The Palm Beach 50 Fly may have looks to die for and ripple with American charm but it’s from behind the wheel that this classy cruiser really shines
The Uber driver is sure we’re in the right place but I’m not convinced. The address given to me by Palm Beach’s MD Hank Compton has brought us to a location beneath an underpass and alongside some restaurant bins near Pompano Beach in South Florida.
The driver has already taken off with his five stars before I can protest but the presence of the Intracoastal Waterway down the alleyway past said bins offers a crumb of comfort that this indeed might be where I’m meeting the boat.
I wheel my suitcase to the edge of the water and wait, eyes glued to my phone in attempt to trick on-lookers that I am perfectly relaxed and in control of my destiny. Thankfully, the emergence of an elegant bow in my peripheral vision saves blushes as the Palm Beach 50 Fly glides into view.
It is a sight for sore eyes; elegant, purposeful and oozing charm from every angle, the Palm Beach 50 transports you to a time where boats of this ilk were used to whisk Wall Street big wigs from their estates in upstate New York to the office blocks of Manhattan Island.
Today we plan a commute of our own, from this spot just south of West Palm Beach to the glittering skyscrapers of Miami.
Hank has generously diverted from a Thanksgiving cruise with his family to allow me to experience the Palm Beach 50 in her home waters. He and his wife and young daughter have been using the boat for a week, exploring the endless creeks and coves that populate this part of the pan handle.
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As we pull away from the dock, heads begin to turn and this is something you have to get used to. The Palm Beach 50 Fly possesses a style and romance unique amongst modern flybridge cruisers and exhibits some beautiful detailing like the polished mooring gear, varnished teak cockpit trim and a hull that flares elegantly at the bow and tapers back to a graceful tumblehome at the stern.
The finish on the topsides is extraordinary but then it should be for the £45,000 that the painted (flag blue) hull costs.
You soon come to realise that for all of its wonderful design cues and down east style the Palm Beach 50 is actually a very focussed machine. The fact that the 435hp IPS600 motors are mounted amidships and connect to their pods via jackshafts says much about this boat’s intentions.
Most shipyards fit IPS to allow space inside the boat for more spacious accommodation but Palm Beach has installed them in the spot where most 50-footers have their full-beam master cabin to optimise the boat’s centre of gravity and natural balance.
The obvious compromise is cabin space, which simply isn’t as generous as most flybridge rivals. The pay off, however, is seakeeping.
IPS600 is the only engine option and with just 435hp per side this doesn’t amount to a huge amount of power for a boat just shy off 55ft.
Being vinylester resin infused with a cross-linked closed-cell foam core, the Palm Beach 50 is a relatively light boat though – just 13.3 tonnes – and those curvaceous hull lines disguise an underwater profile with a sharp entry but reasonably flat aft section, meaning she planes in less than five seconds.
From behind the helm it soon becomes clear that the boat’s weight balance is pretty much perfect as she eases on to the plane without clambering over an obvious hump and maintains a tabletop-flat running attitude at all speeds.
This is most telling from the lower helm, a feast of satin wood and leather that combines timeless style with easy-to-use clarity. Even when seated on the softly upholstered helm bench, and despite the three-piece windscreen, the view along the swooping foredeck is excellent.
By now we have left the Intracoastal behind us and are in the fringes of the Atlantic. It’s a settled day but a rolling swell serves as a reminder that we’re playing in the outer reaches of a fearsome ocean.
The Palm Beach 50 is in its element and carves through the oily water with the precision of a butcher’s blade. In deeper troughs water peels up the topsides before being repelled back from where it came by the bow’s pronounced flair.
It may have squeaky-clean lines with no sign of prominent chines but the ride is incredibly dry and at no point do we feel the threat of spray on the triple screens.
Outright speed isn’t all that impressive, a Princess F50 with its 36-knot top speed would leave the Palm Beach 50 in its wake in a flat-out race but the Palm Beach’s ability to cruise at a decent pace in big seas without guzzling too much fuel is its most impressive feature.
The sweetest cruising speed is 25 knots where the boat is achieving 5.5 litres per mile for a range of 350 miles with 20% in reserve. Even flat-out at 29 knots it will manage over 240 miles on one tank.
A potential downside to mounting the engines amidships is having them beneath the saloon floor but Palm Beach has countered this with thorough soundproofing around the engineroom and on the underside of the engine hatch itself.
The upshot is that despite having 870hp thrumming away below your feet, engine noise is well contained, allowing conversation to flow on passage without voices being strained.
It would be useful to have a quick inspection hatch for the engineroom as currently you have to remove the sofa cushions and wait for the entire aft section of the saloon floor to lift on a powered ram even to do basic engine checks.
It’s a top-notch installation however, with easy access to daily service items, clear bowls on the fuel filters and double-clipped hoses throughout, even on the generator and air-conditioning feeds.
With the towering glass towers of Miami coming into focus we slip through the Haulover inlet and drop anchor next to a prominent sand bank that is a magnet for local boats. Pontoon boats rest their chins on the golden sand and jet-skis buzz around without attracting the ire of other boaters.
This is Miami, where flamboyance and exhibitionism are positively encouraged. The Palm Beach 50 swings gently off the anchor, seemingly bemused by the brightly coloured sportsboats and water toys that surround it, like an old gentleman sitting in a wing-backed chair in the corner of a basement rave.
The sojourn over lunch allows me time to explore the Palm Beach 50’s living spaces and this is where, compared to a more modern design, the boat falls short in places.
The foredeck, for example, doesn’t have seating or a table or flip-up sunbeds, though Palm Beach will stretch to fitting some cushions on the foredeck to boost sunbathing potential if requested.
It’s much the same story on the flybridge, which is pokey and can’t hope to hold a candle to its more avant-garde rivals. Seating is a tight, booth-style pair of benches around an attractive varnished table and a double bench forward allows a couple of people to sit before the stylish helm.
It’s worth noting that the Palm Beach 50 Fly is based on the standard 50, which is an express cruiser of considerable style. It has exactly the same deck layout as the 50 Fly minus the £150,000 flybridge and in this context the flybridge’s diminutive footprint is easier to swallow.
It’s essentially an add-on, albeit an expensive one but it’s a nice to have and not a must-have, more of a raised driving position than a full-on flybridge deck.
There’s no debating how beautifully it’s been integrated into the overall design though, the Palm Beach 50 Fly is arguably even better looking than the standard model, especially if you do away with the optional hardtop.
It could do with a handrail on the trailing edge of the flybridge to help guide you up the steps, though. As it stands the journey up and down feels a little treacherous, especially if you’re carrying things.
The 48 square foot (4.46 square metre) cockpit is a glorious space and, with the aft galley and flip-up aft window, becomes the focal point of the boat when on anchor.
There isn’t a table out here so we have to carry the saloon table outside, which is challenging because of the narrow aft door, but once set up it works a treat.
The Ultra Leather upholstery, in burnt orange on our particular boat, looks sensational and is wonderfully comfortable and the huge L-shaped seating unit has long bases and tall backrests so is just as comfortable to lie across as it is to sit on.
The pop-out sun bed is a particularly neat feature, whereby the two seat bases closest to the wheelhouse pull out on legs to double in width and create a sunpad without the need to wrestle with any cushions or pull anything out of storage.
Inside, sumptuous upholstery and lashings of teak emit a Hamptons lodge vibe and though it’s hardly the last word in contemporary décor the interior of the Palm Beach 50 is ever so cosy and welcoming. Even in the sticky heat of Florida it’s inviting and finished with practical thought and no small amount of care.
There is a galley down or galley up layout but the former robs you of a second cabin and results in even more seating in a saloon that isn’t exactly short on places to take the weight off.
The raised navigator bench is an option and though it adds £10,000 to the price it’s worth having to provide guests with a great spot to sit and enjoy the ride when the boat is on the move.
The accommodation feels as though it has been set up with a couple and their occasional guests in mind. The master ensuite forward has just two slender portholes and an overhead hatch so lacks natural light but it’s beautifully finished and has an ensuite bathroom trimmed in teak that is properly luxurious.
The second cabin is a snug with convertible berths, so not a space that adult guests will relish spending too much time in, but as a den and sleeping cabin for young kids it’s well suited. A small heads opposite gives guests their own loo and sink and means that the owner’s ensuite doesn’t have to be used by others in the day.
Price as reviewed:
£1,890,000 inc. VAT
Hank drops me off at a nearby fuel quay and as I wait for another Uber to take me into Downtown Miami there is time to reflect on what Palm Beach has achieved with the 50 Fly. There are obvious compromises with a boat of this style but in the current market where volume, living space and the number of cabins is king, the Palm Beach approach where dynamics come first ought to be applauded. This is a boat with squeaky-clean dynamics, one that runs with a confidence and refinement that only comes with hours and hours of painstaking hull development and the attitude that nothing can compromise its ability to perform at sea. It just happens to be drop dead gorgeous while doing so. The boat I had on test didn’t have a name but given its rarity amongst the current crop of flybridge rivals I’d be tempted to call it Unicorn.
Starting price : £1,610,000 (inc. VAT)
LOA: 54ft 0in (16.4m)
Beam: 14ft 8in (4.49m)
Draught: 2ft 10in (0.86m)
Displacement (light) : 13.3 tonnes (23,322lbs)
Test engines : Twin 435hp Volvo Penta IPS600
Top speed on test : 29 knots
Cruising range at 20 knots : 327nm
Fuel consumption at 20 knots : 83.3lph
Noise at 20 knots : 83.3lph
Fuel capacity : 1,700 litres (374 gal)
Water capacity : 650 litres (143 gal)
RCD category : A for 8 people
Design: Mark Richards / Palm Beach Motor Yachts