For every type of boat, there is a sweet spot where length, performance and accommodations balance to create an ideal platform. For express-style boats suited for serious island hopping, the LOA that comes to my mind is 50 feet, combined with a stout ride, a dry helm and an interior that won't seem cramped after a week's cruise. Sea Ray's new 500 Sundancer delivers all of this in the builder's refined, well thought out fashion.
Ride quality and helm response can vary a great deal from one boat to another, even in similar products from the same builder. I have tested many Sea Rays over the years, and I have always been impressed with the nameplate's stable performance standard, which makes the transition from one Sea Ray boat to another virtually seamless. I am certain this is one reason Sea Ray owners advance so easily through the builder's product line, and I found the familiar feel quite pleasant when I tested the 500 off Lighthouse Point, Florida.
She cuts tight turns gracefully, and her pair of 635 hp Cummins QSM11s accelerate quickly (25 seconds to full throttle). I recorded a top speed of 32 knots at 2330 rpm. Her rpm should be right on the money (2300) after owner's gear is aboard.
At 28.6 knots (2100 rpm), the Cummins electronics indicated a fuel burn of 47 gallons per hour. At 1800 rpm, she moved along effortlessly at 22.2 knots, burning 34 gallons per hour. While seas were not challenging, I believe this would be a comfortable speed on the sloppy days I typically draw when heading to the Bahamas or the Keys. Her modified-V form with 19 degrees of deadrise (at the transom) is ideal for such service.
Her engines are configured in a V-drive arrangement, and medium prop pockets help minimize shaft angle and draft. A bow thruster is offered. In all, the 500 provides the dry, comfortable ride I have come to expect from Sea Ray, and the Cummins seem an ideal match for the hull.
The 500's helm is state of the art. The Raymarine package on our test boat included radar, an autopilot, a sounder and a phone-style VHF. While analog-style gauges are provided, the Cummins engine electronics are interfaced with a Mercury SmartCraft electronic information system that coordinates and displays data from a number of sources. The Sea Ray Navigator system has a 12-inch, sunlight-viewable touchscreen LCD display. Teleflex single-lever control heads are interfaced with the Cummins electronics. Our test boat also had Teleflex hydraulic power steering-an option I recommend.
Sea Ray cockpit layouts are second to none. The view from the 500's adjustable helm seat is excellent, and the cleverly designed companion seating can be rotated 90 degrees and converted into a lounge facing the cockpit. The bridge has a stylish, molded fiberglass hardtop that can be fitted with isinglass curtains. While there is plenty of natural ventilation, those wandering South Florida and the Bahamas in the summertime should consider the optional cockpit air conditioning.
There is additional seating and a table aft, as well as a wet bar with a refrigerator and an ice maker. A transom door leads to the swim platform. Our test boat had a tender/PWC lift-a worthwhile option for serious cruisers.
While Sea Ray is best known for its advances in creature comforts, the builder also deserves credit for its efforts in systems and machinery space layout. The 500's engineroom is one of the best I have found in an express-style boat in this category. A large access hatch in the cockpit is provided, and service points such as the raw-water strainers, oil change system and fuel/water separators are grouped thoughtfully instead of being hidden or stuffed out of reach. There is also excellent access outboard of the engines and aft to the 13.5kW Onan generator. Two aluminum fuel tanks extend across the forward engineroom bulkhead and can be filled either port or starboard side to. The fresh water system has a manifold that lets you turn off individual fixtures (Mom can take a shower while you fix a leaky faucet). This straightforward approach should please owners who have suffered with less.
The 500 is a product of Sea Ray's Sykes Creek facility in Merritt Island, Florida. Her hull and superstructure are built in tooling created from plugs sculpted by Sea Ray's computer-controlled, five-axis router. The result is as near perfection as is possible, with paper-thin tolerances the norm.
Her hull laminate is a blend of handlaid stitched multidirectional reinforcements, woven roving and polyester resin. A vinylester skin coat reduces the chance of blistering. A fiberglass grid system is molded separately from the hull and fiberglassed in place. Marine plywood bulkheads and ring frames are fiberglassed and mechanically fastened to the hull. Balsa coring stiffens the cockpit sole and foredeck. The hull-deck joint is mechanically fastened and bonded with fiberglass.
The 500's interior is crafted in a durable synthetic cherry finish with natural cherry trim. Maple finish is also available. Indirect lighting is thoughtfully integrated, and skylights and ports provide natural light.
The main cabin is configured with an L-shape, sofa-like settee that incorporates a pullout berth for two. The adjacent entertainment center has a 20-inch LCD flat-screen TV. The galley has molded fiberglass countertops and a hardwood sole, and a refrigerator, freezer and microwave/convection oven. A combo washer/dryer is tucked tastefully into a cabinet beneath the entry ladder.
An owner's cabin with an island berth is forward and has a private head with a separate shower. The guest cabin has upper-and-lower berths. While the lower berth is almost a double wide and is quite comfortable, I found the upper berth a bit tight and hard to mount. According to Sea Ray, this berth will be improved on future boats. A second head with a separate shower is accessible from the guest cabin or the passageway.
Considering the number of boats that bear the Sea Ray name and the resources the company devotes to engineering new models, it would be an understatement to suggest that the 500's hull is proven. Her hull-and her styling, layout and features-all benefit from the dozens of models that preceded her.
This wealth of experience is why Sea Ray dominates the express cruiser market, and why the 500 is worth a serious look.
Contact: Sea Ray Boats, Inc., (800) SRBOATS, (865) 522-4181;