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The Aluminium Cigale 16 Blends Good Looks and Performance

The latest, greatest creation from the craftsmen at France's Alubat Shipyard – specialists in aluminium cruisers – the 54-foot Cigale 16 is an appealing blend of looks, utility and performance.

Cigale -16
Metal Magic Jon Whittle

If sailors are individualists—and I firmly believe that we are—then there’s a subset of our community comprised of even ­stauncher iconoclasts, those who love and voyage upon metal boats. In this matter, having sailed some 28,000 nautical miles aboard a heavy steel vessel, including a transit of the Northwest Passage and a spin around Cape Horn, I consider myself part of that hearty tribe. That boat, called Ocean Watch, was a home-built, 64-foot Bruce Roberts design that I grew to love, but in a specific context: She was rough, rugged and built for service, not looks, and I came to view her as a workboat, not a “yacht” in the grand sense of the term. (Though I do find deep ­beauty in no-nonsense utility, ­particularly OW’s.)

Which brings us to the subject of the Cigale 16, from the French builders at Alubat, a popular, longtime leader in the category, now in its fifth decade. (Jimmy Cornell’s Alubat Ovni, Aventura, is one of the boatyard’s best-known examples.) Yes, the Cigale 16 is ­aluminum (alloy 5083) and shares the characteristics of her metallic sisterships (regular preventive maintenance is key). But she is also a smart and capable vessel with a high level of craftsmanship and really solid sailing performance. Unlike my fond Ocean Watch, the Cigale is a versatile, long-range yacht—in the best sense of the term. 

Generally, when ­reviewing boats, I like to start with my take on the aesthetics, profile, and deck layout: you know, the topsides. But with the ­Cigale, such an approach would be, as they say, burying the lede. Because the thing that first knocked me out about the boat was not abovedecks but below, just down the ­companionway.

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During our Boat of the Year inspections this past fall, we were fortunate to have the ­Cigale’s knowledgeable and experienced owner, Brit ­David Hobbs, to show us around. Clearly, one of his favorite ­features was the “aft saloon” directly beneath the cockpit, behind the companionway, home to a massive dining table (beneath which lives the extremely accessible Volvo auxiliary, with saildrive), settees and sea berths (the latter particularly sensational), and a full galley and navigation station flanked just forward of the living area, to either side (handy, no?). I’ve seen this approach before, many times; the ones I’ve been most smitten with were metal boats from French designers and/or builders. But it doesn’t get much better than what naval architect Marc Lombard has pulled off here. Hobbs gestured ­toward the bulkhead door ­leading forward, to the rest of the ­interior, and said, clearly pleased, “On passage, we don’t go up there.” Why would you? It’s bumpier and noisier. (That said, the accommodations and staterooms are first-rate and highly customizable.)

aft saloon
The “aft saloon” below the cockpit is pretty terrific. Jon Whittle

OK, I was kidding about the topsides, where the Cigale pretty much had me at hello as well. A few years back, the Cigale 16 underwent a redesign, with Lombard (well-known for his performance penchant) updating the original hull that was created by the Finot/Conq design team. (About 18 Cigale 16s were the earlier version; our test vessel was Hull No. 4 of Lombard’s take.) Hard chines, of course, are still part of the package, but the forward sections have been reworked to introduce better form stability. Coupled with the fact that nearly a third of the boat’s 12 tons of displacement sits in the lead ballast bulb at the business end of the welded aluminum keel (­drawing more than 8 feet), I trusted Hobbs when he said, in understatement, “She’s pretty stiff.” (Unlike the Ovni range, which employs swing keels, all the Cigales built to date have fixed keels, though a swing keel is an option.)

Happily, I soon discovered the stiffness part for myself. 

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A few things about the ­Cigale, some of which might be attributed to her French accent: The deck-stepped ­aluminum spar (carbon’s an option) supports a huge square-topped main and utilizes a pair of running backstays—not your usual setup on a ­dedicated cruising boat. There are twin wheels and rudders (a single helm is an option) linked by ­cable steering; the cutter rig ­also has provisions for a code zero set off a retractable sprit. 

Hobbs, whose planned South Pacific cruise has for now been waylaid by the pandemic, nonetheless has put some hard miles on the boat, including a trans-Atlantic shakedown where the boat notched a tidy 18 knots, as well as competing in Antigua ­Sailing Week. He’s a pretty passionate sailor and carries a full complement of off-wind reaching sails, which, on a puffy, up-and-down Chesapeake Bay sea trial, with winds that gusted into the high teens, I was more than happy to help him set and douse. And I was justly rewarded: With a big gennaker drawing, we knocked off beam-reaching speeds in the lower double-­digits, with a helm that was both light and exacting. Just a fantastic sail. 

stateroom
The staterooms are bright and open, with lots of layout options. Jon Whittle

With those running backs and a single line furling setup on the code zero—when that’s hoisted, there are three headsails from which to choose—it’s an athletic boat to run under sail. The efficient, double-ended German-style mainsheet works well; the running rigging is conveniently led ­below deck plates so that lines don’t get tangled underfoot; with flush deck hatches, the sloping foredeck is smooth and unencumbered. A rear arch is situated aft, just over the sugar-scoop transom, and is home to both a nifty davit arrangement and a perch for the ­solar panels and antennas. Interestingly, the owner of our test boat eschewed a ­generator, opting instead for the solar array and a Watt & Sea hydrogenerator to help top off the bank of AGM batteries, ­coupled with the Mastervolt inverter/charging system. 

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The Cigale 16 is ­clearly meant to go places, with ­comfort and swiftness to spare. You don’t even have to join the Metal Boat Society to participate. If far-distant voyaging is the goal, here’s a vessel that will take you there.

Herb McCormick is CW’s ­executive editor.

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