The Bavaria C42 needs to offer bang for your buck if it is to stand out in a crowded field of 40ft cruisers. Toby Hodges takes the new offering for a gusty autumn sail to see what she's made of.
What constitutes ‘good value’? What you get for your money in any market segment often comes down to size – be that square feet of real estate area or gigabytes of memory. But is bigger necessarily better value?
Sailors with the means and desire to buy new understandably seek as much value for money as they can get for that size. What we’ve seen over the last decade is a marked increase in the volume to length ratio of new yachts, and more recently in the way contemporary hull shapes can further boost internal volumes at each end.
For a production yard to stay competitive though, it needs to offer more than just bang for your buck. It needs to be shrewd in its design and innovative enough to lure you away from the competition, to make you think its yachts are roomier, brighter and better. It needs to make boats that the crew want to spend time aboard, and are practical to manage or give the helmsman an enjoyable hands-on experience; preferably both. Value should include some emotive quality too – the hard to quantify satisfaction you get from using it.
This is a tall order. But as we surged down yet another wave face on our test sail I came to the conclusion that this new Bavaria offers that extra value. It was a fleeting taster of powered-up offwind sailing, but in a year of abnormality, a particularly memorable one. And in such a competitive marketplace, that extra something is what’s needed to stand out from the crowd.
Ups ‘n’ downs
The production yacht world doesn’t get any more competitive than in the 40ft sector, a size that remains so appealing for both private family cruising and charter. And I’m going to keep referring to the C42 as 40ft, because that’s the hull length without the optional bowsprit.
Before we consider Bavaria’s answer to the 40 footer question, let’s remember this company has been through its share of challenges recently. In 2018 it was flying high with a new C-line from 45-65ft. Yet by September that year, rather than celebrating its 40th anniversary, it was filing for insolvency.
This C42 is the first model developed under Bavaria’s new management. It caused a stir when it was unveiled last January, with crowds queuing for an hour to view it at the Düsseldorf Boat Show. But then followed the global pandemic, when “order intake collapsed almost completely,” explains CEO Michael Müller. He points out that work has only been running at full capacity again since October. Bavaria’s financials must read like a heart rate monitor.
All of which makes the C42 a crucial new model for a yard on the rebound. This is Maurizio Cossutti’s fourth Bavaria design and he opted for a clever and powerful shape, the first Bavaria with hard chines and a rounded ‘V-bow’. As I was to discover, these features make a crucial difference, both down below and on the water.
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One of the first and most striking things to note about sailing the C42 is the direct feel of the helm, which engages you immediately. This design may be in keeping with today’s breed of production cruiser, with its full bow sections and generous beam carried aft, but it’s unusual not to marry that shape with twin rudders. Bavaria says its owners want the close-quarters manoeuvrability that prop wash over a single rudder helps to provide. The C42 proved easy in reverse too, without the tendency of twin rudders to slam to one side once they catch.
Sailors will feel the benefit under canvas immediately. The Jefa steering linkage from the twin wheels to the single, easily accessible quadrant in-between is kept to a minimum, giving the best chance for direct feel.
With the in-mast mainsail and self-tacking jib fully unfurled (Elvstrom Sporttech laminate), we punched out into the Solent to meet photographer Rick Tomlinson. It was typical easterly conditions, with big variance in the strong gusts as we dialled down from a beam to a deep broad reach, endeavouring to keep speed up and apparent wind down.
I particularly enjoyed the feel provided by the modestly sized single spade rudder as we surged down waves, making 7-9+ knots SOG against the tide, with gusts now up to the high 20s. (Note, we had no log installed, but the polars confirm that in anything over 20 knots the C42 is capable of hitting double figures reaching, and over 9 knots in 16 true.)
The chine and beam were doing what they should and buying form stability, while the bulbous stem kept trim bow-up. This powerful hull shape is allied with a 20m mast that sets around 100m2 of upwind sail area. That is a whopping 30% more than the Oceanis 40.1 and makes for a potent sail area to displacement ratio.
It points to a yacht that you can keep sailing in light winds – indeed my fellow European Yacht of the Year judges confirmed the C42 performs handsomely in sub 10-knot breeze – and one that should be able to maintain respectable passagemaking speeds even while reefed.
With power comes the need to treat it with respect. Thankfully, the rudder did what it should do and let me know when we were pressed and provided the chance to let off more sheet. Again, this is a marked difference from the majority of today’s cruising yachts with deep twin rudders, which tend to maintain grip at all angles and make you question what the fuse will be when you do push the boat.
A German mainsheet system is only an option on the Bavaria, and not one chosen for the test boat. Instead, and unusually nowadays, the main was sheeted to one of the companionway winches. So although you get the polite notification to ease from the rudder, you need to communicate this to a crewmember by the winch. Therefore, were I buying this boat for short-handed easy cruising – as is suggested by the self-tacking jib and in-mast mainsail set-up – I’d opt for the extra set of winches aft for the mainsheet.
The pedestals are mounted as close to the transom as possible to maximise the length of the cockpit benches. So it’s a little cramped in the quarters, particularly by the split backstay, but it doesn’t feel unsafe and the pay-off in cockpit size is worthwhile.
The mainsheet bridle set-up is a common system, which keeps the mainsheet out of the cockpit. But there’s no traveller option and it’s mounted more than half way forward along the boom, which puts a lot of load on the midboom section and places a reliance on the vang for mainsail shape. However, this arrangement does allow for a large companionway entrance.
The winch layout spreads out the sheets and running rigging, so it’s not all piling up in one place. But there is no provision for the tail ends as standard, so bags or clips would need to be fitted to prevent a snake pit at the base of the companionway.
Sailing deep was manageable in the Force 6 gusting 7, with active crewmembers manning winches, but with the wind against tide conditions producing 1.5-2m overfalls to head back into, we needed to shorten sail to turn upwind.
With a couple of metres taken out of the foot of the main and three rolls in the genoa, the Bavaria felt comfortable as we beat upwind at 35-40° to the apparent breeze (7-8 knots SOG with tide). Given the conditions, the motion was not uncomfortable. The boat seemed relatively stiff without launching off waves or slamming.
However, after a couple of tacks the rig called time and the shrouds went alarmingly slack. Without rigging tools on board to tighten up the bottlescrews properly, we had to furl sails and accept a long motor home.
Disappointing as it was, this was a new boat, sailing in strong breeze and waves for the first time. I would estimate that the standing rigging had only been loosely tightened and the wire shrouds had not had any chance to settle, stretch and be adjusted accordingly. Indeed the dealer, Clipper Marine, commented later: “the rig hadn’t been bedded in, nor had the riggers had a chance to do the pre-delivery inspection because of COVID restrictions – when we would have re-tuned the rig before handover.”
The aft helms leave room for a very generous cockpit table and long benches, which have proper coamings to give backrest support and some protection. Locker space is conservative in two shallow bench lockers, a port quarter locker and a sail locker. The latter has only a small hatch, which will limit the size of sail (or fenders) that it can accommodate.
Outer and inner space
The coachroof is a clever design, which starts far forward to maximise headroom below. It is kept low and flat-topped, which allows good visibility forward from the helms and means the roof itself can accommodate sunbathing cushions.
Bavaria has incorporated an extra-long companionway roof, to allow for maximum light to enter the interior and for a gently angled descent. First impressions and a sense of space when going below is crucial, as it helps create that feeling of getting a lot of boat for your money.
Hanse was early onto this with the development of its loft-style interiors, which began over a decade ago. And latterly Groupe Beneteau has found a new way of increasing living space by adding volume to the bows in conjunction with increased beam aft. Bavaria seems to have combined the best of both ideas, so you really do keep asking yourself if this boat is really only 40ft.
Inviting the considerable amount of natural light in through hatches, portholes and coachroof windows helps. The space is also used smartly, apportioning it most where it’s typically needed – in the saloon and cabins. The L-shaped galley is practical enough and there is a navstation of sorts, which shares the forward end of the port saloon berth.
The berth in the forward cabin looks particularly large as it is taken right out to the hull sides (1.80×2.07m). The fact that there is room to mount the headboard forward and to house the extra (optional) 250lt water tank below the berth points to the sheer volume in the bows.
You can tell Bavaria has paid close attention to detail, in particular with the wood and veneer work, the lighting and home comforts. Personally I prefer the lighter Alpi veneer rather than the darker walnut of the test boat and find the use of dark grey panels on the bulkheads and heads area a little cold. I’d also choose a second heads if having a three-cabin boat.
The saloon feels especially roomy, a perception aided by the deck-stepped mast. Credit to the yard for including a table that can seat so many in its open format yet can fold over to halve in size and give walkthrough access.
However, I did take issue with the square edges and sharp corners this leaves on the saloon table (and chart table). Bavaria’s product manager, Pascal Kuhn, has assured me these will be modified, and you can see in the main saloon picture how the corner is now angled, but the edges remain an area of concern.
An extra couple of grab handles around this space between the galley, heads and saloon table would also be useful, but the galley surfaces are all fiddled and there is a sturdy support post by the curved companionway steps.
The joinery feels solid. The sole panels in particular were noticeably quiet underfoot. Although Bavaria’s method of screwing these down is not so practical for accessing the bilge in a hurry, there are numerous panels to allow access to all areas.
All five companionway steps lift to get at the forward end of the engine and there are good side panels in each aft cabin.
Look beneath the scenes and you begin to notice a few scrappier details. I don’t like seeing electronics mounted in non-watertight lockers, for example, and the use of bare ply and veneered bulkheads here are unlikely to prove durable. I also think it a backward step that Bavaria has returned to using hand lay-up for manufacture instead of vacuum infusion.
The Bavaria C42 is designed to hit that broadest of markets, the Ford Model T of 40ft production cruisers, yet it shows that mass market does not have to mean boring. Take the wheel of this powerful design in a breeze and you’ll soon find you can have your new voluminous family cruiser and still actively enjoy the sailing. The Bavaria is not without its flaws, but wherever you look you seem to discover added value. There is maximum space where you want it, in the accommodation, saloon and cockpit, all fitted into a clever hull shape that offers stability and performance. Every industry needs models that set the standard in their range. The C42 sets a new bar in the 40ft sector and, therefore, potentially what should be deemed ‘good value’ today.