Based on a thorough dockside inspection of the Grand Soleil 44 Performance, followed by a spirited test sail in near-ideal conditions a few days after the close of the United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, CW’s Boat of the Year judges agreed on three essential points: The GS 44 is stunning to look at, sails like the proverbial witch, and, without a doubt, earned the title of 2022 Best Performance Cruiser.
“It truly defines a racer/cruiser in my mind,” noted judge and systems expert Ed Sherman. “I think, ultimately, it’s a very well-built boat.”
Our colleague Tim Murphy was quick to add, “I think it’s a really beautiful boat to look at, especially when we saw it on the water.”
Right on both counts, but for me, the boat truly came to life when we sheeted in the sails and beat our way up the Severn River in about 12 knots of wind. During my trick at the wheel, our speed over the ground hovered in the 8.5-knot range, with an occasional bump over 9 knots in the puffs. Visibility of the telltales was excellent. It was easy to move about the cockpit. And yes, the North Sails Dacron self-tacking jib and black carbon-fiber mainsail provided plenty of horsepower, as you’d expect from a boat with a sail-area-to-displacement ratio of 26.3 and a displacement-length ratio of 105, both sure indicators that the 44 leans heavily to the racier side of the performance spectrum.
Grand Soleil has been a longtime player in the racer/cruiser genre. Its performance range includes four models from 34 to 58 feet length overall. The builder, Cantiere Del Pardo in Italy, also has a line of what it calls Long Cruisers: the GS 42 LC, GS 46 LC and GS 52 LC.
The GS 44 was designed by Matteo Polli Yacht Design, an Italian firm that specializes in optimizing racing boats for the various handicapping rules. The 44, in particular, was spec’d out with ORC and IRC racing in mind, though it also offers all the amenities of a full-on cruising boat, with an interior designed by Nauta.
The layout below is stylish and traditional, with an owner’s stateroom forward that includes a head and shower compartment. Aft, there’s a pair of double staterooms for guests or racing mates. These share a head and shower to starboard, at the foot of the companionway. Opposite is an L-shaped galley with a couple of fridges, space for supplies, and fiddled counters for preparing meals. Forward of the galley, the U-shaped dinette seats eight, and the table can drop down to form an additional berth. Opposite is a settee that could be used as another bunk, with a nav station at its forward end.
Hull ports and hatches let in lots of daylight, making the light oak interior woodwork bright on a sunny day. A teak interior is also an option.
The 44’s hull and deck are vacuum-infused with vinylester resin. The hull is solid glass below the waterline; foam coring is used in the topsides and deck. Grand Soleil bonds a composite grid to the hull to carry loads from the keel, engine and keel-stepped mast. A peek under the cabin sole revealed beefy backing plates and double nuts to secure all stainless-steel keel bolts.
The boat we visited in Annapolis was powered by a 60 hp Volvo Penta diesel and saildrive (a 50 hp Volvo Penta is standard). The 60 hp unit pushed us along at 8.7 knots in get-home-quick mode (2,800 rpm).
But the real list of options comes into play on the GS 44’s exterior. Let’s begin with the keel.
The boat we sailed had a foil optimized for ORC racing (7-foot-10-inch draft), but depending on how an owner plans to use the boat, he or she could also choose an IRC-favored keel (9-foot-6-inch draft), the standard steel and lead torpedo keel (8-foot-6-inch draft), or a shoal-draft keel (6-foot-6-inch draft).
In addition, two carbon-fiber bowsprits are available. The standard one is 3 feet, 2 inches long; the racing sprit on the boat we sailed was 5 feet, 3 inches. As I mentioned, this boat had a self-tacking jib, but there were also tracks on the coachroof to accommodate genoas of various sizes. (Unfortunately, during our sail, a large off-wind gennaker was not available for reaching and running—now that would have been fun.)
The Performance version of the GS 44 that we sailed had a tall, 72-foot aluminum racing mast from Sparcraft. A carbon-fiber rig is also available.
And then there is the deck layout, which comes in standard Performance or Racing. In all configurations, a 2-inch toe rail surrounds the side decks to keep feet from slipping overboard when moving about. Lines are led aft under the coachroof from the mast, so the decks and cockpit are clutter-free. The 44 has a single rudder with twin helms and oh-so-sweet Jefa steering. Driving the boat was a delight.
With beam carried aft, the cockpit is wide. Seats that end forward of the helms allow room for the crew to work in racing mode. The trade-off is that in the open space between benches, there is no good place to brace one’s feet. Sherman noted, though, that the problem could be fixed easily by fashioning a wooden chock to fit into holes in the sole that are designed to hold the legs of the removable cockpit table.
The Performance version of the GS 44 keeps things simple, with the aforementioned self-tacking jib, a double-ended German-style mainsheet, and a pair of electric winches just forward of each helm and within reach of the skipper. The Racing deck layout on the boat we sailed allows for more-complex sheeting and sail controls, though it’s still cruiser-friendly. One of the winches at each helm is moved forward to the cockpit coamings, where crew can tend to the jib sheets, and two additional winches are added to the cabin top for reefing lines and such.
In either layout, there’s a cockpit-wide traveler recessed in the cockpit sole that comes in handy when it’s time to depower the main. The jib furler for either the self-tacker or a genoa is belowdecks, forward of the chain locker, allowing for a larger headsail, though the furler drum will be hard to reach if there’s a problem because the locker opening is tight. Judges also noted that the bobstay used to support the bowsprit tends to get in the way when anchoring, though an owner will no doubt come up with a workaround there as well.
Those picked nits aside, I have to say, the GS 44 was one of the more fun boats that the Boat of the Year team got to sail. I could see it easily pampering a crew on an extended cruise, but it would be a rocket ship for rounding the buoys and racing from point to point.
I’ll give judge Gerry Douglas the last word: “The helm was just lovely on that boat. It was one finger on the wheel on all points of sail, which was just a delight.”
Grand Soleil 44 Performance Specifications
|LENGTH OVERALL||47’5″ (14.45 m)|
|WATERLINE LENGTH||43’11” (13.39 m)|
|BEAM||14′ (4.27 m)|
|DRAFT (standard/shoal)||8’6″/6’6″ (2.59/1.98 m)|
|SAIL AREA (100%)||1,206 sq. ft. (112 sq. m)|
|BALLAST||6,613 lb. (3,000 kg)|
|DISPLACEMENT||19,840 lb. (8,999 kg)|
|WATER||44 gal. (167 L)|
|FUEL||80 gal. (303 L)|
|MAST HEIGHT||72′ (21.95 m)|
|ENGINE||60 hp Volvo Penta, saildrive|
|DESIGNER||Matteo Polli Yacht Design|
|WIND SPEED||12-16 knots|
|SEA STATE||Light chop|
|MOTORING||Cruise (2,000 rpm) 7 knots|
|Fast (2,800 rpm) 8.7 knots|