|Fleming 58 blends tradition & innovation|
Creating a new model is a bold move for any established builder. It should encompass enough changes to make it more attractive than existing models, otherwise why make changes, yet it must retain enough of the manufacturer's traditional design features to avoid alienating existing owners and would-be buyers. It's a delicate balance to be sure.
The Fleming 58 is the culmination of nearly five years of research and development by the Fleming design, engineering and production teams. My interest in this vessel and the design is more than just cursory, however, in addition to an extended passage aboard, about which you will read below, I also visited Fleming's yard in Kaohsiung, Taiwan to review hulls one, two and three while under construction. I learned a great deal while there as I met with Duncan Cowie and Adi Shard, they oversee construction and operations at the yard, and later on with Simon Culling. Simon is an experienced mariner, based in the UK he is responsible for a variety of Fleming tasks, including quality assurance for product standards compliance, preparation of technical files and owners' manuals, after sales and warranty support, as well as sea trials and deliveries. He was the skipper of the vessel aboard which I hitched a ride.
Fleming Yachts eschews titles, and in deference to that practice I won't bestow any upon this trio, other than to say that these gentlemen could be likened to the propeller shafts that connect engines with props, with Tony Fleming's retirement they are the next generation, and without them there would be no Fleming Yachts, and no Fleming 58.
Over the course of several years I have come to know and respect these folks, as well as the entire Fleming crew. I was initially scheduled to test and sea trial F58 hull number one, on Chesapeake Bay. That fell through, however, as the new owner was understandably anxious to head south as winter was fast approaching. Fleming contacted me to offer a consolation passage that turned out to be far more realistic, far more interesting and far more valuable in terms of carrying out an evaluation. As a bonus, the sea conditions were a far cry from the comparatively docile waters of Chesapeake Bay, providing yet another real-world metric by which to evaluate the F58. The trial took the form of a 450 nautical mile run from Southampton, in the UK, to the small windswept North Sea German islet of Heligoland, by way of the UK port of Dover and Scheveningen in the Netherlands.A New Design is Born
I've made many a passage aboard Flemings of every size and vintage, I find them to be seaworthy, comfortable and safe passage makers, whose owners almost invariably venerate them as all, or nearly all they could wish for in a sea-going vessel. Still, there are some aspects of the design that most owners agreed could withstand updating, particularly where the company's best-selling model, the venerable Fleming 55 is concerned. Cowie and Shard recognized this several years ago and decided poll their owners for their thoughts. They, like most boat builders, recognized that the best, even if not always the most practical, design ideas come from boat owners and operators. With Tony Fleming's retirement from the company in 2008, the tiller had been passed to the next generation, and the F58 would be the first Fleming designed and built entirely by them.
The polling results were enlightening and showed a trend for things Fleming owners liked about their boats, along with a wish list of elements they'd change if given the opportunity to do so. Among the more common themes was the desire for a vessel larger than the F55, but not as big as the F65. Thus the first decision was made; the new model would be a 58.
Not surprisingly some ideas were driven by trends within the marine industry, which had manifested themselves since the F55 and F65 had been designed, including an amidships full-width master stateroom option. This has become an important feature in the market that simply could not be ignored. Although the folks at Fleming continue to believe the F55 and F65 traditional center companionway design is still more practical, and offers the best utilization of space, with a clean slate the full beam master stateroom could now be offered as an option with the F58.
The other major revision involved the engine room overhead clearance. Many potential buyers simply couldn't contend with the thought of purchasing a 55 foot vessel in whose engine room they could not stand erect. The limiting factor with the F55 is the vessel's freeboard, it is intentionally low, which reduces windage and keeps the center of gravity low, which in turn reduces rolling. Stability in a seaway, it's a quintessential element of the Fleming design philosophy. However, raising it just a few inches, while raising the saloon sole a few inches as well, made it possible for the F58 to incorporate this long-desired feature, while maintaining the stability and sea kindliness for which Flemings are so wellknown.
Still more wishes were added to the list, emanating from both existing Fleming owners and the design team, including room for twin helm seats in the pilothouse, electrical panels that don't require one to kneel or squat down, a day head, and, among the more controversial technical decisions, a digital switching and monitoring system, more on this in a moment. While the F58 was completely new from the keel up, rather than simply a rework of the F55, it still had to retain the classic and now well-known styling, appearance and seakeeping abilities of previous Fleming designs.
Cowie and Shard created a detailed design brief containing all of the above and then retained the services of Norman Wright & Sons naval architects of Brisbane, Australia, a design house with over 100-years of semidisplacement passage maker design experience, to design a beamier hull, slightly more freeboard, and greater waterline length, which was then tank tested at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania. It's worth noting that much of this planning occurred in the midst of a world-wide recession, it was a bold but prescient move. The aim was to achieve fuel consumption figures that were as close as possible to the F55, even though the F58 would displace ten tons more, with just over a foot and a half additional beam.
Once the research was complete, Cowie and Shard shared the initial drawings, and the 1/12 scale tank test model of the hull, with their dealers, while listening closely to their feedback. The tank test figures were very reassuring, fuel consumption was estimated to be the same as the F55, in spite of the additional weight (which includes 50% greater fuel tankage), as was the response from the dealers, and with that construction of the tooling, the parts needed to build the 58s hull, cabin, deck and other fiberglass structures, commenced. At the time this review was written the first nine F58s have been delivered to their owners, and of the first nineteen that were sold, twelve went to existing F55 owners, a testament to their brand loyalty, with the traditional vs. new amidships master layout build ratio at 60/40.
Another leap of faith was decided upon by the design team, that of embracing the growing trend of digital switching. In brief, digital switching enables most of a vessel's electrical gear, lights, pumps, inverters, shore power, etc. to be controlled and monitored from central command screens, tablets, or phones if you wish, rather than via traditional circuit breakers. There are many advantages to this concept, (and a few potential pitfalls, they are complex); however, the most notable is a reduction of large copper cables that must be strung throughout a vessel, particularly for a systems-rich one like the F58. Instead, very small gauge control cables take their place, saving weight and reducing the size of wire bundles. Additionally, a host of systems can be easily and routinely monitored, as well as for fault finding and troubleshooting, both onboard and remotely. An SMS text feature also allows the system to send important alerts to multiple users, for, among others, high water, low voltage or smoke.
The system chosen by Fleming is manufactured by the German firm Böning. The F65 I cruised aboard from the UK to Iceland in 2011 utilized an earlier version of the Böning system that was being evaluated by Fleming at that time. That was primarily a monitoring system, while the version used on the F58 is a full blown digital switching system with extensive systems monitoring capabilities. The system proved its worth on this North Sea passage. The F58 was working its way through heavy seas, I was alone on watch; my crew mates had gone to sleep just minutes earlier. Suddenly the Böning alarm sounded, a large red bar flashed across the screen, I assumed it might indicate something innocuous such as a door ajar, or perhaps even a false alarm. Instead I was horrified to see the words FIRE emblazoned across the screen, and at that moment, as if to dispel the next natural thought, 'maybe it is a false alarm?' my nostrils were assaulted with the acrid and unmistakable odor of burning electrical components. However, in addition to the alarm signal, the Böning display also noted the fire's location, under the pilothouse helm, which is why I smelled it so quickly. After rousing my crew mates I crawled under the helm. I could see no smoke, no fire and no water, however, I smelled smoke. Eventually, and with great relief, I was able to identify the source, inside a third party navigation display enclosure. We shut it down and the odor quickly dissipated. The Böning's central station smoke alarm enabled the crew to respond rapidly to the problem, stemming it before it escalated.Observations
Like all Flemings, the view from both the pilothouse and the flybridge are exceptional. Windshield mullions are no wider than needed and the lower station's three large windshield panes provide the helmsperson with unrestricted visibility. The windshield aboard this vessel is electrically heated, keeping it fog-free when outside air temperature drops. The flybridge is larger than that of the F55, evidenced by what it accommodates, a top load freezer, refrigerator, double Stidd seat, BBQ, and 13' tender with 1000 lb. Steelhead crane, The cockpit is 25 sq. ft. larger than that of the F55. Cap rails are available in Fleming's signature synthetic "Burrwood" that looks virtually identical to varnished teak, yet never needs maintenance. A large electrically operated hatch allows access to the lazarette from the cockpit, and large twin hatches provide access directly to the engine room, which is otherwise not accessible from the saloon. The cockpit and generous width side decks are accessed by four inward opening bulwark gates.
Pilothouse night vision is a frequent issue aboard modern vessels, as the volume of illuminated equipment has grown exponentially. During night watches I noticed that the glare from instruments as well as the steaming light were somewhat distracting, however, I this has now been improved, with greater ability to dim the former. A shade for the latter would easily solve that problem (a notice has been sent to dealers regarding this update). The foot rest at the helm is slippery in stocking feet, a complaint I have for most vessels and varnished soles. I'd leave it as untreated teak, or at the very least finished in non-skid. The hull I was aboard utilized, as mentioned, the full beam master stateroom. It's large, very large, with its own full head. The queen bed's centerline is the same as the vessel's, minimizing movement when rolling, and the same is true of the queen v-berth guest cabin, it has private access to another full head, which can also be accessed from the passageway. The passageway door configuration is a bit awkward, it feels tight with too many doors opening into the same space, and doors can't be left open, however, it's expertly crafted, everything fits and I can think of no way to avoid it in this configuration. Another twin bunk cabin is located on the port side.
Joinerwork and cabin fit and finish are what's come to be expected from Fleming, it's the fine quality, with no seams or gaps and the finish is flawless. Everything one can or might grab feels solid. Galley counter tops, saloon and other furniture are all finished with modest fiddles, which I'm partial to aboard all seagoing vessel; they are bull-nosed on the outside edge, making them comfortable to lean on, while retaining objects that may slide, as well as spilled liquids.Seatrial
Few builders would offer a newly commissioned boat, not to mention an all new design, on a challenging offshore passage of this sort, to a journalist for a review; the fact that Fleming did so is a mark of confidence in their product and build quality.
After applying a few final commissioning finishing touches, we departed Southampton in the early evening, heading toward the Solent, passing Calshot, Isle of White, where Sunderland Flying boats were built, the well-known Schneider trophy air races turned here, and finally leaving the historic Napoleonic Forts in our wake. Our destination was Dover, where the water maker dealer would meet us to complete his commissioning. The conditions were calm, giving me an ideal opportunity to get to know the F58. After spending a day and a half in Dover we got underway once again in the early evening, passing the white cliffs and the Chunnel's massive spoil pile in the misty fading light. While conditions were initially good, we made a comfortable 11 kts while burning 14 gph, this was to be the proverbial calm before the storm, as the Channel soon lived up to its reputation for dishing out dirty weather. By midnight conditions deteriorated, 35 kts on the bow and 7 foot breaking seas, forcing us to seek refuge in the well-protected Dutch port of Scheveningen, into which we literally surfed on four foot waves; past a granite pillars flanking the harbor's gates. We licked our wounds, slept, had a meal, and provisioned. While the crew was bedraggled after this run, the vessel held up very well, her seakeeping abilities were rock solid (as good or better than the F65, in which I've experienced similar conditions), with no pounding, rattles or leaks, while the Hypro electrohydraulic steering and SeaTorque shaft systems never missed a beat.
We departed Scheveningen at 0500 the following morning, and while the conditions were only marginally better, we soon made a right turn along the Frisian coast, putting the seas and wind on our port beam, making life much more comfortable for the crew. With the exception of a routine boarding by the Dutch Coast Guard, whose boat crew handled their craft expertly as it came along side to transfer two crew members, the remainder of the passage was uneventful. We threaded our way through what seemed like countless wind farms, making landfall at Heligoland's harbor early on Sunday morning.Summary
At the time this was written the next available F58 is number twenty; impressive for a fledgling design. The F58 represents the culmination of Fleming's collective experience, over the course of 25 years, hundreds of hulls and hundreds of thousands of nautical miles. With this design, they've succeeded in melding traditional, tried and true with modern and innovative, while sacrificing very little if anything in the process.
Specifications – Box item