- Elaine Bunting
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A 65ft family cruiser?
Somewhere between 60ft and 70ft you reach a size of yacht that really needs to be run by a professional skipper. That has been the traditional wisdom.
Such is the complexity and expense of cruising yachts of this scale that as soon as many yachts of mid 60ft size hit the water a skipper and mate ship aboard and they head off for a life of occasional charter.
So I think it's very significant that Hallberg-Rassy, builder and purveyor of bluewater cruisers, this year launched its largest and most complex yacht, the Hallberg-Rassy 64 (actually 65ft LOA), aimed squarely at couples and family sailors.
I tested the new HR64 in Sweden last week and spent three days sailing and living aboard the boat, along with photographer Paul Wyeth (more of whose lovely photos are below) and Magnus Rassy, CEO of the family owned yard.
On the German Frers-designed HR64 everything is push button controlled. The cutter-rigged headsails, of course, and also the mainsheet, which leads from a single point attachment abaft the cockpit to a captive system controlled by a tackle and hydraulic ram inside the boom. The vang is hydraulic, even the halyard fine-tunes can be operated by switches at the helm console.
Below, there is a long list of remote-operated gadgets: a huge plasma TV rises out of a longitudinal island in the saloon; each side of the double aft berth can be independently raised and lowered using an iPhone app (a fun way of waking someone up...).
All of which makes the boat wonderful to live on and a joy to sail. And I mean that. I was very sceptical, but when we sailed the boat in gusty conditions - 25 knots swirling off the skerries, and the boat under full sail because the photographer wanted to see her "fully cranked" - I was able to play the mainsheet like a dinghy with just a dab of the in and out buttons.
Of course, bluewater cruisers will know only too well that anything that can break will break. On our three-day test, one of the primary winches stopped turning freely and we returned to the yard to get it fixed, and later the hot air heating appeared to be faulty.
So my major reservation about a boat of this complexity is that at any given moment, something, somewhere will not be working. I think you'd have to accept the odds that you will forever be sailing between repair stops (admittedly it's how most of us sail, but with knobs on).
Magnus Rassy concedes this point immediately and says it's something we should point out to readers. So there you have it.
That said, most systems have a manual back-up, and key equipment has redundancy, such as two separate autopilots each with its own linear drive and control head. It's the planning for the important items that may fail that sets this apart as a well-sorted cruiser.
And while there are big boat luxury touches, including a huge dinghy garage and hydraulically operated stern platform and passarelle, the HR64 feels very much like the smaller yachts in the company's range - the same joinery features, homely interior and that hallmark look and feel, from the trademark blue cove line to the fixed windshield, rubbing strake and sturdy teak toecap.
From such a conservative company, I think this new launch marks a significant step up in the size of boat a typical sailing couple can be expected to buy, use and maintain themselves. Magnus Rassy insists that Hallberg-Rassy is not courting a different market here; and is not building for luxury charter.
There's a lot to discover about the boat, and plenty that Hallberg-Rassy has incorporated that makes great sense for cruising and has come from long experience in this field. I do have reservations about the amount of machinery and gear to maintain on the boat, but at the same time can see many of these powered aids to sailing cascading down the range in years to come.
We'll be running an in-depth feature on the new HR64 in our September issue, including a look at the pros and cons of all the features it boasts. In the meantime, enjoy some of Paul's great photos.