When boatbuilders wish to make a statement with a particular model or brand, they often commission designs from some of the hottest naval architects on the racing scene. This is hardly a new practice, and it's the reason why famous designers such as Bruce Farr, Germán Frers, and Philippe Briand-all of whom, among many others, launched their careers with highly successful custom raceboats-have gone on to become familiar names in the realm of production boatbuilding.
The latest builder to employ that strategy is the Italian concern of Cantiere del Pardo, best known in this country for its imported line of performance-oriented Grand Soleil yachts. For its new 43-footer, the company called upon the young, talented, Spanish-based design office of Marcelino Botin and Shaun Carkeek. No, they're not yet household names, but at the moment, Botin Carkeek Yacht Design is red hot, having recently designed the boat aboard which Team New Zealand successfully challenged in the last America's Cup contest as well the Volvo 70 il mostro, the weapon of choice for U.S. sailor Ken Read's Puma campaign in the recent round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race.
It's not surprising, then, that the new Grand Soleil 43 is a boat that looks quick and eager just resting on its lines. With its lofty triple-spreader fractional Sparcraft rig, blunt bow and long waterline (the clear objective of which is to maximize the boat's speed/length ratio), and a low, clean, expansive coach roof, the boat was obviously conceived and laid out to be an effective racing machine for both inshore and offshore waters. The big surprise comes when you step down below and into a warm, well-crafted, highly stylized accommodation plan that's anything but a stripped-out raceboat.
We'll begin there, with a nod to interior designer Patrick Roséo, who faced the difficult challenge of fashioning a layout that's homey and comfortable at anchor yet practical and utilitarian at sea. By offering a couple of different options in the main saloon-both of which address the placement of the galley and navigation station-Roséo largely succeeded. On our test boat, hull number 43, the L-shaped galley was at the foot of the companionway, to starboard, with the nav area to port, at the aft end of a short settee with a small, detached, outboard-facing swivel seat for the navigator. Alternatively, one could opt for a straight-line galley to port and an expansive nav station to starboard.
Frankly, both arrangements have their pluses and minuses, depending on owner preference and precisely how and where the boat will be used. That said, the huge master stateroom forward, the twin doubles aft (which will also provide excellent sea berths offshore), the centralized dining table and wraparound settee, and the overall fit and finish of the standard mahogany furniture and bulkheads (oak is optional) are all no-compromise features that are nicely rendered. The head in the owner's stateroom forward is generously sized and it's a wide-open space when the glass panel that contains water from the shower is folded and stored.
Another of the boat's strengths is, ahem, the strength of the boat. The core of the Grand Soleil 43 is a massive, galvanized stainless-steel grid to which is affixed a formidable steel U-shaped stringer that anchors the chainplates. Likewise, a metal frame within the standard 7-foot-6-inch tapered bulb keel (an 8-foot-6-inch fin, sans bulb, is another option, as is a 6-foot-6-inch shoal version with the bulb intact) is bolted directly to the internal steel frame, the total sum being an integrated structure at the heart of the vessel that uniformly deflects and distributes loads and stress from the keel, mast, and shrouds. All of this serves as the foundation for the hand-laid and vacuum bagged hull and deck, a vinlyester/e-glass composite that sandwiches a foam core. Like the joinery, the glasswork is first rate.
So how does all this translate into speed and handling under sail? Unfortunately, during our test sail on Chesapeake Bay last fall, we didn't get to see the boat in its best light, first because the breeze never topped 8 knots, and second because the 43's new sails hadn't arrived and we put the boat through its paces under reduced and borrowed canvas. Even so, this Grand Soleil was a delight. Upwind, the boat slid along sweetly at 5.8 to 6 knots, and eased off to a beam reach, it registered 5.2 to 5.4 knots in fading pressure.
The balanced rudder, in concert with the Solimar steering and the big, recessed destroyer wheel, was light and feathery, but it also turned the boat with authority. An open-transom version with twin wheels is also available. Under power, the 55-horsepower Volvo diesel, spinning a three-bladed fixed prop on a saildrive appendage, powered the boat at 7.6 to 7.8 knots at 3,000 rpm and at 6.6 to 6.8 knots when eased back to 2,400 rpm.
In keeping with the general theme of the boat, all of the hardware and deck fittings-Harken blocks and winches, Spinlock clutches, Lewmar hatches, a Facnor recessed furler, and so on-are top notch. Teak decks are an option that I'd explore, as I found the footing on the gelcoat somewhat tenuous. One other minor complaint was the outward opening coach-roof ports, which, when open, were directly in the line of fire with the jib sheets.
Overall, however, these were minor quibbles. In the ever-expanding world of dual-purpose racer/cruisers, the Grand Soleil 43 is a worthy addition to the genre. With a strong pedigree and a purposeful aura, it's a boat with the potential to earn its share of silverware while offering a cozy space in which to sit back and admire it when the sails are furled.
Herb McCormick is a CW editor at large.
LOA 43' 5" (13.25 m.)
LWL 37' 4" (11.40 m.)
Beam 12' 10" (3.95 m.)
Draft (deep/shallow) 8' 6"/7' 6" (2.50/2.30 m.)
Sail Area 1,130 sq. ft. (110 sq. m.)
Ballast 6,283 lb. (2,850 kg.)
Displacement 19,621 lb. (8,900 kg.)
Water 105 gal. (400 l.)
Fuel 60 gal. (230 l.)
Mast Height 63' 6" (19.35 m.)
Engine 55-hp. Volvo
Designer Botin Carkeek Yacht Design
Grand Soleil NA