After battling Labor Day traffic on Interstate 95 last summer, I arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, feeling like an untipped waiter. I had agreed to go cruising aboard a 40-foot boat without so much as a weekend at home during weeks of nonstop business travel. I was tired, I was cranky and the forecast was for fog.
Several days later, my mental tantrum had literally faded into the mist. The Sea Ray 400 Sedan Bridge had taken me out of Newport in pea-soup fog toward several days in Nantucket, a hop through the fog to Block Island and, finally, to Connecticut in still more fog. It was my first extended cruise on a Sea Ray, and overall, I was impressed. Creature comforts overflowed in the suite-like accommodations. Every spare corner was used for stowage, and the finish was well-executed. At the dock in Connecticut we had a few drinks with friends to postpone the end of what had been a near-perfect cruise despite the weather.
Sea Ray's new 540 Cockpit Motor Yacht is also destined to hold its audience captive. Similar to most Sea Rays, the 540 is loaded with creature comforts to make long-term cruising and dockside living a comfortable prospect.
The 540's flying bridge, for instance, is like a second saloon. A full enclosure and optional 24,000 BTU air-conditioning/heating unit is proof against salt air and sea breezes blowing the corn flakes out of your bowl. This worthwhile option not only allows you to adjust the temperature for comfort, it lets you heat-blast the moisture from the carpet and cushions after a damp day of cruising.
The helm surrounds the driver in cockpit-like fashion, with electronics and controls within reach. Hydraulic shift and throttle controls provide effortless control, and the Caterpillar engines' electronic instruments are in the helmsman's line of sight. Tough, 12-volt breaker switches with LED indicators are conveniently angled toward the helmsman. Standing at the helm and looking aft, you can see the swim platform if the flying bridge hatch and transom door are open, reducing the risk of playing bumper boats while docking.
A dinette on the bridge, a perfect spot for evening refreshments, electronically converts to form a double sunpad. A full bar includes stowage, a sink and a U-Line refrigerator/ice maker. Drink holders scattered across the bridge area are easily within reach. A trash bin eliminates the collection of cans and wrappers that accumulates after several hours of cruising. An FRP hardtop provides the finishing touch.
The trade-off for having these creature comforts so high is evident in some sea conditions. For example, in 3-foot beam seas, the 540 felt top heavy and hesitated to get her teeth in the sea and settle out under throttle. This is not uncommon on boats that pack such accommodations onto the upper level. Stability tests have shown the 540 to be less "tippy" than her competition, according to Rob Noyes, Sea Ray's vice president of sales and marketing. He also said the tests showed the 540 to be seaworthy and safe. I agree.
I once worked for a builder whose new model rocked so much-even while tied to the dock-that a few boat show crowd-control staff suffered mal de mer. The 540's motion doesn't compare in severity, although I would urge owners to forgo loading up the bridge with the extra weight of liferafts, stores and tools.
Equipped with twin 640 hp Caterpillar 3196TA diesels, the 540 reached a top speed of 26.1 knots and should cruise in the low 20-knot range. Engine options include twin 776 hp Caterpillar 3406E diesels and twin 584 hp Volvo TAMD 122P EDC diesels. Sound readings at the upper helm were in the 80-decibel range, and levels peaked only slightly higher when the turbos on the big Cats kicked in. Prop tunnels keep the draft to a Bahamas-friendly 3 feet, 11 inches.
The stand-up engineroom is a nice feature if extended cruising is in your plans. A wide walkway between the two engines leaves plenty of floor space for jugs of oil and coolant. Access is through the cockpit. Service points on the engines are accessible, although any work on the forward part of the engines, such as tightening alternator belts, will be difficult because the L-shape fuel tanks wrap around that space. Wire runs were neat and tidy. The standard 12kW Westerbeke generator provides 110-volt power. If you plan to order air conditioning on the bridge, go with the 20kW generator upgrade.
Like the interior of the 400 that held me captive the previous summer, the 540's interior is well designed and well executed. The raised pilothouse is a first for Sea Ray. I'm a big fan of lower stations, which shelter a helmsman from inclement weather and rain. This one provides a great perch from which to escape the sun and heat, thanks to 64,000 BTU air conditioning. An L-shape settee in the pilothouse lets guests hang out with the helmsman and is a nice addition to seating in the main saloon. The TV is on a rotating base that can be viewed from the main saloon or the upper saloon. The electronically controlled helm seat will fend off lower back pain during a long passage. Switches, electronics and gauges are laid out with auto-like precision, just as they are at the upper station.
The same level of design and execution continue in the main saloon and galley. An UltraLeather, L-shape settee and a straight settee opposite provide plenty of soft spots to kick back and enjoy your favorite harbor. Light is abundant thanks to the gracious side windows and light maple interior. The galley rivals the European kitchens in many homes, and Sea Ray again uses every corner to provide stowage for dry goods, dishes and cutlery. Features include a Sub-Zero refrigerator, a Grohe faucet, a three-burner cooktop and a microwave/convection oven.
"Several years ago, our customers were beating us up on storage, so now we really pay attention," said Gary McCloud, Sea Ray's marketing specialist.
A spacious master stateroom with en suite head, a forward stateroom with island berth and a starboard stateroom with twin over-and-under berths complete the lower deck accommodations. While moving at cruising speed, engine noise in the master stateroom, which shares a bulkhead with the engineroom, is just 74 decibels.
Mirrors surround the master's walkaround queen-size berth, providing the illusion of a grander stateroom. A wash basin equipped with Grohe faucets separates the master's split head.
The maple finish on the lower deck, opening ports and forward opening hatch keep the area bright and prevent the dark, cave-like feeling of similarly designed boats.
If coastal cruising and long-term living aboard are on your horizon, the Sea Ray 540 deserves a look. She'll come in at just under $1.3 million fully equipped, which, at first glance, might seem more expensive than similar models. Look again. Sea Ray's extensive standard equipment list makes this a turnkey cruiser, unlike some competitors.
Sea Ray Boats, (800)-SRBOATS; fax (865) 522-4181; www.searayboats.com.