Olympic started building small, affordable fiberglass boats from its base in Greece nearly 30 years ago - and today, its clarity of focus remains uncompromised. The current range consists of 17 models of between four and 5.8 metres in length, designed primarily around Cuddy, Bow Rider and Centre Console layouts. In terms of pricing, they all inhabit that same entry-level bracket as the Bayliner and Fletcher craft that got so many of us involved in boating in the first place - and while Olympic boats don’t necessarily enjoy the same glittering brand profile as these more mainstream boat builders, they do make a very sound bid for the attentions of the modern family boater on a budget.
The point of the 500C
Today, the Olympic fleet is available to the UK boater through Ash Marine. Based in Topsham, the brothers at the heart of the company, Barn and Ash Isard, are well aware of the merits of the Olympic 500C. Like any affordable boat with broad appeal for the boating novice, it has been built as a general-purpose leisure platform, capable of equipping its owner with a gentle (almost introductory) taste of just about every boating activity.
Take the layout. Ahead of the helm, a swollen GRP bow moulding houses a modest cuddy cabin, which serves both as a storage space for your boating gear, or as a place to get your head down. It’s not a fabulous cabin by any means but it will do the job well enough. And happily, there are also generous walkways on either side of the foredeck, so you can gain access to the pulpit and anchor roller without unnecessary impediment.
Further aft, you get a deep-set (and very cosseting) central helm console with a single helm seat, and behind that sits a broad and fairly featureless deck with lots of open space. The hinged bench seat across the aft space is very simple and yet it enables a gathering of people to face the helm seat across the optional aft table. And when the table is put away, this vast, uncluttered acreage of deck could provide the keen fisherman with a useful space to run around chasing his prey.
Already then, what we have here is a boat with a touch of cruiser, a hint of fisher and a splash of communal party platform. Of course, all of these elements are only included to a very moderate and compromised degree, but they are nonetheless there - all on a single platform and all for a price that makes any objection seem rather churlish.
The budgetary dilemmas
Talking of price, the construction of a five-metre centre console cuddy for as little as £15,000 was always likely to incorporate a few areas where corners were cut to make the package affordable - and that rings true here. But before you look at that long bow pulpit and suggest that the hull length is half a metre shorter than the boat name suggests, the length including the pulpit is in fact 5.44 metres, so Olympic could quite reasonably have called this a 544C.
The compromises on the Olympic are far more honest and tangible than that. The beige plastic sides to the helm station, for instance, feel rather low rent, and the topside mouldings also seem to carry rather old-fashioned boating aesthetics, with squared off angles as the sides dip toward the aft deck. And yet, elsewhere, the builders have plainly splashed out a little more money to very good effect. Just take a look at the carpeted cabin with its generous hatch for natural light. Inspect the two-tone gelcoat, the integrated swim platform and the tempered safety glass screen. And if all that fails to impress, then how about a reassuring five-year hull warranty? On a boat with such tight budgetary restraints, these are very impressive assets indeed.
Underway, that broad hull with its shallow 18-degree deadrise and its wide, soft spray rails, does exactly what you would expect. It is quite stable both at rest and underway, and it is also very efficient, with plenty of action from relatively little power. The lift onto the plane, for instance, is very flat and takes only two seconds or so. And while this outwardly impressive phenomenon is obviously more to do with shallow hull angles, light weight and a low planing speed (of just eight knots) than it is to do with raw power, it is no less remarkable for that.
The rest of the helming experience follows this same easy, efficient trend. Whatever pace you pick, from a two-knot crawl to a 32-knot top-end thrash, the 500C remains simple to drive because whatever input you give her at the helm is executed with moderate and reliable obedience. Ramming the throttle and spinning the wheel with a racer’s aggression does not bring the same ferocity of response. Instead, she accelerates, turns and stops with simple, unfussed competence, generating great confidence (if not great excitement) on behalf of the helmsman. Like the cabin, the deck and the communal provisions of the 500, the driver’s experience is not life-changing, but it is indisputably good enough.
This is a boat with a big aft deck, a useable cabin, a good warranty, a broad spread of boating applications and an excellent price. The helm seat is below par and the driving experience is hardly likely to set your world alight. And while there are places where the budgetary constraints are evident, the compromises are by and large very soundly made. In short, with a price a long way below the £20,000 mark, the Olympic represents fantastic value for money.
For more details see Ash Marine or Olympic Boats.