Ray 550 — By Richard Thiel
— October 2001
|Sea Ray’s new 550 Sundancer may look familiar, but looks can be deceiving.|
Funny how the same word can have totally different meanings in different contexts. Take “makeover.” When a woman has one, it means she has subjected herself to a thorough reexamination of her appearance–everything from hair to shoes–with nothing less of a goal than recreating herself. But when the term is applied to a boat, it takes on a wholly different–and distinctly less positive–meaning. A made-over boat is usually considered something of an orphan, typically a model whose sales aren’t so bad that it warrants elimination yet are good enough that it isn’t worth the investment of creating an entirely new model. In this scenario the builder typically changes some exterior paint, accents, and interior fabrics, maybe slaps a new model name on it, and often promotes it as “new.”
Not every builder does it that way. Take Sea Ray. Last year it looked at its 540 Sundancer, then a four-year-old boat, and decided that while a popular seller, it needed major refinements and updating. In typical Sea Ray fashion, the marketing department didn’t make this decision; it came directly from customers via the dealer network. They presented the company’s Product Development and Engineering department with a specific list of improvements that would be required to keep sales strong. The result, the 550 Sundancer, is admittedly not a truly new boat (all dimensions are unchanged) but rather a made-over one that is substantially, though subtly, different from her predecessor.
The principal complaint with the 540 was that on first entering the saloon, some people thought it felt too dark and confining, so Sea Ray designers started by installing a large skylight right in the middle, complete with sunshade. (There is also a skylight in each head.) To open up things even more, they flip-flopped the saloon layout: Where the 540’s galley occupied the port side and a couch was along the starboard side, the 550 is precisely the opposite. This move also included moving the forward port bulkhead ahead by about a foot, so now, as you step down the companionway, you’re greeted not by a bulkhead just a few feet away but by one separated from you by about seven feet of curvy Ultraleather HP couch. That unit, incidentally, is longer by about a foot but still electrically converts to a double berth.
While the sofa is longer, the galley is about two feet shorter, yet because it’s curved, there’s actually more counter space. And it’s better in other ways, too. The previous laminate countertops have been replaced by ones of considerably more attractive Karadon, and there’s now a large Plexiglas and stainless steel wine rack beneath the aft end of the counter. Cabinet space is also increased because instead of using some of it to hold the 20-inch TV, as in the 540, visual entertainment now comes via a 42-inch Sony plasma screen unit mounted directly on the outboard wall.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.