As I stepped from the top tread of the pilothouse stairs and onto the flying bridge of the Meridian 540, the sound of an air-cooled motor growling loudly drew me aft, out from under the protection of the Sunbrella bimini and the massive radar arch. Stepping into the clear warm sunlight of a Seattle, Washington, afternoon, I gazed out into the middle of Lake Union, its waters and surrounding hills bathed in that clear golden summer light the Pacific Northwest is famous for, and watched in wonder as a float plane lifted smoothly from the choppy waters.
I realized that there were five other people standing back there with me, on the boat deck next to the standard davit, and that's when it hit me-this 54-footer has a lot of room for entertaining guests. I'd seen two friends sitting in the pilothouse and chatting at the L-shape settee and table on my way topside. Another was sitting at the lower helm, studying the chart displayed on the Raymarine RL80CRC, part of a complete premium package of standard electronics. And caterers were refreshing drinks for other guests who preferred the comforts of the saloon's UltraLeather settee (with standard double incliners), cherry paneling and furniture, and the surround-sound entertainment center-not to mention being a little closer to the hors d'oeuvres laid out on the Karadon counters of the spacious, well-equipped galley. I couldn't blame them, because the view through large, fully bonded arched windows was outstanding.
But this three stateroom pilothouse design does far more than entertain well. It has the stowage capacity and standard systems, such as a Glendinning Cablemaster and a 13.5 kW genset, to make your coastal cruises practical. Twin 635 hp Cummins MerCruiser diesels push it to a top speed of 26 knots. At its 22-knot cruising speed, it has a range of approximately 370 miles with a 10 percent fuel reserve, bringing distant ports closer with fewer fuel stops.
Nearby Lake Washington was a washboard of wakes and wind-whipped chop on test day, but the 540 Meridian was comfortable on all points of the compass. Handling under way was straightforward, with good wheel and throttle response no matter what maneuver I tried. I particularly liked the standard Docking On Command (D.O.C.) bow-and-stern thruster system, actuated by a single control, which made docking or coming alongside another vessel to transfer guests a much easier job. I have used this system docking several times and must confess that, even though some may think of it as cheating, I think it's an important tool because it makes final corrections a breeze.
According to Paul Cherney, vice-president for yachts, Meridian Yachts are designed and engineered to last right from the start. Precision molds are created with the aid of a five-axis router, producing parts that fit right every time. The craftsmen who build them are carefully trained in every aspect of their jobs to ensure quality at every step of the production process, starting with computerized tracking of the lamination. The 10-year structural hull and deck limited warranty reflects the builder's commitment, as well as its reliance on a vinylester skin coat throughout hull and deck for resistance to blistering and cracking, heavy 24-oz. woven rovings and biaxial stitched fabrics for maximum strength, and scored composite coring in the deck and hull molds for additional strength and insulation. Even the sole in the saloon is cored, which helps explain the quiet sound readings I took at the pilothouse helm.
A quick tour of the engineroom showed carefully routed color-coded wiring harnesses of tinned copper-strand wiring and pin connectors. Structural aluminum cross-members reinforce the engine mounts, transferring loads from the engine to the full-length stringer system, which runs well into the bow. The drive train features PSS dripless shaft seals by PYI and three-inch-diameter stainless steel shafts spinning on rubber bearings in bronze struts. The rudders and seacocks are bronze.
Concern for livability was evident throughout the interior. The color-coordinated soft goods are treated for optimal performance in the marine environment and are hand-sewn, conveying a rich feel in each cabin. The full-beam master stateroom amidships includes a queen-size berth with end tables and an innerspring mattress. A 14-inch flat-screen TV with AM/FM/CD/DVD and surround-sound, and cedar-lined hanging locker are notable features. Standard appliances, such as the separate washer and dryer and a central vacuum system, help you keep one step ahead when it's time to clean up and head home.
Whether your tastes run to entertaining aboard or escaping to distant ports with family and friends, or anything in between, the Meridian 540 Pilothouse deserves a closer look.
Contact: Meridian Yachts, (888) 847-4091; www.meridian-yachts.com.