Photography By Billy Black
Fairline looks to conquer the world with its Squadron 50 flying-bridge cruiser.
By 1922, the British Empire covered more than 13 million square miles and was so proverbially far-flung that the sun could never set on it. Over the centuries it had been built to such a vast expanse through the aid of many factors, not the least of which were the skill of the Royal Navy and an adherence to what some might call The British Way. That is, a belief in a certain set of principles that govern the way things ought to be done. Many of these principles hinged on unrelenting attention to detail. Fastidiousness, the British had found, was paramount while exploring distant horizons. Because when you are starting from scratch in a hostile frontier or rounding the Cape of Good Hope in gale-force winds, the details matter. A lot. Indeed, little things done well are often a happy symptom of bigger things done well—which is why I want to tell you about the portlights on Fairline’s Squadron 50.
It’s not often a boatbuilder goes out of its way to highlight portlights during a test, but then again it’s not often a boat company will hire a third party—in this case, Falcon Special Projects—to engineer laptop-computer-style hinges for a yacht’s master-cabin windows. “The hinges will never go floppy,” Fairline Head of Marketing Oliver Winbolt explained to me with near childlike exuberance. “So many boaters don’t like it when their portlights go loose. So we gave them a nice, tight hinge.”
Like I said: fastidious.
As for the bigger things on the boat, those garnered the same amount of exacting attention. The engine room on my test boat was clean and elegantly laid out. With five feet of headroom, it housed a pair of 715-hp CAT C12 ACERTs and a 22.5-kW Onan generator (a 17.5 kW model is also available). Engine-room access is through the cockpit, and the fuel filters are thoughtfully placed within reach on the front bulkhead for easy maintenance.
And that’s a good thing, because you wouldn’t want a nasty oil stain defiling this yacht’s pristine interior. My test boat had a rich, satin-finish walnut veneer throughout, all cut from the same piece of wood so there would be no deviations in the grain. Nice detail, huh? Fit and finish was a highlight throughout the interior. It’s an odd thing to say but the inside of the boat somehow felt solid. It was an intuition more than anything else, sort of like the way you can feel the difference between a well-built brick-and-mortar home and a prefab McMansion just by walking around inside.
Below, the Squadron features somewhat of an oddity aboard a 50-footer. That master I alluded to before is not amidships like many new boats in this class. Instead it’s in the bow—and for an interesting reason. Fairline feels that amidships masters are not optimal since, when a boat is in a slip, the master cabin loses any semblance of a view, and often can become quite dark. By placing the master forward, the owner can put those aforementioned portlights to much better use. What’s more, for a vessel of this size, the master feels expansive. Indeed, it would fit just as nicely on a boat close to ten feet longer by my estimation. This sensation is no doubt helped by the master’s headroom, which at 6 feet 6 inches actually induced me to jump up and down in the cabin to demonstrate to our photographer how rare a thing that really is. The area amidships is occupied by two nearly identical guest cabins (one is en suite), which also enjoy excellent natural light and headroom.
I should note, this layout is not customizable, and in fact is the same as on Fairline’s similar (and popular) Targa 50, an express cruiser. Fairline introduced the Squadron as a counterpart to her sistership in order to take advantage of what seems to me to be a budding market for midsize flying-bridge cruisers. The two boats share a design platform. Not only are the accommodation layouts the same, so are the hull form and base engineering. The major difference then, is, quite obviously, the Squadron’s bridge. Winbolt explained to me that Fairline has been trying to alleviate the wobble sometimes felt in a boat’s flying bridge when underway by improving the bridge’s structural integrity. In an effort to do this, the company switched from using aluminum stringers in the bridge to fiberglass. The fiberglass offers equal or greater strength, and also cuts somewhere in the ballpark of 500 pounds off the boat’s weight. However my official wobble inspection would have to wait, as I had one more onboard gadget to inspect before we got underway.
I referenced the immense headroom and overall spaciousness of the forepeak master earlier, and the amidships guest cabins were large too. Prowling around the accommodations deck of the Squadron 50, you begin to find yourself wondering, how’d they get all this space down here? (Hell, there’s even a serviceable crew cabin aft.) The answer to my query would soon become manifest—there’s no garage. Nor, for that matter, is there any ungainly davit. Instead, the 50’s teak swim platform features the proprietary Tender Launch System. Essentially, a tender up to approximately nine feet rests onboard the platform, and at the press of a button, a portion of the platform lifts up the tender hydraulically, brings her into the water, and then stays below to hold her stable so your guests don’t take an unexpected header into the drink. When you’re done boarding, it folds right back up into the platform seamlessly. It’s a nice trick, and one that contributes loads of onboard space.
Out on the warm waters of Biscayne Bay, the Squadron did not disappoint. She got up on plane easily for a boat of this type and hit a jaunty 32.4 knots on the pins. Her CAT controls were smooth and responsive and she came hardover at 26 knots in three and a half boat lengths. I did note a tad too much heel for my liking on this turn, but that could be due to any number of mostly correctable factors. At the inner helm the ride was notably quiet and the large windshield made for great sightlines. Twin Garmin 6012 GPS displays—the first of their kind to be used by a British builder—were intuitive and easy to use (most likely durable too). After finishing my tests at the indoor helm, I moved up top via wide, sturdy steps to check out the flying bridge and outdoor helm. As I suspected, even as we chugged through turns at cruise, there was no wobble.
And the space was, by just about any measure aboard a 50-footer, huge. Wraparound seating aft can fit up to ten (count ’em) adults. Feeling a little slappy after spending two weeks in Miami testing boats and attending unending cocktail parties and dinners at the Miami Boat Show, I lay down on the aft portion of the seat with my arms stretched out over my head and didn’t even come close to touching the sides of the settee.
A floating bar, sink, fridge, and optional grill service the area while a bimini top provides much welcome shade. There’s even a hidden garbage bin built into a forward bulwark. I liked that detail. Trash is often an afterthought on boats, tossed into a Hefty Cinch Sak hung off an armrest. But not on this one. Fairline covered all of its bases to make sure even the smallest details were accounted for. How very civilized.
Generator: 1/Onan 22.5 kW
Conditions During Boat Test
air temperature: 85ºF; humidity: 60%; seas: 1 to 2 feet
Load During Boat Test
450 gal. fuel, 100 gal. water, 5 persons, 500 lb. gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/715-hp CAT C12 ACERTs
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF 325, 1.733:1
- Props: 27 x 36 4-blade
- Price as Tested: $1,706,200
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.