Etap 32s: Three Claims on Innovation
The Etap 32s is a boat that asks you to choose—between unsinkability on the one hand, and the space of all that foam on the other.
"Unsinkability has never been real high on my list," said Boat of the Year judge Skip Moyer. "But, then again, to people who sink, its a big deal. A life raft is $4,000, and Id sure as hell rather spend four hours, three days, or a week in that baby with three feet of water in the bilge than I would sitting in a life raft."
|On the strengths of its vertical tiller, its tandem keel, and, yes, its unsinkablity, the Etap 32s took the award for most innovative boat in CW's 2003 Boat of the Year contest.
The Etap 32s, like all the boats from this Belgian yard, is built as a hull within a hull, each one of fiberglass in polyester resin laid up by hand. Closed-cell polyurethane foam is injected into the intervening space, providing, in addition to buoyancy, insulation against condensation. The Etaps stability when flooded, even under sail, is certified by the French merchant marine; the European Union gives it a Category A rating for all oceans. Of the structure, BOTY judge Ralph Naranjo said, "Under way, she was quiet: no rig noises, twisting or flexing."
Putting aside the buoyancy question, this boat brings together several great ideas.
Two of them put the space of the cockpit to clever use. The unique helm, called EVS for "Etap Vertical Steering," is a tiller that moves athwartships in a vertical plane. The vertical post is attached by Delrin rack-and-pinion gears to the rudderstock. If youre accustomed to steering with a conventional tiller, the motion of this one runs counter to everything youve ever learned: Push the bar left, and the boat steers left. But as each of our judges learned, any confusion ends quickly. "I really enjoyed steering that boat," said BOTY judge Carol Hasse. "Its quite responsive, and the helm felt balanced." An advantage of the system is that the tillers arc is confined to about 12 inches at the aft end of the cockpit, which feels surprisingly spacious yet still narrow enough that even short legs comfortably reach the leeward cockpit settees when the boats heeled.
The mainsheet traveler is mounted across the cockpit just forward of the helm; here, too, the builder offers an innovation. When the boats at rest, the end-boom, 5-to-1 mainsheet can be quickly detached from the traveler and fixed at the rail, and the quick-release traveler can be removed from the cockpit settees. This way, the cockpit is completely uncluttered from sailhandling controls.
A third item convinced CWs BOTY judges to give this boat its innovation award; that was Etaps use of the tandem keel. Akin to a Collins keel, its composed of two vertical foils joined by a bulb at their base. An open slot separates the foils. The result is a shoal draft of 4 feet 3 inches and surprising lift.
Some things about the systems installations drew skeptical comments from the judges. "The electrical panel worries me," said Skip Moyer. "It had most of the circuits hot-wired; theres no master switch on the panel. If youve got a fire in a wire somewhere, I dont know whether youre going to have the presence of mind to figure out that its in the refrigeration unit, then go and turn the thermostat down. Also, there are long, unfused sections of wire, and the batteries arent fused."
Under power, the Etap was among the quietest third of the boats in this years fleet. With the Volvo sail drive at 2,600 rpm pushing us along at 8 knots, noise in the cabin ranged from 74 to 78 decibels.
Ralph summed up his impressions: "I like the way she sailed and the structural integrity. All around, a lot of thought went into this boat."
CW executive editor Tim Murphy directs the magazines Boat of the Year program.