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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Sea Ray 500 Sedan Bridge

When Sea Ray invited me to do a ride-along boat test on its new 500 Sedan Bridge, the guys said they were leaving from the marina behind the Sanibel Resort at five o’clock in the morning. So I checked into a room at the resort the night before, caught a couple of winks, and wandered out into the dark well before dawn. Luckily, a glimmer of light emanated from the 500, which, for reasons too complicated to go into here, simply had to be in Miami 200 miles away that evening, and then in Merritt Island, at Sea Ray’s big facility clear on the other side of Florida, the evening after.

But travelin’ conditions were good. The weather report was optimistic—I figured we could sea trial virtually anywhere along the coast, although it had to be before Miami, where other boat-test commitments dictated I get off. The boat’s twin 660-hp Cummins QSM11 diesels were brand new and presumably ready to go. And if the spec sheet Sea Ray had sent me ahead of time was accurate, there was enough navigational firepower on the bridge to make it safely and surely to Tahiti.

“Hey Pike,” came a voice from the darkness. “Hurry up, man...we’re fixin’ to leave.” And without further ado, we did.

The jaunt down the coast was gorgeous. As the sun rose, the coastline receded, and eventually all I could see from my comfy spot at the helm station on the flying bridge was a vast, all-encompassing blue expanse. Since our Raymarine Smartpilot ST8001+ autopilot was experiencing technical difficulties, we’d decided to take turns steering, a far from onerous task, given the smoothness of Teleflex Sea Star hydraulics (with power-assist) and the test boat’s delightful proclivity to track like an arrow.

I spent part of my time on the wheel playing with the coolest aspect of our electronics package—two dashboard-mounted Sea Ray Navigator II touchscreens, one a backup and both seamlessly interfaced with our Koden PC radar (with 42-inch open-array antenna) and our Koden WAAS GPS sensor. Play was the operative word, by the way. Despite its serious purpose, the Navigator II’s seemingly innumerable features and capabilities made it more fun to fool around with than a barrel of marine catalogs.

Of course, I also spent plenty of wheel time actually driving the boat—a top priority even for folks with high-falutin’, optional electronics packages. Sightlines from the helm were excellent in all directions. Top speed was rousing: 37.1 mph. Cruise was good: 30.1 mph. Tabs were unnecessary, except for windage adjustments. And the level of climate-control on the flying bridge was inspiring—for staying awake and alert on long trips, nothing beats the combined effects of shade from a fiberglass hardtop (with opening Bomar hatch), wind protection from an EZ2CY enclosure, and arctic blasts from the dashboard plenums of the optional 24,000-Btu Cruisair air conditioning.

I did a little poking around below decks while the other guys drove us around Cape Sable and into Florida Bay. From the get-go, it was obvious our test boat—a prototype—had been put together the same way most other Sea Ray yachts are these days. More particularly, the bottom, hull sides, and stringers were composed of solid glass, the superstructure was cored with Baltek end-grain balsa, and the hull-to-deck joint was secured with through-bolts and then fiberglassed. Moreover, although stitched and woven fabrics and polyester resin highlighted the laminate schedules for parts and components above the waterline, vinylester resin was used below, to obviate blistering. Conventional, tried-and-true methodology? Most assuredly.

One glitch obtruded, however—I came across it in the “utility room,” an expansive spot under a hatch in the galley sole where Sea Ray installs an optional Splendide 2000S washer/dryer, an optional Beam central vac, a Sea Tech water manifold, and other odds and sods. Between a bulkhead and an adjoining knee-like structure called a whalebone, there was a hairline crack stretching approximately 12 inches. I asked the guys onboard about this and then telephoned Mike Fafard, Sport Yachts program director for Sea Ray at the company’s Product Development & Engineering (PD&E) facility in Merritt Island. Fafard reported back a few days after the test boat had returned to PD&E. The crack, he said, was limited to the overlying gelcoat and had occurred due to flexing in the joint between the whalebone and bulkhead, something he assured me would be addressed by fiberglassing the joint to eliminate the flex, both on our prototype and on all production boats in the future.

The rest of my walkthrough went smoothly. Our test boat’s three-stateroom layout was comfortably luxurious, in part thanks to the presence of raised-panel cherrywood doors, matching Oceanair window shades, Ultraleather upholstery, and a high level of fit and finish throughout. Forward, the master stateroom offered a queen-size island berth with a HandCraft innerspring mattress and en suite head with separate stall shower and VacuFlush MSD. Aft on the port side, the VIP offered a queen-size island berth as well and shared a second head with a starboard-side guest stateroom with upper and lower berths.

We cruised into the marina behind Miami’s Marriott Biscayne Bay at three in the afternoon, so far ahead of schedule that everybody else onboard decided to simply take on a little fuel, drop me off, and keep on truckin’. While they fueled up, I had time to brave the high temperatures in our machinery spaces (accessed via a cockpit hatch) for a quick look around. Features worth mentioning were numerous, including the big, 17.9-gallon water heater, a standard Reverso oil-change system, and the massive, bolted-down, aluminum-plate foundation securing the transom-mounted, retractable davit for the optional tender—in our case, a Boston Whaler 110 Sport with 25-hp Mercury outboard. What I especially liked, however, was the way Sea Ray combines the engine-room area forward and the lazarette aft, with its easy-to-access genset and battery banks. Having no bulkhead between them facilitates daily service checks—one hatch instead of two.

The boat left the marina as soon as she’d been topped off. After helping with her lines, I grew reflective while watching her profile fade into the sunset. There was no doubt about it—the Sea Ray 500 Sedan Bridge is a stylish, exceptionally comfortable cruiser. After all, I’d spent most of the day onboard, zooming a couple of hundred miles around the Sunshine State, and I was still feeling rather relaxed and energetic.

“Can I help you with those?” asked a bellman as I traipsed through the lobby of the Marriott with two large cases of test gear.

“No thanks,” I replied cheerily, “I can use the exercise.”

Sea Ray Boats
(800) SRBOATS

This article originally appeared in the October 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.