Strolling the docks at the international multihull show in La Grande-Motte, France, last spring, I found myself drawn time and again to the floating walkway in front of the Neel Trimarans stand. Each time, I stopped to stare at the three bow profiles of the French builder’s new 51-foot fast cruiser — three knife blades poised to slice cleanly through the waves, ensuring the big tri would make good on the builder’s design brief that described a 200-plus-miles-a-day vessel.
At a show filled with cruising catamarans sporting flared-out hulls to create living space, load-carrying capacity and buoyancy, the Neel 51 was clearly a beast of a different nature. Its center hull stood plumb in the water, while the bow knuckles on the amas to each side floated just above the surface, ready to go to work in a puff of breeze.
And then I stepped aboard.
As a monohull sailor who gets to hitch the occasional ride on a big cruising cat, I was somewhat used to the space created by a bridgedeck that spans the width of two hulls. But I was staggered by the square footage afforded by three. With 29 feet of beam and a cabin that spans the majority of it, the Neel 51 is a very big boat.
Thanks to engineering stiffness provided by a center hull, designers Joubert-Nivelt-Muratet and the Neel team were able to open up nearly the entire width of the cabin house aft with sliding glass doors that, when open, let the cockpit flow seamlessly into the interior.
Outdoors, the cockpit, covered by a hard bimini, has a pair of couches across the stern, just forward of a swim platform that’s molded into the center hull and two steps down. A single davit mounted just off the centerline is used to lift a RIB onto stainless-steel mounts on both sides of the platform while underway. To starboard, there’s an outside galley with fridge, grill and sink; to port, a teak table seats eight.
Just inside the saloon, there’s a second, similarly sized table that can be raised or lowered, depending on whether meals or cocktails are being served. Large glass windows wrap the entire cabin. Forward to port, an enormous, well-stocked galley awaits the chef with loads of counter space, a built-in stainless-steel oven and grill, two fridges, and an optional freezer and dishwasher. To starboard, a large chart table is designed to be a workspace and indoor helm station.
The remainder of the bridgedeck is dedicated to the owner’s stateroom and en-suite head and shower. Inside, the bed is arranged athwartship, with its foot up against a wall of glass. Oh, what a lovely spot to relax and watch the waves pass by. Forward in the center hull, a guest cabin with a V-berth and day-head is located down a few steps. Then, in both amas, guest cabins include aft double bunks, and head and shower compartments in each bow.
But wait, there’s more. A door in the saloon floor opens up to reveal a full-on engine room, with 7-foot headroom, tons of storage, and access to every pump, pipe, wire and motor used by the Neel’s many systems. Tankage is forward, amidships, and on the centerline; a battery bank is secured down deep; aft, behind a watertight door, is access to the steering mechanism and a 75 hp Volvo engine and saildrive. In other words, it’s truly a techie’s dreamland.
For the sailor, there’s the flydeck. A helm station is located to starboard on a raised platform that puts the bimini and adjacent lounge area at about hip height. The wheel and engine controls are mounted on a pedestal. Just forward on the cabin top sit three winches (two electric), and all sail-control lines converge via a series of blocks and rope clutches. A zippered canvas bimini sits overhead.
So, how does the Neel 51 sail?
Neel Trimarans founder Eric Bruneel reported that on the delivery to the show from the yard in La Rochelle, the 51 racked up a 290-mile, 24-hour run under a triple-reefed main and self-tending staysail. So, she’s quick. The boat is designed to cruise at 10 knots, and in a breeze, the speedo will climb easily into the high teens if the solent rig’s big genoa is rolled out.
But on a demo sail following the show, Bruneel was more intent on showing potential customers how the boat could be tamed down and handled by a husband and wife. With the breeze in the low teens, we tacked upwind with two reefs in the main and the self-tending jib set. Coming about required just a turn of the wheel. In puffs, the boat would heel gently toward the leeward amas, then lock in and ride steady as a rail. Walking forward, I found the motion on deck took some getting used to, and a good set of handrails along the cabin top would be on my to-do list if I were an owner, though the boat sure looks sleek without them.
Later, when I got a turn on the wheel, we rolled up the staysail and unfurled the genoa. When I glanced at the instruments, I saw steady speeds in the 8- to 9-knot range and an occasional jump to 10 knots. Once, the speedo brushed 14 in a short-lived gust. The wheel, for the record, was smooth as silk.
Neel also builds a 45-foot and 65-foot trimaran. The former is performance-oriented, the latter more geared to luxury cruising. The 51 is a blend of both.
The boat’s three hulls are vacuum-infused in a single mold using vinylester and polyester resin and PVC foam. The center hull has laminate ring frames for stiffness, and floors and bulkheads are also foam-cored and vacuum-molded. Underway, with the engine running, sound levels inside were whisper-quiet.
The boat we sailed had an optional carbon-fiber mast, which keeps down the weight aloft and dampens any pitching motion. Standing rigging and lifelines were Dyneema and Spectra.
Inside and out, the fit and finish of the Neel 51 were modern and sleek-looking. And the sailing, well, it was simply otherworldly the way the big tri skipped over the waves. I could have done it all day.
|LOA||51'0" (15.54 m)|
|LWL||51'0" (15.54 m)|
|Beam||29'2" (8.89 m)|
|Draft||4'9" (1.45 m)|
|Sail Area||1,799 sq. ft. (167.1 sq m)|
|Displacement||30,865 lb. (14,000 kg)|
|Water||160 gal. (606 l)|
|Fuel||160 gal. (606 l)|
|Mast Height||76'5" (23.29 m)|
|Engine||75 hp Volvo, saildrive|
|Designer||Joubert-Nivelt-Muratet/Neel design team|
+33 5 46 29 08 71
Mark Pillsbury is CW’s editor.