As I jumped onto the new Meridian 541 Sedan through the side-boarding step in the cockpit, something captured my attention: the two bar stools. Immediately, I realized the potential of this boat as an entertainment vehicle and reconsidered altering my sea-trial mission. I was tempted to call in my six closest friends and a bottle of Ketel One and do my entire review from one of those stools while Brunswick’s Capt. Rusty Higgins manned the helm. But duty dictated I explore the rest of the boat, and I’m glad I did.
The Meridian 541 is the new flagship of the builder’s line of sedans, with four in the fleet ranging from the 341 on up. It is the first Meridian built in Brunswick’s Sykes Creek facility in Merritt Island, Florida, normally reserved for construction of the largest Sea Rays. Meridian became part of the Sea Ray group in 2009, and the entire lineup has benefited from the infusion of Sea Ray quality. The 541 is the only three-stateroom model in the lineup, but it is not only space that sets the 541 apart — it’s how that space is used (see the complete photo gallery here) .
Those bar stools in the cockpit sit in front of a countertop and an electronically actuated window that opens into the galley on the main deck. That’s right, the galley. “We decided to bring the galley back and make it centrally located so it serves the salon, the dinette and the cockpit equally well,” said Matt Guilford, the brand manager for Meridian Yachts. He elaborated that, in the design stage, they all realized that, at every party, people at some point gravitate toward the kitchen. It made sense to put the galley in a prime spot.
The electronically actuated window, along with the signature twin-tier windows on the main deck, help Meridian meet one mission point: blurring the line between indoor and outdoor spaces. The entire inside area of the main deck is bathed in warm, natural light. Guilford was quick to point out another attribute: The windows allow for a view of the horizon, whether you are standing or sitting, which is an important feature for those prone to seasickness.
The dinette, opposite the galley, provides another example of how Meridian thought through its spatial relationships. The designers initially set it up as a U-shape to allow for more seating but realized a standard booth provides far more legroom, so they switched it. The table drops down to create an extra berth.
Another main theme of the 541, as evidenced by the cockpit stools and the galley, is to create social gathering points. This carries through to the salon on the main deck, raised up from the galley and dinette. The area is set up like a circular living room, with light-color carpet and upholstery. What look like movable furniture pieces are actually molded fiberglass components that are part of the deck and dressed to look like a conventional couch and chair. The only difference is they’ll hold fast under way. Meridian keeps the whole area cool with air-conditioning plenums built into the overhead, which allow cool air to fall evenly throughout the main deck.
The spacious full-beam master stateroom sits amidships and has a diagonally positioned queen berth. It has a full set of shelves and hanging lockers, with the option for a desk and chair on the starboard side. Its 6 feet 5 inches of headroom should make most people feel anything but confined below. The master suite has a private head with a tile floor, granite countertop and circular stand-up shower stall.
The forward guest head is equally well appointed, with private access from the guest stateroom in the bow. The third stateroom sits opposite the guest head to starboard and features over/under bunks capable of sleeping guests who are up to 6 feet 5 inches tall.
Here’s where things get more interesting. The 541 is Meridian’s first boat designed from the bottom up to run with pod-drives. Pod-drives are well known for their close-quarters maneuvering, but the additional benefits compared with straight-shaft inboards include improved fuel economy and space. The extra room afforded by the twin Zeus drives not only allows for the spacious three-stateroom configuration on a 50-footer but also leaves room for an additional area below the galley. Our test boat had it set up as a utility room, with access to the 16 batteries in the bank, and with stowage to load up for an extended cruise. Meridian also offers the option to configure it as a crew’s quarters.
However, no one is gravitating to pod-drives solely for the extra space. At the helm on the bridge, Higgins, a seasoned captain, showed what the twin Zeus drives bring to the table. A boat with this high profile is especially susceptible to wind at slow speeds, particularly around the dock. By constantly keeping the joystick actuated, even with just the slightest touch, Higgins used directed thrust to keep the 541 steady while sliding her into and out of the slip.
Under way, the twin 715-horsepower Cummins diesels powered the 541 to more than 30 knots, and we easily carved S-turns reminiscent of those of a far smaller, sportier boat.
Access to the bridge is via a staircase designed to be less bulky than molded fiberglass stairs. A hatch above closes them off for safety under way. The dash at the helm is configured for twin Raymarine E120 displays. The helm chair on our test vessel needed a bolster seat, something Meridian says it will add, but from a standing position I enjoyed a great line of sight from the wheel.
With its aft table and bench seating, the bridge works as yet another social gathering point, enhanced by the double-wide passenger seat, which can be rotated aft to form a conversation pit.
Another feature I really liked: The sun lounge area on the bow has a separate set of speakers, so sunbathers can chill to tunes without overwhelming the crowd on the bridge. Everybody’s happy.
Of course, some might consider those twin bar stools to be the best seats in the house. The cockpit is a good hangout spot too. In a nod to function as well as fun, Meridian added switches to the house battery mains in the cockpit, accessible under a hatch, so you can turn on the power as soon as you step onto the boat, and make sure it’s off before you step onto the dock. But if the bar is open, you may never want to leave.
DISPL: 52,000 lb.
FUEL: 634 gal.
WATER: 150 gal.
TEST POWER: 2 x 715 hp Cummins QSM 11 diesels with Zeus drives
STANDARD POWER: 2 x
600 hp Cummins QSB 600
diesels with Zeus drives
BASE PRICE: $1,308,133
PRICE AS TESTED: $1,590,803
Meridian Yachts, 866-992-2487; www.meridian-yachts.com