Beneteau Flyer 550 Open Review
The ultimate sportfisher project
After countless boat tests, fishing trips and Modern Boating project boats, the author pulls out the cheque book and creates his own dream sportfishing machine
WORDS: DANIEL TILLACK
PHOTOS: DANIEL TILLACK, NICK WOOD, AL MCGLASHAN
The perfect sportfishing boat doesn't exist; you have to make it. That's because the fishing genre is hard for boat builders, who know it's more profitable to make one-size-fits-all boats, and every angler wants something different. Plus, not enough boat builders know the difference between sportfishing and dropping a bait over the side.
However, there are plenty of great boats that can be tweaked to suit your tastes. The trick is knowing every boat is a compromise and deciding what features you want before you start. Be patient: I found the hull for me after 18 long months of searching. Initially, I had only been considering 'fishing' boats. Then I came across the Beneteau Flyer 550 Open.
Beneteau's Flyer 550 Open is a 5.2m centre console and unlike any boat I had previously seen in that size. It met all my criteria: 360? castability; comfortable offshore and in an estuary; more storage than any centre console in its size; overnight sleeping arrangement; safety; reasonable tow weight; wake-toy capable; and missus-friendly—which is the hardest task for a centre console.
All I had to do was figure out how to turn this canvas into a fishing masterpiece.
Beneteau has many factories throughout the world and has been building boats for more than 100 years, everything from the small Flyer range up to trawlers and 58ft cruising yachts. The French company was wise enough to outsource the design of the Flyer to experts, Volanis, with a brief to maximise the space. Mission accomplished. It's the best centre console format I have seen in a boat less than 6m. But there were several things to consider.
CABIN OR CENTRE CONSOLE?
That's the question that haunts every sportfisherman who decides to buy a boat. To decide, think about the type of fishing you enjoy most. I mostly cast lures, and I decided I didn't want to spend my days pushing and squeezing past people and leaning out the side to make a cast. Cabins have their place, but in a small boat they just waste half the space. I'm happy to sacrifice the weather protection a cabin offers for the convenience of being able to cast in comfort. I should add that I'm a fair-weather fisherman these days: I have been spoilt enough in fishing that I no longer have any interest in bashing through rough seas and strong winds to catch fish. I'll fish protected waters when it's rough, and enjoy heading offshore in pleasant conditions. If the weather blows up unexpectedly, the Flyer's performance is good enough to handle it and minimise the spray. However, there's no such thing as a 100 per cent dry centre console.
For overnighters, the Flyer's forward casting platform can be optioned with a sunbed cushion set. It converts the platform into an open-air double bed of just less than 2m by 1.85m. No 5.5m half-cab I'm aware of offers that. I prefer the open set-up over the stuffy stink of most cabins in boats this size. If the overnight weather looks questionable, the bow rails are high enough to rest under with a tarp affixed.
Another attraction of cabins is they offer safe dry storage for your gear. This is where most centre consoles lose the race, but not the Flyer. Unlike the tiny consoles found on too many boats, the Flyer's console steps down into the hull creating a space two people can sit inside. It smashes the console space (often only the size of a carton of beer) of its rivals and was a major factor in my choice.
Entry to the console is via a two-part polyester door with hatch cover. Inside, the port and starboard seats house a storage compartment each. The area left between these seats is big enough to accommodate a toilet. I bought a Coleman chemical toilet. It's something lady passengers appreciate, it was inexpensive and I can remove it for serious fishing when I need the space for camera gear.
I added an interior light in the console for my overnight adventures. The house and crank battery both live aft in the console, under the entrance and out of the way.
While spacious on the inside, the topside of the Flyer's console leaves a challenge to fit marine electronics. There is always a solution: the hatch cover for the console door now lifts up to reveal a section of Starboard added to mount the Fusion stereo and Lowrance VHF marine radio. This keeps them out of the weather and within reach of the skipper. This addition works well, and also leaves space on the dash for the Lowrance HDS-7 sounder/GPS unit. This is affixed to a RAM mount—a strong, marine-friendly multidirectional mounting system that has a bracket that attaches to the Lowrance's standard mount—and places the screen directly over the wheel. It is easily removed for house storage to avoid theft. A mounted compass and 12V plug are standard. I added a six-button switchboard below the wheel for accessories.
The flyer comes with a sporty steering wheel, but I replaced this with a stainless Edson wheel with a power knob—an expensive luxury, but I'm a fan of the power knob for ease of steering. I also regard it as necessary because the small space between the throttle and steering wheel is an area the Flyer's design fails. The power knob avoids sore knuckles.
Anyone with a portly figure might need to think about changing the helm seating arrangement, which is designed for sitting, not standing. A slim fellow like me doesn't mind the standard set-up because it provides enough space to stand and brace against the seat, but a bigger stomach might struggle to squeeze between the wheel and seat while standing. However, sitting is very comfortable thanks to luxuriously thick-padded pedestal seats, which can be adjusted up, down, forward and back. A storage pouch is mounted into the back of each pedestal seat, which is handy for storing leader, cutters and other bits. The stainless rail running over the console provides ample grab positions.
The console has a moulded forward seat with two recesses for drinks.
The casting platform has a folding panel that can be secured to the main forward hatch or folded aft to join the forward console seat. This forms an extended casting platform, or, with the cushion set in place, the spacious sunbed.
All Beneteaus are built to CE certification. I was pleasantly surprised to see two manual bilge pumps fitted as standard on the Flyer. However, I did remove them from positions under each aft quarter seat to use the six-inch holes to fit the speakers for the Fusion stereo. I relocated one of the pumps to a more accessible position. An electric bilge pump was installed but I like the idea of having a manual version as a back-up.
The hull also features a lot of foam strategically placed for positive buoyancy, meaning that if the hull is swamped, it will remain upright—Beneteau thus proving that positive buoyancy and ample storage don't have to be mutually exclusive.
The self-draining deck is great for cleaning and adds to offshore safety. An EPIRB, fire extinguisher and fire blanket are mounted just inside the door of the console. I added nav lights to complement the retractable samson-post anchor light. I also added three blue courtesy lights—one forward and one each side of the console—for night fishing. I chose blue instead of white to minimise the effect on my night vision. I carry oars and a spare anchor set-up in the console as well as fenders, spare ropes and tools. There is a full-width storage area under the forward platform where I keep lifejackets and safety gear, so it's within easy reach. That hatch has user-friendly gas struts fitted, which is handy in a lumpy sea when you want both hands for rummaging. The anchor lives forward of that. There is a bowsprit and roller. The anchor hatch is small so I'm considering altering this forward section to allow a rode spillover.
In addition to the ample storage in the console, the Flyer features a massive storage hatch under the cockpit deck. The factory standard set-up has the battery box fixed here, but I moved the batteries to the console, leaving a large uncluttered storage area I use to store a Fij bag—an excellent substitute for a space-consuming icebox; it's big enough to hold big kingfish, tuna or spanish mackerel—plus fenders and a spare cutting board. This hatch also provides access to battery switches and the deckwash/bait tank pump valve and hardware. You also get to the 100l fuel tank through it.
Rod storage was a challenge, with only two standard plastic rod holders set into a unique teak section of the gunwale. I replaced these with stainless steel rod holders, plus I added four rail-mounted stainless steel holders on the back rails for the aft quarter seats. I initially had them all angled but then changed the centre holders to be straight. I have plans for at least four more of the rail-mount holders to be mounted on the console, plus four horizontal rod racks to be built in below the teak sections of the gunwale, to join with the storage pockets below. A further four will be built into a planned baitboard mounted on the transom.
Storing live bait was made possible by moving the boarding ladder to the starboard step. I then had the step cut open and some foam removed to allow for a tank I had made by Wrengco Tanks. For $250, I got a tank made to fit the space, but with an open top so JW Marine could attach a lid made to the shape of the step. The tank is plumbed with a Johnson Aquajet live-bait tank and deckwash kit. The finished product looks like it was made at the factory.
We all know the time comes when we have to walk away from the rods and entertain on board, and this is where the Flyer shines. The forward sunbed, luxurious bucket seats at the helm and cushioned aft quarter seats accommodate six people in comfort. The optional table mounts in a hole fitted central in the cockpit hatch, making a seated table setting for four adults. Add the indoor toilet and the Fusion stereo system and it's all very civilised... well, until it comes time to decide whose iPod is loaded into the dock of the stereo. (The Fusion stereo houses the iPod inside the unit so you operate all the usual iPod menus through the stereo's display—it's brilliant!) A table setting is a bit fancy for a fishing boat, but it comes in handy when you do an overnight fishing trip. The central position makes it a practical option for a bait preparation station, but I prefer to leave it clean for dining and/or cruises with non-fishing friends.
STILL TO COME
Like all boats, this one went over budget. There's still a list of things to complete before she's a real fishing boat. One compromise I had to swallow was the lack of leg support for offshore fishing. The Flyer's coamings run straight to the deck with no recess for toes. This was a hiccup in the decision process; it's an annoying shortfall of so many boats. But, all boats being a compromise, this had to be sacrificed for the superior storage, finish and construction of the Flyer. My solution to this problem is three Tallon receivers an excellent invention that facilitates a series of removable accessories—installed on either side of the boat, below gunwale height—into which I will mount a removable, upholstered, horizontal stainless bar for leg support. It will be removable and the Tallon receivers can then be used for additional beverage holders or other accessories when I'm entertaining or fishing in sheltered waters. The receivers were expensive, but they are versatile enough to justify the spend.
The aforementioned baitboard is sketched and waiting in the 'when-I-can-afford-it' pile, as is a bowsprit-electric-motor-mount sketch that will require a custom make to allow anchoring capabilities to co-exist with an electric motor. I hope to mount it centrally on the bow, where the standard bowsprit now lives.
My trailer plan was specific: The Flyer can be handled by a single-axle trailer, but I opted for a twin-axle. It's unlikey a well-maintained trailer will encounter trouble, but experience has taught me that if something does go wrong, your boat is better supported by two axles. Also, a twin-axle trailer applies less down-weight on the tow bar. I also opted for a swing-away draw bar.
This contraption allows the neck of the trailer to fold back on itself, which makes the boat easier to store. Mine is a Mackay V-Type multi-roller trailer with mechanical brakes. The build quality matches Mackay's good reputation and the custom options were accommodated easily.
I found the price reasonable ,considering the options I requested. Anyone buying a trailer really should remember that the stronger and better quality it is, the less hassles you will have.
The initial outboard was an Evinrude E-Tec 130hp, but I upgraded to Evinrude's 150hp H.O. The 130hp pushed the Flyer to 38 knots; I'm yet to reach top speed with the 150hp; all I know is, it's faster than I'm willing to go! The 150 gets me out of the hole quicker with four people on board and saves on fuel. But remember that a bigger engine works less at the same cruising speed, which is also good for the fuel bill.