Tony Fleming, the founder and driving force behind Fleming Yachts, closes his personal memoir, Riding the Tide, with a clarion call: “Aim high, stay focused, and never give up!”
If the boats he builds are any indication, Fleming lives by this mantra. Rarely is greatness accomplished in a single quantum jump. An ascent to excellence almost always involves numerous small steps. And that principle could not be writ more clearly than in the latest version of the Fleming 78.
The first Fleming 78, introduced in 2010, was a natural evolution of the company’s 75, which had, at that point, been the flagship of the Fleming line for a decade. This new 78 incorporated a longer waterline to improve running efficiency at cruise and passagemaking speeds. A boost to 90 metric tons full-load displacement assured internal volume and load-carrying capacity commensurate with her projected globe-girdling capabilities.
According to Fleming design engineers at the time, the longer waterline and new bulbous bow form improved propulsion efficiency by 13 percent at 8 knots, 10 percent at 9 knots and 7 percent at 10 knots over the shorter Fleming 75 with the same 1,000 horsepower per side.
However, the top speed of the original Fleming 78 was actually lower than the similarly powered 75. If length itself were a predominating factor in increasing speed, the 78’s additional three feet on the waterline would have yielded a 1.75 knot increase at maximum pure displacement speed. But it didn’t. An early Fleming 78 with 1,000-horsepower engines was reported in the popular press to achieve 16.1 knots WOT at full-load displacement, while a 75 with equivalent power was said to top out at 17.0 knots under similar circumstances.
By 2012, however, the 78 had seen an upgrade in propulsion and was being powered by twin MAN V12s at 1,550 horsepower each, a more than 50 percent increase over the twin Caterpillar 3412E propulsion engines featured on the 75. The additional length, increased running bottom and major boost in power all combined to bring the 78 solidly into the range of 20-plus knots at WOT. This top speed was nearly 30 percent more than the 17-knot top-end of the 75. (Not that any self-respecting cruising yachtsman would ever want to go that fast—or would ever admit it if they did.)
The Fleming 78’s evolution demonstrates that, all other factors held constant, power is more important than length in achieving significantly higher speeds, particularly for semi-displacement hull forms like Fleming’s. Granted, this is partly because we’re not talking about maximum displacement hull speed but about top speed which, in this case, is significantly higher. Nevertheless, the major contributing factor in the 78’s increased top speed was the whopping 55 percent increase in power, realized when the 1,000-horsepower MAN 8Vs were replaced by the 1,550-horsepower MAN 12V resistance-crushers.
Yes, I know speed ain’t everything. For the record, I’m a motorsailer kind of guy. So, I understand the pleasures of cruising at 6 to 8 knots. But let me tell you, running smoothly, quietly and effortlessly at 23 knots, as I did recently during a test of the latest 2018 Fleming 78 (which boasted 1,800-horsepower 12V MAN behemoths), is a total hoot.
Contemplate, if you will, the difference between spending four hours running from, say, Port Everglades, Florida, to Freeport, Grand Bahama, versus spending 12 hours doing the same run at “trawler” speeds. The practical difference is enormous, particularly when you’re not sacrificing comfort in order to run fast when you want to.
If the Fleming 78 seems from her specifications and photos—and from my comments here—to potentially shift her persona to meet the varying tastes and requirements of differently oriented sailors, it’s because she can and she does. That does not, however, mean she lacks the unifying vision that defines the Fleming brand. It’s well worth noting that, unlike many yacht builders, Fleming doesn’t seek to be all things to all potential owners.
Innovations and improvements in yacht building are good things. But not all innovations are improvements. Change solely for the sake of garnering attention often generates retrograde results. It’s significant that, after more than 30 years, the Fleming line includes only four models: the 55, 58, 65 and 78. All have similarly low profiles (relative to contemporary norms). And all have a similar hull form that’s remained relatively constant throughout the history of the company (except for the occasional flirtation with the addition of a bow bulb).
A prominent naval architect once explained to me that water is pretty stupid; you can’t teach it to do anything new or different. His point was that good hull forms remain just as good as they were a decade or two or more ago. No doubt this is why you see Fleming using the same forms today that they did 10 or even 20 years ago. And this constancy is why you can today clearly recognize a Fleming, notwithstanding the countless changes and improvements that have been made to the company’s yachts over the years.
Does tight focus on a definitive theme make Flemings stodgy or uninspired? Not in the least—again evidence the new 78. Truly a neat yacht, the 2018 version is replete with all manner of interesting and up-to-date features, such as a thrust-transmitting Aquadrive propeller shafting system and “soft” engine mounting. These features provide maximum attenuation of noise and vibration transfer between her propulsion engines and her shell structure.
Another major upgrade to the 78 came around 2016 when Fleming introduced what it calls the “classic flybridge” model. Moving the flybridge from atop the pilothouse to a position somewhat lower and immediately abaft the pilothouse was not simply an aesthetic improvement but one that significantly increased her stability, and hence her seakeeping qualities. This innovation continues to be a major anchor point of the Fleming line.
Looking closely at the 78, the new flagship of the Fleming line, it seems to me that Tony Fleming’s exhortation to “never give up” is about more than just business success. It’s about never compromising on the product. Not in terms of design or construction quality. Not in terms of its seaworthiness or functional ability. And certainly not in terms of value delivered.
It’s also about holding fast to a tradition, which is another way of saying looking back in pursuit of the future.