The French yard has built 50+ years of knowledge into its new world cruising flagship the Amel 60, reports Matthew Sheahan
I’m guessing that rival manufacturers of bluewater cruisers know when their prospective clients have been to Amel. They realise when their prospects come to them to discuss the detail, and they’ll be holding a long list of questions about what is included in the standard specification.
The list will be long. Very long. And if these potential customers then choose to reveal their budget based on this detailed list, the challenge for any of Amel’s rivals will be to suppress the inevitable sharp intake of breath when their sales staff hear the bottom line.
Amel has long held a reputation for producing high quality, long distance cruisers that come equipped with everything. It’s a reputation that’s well deserved.
Since launching their first boat, the Euros, back in 1966 the French builders were led by the company’s founder Henri Tonet, (better known as Henri Amel), with his seemingly simple objective – to create the best cruising yacht for a couple to sail to deliver “maximum pleasure for minimum effort.”
While other yards may lay claim to a similar goal, it has been Amel’s dogged determination to keep things simple that has contributed to the French company’s sustained success.
For starters, it has never produced more than two models at any one time. “In our firm, we don’t change models every year, but we keep perfecting the ones we make,” Henri is quoted as saying.
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But restricting its new launches to one a decade for the first 34 years was a strategy at odds with others in the business. Surely anyone looking to buy a boat they call home rather than a weekend plaything would want to express themselves and put their mark on it?
This is where Amel has been so clever because, while this is broadly true, the flip side of swapping life ashore for that of living the dream afloat is that many people are nervous about such a big step, no matter how boldly they started out.
To be shown a detailed standard specification where all the key thinking has been done goes a long way to calming any post-purchase, pre-delivery anxiety.
As an example, the list of options for its latest and largest Amel doesn’t even make two pages of A4. For most, the decisions that are required will need so little debate that the entire boat could be specified over a lunchtime pint at the pub.
So, when it comes to writing a boat test for the new Amel 60, there’s a temptation to start with the long list of standard equipment and build a story around that. Yet to start there would be to do little justice to a new model that marks the second chapter in a big step forward for this company.
Let’s be honest. For all their attributes, Amels have rarely been the prettiest of boats nor, I would argue, the most contemporary. But the Amel 60 changes all that. This new Berret-Racoupeau design doesn’t just look modern, she is clearly on trend, starting with her hull shape.
Plumb bows are all the rage, as are fixed bowsprits. So too are lines that open out into beamy, powerful sections aft that then benefit from twin rudders. And given that when these shapes are combined with the correct buoyancy distribution they can deliver a quicker hull form with few vices, it’s an obvious choice for cruising designs to adopt the secondary benefits that come with this fuller form.
Increased volume, both for the accommodation and the deck lockers, are among the key advantages. Twin rudders reduce drag when heeled and provide a more balanced, surefooted feel when under way, but they also provide a level of redundancy should one of them get damaged. Plus, for those who spend more time in areas like the Mediterranean, the shallower rudders help with mooring stern-to.
The Amel 60 has all of these advantages and, with its dark, rectangular hull portlights and tinted wraparound windscreen, it takes on the looks of the modern cruising generation.
The smaller Amel 50 was the first to break the mould and set the new style when launched in 2017. A brave new look along with its quality of build and fit out was recognised straight away and it shot up the charts winning European Yacht of the Year in 2018. The company has since built just short of 50 boats. Apart from looks, one of the biggest departures from the original style was the move from ketch to sloop rig.
Previously, ketch rigs were incorporated to divide the sail plan into manageable chunks and make sail handling easier. Yet that was in an era where sail handling systems were not as efficient and reliable as they are today. Plus, with the modern trend for aft swept spreaders and full-width chainplate bases, taller rigs can be more secure and dispense with the need for running backstays.
Higher aspect ratio sail plans are more efficient as a result and are also easier to manage thanks to improvements in sail furling technology. Add twin independent fixed backstays into the equation and you have an extremely well supported mast.
In short, times have changed and Amel has responded. But the 60 takes the concept even further by making a bold statement with a carbon mast fitted as standard. Interestingly, it’s the sail plan that provides some of the bigger decisions when it comes to ticking boxes on the options list.
Among the key choices is the option to have a self-tacking cutter rig. The test boat had this and it worked well, particularly as the staysail has decent proportions and is mounted sufficiently far forward to make it a good sail on its own in a breeze. Unfortunately we didn’t have such conditions for the test, but even though a staysail adds just short of €20,000 to the bill, for me it’s an obvious box to tick.
Another is the option for a free-flying, furling Code 0, which will nudge the bill up by another €18,000. But again this is money well spent in my mind to provide an extra gear for light airs upwind sailing (which we did get to experience), along with better performance in stronger breezes downwind.
On the other hand I’d be less inclined to rush into opting for the furling gennaker. Fine if money isn’t an issue (this adds another €12,500), but the areas of sail development and handling systems are changing fast and improving with each iteration.
The move to sloop configuration has also freed up deck space as well and simplified the overall layout. The most obvious area is on the after deck which is now a wide, open space, perfect for sunbathing or stowing a dinghy on deck if you don’t want the optional davits.
Keeping the side decks clutter free has always been one of the key features of an Amel and nothing has changed aboard the 60, which has to be one of the easiest and most secure decks to move about on that you’ll find in this size and style. The solid rails running around the entire deck, higher than most conventional guardwires, are another common and popular feature of the marque.
Security, both real and perceived, is an important feature of an Amel and nowhere is this more obvious than in the centre cockpit. This deep and largely enclosed area is more pilothouse than cockpit, albeit with a sliding solid sunroof that helps to open things up in the right conditions. Yet given how enclosed this area is, the all round visibility is generally very good.
When it comes to handling the boat alone under sail, it is pretty easy thanks to the well-sorted panel for the sail control systems. Indeed, although it is possible to wind everything by hand, you’d consider yourself pretty unlucky if you had to break out a winch handle.
But while I was impressed with the layout, comfort and security, a particular reservation I have with this configuration is the ability to drive electric sheet winches that are behind you. The ease with which you could activate a winch without seeing a hand placed on it or the accidental development of an override is worrying.
The answer would seem to be to be diligent about never operating a winch without looking aft, but then this does raise issues about looking ahead too. Having said that, what did get my vote in this department was the mainsheet winch mounted to starboard of the companionway hatch and within easy reach of the helmsman.
A far smaller issue was the angular and rather sharp feel to the grab handles mounted in the guest area of the cockpit. Stylish perhaps, but not a great feel.
But a big plus, especially for those with plenty of sea miles and real world experience, is the engine room access. Lifting the cockpit floor with the help of the permanently fitted gas struts provides access to the business end of the boat in seconds. It is, quite simply, the best engine access you can imagine.
And with such a large opening the engine room cools down quickly and provides plenty of light, air and space when you’re down there.
When Isabelle Racoupeau set about creating the interior design for the Amel 60 she put a particular focus on lights and lighting that create, ‘warmth and refinement’ as well as a ‘chic, open and bright’ atmosphere. And from the minute you descend the companionway steps to enter the saloon you can’t miss what she’d set out to achieve.
Light streams into the accommodation and, aside from being very much on trend, the effect is a welcome one that is enhanced by the modern styling throughout the accommodation.
When it comes to the overall layout there’s nothing particularly surprising. The main saloon is amidships with the navigation station tucked away to port while the longitudinal galley is to starboard and the owner’s cabin set aft. Forward a pair of doubles is mirrored each side of the centreline, each with its own shower and heads.
All are finished beautifully in a choice of either light oak or walnut. Mahogany is no longer an option aboard Amel yachts. Style and layout are, as always, subjective, but what is not up for debate is the level of detail and the comprehensive fit-out.
The galley is the best example. Here, from the microwave to the induction hob, the washer-drier to the dishwasher and plenty more, all are fitted as standard. And when the layout has been so expertly installed it would seem rude not to tick the boxes for an icemaker, a wine cooler and a second deep freeze.
Among the most expensive extras on a short list of options is the air-conditioning at €26,000, the heating system at €18,000 and the watermaker at €18,500. Given the variety of uses that owners may wish for their 60, it is easy to see why Amel has left these as options rather than adding them to the list of standard equipment.
Our light weather sea trials demonstrated how well the Amel 60 would slip along in light airs. In 6-7 knots true wind and flat water, we sat at 5.4 knots – impressive stuff for a 26 tonne boat. With its cutter configuration, the Amel sails well and is easy to manage while its electrically furled Code 0 is a doddle to operate.
Sadly we didn’t get to sail in a stronger breeze and bigger seas. Here, the key for me would be in whether it has the feel to make it a boat you would want to helm for the pleasure of it or whether the autopilot would go on.
I say this because I have reservations about the long steering cable runs to her twin rudders and, based on colleagues’ comments about the Amel 50, I would take a guess that finger light feel is not her strongest card.
While twin rudders provide some real benefits when the breeze is up and the pace is on aboard any yacht, another drawback comes when it’s time to manoeuvre at close quarters under power. The Amel 60 is no different, and the lack of propwalk makes it difficult to turn tightly in a small space.
Fortunately, the option to fit a retractable stern thruster in addition to the standard bow thruster changes this and makes her a nimble and manageable boat under engine. In many ways the yacht’s construction is the easiest part to describe and assess. Built as a solid laminate below the waterline and a PVC foam sandwich above it, the hull and deck are resin infused, a technique introduced with the Amel 50.
Where it remains the same as its predecessors is that this is a solidly built boat throughout, has Amel’s well known maintenance-free, teak effect decks and adheres to the best practices of bluewater boat building. The conclusion is clear: this is a genuine go-anywhere cruiser for two from a company with a pedigree and popularity to back up such claims and a price tag to make others draw breath.
For those familiar with Amel it will come as no surprise at all that the 60 is a comprehensively fitted out boat, well built and reassuringly easy to handle short-handed. For those who are not, and who are looking to buy a boat of this size and type, you really should put this on your list in order to check out where the true benchmark for value for money versus practical and solid engineering lies. And, if you can, go to the yard in La Rochelle and see the operation for yourself. There are few others like it in the world.