Alex Smith investigates the new flagship of Flipper’s Sport Top range.
Bella have been building small leisure boats from their Finnish homeland for nearly 50 years, and today they remain as busy as ever. With five domestic production plants generating a mixed fleet of cruiser, hardtop, day cabin and open craft under a trio of big-hitting international badges (Bella, Aquador and Flipper), you can see why they now claim to be ‘the Nordic countries’ leading manufacturer of fibreglass motor boats’.
But while I would once have said that Flipper’s hardtop boats were far and away their most effective designs, the last five years have seen a pronounced refocusing of the company’s brand parameters. The fun and affordable HT models have moved across to the accessible but largely unglamorous Bella stable, where (happily) they are still available as 5.6- and 6.2-metre models. Meanwhile, the Flipper fleet has undergone a concerted campaign of elevation, with a very compact and targeted fleet designed to differentiate itself from the mother company’s more elementary offerings. It now comprises just ten boats in five hull lengths across three simple product lines – the classic four-strong Day Cruiser line; the open, deck-intensive Sport Console range; and the new and continually evolving Sport Top line. All feel considerably more exclusive than the Flippers of old, but in the shape of the flagship 880 ST we have arguably the most ambitious and progressive model yet.
The All-Weather Deck Space
The key cockpit feature on this beamy family boat is plainly that enormous retractable roof. It’s good to see that the designers have gone with a manually operated mechanism here, as that buys you not just greater reliability, but also reduced weight and cost. Better still, the absence of complication also enables the use of quite low-profile fibreglass mouldings at the sides and back of the roof structure – and no edging at all at the screen rim. When you open it up, therefore, what you have to all intents and purposes is a true open boat – and whether you’re lifting onto the plane, cruising on the straight, sitting at anchor or heeling over in a hard turn, the absence of obstruction either forward or above means truly superb visibility for the man at the wheel.
This happy trait is equally discernible further aft, where elevation of the port dinette generates space for a built-in fridge and extra storage drawers, plus a great view through those impressively panoramic, one-piece side windows. In fact, even with the big roof closed and the aft canvas erected (putting everything under cover except the swim platform, external walkways and foredeck), this cockpit space remains very bright. With large clear panels in the canvas to supplement the pale woods, the bright fabrics, the cleanly angled lines and the stanchion-free windows, it feels almost as pleasant, open and attractive when the rain pours as it does when the sun shines.
Towards the back end, alongside the extendable sun pad, which projects out over the engine well, the compact starboard galley also makes the most of the space. A neatly conceived lid slides aft on a horizontal bar to create an extra work surface – and while it does then obstruct those trying to use the aft walkway, it’s still a feature worth having.
A Tale of Two Berths
When you step below, you find yourself in a curious lobby space with a bench and a cupboard on your right-hand side. To your left, the heads door leads into a bright little room with a sit-down shower above the loo, plus a sink with storage. Ahead lies the door to the main cabin in the V of the bow, where a double bed converts to a pair of singles by means of a central infill. Again, there is an impressive acreage of glass in here, with two square hatches above, a further two raked sections further aft and a couple of very long, panoramic window sections beneath the rubbing strake on either side. Given the space constraints, the inclusion of that isolated ‘entrance hall’ seems quite wasteful, but it does generate a greater degree of privacy when you visit the heads, and it also means you can chuck stuff down below from the helm without cluttering up the living spaces.
However, if the merits of the lobby are a matter for debate, the second berth leaves no doubt at all. While convention might lead you to expect a tight transverse slot beneath the forward part of the cockpit sole, the 880 radically improves upon that tired concept with a separate cabin tucked beneath that big aft sun pad – and it brings with it a number of natural benefits …
For a start, its position way out on a limb next to the engine well means this super-private space is separated from the master double by three doors and the length of a cockpit. It also means you get much more natural light than you would in a cabin crowbarred beneath the deck – and you also get proper views of the seascape instead of cramped vistas of a subterranean bulkhead. The best part, however, is that with that roof in place, you have direct access to your own undercover lounge and galley, as well as to the pontoon – and all without having to disturb the rest of the boat’s occupants. For a keen cruise boating family, it’s a superbly resolved solution.
Slick but Sedate
Up at the helm, the driver’s environment is very sound indeed. Even with the roof retracted, the bolstered, semi-standing position gives you plenty of protection, allied to great visibility and an attractively imperious degree of elevation. The tilting wheel, trim tabs and twin wipers are all provided as standard, and the fridge just down to the left of the driver also adds to the comfort quotient. The trim dial is awkwardly positioned for those who like to keep an eye on the water, but in all other respects the helm is a remarkably versatile place to be. If you want the authentic wind-in-the-face experience, you can stand up, and if you want to cocoon yourself away, you can simply close the roof, erect the aft canopy and take a seat.
However, this boat is rigged with the entry-level engine option and it shows. With twin Mercury 150s on the transom, the most efficient, refined and relaxing cruise is to be found between 20 and 27 knots, where the range pushes toward 190nm and there is still a fair dose of throttle response left. But while the bottom-end acceleration is decent, anything between 28 knots and the 38-knot top end leaves the 880 feeling a bit heavy and sluggish – so for a life of varied aquatic pursuits, it is well worth inspecting the options list …
With single rigs unavailable on this purpose-built hull, I would consider at least a pair of Verado 200s, pushing the price up to around £120,000 – or maybe even a pair of Optimax 250s. Either way, that would lift the top end well beyond 40 knots, and, more crucially, it would also generate much more urgent pickup, making this a far better boat for water sports, for picking your way through a seascape or for simple helming fun. Given how much this boat offers in other ways, it would seem like false economy to penny-pinch here.
The underlying aim of designer Espen Thorup with all of Flipper’s new designs has been to generate practical, high-performing and safe boats that also happen to look fresh and feel good. In that respect, this boat is right on the money. But for me, the 880 ST is also a very impressive demonstration of how much can be achieved with an outboard rig on a family cruiser. After all, this 28-footer comes not just with a hard top and an aft cabin, but with seating for ten, sleeping for five and the capacity to cater for al fresco fun as well as closed-cockpit convenience – and it offers all of this in a package that looks tidy, drives well and is relatively affordable to buy. However you look at it, that makes the flagship Flipper a remarkably cohesive solution to the complex demands of the family cruiser.
- Large retractable roof section
- Sleeping for five
- Ingenious aft cabin
- Exceptional light ingress throughout
- Clean and modern internal design
- Good value for money
- Tight forward headroom
- ‘Lobby’ space could be better used
- A bit sluggish with twin 150s
- Poorly positioned trim dial
Notable Standard Features
- Five 12V DC outputs
- Electric and manual bilge pumps
- Cockpit and sunbed cushions
- Double batteries
- Integrated fender basket
- Fixed 380-litre fuel tank
- Electric toilet and 47-litre holding tank
- Galley with Wallas stove, sink and tap
- Pressurised 100-litre water system
- Integrated 49-litre cockpit fridge
- Hydraulic steering
- Sport top roof
- Cockpit table
- Teak laminate decking
- Tilt steering wheel
- Twin windscreen wipers
- Trim tabs
- Heads with sink, tap and loo
- Teak decking
- Bow anchor winch
- Transom anchor winch
- Bow thruster
- Stereo with four loudspeakers
- Extra battery
- Diesel heater (4kW)
- Hot-water system (16-litre)
- Shore power (25Ah, four sockets)
- Shower in heads
- Shower on swim platform
Fuel: 380 litres
Water: 100 litres
Max. people: 10
Power: 300–600 hp
Engines: 2 x Mercury F150
Base package price (with twin 150s): £114,000