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A Fleming Great Adventure

The phone rang. It was Bill Ebsary calling to ask if I was available to assist him in bringing his new Fleming 55 back to Pittwater, Sydney, from the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show in Queensland. Bill and I have been friends for more than 50 years and over that time have shared many thousands of miles racing yachts both with and against each other as well as enjoying one another’s company just cruising. I prevaricated for about a nano second before accepting his invitation. I had been on board Bill’s Fleming “Le Billet” just after he took delivery in Sydney a couple of months before and had been very impressed by the overall appearance of the vessel, the build quality and the practical layout. Over my 40 years professional experience as a coastal engineer and researcher I had clocked up many tens of thousands of miles rolling around at sea on research vessels ranging from a few metres long to over 40 m, in all sorts of weather, and so was keen to see how Bill’s new acquisition handled at sea.

At Sanctuary Cove I was impressed with courtesy extended to me by Egil, Duncan and the rest of the Fleming crew including Sam, who accompanied us onboard on the trip back, and with the after sales service and follow up they provided to Bill. Then came the real test: how would she handle at sea? Having re-supplied we exited the Show’s marina early in the afternoon on the day after the show. There were still a large number of vessels in the marina so there was very little room to maneuver. I was pleasantly surprised at how, with judicious use of the twin engine controls and the bow thruster, she was easily turned in her own length and then safely “extracted” through a very narrow opening. The additional maneuvering station at the rear of the flybridge was a real benefit in making the whole process manageable without unnecessary “excitement”. Out in the labyrinth of the Gold Coast waterway we steamed along happily at 6 kts winding our way between the array of potentially confusing port and starboard markers and the other waterway users, some of whom had a somewhat “challenging” concept of the rules of navigation. The excellent visibility afforded by the main flybridge steering station and the clear instrumentation significantly contributed to our confidence in handling the Fleming under these circumstances.

Preparing for sea we battened down the hatches and turned her head out into the Seaway channel between the breakwaters. Conditions were relatively mild but we turned on the stabilizers and crossed the bar easily. Out in the open sea we set a course for a waypoint 15 miles off Danger Reefs as we wanted to get out into the East Australian Current which was running south and would add 1.5 to 2 Kts to our boat speed…for free! Glancing back we noticed a rather ominous cloud starting to form over the ranges behind the Gold Coast. All was going well; nice weather, little wind, small underlying swell, Le Billet on automatic pilot, so we had lunch. Then it happened! The heavens opened up, the wind roared, the sea kicked up; the storm that had been brewing had caught us up. But, we just sat there continuing to chat and having lunch with the Fleming comfortably handling conditions; the stabilizers were worth their weight in gold and the hull form meant the auto pilot had no trouble holding course.

Well offshore in the current we altered course to starboard to head south. Cruising along at a boat speed of 10 kts and with the GPS telling us that were actually achieving 12kts across the ground due to the current assist, the twin Cummins 500s were quietly ticking over at a synchronized 1460 rpm, only consuming a total of 35 litres per hour; surprisingly economical for a vessel of this size. By now a westerly of 15 to 20 kts had developed a nasty cross-sea on top of the developing southeasterly swell yet the Fleming was behaving as if it was in calm water. We were able to comfortably read, chat, and deal with our emails before cooking, and consuming, a hearty three course dinner.

After dinner we split into two watches for the nights run and the two of us on the second watch went down to bed for a good 4 hours sleep. Awaking around midnight feeling refreshed I went up into the now dimly lit, but warm and friendly, pilot house to get a briefing before taking over. The pilot house arrangement, being well protected from the lights and conversations in the main salon and with clear instrumentation and visibility was excellent for night running. It was immediately clear that the designers at Fleming knew what they were doing. The auto pilot and the stabilizers were happily working away together so all I had to do was slip into the comfortable seat behind the wheel and keep a good lookout. The chart plotter, the radar and the arrangement of the windows made this an easy task. At four the next morning the other watch took over and we again went to bed. By now we had 25 kts of southwesterly kicking up a steep 1 metre sea hitting us on our starboard bow. The spray was impressive but the ride was unbelievably smooth so sleep was quickly achieved.

In 24 hours we had comfortably covered 260 nm and were well on our way back to Pittwater with 130 nm left to travel. However we had become increasingly concerned by the weather forecasts. All the indications were that an East Coast “Bomb” (a severe low pressure weather system) might rapidly develop in a few hours, producing winds of over 50 kts. Despite our now well deserved faith in the Fleming we saw no point in punching headlong into a developing gale so, after another pleasant lunch while underway, we decided to head for Port Stephens. It was nightfall before we arrived at the entrance and dark and windy with a strong run out tide by the time we reached the marina at Nelsons Bay. Again the Fleming was put to the test as we maneuvered, under these adverse conditions, through the relatively small breakwater gap and into the marina berth which the operators had kindly arranged for us by phone that afternoon. Despite the rather tight situation the Fleming behaved magnificently and we docked in unfamiliar waters, in difficult conditions, without even a bump, let alone a scratch.

Enjoying a comfortable night we awoke the next morning to a howling gale. Winds offshore were storm force therefore the decision was easy: wait a couple of days before pushing off again. Within reach of Sydney and with all the crew except myself having work commitments a car was quickly hired by Bill and the rest of the crew disappeared southward vowing to return on the weekend. This left me with the absolutely horrible task of having to spend a few days on board looking after Le Billet….in the lap of luxury! Bill thought twice about leaving the ignition keys behind with me just in case I was tempted to “shoot through” to a country that didn’t have extradition agreements with Australia!

So in summary, I have now experienced the Fleming 55 in a variety of difficult situations and weather and sea conditions and have been “forced” to live on board for an extended time….well someone has to do it! All I can say is that this is one magnificent craft. It is by far the best vessel I have been to sea on; it is well built, carefully thought out, competently engineered, practical, safe, comfortable and pleasing to the eye. It is a real credit to Fleming Yachts….and no, they didn’t pay me for writing this piece, I wrote it because I was so impressed! Sadly, my wife has emptied my bank accounts and cut up my credit cards after hearing me rave about the Fleming. Apparently she feels that the cruising and the racing yachts we already have, and the fact that my family still wants to go sailing, is sufficient for the present! Oh well….one day!

Oh, and by the way…thanks Bill for a great week.

Angus Gordon,

Bachelor of Engineering, Master of Engineering Science, Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia, Yachtmaster and past Commodore The Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, Australia.