Fi-Glass 540 Cavalier

By: Norman Holtzhausen, Photography by: Norman Holtzhausen


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Fi-Glass has long understood that the key to repeat business is perceived value, and the 540 Cavalier would appear to be just another example of getting much more than you’ve paid for.

Fi-Glass 540 Cavalier
A Cavalier Approach

Founded in the 1950s, Fi-Glass remains family owned, with Griff Simpson - son of founder and design visionary Frank Simpson - now at the helm. The company has produced over 11,000 boats and it is a tribute to the quality of their workmanship that a large proportion of those early hulls are still on the water.

Apart from the sheer volume of boats produced, Fi-Glass was also the pioneer of many innovations we now take for granted: features like fully moulded cabin tops and closed-cell foam pumped into the underfloor cavities were adopted by the company at a very early stage.

Although the company has several very popular models in the 5.3m size range, the current market calls for something with just a little more length and especially a bit more beam. So Fi-Glass took the best features of its ever-popular 580 Lightning, and slightly downscaled it to make the 540 Cavalier.

From stem to stern

The boat certainly looks impressive, and at first glance seems bigger than its rated length. The review boat had the optional Bimini top fitted, which features a really useful zip-out middle section for times when increased visibility is needed. What really stood out with this boat was the standard of finish: it looks and feels like a luxury vessel, despite many of its features having purely utilitarian origins.

The laminated hull comes with a six-year structural warranty and is of course CPC-rated. The transom is Klegecell foam cored, so there is no wood anywhere to cause worries about future rot. All underfloor buoyancy chambers are foam filled, so even if the hull is seriously damaged the boat would still remain afloat.

The forward cabin of this boat is equally impressive, with good length luxury squabs. Although not intended as a serious overnighter, these could provide a comfortable night's sleep for two people, and the clever privacy screen closes off the cabin from the elements. The cabin interior is fully carpeted, and a very generous padded parcel shelf is larger than most.

The forward hatch provides easy access to the anchor locker, which is hidden under a large bow hatch that cleverly covers the anchor bollard and part of the fairlead, leaving clean, obstruction-free lines for all to appreciate.

Back in the main cabin, the luxury feel continues. The helm position is a pedestal-mounted, fully-upholstered seat, with a similarly upholstered king-and-queen arrangement on the port side. The passenger seats lift up to reveal storage space underneath, and there are moulded footrests for both forward-facing seats.

The helm station itself is smartly laid out, with a carbon-fibre-look finish trim. The review boat had a Garmin GPS map 551s chartplotter/sounder fitted, although there is sufficient space to fit a larger unit if preferred. Steering is hydraulic with proportional torque feedback, a feature that allows the skipper to feel when the engine is correctly trimmed while retaining feather-light steering.

The cockpit floor is covered with marine carpet, which clips out for cleaning. A sizeable underfloor wet storage locker holds gear or the catch, while the side pockets, running the whole length of the cockpit, are carpet-lined and also have racks fitted for safely holding fishing rods, gaff or boat hook.

Padded seats are fitted to each side of the transom, bringing the total seating capacity of the boat to five. A clip-on padded cover hides the space under the transom where the batteries and 25-litre tote tanks are stored. A 90-litre underfloor fuel tank (huge for a vessel in this class) is also available as an option.

Versatility

Only two rod holders are installed - one on each gunwale at the stern - indicating this boat, while not really being intended as a hard-core fishing machine, is up to taking a few fresh fillets over the side. Two Talon receivers are fitted into the transom, enabling a variety of accessories, such as drink holders or additional rod holders, to be fitted. The cleats in each gunwale are recessed, making the gunwale a comfortable place to sit while fishing.

Fi-Glass has long understood that a versatile boat needs to appeal to the whole family, and for this reason, this Cavalier had a ski pole fitted. A clever catch enables a bait board to be clamped around the pole and is just one example of the innovative ways the designers have made the most of the limited space.

There is no step-through onto the boarding platform, but either side seat can be used to step up and over. A boarding ladder is fitted to the starboard side, and the boarding area has a non-slip pattern moulded into it. The area is not huge, but given the modest size of this boat it is more than adequate.

Recommended horsepower for the hull is between 90 and 115hp, and the review boat had a 90hp Mercury two-stroke fitted. Gary Hatton from Auckland Marine Centre says that despite the hype about four-strokes they still sell 60 percent of their boats with a two-stroke power plant. The difference in price for this size motor between two and four stroke is around $5500. Based on typical recreational use, it could take more than five years of operation before the higher fuel usage outweighs the lower initial cost. Of course, these carbureted two-strokes don't have the low emissions ratings of four-strokes, so that is something else to consider.

On the water

It was a fine spring day when we slipped the Fi-Glass off its single-axle trailer at Auckland's Westhaven marina (Fi-Glass make their own trailers, ensuring the trailer perfectly matches the boat). And as we fired up the Mercury and soon glided out, heading under the harbour bridge, conditions were very good, with only a slight chop and almost no swell. Heading out into the wind we got absolutely no spray on the windscreen, unlike the photo boat that took occasional splashes over the bow.

The Mercury two-stroke was not overly noisy, although it certainly made more noise than a four-stroke would have. The other boat on the water was an aluminum boat, and it was remarkable to compare the quietness of a foam-filled fibreglass hull with an unlined alloy boat. As is normal for a carbureted two-stroke, there was a small amount of smoke, especially when idling, but this disappeared when we got going.

Once at the photo spot, we threw the boat around a bit. The three planing strakes on each side meant the boat got up out of the hole quickly, and the 90hp motor had power to spare. We didn't measure top speed but we certainly got well over 30 knots with two adults on-board and with revs to play with. There seems little reason to go for a larger motor, although if you put the ski pole to its intended use, you may want that extra power.

Sharp turns were smooth and comfortable, with the chines coming into play and 'biting' the water as the boat heels over - there is almost no side-slip. Those same chines kept the spray low and away from the boat, and not a single drop of saltwater landed on the curved acrylic windscreen.

We did not have many waves to play in, but a passing ferry enabled us to get briefly airborne. The hull carved smoothly through the wake, thanks to the 22-degree variable deadrise. That same feature accounted for the landing being something of a non-event, remarkable for a hull with so many planing strakes.

Stability at rest is not bad for a boat with a 2.2m beam. At one point, we transferred from one boat to the other and had three adults on the same side of the Cavalier. The degree of lean was entirely within comfortable limits, and this is not a boat that is going to give you an unpleasant surprise.

The verdict

Overall, the Cavalier 540 is a very impressive boat package, punching well above its weight. The standard of finish is excellent; the boat looks extremely smart and roomy, almost too smart to take fishing, although the removable carpets making cleaning an easy task. On the other hand, it is impressive enough to take your boss or a client out for ride - not to mention the "significant other"!

For more information contact Gary Hatton at Auckland Marine Centre, ph 09 579 7981 or visit www.fi-glass-com .

Specifications Fi-Glass 540 Cavalier LOA 5.4m Beam 2.2m Deadrise 22 o (variable) Recommended horsepower 90-130hp Trailerable weight (less motor) 820kg (approx) People 5 Price as tested $42,990

Rating Fi-Glass 540 Cavalier Fishability 3.5 Ride quality 4.0 Versatility 3.5 Stability 3.5 Value for money 4.0 Finish 4.5 X-factor 4.0

Plus Upmarket finish Smooth ride

Minus Carbureted two-stroke smoke Lack of rod holders

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