The Amel 50 is the French yard’s first sloop in over 20 years, Pip Hare takes a 48-hour test to see if the new format works

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Amel has a long established following for yachts designed and built to match the needs of liveaboard and bluewater cruisers. It is reputed for its singular way of doing things and is famed for its ketches, designed for ease of sailing by a couple.

So when the La Rochelle yard unveiled this Amel 50, its first sloop since 1997, one with a broad, modern hull shape and twin rudders, it was met with surprise. Had Amel abandoned its heritage in favour for what’s in vogue?

Fortunately not. Step aboard and you quickly understand why this is a brilliant new model, one true to the brand’s DNA but versatile enough to suit everything from coastal sailing to global cruising.

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Jib, staysail and main halyards are managed at the mast using a track and car system that locks the halyards in place. Photo: Jean-Sébastien Evrard

When I arrived in La Rochelle for my two-day liveaboard test, I wasn’t greeted with the sparkly weather I’d seen in Amel’s brochure. It was a dark, wet, windy and cold December morning. But, with its fully enclosed doghouse, the Amel 50 was made to take on weather like this. Would ‘indoors’ sailing leave me metaphorically cold, I wondered – surely the beauty of our sport is achieved through connection with the elements?

Setting out in a brisk westerly wind and lumpy seas that broke over the foredeck, the heat from below decks soon flowed up the companionway to fill the enclosed doghouse, bringing with it the aroma of fresh bread and coffee.

Within minutes we were punching our way confidently upwind, oblivious to the weather raging outside. I sat in the doghouse, feeling overdressed in salopettes and sea boots, and with every wave that crashed into the windscreen I felt my need to be out in the elements melting away.

Bold first impressions

The Amel’s lines follow modern trends including a blunt stem, full volume bow, high topsides, modest sheer and a beamy transom. But this latest model from the Berret-Racoupeau design team has rung some substantial changes. Amel’s first sloop in two decades, it is also the yard’s first model with twin rudders and the first built using resin infusion techniques.

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For close to 30 years Amel has favoured ketch rigs in the belief that splitting the sail area across two masts should make large cruising yachts more manageable for couples to sail. Ironically this way of thinking may have put off some sailors who actually consider two masts to be double the work, not half.

With the new 50 being the smallest in the range, the sail area was considered small enough to be comfortably handled as a sloop. Losing the mizzenmast unlocks additional benefits of reduced build costs, a larger cockpit and more below-deck versatility, making the Amel 50 an attractive package.

Absorbed or alienated?

Taking the helm for the first time I was acutely aware of my position on the boat – at the front of a central cockpit and offset to port. Looking forward, with only half the boat ahead and a small wheel in my hands I had the impression of sailing something much smaller.

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The helmsman’s chair swivels and adjusts in height and there are reasonable views of the sails. Photo: Jean-Sébastien Evrard

The pillarless windscreen offers a panoramic view and the cockpit is high enough to give vision to windward, even on a starboard tack. The mainsail can be seen through hatches in the doghouse roof, while the view of the jib luff is great on a starboard tack – straight up the slot – but more difficult on port as the forestay sags to leeward. There’s a helmsman’s chair behind the steering position but I found standing more comfortable as, when seated, my arms were at full stretch.

The steering system uses push-pull cables onto the port rudder quadrant resulting in a helm that is sensitive to movement, but has little feeling. The rudders are a good size and the linkage direct, so small wheel movements have immediate impact, but as the cables do not load up no feedback can be felt through the wheel.

Once I’d acknowledged this I tuned into other performance indicators, using angle of heel particularly to guide me upwind. Immediately the helming experience came alive, I was watching for gusts, reading the waves, taking note of everything around me. Before I knew it, I was fully absorbed and unquestionably engaged with the sailing experience.

Joystick sail handling

The mainsail unfurls from the mast at an impressive speed using joystick controls in front of the wheel. The outhaul runs at the same pace on a continuous line system, which moves the clew in and out via a boom track. To avoid damage, both use a current-sensitive ‘time out’ feature – so if either is placed under heavy load they will momentarily stop, alerting crew to a potential sail jam or rope snag.

The jib sheets neatly through a wide shroud base, via coachroof tracks outside the doghouse and on to electric primary winches. Manual secondary winches allow jib cars to be trimmed while sailing. Powered-up under full main and genoa in 18 knots of wind we ploughed through waves at a decent 8.1 knots with a true wind angle of 50°, which is perfectly acceptable for offshore passagemaking.

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The Amel 50 is a Berret Racoupeau design. Photo: Jean-Sébastien Evrard

Our test boat had the optional cutter rig adding a 24m2 self-tacking staysail to the 126m2 sail plan. Setting the staysail while beating in 20 knots gained a further 0.3 knots of boat speed, with no adverse effects to balance. Personally, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t tick the staysail box; it adds a manageable sail area to the forward triangle, while providing a dedicated heavy weather sail.

Finally calling an end to our upwind slog, we put the bow down looking for a lunchtime anchorage in the lee of Isle de Rey. Off the breeze we waddled a little with jib alone. A furling gennaker soon saw us scooting across the waves reaching 9 knots of boat speed in 20 knots of wind. Helming required concentration, but once again it absorbed me and I unashamedly grinned at this ‘dry’ sailing experience.

In the blink of an eye, the sails were away and the anchor deployed using the remote windlass controls behind the wheel. With the cockpit table extended to full size and set with warm food on china plates the full transformation was complete and our rugged sailing experience of the morning was definitely a thing of the past.

The Amel philosophy

Over lunch I learned more of Amel’s ‘maximum enjoyment, minimum work’ philosophy, which not only covers sail plans but every aspect of design and construction. These boats are built to stand the ravages of time and the sea while incorporating details to reduce maintenance, make repairs uncomplicated and ensure life on board is simple and safe.

It seems that Amel has thought of everything, whether it is the specially extruded four-compartment mast section that keeps halyards, electrics and furler separate, the spyglass in the bottom of the hull giving direct sight of the propeller, or chafe protection at every point a locker lid might scratch the stainless-steel handrail.

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The saloon table folds out to seat eight – the small tables double as stools. Photo: Julien Girardot

With every new detail I became more impressed by the Amel 50. It’s as though the everyday inadequacies and compromises I’ve grown to accept as part of yacht ownership have been wiped away in this boat.

After lunch, with the sun breaking through, I put my hosts to work; first poling out the headsail with the huge, vertically mounted jib pole, then trying the Code 0.

The white sails downwind set-up is good. There is a welded tang mid-boom that allows a preventer to be attached from inside the footprint of the deck, and the substantial jib pole, though a bit of a handful to lower in a rolling sea, is utterly fit for the job once in place.

Downwind performance was comfortable and efficient, making close to 9 knots dead downwind in 22 knots true. As the breeze died we maintained our VMG by setting a Code 0 with the jib pole. Sailing like this in the sun felt heavenly and the whole crew naturally gravitated to the aft deck, leaving the autopilot to drive while we took in the stunning islands of the Charente.

As the light faded on our first day we found a mooring buoy on the shores of Isle d’Aix and I took the controls on approach. This didn’t prove easy in the gusty breeze as there’s a lot of windage on the hull and superstructure, which makes manoeuvring the Amel 50 at low speeds tricky.

The twin rudders provide little prop wash effect to counteract any last-minute gusts so on my second attempt I resorted to the bow thruster, leaving the wheel in the centre and driving using throttle for speed and thruster for direction – this proved equally efficient when reversing into the berth at the end of the test.

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From the bathing platform to the bowsprit the attention to detail on this Amel 50 is phenomenal. Photo: Jean-Sébastien Evrard

The cockpit sole lifts to reveal an impressively spacious and entirely watertight engine room, accessed via a small ladder. In line with the ‘trouble free maintenance’ approach, everything in this space is well set out with good access and room to work.

As well as the 110hp Volvo engine, the test boat housed a generator, watermaker, air conditioning unit and two inverters. Through-hull fittings have been kept to a minimum using a single inlet and seawater manifold.

All tankage is housed under the cockpit sole, including a grey water tank set in the bilge sump, which collects waste from all sinks and showers, serviced by a float switch for automatic emptying. This system ensures a dry, clean bilge elsewhere, creating extra room for storage.

Luxury for serious sailors

Below decks the Amel 50 is every bit as luxurious as you’d expect for its €790,000 price tag. The test boat finish was light oak with stainless steel details, which give a contemporary vibe, though may require endless wiping to remove finger marks.

There is a great feeling of space throughout, especially in the saloon, which, despite the raised cabin sole, has nearly two metres of standing headroom. Natural light floods from mid-height windows in the topsides and high-level coachroof hatches.

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The use of a passageway galley helps to open up the spacious living area. Photo: Jean-Sébastien Evrard

A snug chart table surrounded by switchboards and repeat navigation instruments is set into the aft corner on the port side, while to starboard there is a step down to the corridor galley.

Two large sofas flank the saloon, one wrapped around the dining table to port. A couple of occasional tables can double-up as stools and provide all-round seating when the dining table is extended. These are anchored away under the folded table while sailing.

The Amel 50’s master cabin is situated aft, accessed through the galley passageway. It has a large double island bed, writing desk, sofa and en-suite facilities. Another big double in the bow shares a heads and shower with the bunk-bedded cabin to starboard. This twin cabin is disproportionately small compared to the space everywhere else, but the top bunk folds away to create a little more room if required.

Living on board the Amel 50 would be no hardship. I spent the evening in perfect comfort, eventually retiring to a fantastic night’s sleep in the forward cabin, leaving the blinds open so I could watch the twinkling lights ashore, through the large hull portlight from my bunk.

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The aft island berth lifts up with stowage beneath and can be fitted with lee boards. Photo: Jean-Sébastien Evrard

Aside from the five-star hotel experience, the thing that really grabbed me below decks was how well this luxury combines with a set-up for serious sailing. All bunks come with well-fitting leeboards or cloths making even the island beds into usable sea berths.

The accommodation is separated from bow locker and lazarette by watertight bulkheads and internal bulkheads can be made watertight using clamps across the doorframes with their special seals.

The galley is large and well equipped with a proper sink, pull-out fridge and freezer drawers and plenty of worksurface. The passageway is wide enough for two people to pass, yet slim enough to brace while at sea.

The head-height storage lockers open to reveal a drawer front that slides out on tracks, keeping the contents retained when the locker is ‘uphill’ while still allowing access to the contents at the back.

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The galley is overflowing with sensible and user- friendly storage. Photo: Julien Girardot

The only area that doesn’t seem commensurate with a life offshore is the passage forward from companionway steps across the saloon. This open space has few grab handles and would be a challenge to cross while pressed up on port.

The Amel team has addressed this in more recent builds by lengthening the stainless steel grabrail on the folded dining table-top, while repositioning and adding other holds at the bottom of the companionway steps.

The full sailing experience

The sun rose on the second day of our test to reveal, flat water, light winds and a cloudless sky. The change in weather gave great opportunity to try all aspects of the Amel 50 sailing experience and we spent a fun morning, hoisting and dropping every sail in the inventory.

In a wind range from 8 to 12 knots true, with a Code 0, gennaker and downwind asymmetric, no matter which way I pointed the bow, the boat performed. Speeds were less spectacular under white sails alone, so for those who like to sail until the last I’d recommend some additional offwind sail area.

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The twin bunk cabin forward is a little cramped. Photo: Jean-Sébastien Evrard

Moving about the deck hoisting and dropping sails, I become more aware of the solid handrail and the security it offers. Not only is this feature higher than normal guardrails but it will take the weight of a person should they fall. The Amel teak – the company’s trademark gelcoat deck made to look like planked teak – offered good grip under foot.

The morning disappeared in sunshine and sails. Now it was warm I opened the central windscreen to get the feel of wind on my face while helming, though in these conditions it was a shame to stay ‘indoors’ and the best place on the boat became whichever pushpit seat had the sun.

With the rise in temperature the breeze died away and just when I thought we’d seen the limit of this boat’s sailing ability, it surprised me again. I have come to accept that poor lightwind performance is the trade-off to make for comfort in boats of this genre but, as the breeze died, the Amel 50 just kept going. With the jib set in just 5 knots of true wind speed we maintained a boat speed of 4.5 knots at a 60° true angle.

We were blessed with perfectly flat water and a stable wind direction, but this final flourish of performance confirmed my growing feelings of admiration for the boat and reminded me never to judge a book by its cover.

Our verdict

I can’t sit on the fence about the Amel 50; it is a brilliant boat. It’s neither revolutionary nor showy, and the unequivocal adherence to making everything maintenance light and easy-to-handle results in a boat that is not at all svelte.

I arrived with some heavy preconceptions perhaps as much about the kind of sailor I am as the kind of boat I would be sailing. I was treated to the full Amel 50 experience and my hosts did everything possible to show this boat in the best light.

But if you take away the fine food, endless espressos and crisp white bed linen, the Amel 50 still shines. It sails well, it is beautifully built and it made me smile. I left surprised and ever so slightly in love.

Amel-50-boat-test-sail-planSpecification

LOA: 16.50m (54ft 2in)
LWL: 14.50m (47ft 7in)
Beam: 4.79m (15ft 9in)
Draught: 2.15m (7ft 1in)
Displacement (light): 18,750kg (41,336lb)
Ballast: 5,360kg (11,817lb)
Sail Area (100% foretriangle): 126m2 (1,360ft2)
Sail Area/displacement ratio: 19.9
Displacement/LWL ratio: 171
Berths: 6
Engine: 110hp shaftdrive
Water capacity: 600lt (132gal)
Fuel capacity: 675lt (148gal)
Price from: €790,000 (ex VAT)
Price as tested: €940,000 (ex VAT)
Design: Berret Racoupeau Yacht Design