Ray 550 — By Richard Thiel — October 2001
|Part 2: Sea Ray 550 Sundancer continued|
The 540’s refrigerator placement was another point of concern: It was not in the galley but at the foot of the companionway on the opposite side of the boat, requiring a fair walk with food. The 550’s refrigerator remains there, but now a second smaller (4.2 cubic feet) unit is under the galley counter, giving you a place to store the most needed (or most difficult to transport) items. If you don’t need the extra cooling capacity (there’s yet a third refrigerator/freezer in the cockpit), you can opt for a washer/dryer in the space. On the 540 that option was destined for the space beneath the forward stateroom V-berth, where it took up precious drawer space.
Even the saloon table was redesigned. Instead of the rectangular hi-lo unit on the 540, the 550’s table is bifold: It flips closed to stow and open for dining, and its stools nestle neatly under it, leaving a lot more traffic space free underway.
The aft and forward staterooms are basically unchanged, but in the process of moving that forward bulkhead, Sea Ray managed to add another feature to the 550, one which I consider a real boon to cruising boats: a split head and shower. With the former to port and the latter to starboard, cruisers (especially those who happen to press that sofa into service as a berth) get two big benefits. There are two generously sized spaces that can be used independently and two entrances to the head, one from the saloon and one from the stateroom. To enter the 540’s head you had to first enter the forward stateroom, which could be a distinct inconvenience, if not intrusion.
Outside the changes are fewer but still substantial. As with the 540, a hardtop is standard on the 550, but it has been extended aft for additional shade, and the aft portion is sloped downward so those of less-than-NBA-class height (like 5'10" me) can easily stand on the cockpit sole and zip and unzip the upper edge of the standard enclosure. Air conditioning is now standard on the bridge, but perhaps the most important change here–or anywhere on the 550, for that matter–is the helm panel. It’s been redesigned to accommodate the nifty Sea Ray Navigator touch-screen chartplotter/systems monitor, which is now standard.
Beneath the bridge, the engine compartment, accessed by a large cockpit hatch, is unchanged. (The entire sole can be removed for major work). Although the Caterpillars are right up against the forward bulkhead, the space is nonetheless surprisingly roomy, partly because this is the only straight-shaft Sundancer–all the others are V-drives–which means, among other things, you can see and easily reach these shaft logs. There’s a large lazarette accessed from here where the Westerbeke genset, fully aft and in an enclosure, and batteries live. I found shoulder-width room between the standard 640-shp Caterpillar 3196 in-line sixes, but I wonder how much space there will be with the newly optional 756-shp MAN 2848 LE4 V-8s in place. Another feature carried over from the 540 is the dual water intakes for each of the dripless shaft logs, so if you lose water–or heaven forbid, an engine–you won’t burn up a bearing.
Although we never tested the 540, it’s fair to assume that the top speed (34.1 mph), fuel efficiency (0.57 mpg), and range (306 statute miles) we recorded with the standard Caterpillars in our 550 are virtually identical with the results we would have gotten on the 540. Because our test was conducted on a dead-flat Tennessee River near Sea Ray’s Knoxville facility, I can’t evaluate the 550’s seakeeping, but I can tell you that the 550 planes nicely–relatively little bow rise and a gentle transition from displacement to planing mode, something I attribute at least in part to the more forward engine placement.
And just in case you think Sea Ray focused solely on the substantial and ignored aesthetics, there are also new fabrics and color schemes. I’m not sure that taken with all the other changes this qualifies the 550 as total re-creation of Sea Ray’s largest Sundancer, but it’s pretty obvious that this is one makeover that entailed a lot more than just cosmetics.
Sea Ray Phone: (800) SRBOATS. Fax: (314) 213-7878. www.searay.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.