Meridian 580 Pilothouse

Familiar comforts under a new name in family cruising.

Meridian Yachts is a new company from Brunswick Boat Group, with a line designed to appeal to customers who seek easy-to-use cruising boats that offer good value-a mission not out of tune with Meridian's Bayliner Motoryacht ancestors. Bayliner will still manufacture boats from 16 to 30 feet LOA, while the Meridian company will look to deliver bigger launches that are comfortable, livable and cruise-capable day boats.

With two exceptions, the 411 and 408, the new line of 34- to 58-footers shares the same hull designs as delivered under the old name, but with updated interiors and upgraded components. These include an improved electrical system, heavy-duty hardware and top-of-the-line galley appliances. Based on my experience with the Meridian 580 Pilothouse, the new line is a worthy evolution.

I found hull number one exceptionally easy to handle. The layout and design of interior spaces is impressive, with one notable exception: the lack of an accessible head for third stateroom or day guests. Doors and drawers might not line up to the centimeter, but this is a non-issue unless you are looking for perfection. The overall quality of construction is modestly improved over that of the boat's ancestors.

A big production boat with a semi-displacement hull built for extended family vacationing should be capable of double-digit cruising speeds and should be easy enough for a couple to maneuver in and out of tight marina spaces. Sea conditions the day I ran the boat were oil-slick calm, but I had enough time at the helm to believe the 580 meets expectations in both areas.

Lock-to-lock, S-type and 360-degree turns at cruising speed proved the 580 fully adaptable to actions such as avoiding a spilled PWC or dodging a lobster buoy. Visibility is excellent from the flying bridge, which is forward of amidships. The exterior stairs allow a clear view of the starboard quarter-when the access hatch is open-for docking.

Stern and bow thrusters come with the optional Docking on Command system. I found the boat so maneuverable when docking, I didn't need them.

Powered by a pair of 635 hp Cummins QSM-11 diesels, the semi-displacement hull easily makes speed and does so quietly. Her wake was nearly void of white as the hull projected efficiently over the sea. Slightly lowering the bow leveled an already fine ride. Having a top speed of 26.3 knots is a comfort. At 1700 rpm, the GPS showed 16.2 knots and I measured a mere 70 decibels at the helm. According to the manufacturer, fuel efficiency is greatest at 1800 rpm with the Cummins showing a combined 36 gph burn rate. A full 20-knot cruise will burn slightly more, and her published cruising range is 323 miles.

The 580's profile is modern with an aggressive bow angle, a clean hull with a single air plenum under the saloon area and a molded-in swim platform. A stainless rail is nearly the length of the hull.

Above the saloon windows are non-functional air intakes that are sturdy and bold and balance the design. Originally, one side was functional, but Meridian's people thought the ventilation was adequate without this flow, and dedicated the space to the interior.

On the flying bridge level are an upper station and a delightful social area. Single control levers at the helm are within easy reach, and the gauges, a combination of Cummins and Mercury SmartCraft, are in the line of sight. Limited surface for flush mounting electronics might pose a problem. The settee is L-shape, and the area can be dressed out with refrigerator, sound system and wet bar.

Meridian offers an optional bimini, as well as a davit for lifting a tender. Hull number one had an open area to receive a tender above, but without a tender, the after part of the bridge deck is open without lifelines. Should an owner not carry a dinghy, this area needs to be secured with a perimeter railing. Meridian says it is happy with the grab rails in the area, but if owners feel otherwise, the company will address the issue.

The hatch covering the molded-in steps to the flying bridge could use a second piston and perhaps a safety latch when open. The other egress from the bridge is via the open, wide interior staircase. It is easily traversed, and its door has a screen for saloon ventilation.

In the engineroom and machinery spaces, there is evidence of how Meridian delivers big boats at a lower cost. Fit and finish is acceptable, though wire conduits, bundling and surface mounting of equipment is not overly sophisticated. Plastic fittings that might otherwise be bronze and an exposed bilge pump are examples of small items an owner can upgrade on his own. I was surprised to see the mufflers partially supported by nylon straps, but the arrangement is acceptable.

The 580's hull is cored and through-bolted to the deck, bulkheads are glassed-in, and a 10-year warranty is provided. The stringers are encapsulated marine plywood topped with steel rails where the engine mounts are affixed. The working area between the engines is cavernous, but at the expense of outboard room. Most notably, the air intake for the starboard engine is within inches of one of the two saddle aluminum fuel cells, perhaps affecting its breathing and a concern if a mount breaks loose.

Two sets of stern cleats make working the cockpit for docking easy. Double doors in the transom take the battle out of fender stowage.

Our test boat had the larger 17.5kW Onan. The unit is housed in the lazarette, beneath a hatch with an aggressive gutter system to keep it dry. The lazarette is deep; since stepping on the genset is a no-no, a foothold would be welcome.

Access to the nearly 17-foot-wide saloon is through a stainless-steel sliding door with tinted glass. Preparing meals or entertaining will be a breeze with the large, U-shape galley counter and work area that separates the lower helm from the saloon.

The lower station is on centerline and allows the skipper an unobstructed line of sight to the cockpit when standing on the starboard side of the helm chair. Nearby is a large settee with stowage below, surrounding a table suitable for an intimate breakfast.

The master is amidships below the helm. An island queen is athwartships. Long-range cruisers should be comfortable with the amenities and stowage.

The VIP forward has an island double berth and a private head. A third cabin to port has overlapping upper and lower berths. This cabin has no direct access to a head, a bit unusual for a 58-foot boat. A valid observation, says Meridian, but no three-head layout is on the boards. The company is looking into adding a door.

Meridian has created a boat capable of comfortable cruising and dockside entertaining, and has done it at a reasonable price. Mission accomplished.

Contact: Meridian Yachts, (866) 696-3743; www.meridian-yachts.com.