Grand Soleil 54

This Luca Brenta-designed thoroughbred has speed and style to burn. A boat review from our September 2010 issue

Grand Soleil 54
Grand Soleil

Given the Grand Soleil 54's clean lines, powerful sail plan, and modern interior, it comes as no surprise that the boat was conceived by an Italian and built by Italians.

Luca Brenta-designed boats-including the large, minimalist Wally Yachts and other distinctive craft-always have some swagger, and the craftsmen at Cantiere del Pardo have been building performance-oriented boats for nearly 40 years. The 54 is obviously not as radical as a Wally, but as I found out during my test sail off Newport, Rhode Island, it's a refined performance cruiser with a healthy helping of modern Italian style.
Test conditions couldn't have been better. The sun was glistening on Narragansett Bay. Wind speed was in the 12- to 14-knot range. The seas were just big enough to give an indication of how the boat can handle slight chop, but hardly big enough to make a fuss. Perfect.

As we exited Newport's harbor, I could say that we "beat" into the building sea breeze toward the open ocean, but that really wouldn't be accurate. Once we'd trimmed the powerful, in-boom furling, fully-battened main and 103-percent genoa, the heel angle was minimal (thanks to the deep, torpedo-bulb keel), we locked in to a manageable groove (thanks to the well-sized rudder), and "sliced" to windward with both power and control. But there was no "beating" whatsoever. Boat speeds were in the 7- to 8-knot range. My notes from the test that day describe the helm feel as "sweet," but that really doesn't capture the essence of sailing this boat either. Yes, the helm was silky responsive, and yes, it was well balanced and had just the right amount of weather helm, but something else struck me about this boat. I liked the fact that the helmsman isn't forced to look over, through, and/or around an imposing coach roof and that I could trim the double-ended mainsheet with a push of a button without leaving the seat on the coaming. I also appreciated the fact that the twin wheels have excellent sight lines and are positioned in front of a large, open aft-deck area.

To keep the teak-topped decks free of clutter, all lines lead back to the cockpit through belowdecks races, and all the deck hatches are flush. I did, however find two examples of where the boat's low-slung good looks seem to be more important than more traditional cruising features: The side decks are wide, but there's only a too-short cabin-top handhold to grab on to as you go forward, and the seatbacks in the cockpit are a bit short to provide the back support you'll want on a long passage.

I wasn't surprised by the fact that the boat performed just as well off the wind as it did during our "beat" south out of Narragansett Bay. Boat speed hovered around 8.5 knots, and the easily driven hull cut a quiet wake through the water. There were no surprises under power, either. Maneuvering off the dock was a snap, and the 110-horsepower Yanmar was sufficiently quick and quiet.

With its varnished woodwork offset by a light-colored headliner and its simple, modern styling, the interior matches the exterior perfectly. The natural light from the boat's long fixed ports in the coach roof and those flush hatches on deck makes for a bright and airy feel belowdecks. The U-shaped saloon settee has room for a crowd at dinner, and it's long enough to be used as a comfortable sea berth. I found the cabinetry and other woodwork to be well built and the cushions to be comfy. The only thing that I wondered about leading into the saloon was the companionway steps. They were steep (not too steep, but steep), and I would've liked to see the handholds extend a bit lower on either side of the steps than they did. I would've also liked to see a more positive grab post at the base of the steps.

Italians are known for their love of fine food, and the large, easy-to-work-in galley should be conducive to cooking gourmet meals. It has excellent counter and storage space, a gimbaled three-burner stove with oven, and deep stainless-steel sinks.

The nav station has all the things you look for in a cruising boat: a good chart table, a place to store nav tools, and ample area for mounting electronics. However, it's a little on the small side, the seat doesn't have a back and, instead of facing forward with some visibility out, faces sideways, and the view out is limited to a narrow port set pretty high overhead. But the space saved by this arrangement allows more interior volume for the saloon and galley, and a larger, forward-facing nav station is an available option.

On boats larger than 50 feet, some builders choose to put the master cabin aft to utilize the significant interior volume in that area of the boat. Others, such as Brenta and the Cantiere del Pardo team, take advantage of the superior light, ventilation, and headroom that's available in the area forward of the mast; the master cabin forward works nicely on the 54. It has enough room for a large, aft-facing double bunk, copious cabinets, and a full-size hanging locker. The large, well-appointed head with stand-up shower is like a scaled-down bathroom you'd have in your house rather than just being a head on a boat.

The dual guest cabins aft have good-size double berths and decent stowage, but as you'd expect, minimal ventilation and less headroom than the master. Each cabin also has a small, adjacent head that can function as a day head. Guests won't be roughing it, however, and the aft cabins are probably better suited than the forward cabin to sleeping while off watch during a long, bumpy passage.

The Grand Soleil 54 does exactly what it's been designed to do. It's stylish, comfortable, and sails like a dream in flat seas and 12 knots of breeze, and I'm pretty sure it'll be able to stand up to bigger winds and waves thanks to its deep keel and torpedo bulb. The only thing "minimalist" about this boat is its styling.

**Specs **

LOA 53' 7" (16.35 m.)
LWL 48' 9" (14.85 m.)
Beam 15' 3" (4.65 m.)
Draft (std./opt./opt.) 8' 9"/8' 0"/10' 2" (2.70/2.45/3.10 m.)
Sail Area (100%) 1,583 sq. ft. (147 sq. m.)
Ballast 14,330 lb. (6,500 kg.)
Displacement 35,273 lb. (16,000 kg.)
Ballast/D .40
D/L 136
SA/D 23.5
Water 158 gal. (600 l.)
Fuel 105 gal. (400 l.)
Holding 50 gal. (189 l.)
Mast Height 73' 0" (22.25 m.)
Engine 110-hp. Yanmar
Designer Luca Brenta
Sailaway Price $850,000
(subject to currency fluctuations)

Grand Soleil/Mareblu Nautical Imports LLC
(619) 417-7868
www.mareblu.net

Bill Springer, CW's senior editor, also directs the magazine's Boat of the Year program.