Sea Ray 500 SundancerBy Andy Adams

How do you spell fifty feet of flying fun? “500 Sundancer”.

Sea Ray, founded in Michigan in 1959, led the way in fiberglass boat building. In the late 1960s, they introduced a new line of deep-vee hull designs with distinctive Sea Ray crest on a side crease and with a swept back bow profile. That translated to lines that made Sea Rays distinctive and downright pretty.

Quite a few of these early boats are still around today and that Sea Ray styling has endured very well – and has been widely imitated. And since then the basic design has evolved nicely.

Brunswick Corporation bought Sea Ray in 1986. They already owned Mercury and MerCruiser and several other strong boat brands. Today the Sea Ray line includes boats from 17 to 68 feet and every model still epitomizes the style that Sea Ray pioneered.

Given all that experience, is it any surprise the 500 Sundancer is such a great boat?

Below deck the Sundance features a master stateroom in the vee with a shaped queen berth, private head with VacuFlush MSD, sink in vanity and enclosed shower stall. With ceramic tile in the head, hanging locker, loads of side storage, two large drawers under the berth this boat makes for comfortable lodgings. To top it off, our test boat also included a flat screen TV to ensure the captain’s comfort and evening entertainment. In fact, Sea Ray even offers a satellite TV system to go with it.

Sea Ray 500 Sundancer - RunningA boat this big allows room for a proper mid-cabin as opposed to the often cramped aft cabins of smaller express cruisers. In the 500 Sundancer, the mid-cabin boasts a double width lower berth and a single upper berth. Both practical and versatile.

An overhead hatch combined with side portholes delivers important ventilation although this boat also offers reverse cycle heating and air conditioning to keep this smallish cabin fresh.

A cedar lined hanging locker, TV for the lower berth and side storage make this a useful cabin for kids or guests. It has access to the second head with another separate shower stall (the doors can collide if you’re not careful. This is a cabin anyone could live with for a week or more.

Making good use of the 15’3” beam, Sea Ray located the galley to starboard of the mid-cabin. Handsome real wood cabinetry and a composite counter top dress it up. There’s a good size stainless steel sink, coffee-maker, microwave, 2-burner stove top and generous storage.

The salon occupies the full width of the cabin. It features a pair of settees in the aft starboard corner. One side pulls out as a queen berth for guests and there’s a hi/lo table for dining. The table is too small for more than two place settings. Sea Ray seems to expect you to eat at the larger table in the cockpit. Then again, most cruising couples probably won’t object.

You access the cabin from the cockpit by descending four floating stairs trimmed in teak and holly. Under the stairs, enclosed in the bulkhead is a Splendide 2000S combination washer dryer. Great feature!

Sea Ray 500 Sundancer - HelmSpeaking of great features, our test Sundancer included central vac and a great entertainment centre with 30” flat screen TV, DVD, CD audio system, speakers concealed all around the boat and a sub-woofer as well. You may never leave the cabin.

But don’t forget you’re still talking express cruisers – more about exterior features and performance than interior features. If the cabin is really important to you, you might consider Sea Ray’s 500 Sedan Bridge version instead.

Normal dockside access is across the swim platform and through the transom door. Sea Ray delivers nicely when it comes to those details and engineering. Also locate aft was the optional TNT lift for your PWC or dinghy.

You won’t be at all disappointed by the swim area. Features include a fender bin, boarding ladder, fresh water wash-down and handheld shower. Lights make nighttime use a pleasure – in fact, the hardtop offers 6 ceiling mounted spot lights as well. Guess where the party will be!

The cockpit boasts generous wrap-around seating with storage underneath. The hi/lo table seems designed as the primary dining spot, and it’s equipped with removable drink holders.

Skyline Marine, the dealer, orders their Sea Rays with rod holders too! That means you can check out the amenities of the dining area with a menu featuring the catch of the day.

The port side refreshment centre has a sink, Isotherm fridge, U-Line ice-maker, trash locker and 110V power outlets. We especially liked the excellent sea rails to keep everything on the counter in rough water.

Sea Ray 500 Sundancer - CockpitThe double companion seat is another neat feature. You can face it aft during the party then forward while running. The helm seat is heavily upholstered with a swing-up bolster for standing operation.

The control panels on the latest big boats have become greatly simplified. Seven rows of lit switches are on the side and out of the way. Ahead of the captain are two tachs and two multi-function gauges. Almost everything else is run through the two large colour display screens.

The Sea Ray Navigator is a GPS / Chart plotter that works with Raymarine Radar and autopilot. You get water temperature, depth, speed, course and far more. It’s a Windows-based system and easy to use. You can literally run to port through thick fog. (Don’t take that as an invitation though!).

Our 500 Sundancer featured twin QSMII 670 Cummins MerCruiser 6 cylinder 4-stroke after cooled diesel engines producing 640 prop shaft horsepower each, turning cupped 4-blade Nibral props. The ZF transmissions and the engine management systems are drive-by wire. You get exact engine synchronization and ease of operation. They spool up and get on the boost fast.

We saw the 500 Sundancer run from a standing start to 35 mph in 23 seconds. No problem getting those wake boarders out of the water!

In the relatively calm conditions during testing, the boat offered a solid, smooth and serene ride. But she’s incredibly responsive too. You can haul the wheel over and the Sea Ray gives you a very tight and fairly flat turn considering its 38,500 lb weight.

Sea Ray 500 Sundancer - GalleyThis boat can go just about anywhere you’d reasonably want to go -- in comfort.

The cockpit is down a step from the helm and so passengers will want to sit in the companion seats to see the view forward. The captain though, even seated, gets a good vantage ahead over a deck that seems to slope away and down out of sight. Even planing off, the view is not obstructed.

The best cruising speed seemed to be 2,000 rpm at about 28 mph but some may find that fast. The Cummins controls allow you to pre-set three choices of cruising speeds and you can accelerate or slow just like the cruise control in your car.

This is a great boat to drive fast. Choose your destination and get there quickly and in a whole lot of comfort.

It may not be the cheapest boat on the water but if you have to ask the price.

Originally published in Canadian Yachting’s February 2005 issue.

Specifications
Location of test, body of water: Whitby, Lake Ontario
Boat make, Model and Year: 2005 Sea Ray 500 Sundancer
Engine (s): Twin QSMII 11 – 670 Cummins MerCruiser Diesel V-Drives, 640 hp propshaft, 6 cylinder, 4-stroke, aftercooled. Displacement 10.8 liters
Propeller (s): 4-blade cupped Nibral

Specs:
Length OA, 54’9” (16.26 m)
Length, 53’4” (16.69m)
Beam, 15’3” (4.65m)
Weight, 38,500 lbs (17,463 kg)
Deadrise in degrees 19 degrees
Fuel US Gallons 560 2,119.6 L,
Water US Gallons 150 567.8 L,
Holding US Gallons 68 247.4 L

Speeds
RPM speed GPS
600 7.2 mph
750 8.7
1000 10.7
1250 13.3
1500 17.5
1750 23.8
2000 28
2250 34
2350 35.8 Top Speed

Test boat provided by: Skyline Marina, 77 Eagleview Heights, BOX 509, Hwy 400, Maple, Ontario, L6A 1S3 905-832-8333
Price as tested quoted by: $1,325,000 (2005 Price)
Base price if different: $1,200,000 (2005 Price)
Speed testing by: Garmin GPS


PHOTO CAPTIONS
Photo 1 - How do you spell fifty feet of flying fun? “500 Sundancer”.
Photo 2 - Here we are running 2,000 rpm at 28 mph.

Photo 3 - The view is clear forward and look how simple the helm is now; two screens and four gauges! The bow thruster control is there as well as the sniffer. The wheel tilts and there are accessory plugs by the vent for the optional cockpit heat and A/C system. Notice the bow rail lifeline in the distance. On nice days, open the windshield vent. No suffering here!
Photo 4 - The cockpit has generous seating under the hardtop and by the transom. The hi/lo table has a removable drink holder and can be relocated as needed. The companion seat (foreground) turns to face aft for party time. The refreshment centre is just visible on the right and has ‘fridge, ice-maker, sink and more.
Photo 5 - In addition to the drawers and trash locker, there is plenty of overhead storage plus a separate refridge’ and freezer behind decorative doors; very handsome but suspect the double doors are not more stylish than convenient.

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