswinds. The 441 is an easy boat to run.
And when you think about it, what's more important when you're on a boat than that? So if you've given up your dream of circumnavigating the globe or couldn't care less about breaking freeway speed limits on the water—if you just want to take it easy and enjoy yourself, the 441's a hard boat not to like.
For more information on Meridian Yachts, including contact information, click here.
You're coming back from that shoreside party, and it's late. It's also dark. How are you going to navigate across that unlit cockpit and into the saloon? Or maybe you're leaving for the evening, and you just remembered you forgot to leave some lights on. Do you have to go back inside? In either case these light-switch panels on the 441 will solve your problem. Mounted on the frame of the transom door, they let you control the cockpit, step, deck, and flood (cockpit overhead) lights. Close the transom door, and no one will ever know they're there.—R.T.
This article originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.