Rupert Holmes gets behind the wheel of the latest go anywhere aluminium cruiser from Boréal, the Boréal 47.2
Boréal is not afraid to forge its own path and its distinctive aluminium cruising yachts have gained a strong reputation over the past 15 years. The latest model, the Boréal 47.2, is a shoal draught expedition yacht that can take you anywhere on the planet, yet, as we were to discover, is also responsive and fun to sail in more confined waters.
The Breton yard’s success is underpinned by a huge amount of embedded expertise. Founder and naval architect Jean-François Delvoye based the Boréal concept on experience gained during a six-year circumnavigation with four children, plus expeditions to South Georgia and the Antarctic.
General manager and co-owner Jean-François Eeman’s vast experience includes two trips to Patagonia and the Antarctic on his own boats.
This first-hand knowledge shows through in many ways with this new Boreal 47.2, a European Yacht of the Year 2021 winner.
The rugged construction includes an ice-breaking stem, watertight bulkheads and 8-10mm bottom plating on substantial framing that enables the boat to be safely beached.
Equally, good sailing qualities are an important element. Both centreboard and rudder have efficient hydrodynamic profiles, while heavy items including anchor chain, tankage and batteries kept low down and central.
Sailing the Boréal 47.2
Our test took place in a large swell leftover from the weather system that forced Clarisse Cremer to delay her Vendée Globe finish.
We set out broad reaching using the optional general purpose asymmetric spinnaker, with the boat maintaining an easy motion despite the swell.
Even when the true wind dropped to only 8-9 knots we made decent progress, with boat speed rarely falling much below 6 knots. Our best speed of the test was 8.7 knots at a true wind angle of 145° in 17 knots of true wind.
Once heeled to a certain point the boat becomes very solid and stable, with gusts not contributing marked extra heel and the lee toerail remained well above the water, even when we were deliberately pressed.
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I’m always interested in how a boat handles when overpowered. Keeping the sheets strapped in during gusts into the upper teens when we were carrying the kite at an apparent wind angle of 80-85° provided a good opportunity to test this aspect of handling.
The rudder gave plenty of warning before finally stalling at a much higher angle than those who sail performance boats with deep high aspect rudders will be accustomed to. But, unlike many flighty lightweight boats, the Boréal 47.2 didn’t round up and the boat’s angle of heel barely increased.
Dumping the mainsheet and centring the rudder to re-establish laminar flow was enough to quickly regain control, with the boat then happily bearing away to a more comfortable course.
While owners are unlikely to plan to push their boats to the limit, it’s good to know that the vessel ought to handle being caught unawares by a squall without undue drama.
A pair of daggerboards either side of the rudder are used to tweak the boat’s handling characteristics. With the boards raised it’s more responsive and behaves more like a smaller and lighter yacht – an ideal mode for sailing in more confined waters and for manoeuvring.
With boards lowered directional stability improves markedly. When close-reaching under main and genoa the Boréal 47.2 had more of the feel of a traditional long keel design and it was possible to leave the helm for a minute or so without engaging the pilot.
Soon after dropping the kite to round up for the beat home against the tide the wind dropped again to 8-9 knots. Sailing close-hauled in this wind speed is relatively sedate, but above 10 knots the boat starts to come alive and is nicely powered up in 12-14 knots.
It’s no surprise that a boat of this style is not as close-winded as a performance cruiser. Pinching risks quickly losing speed, but speeds of well over 6 knots can be achieved consistently. For instance, with 15 knots of true wind we recorded 6.5 knots boat speed at 55° TWA.
Once we got back into the breeze funnelling out of the Trieux estuary a band of cloud produced gusts of up to 22 knots true.
As the breeze increases the concept behind the sail plan is to swap from the marginally overlapping genoa to the optional furling staysail at around 17-20 knots, a transition that proved to be smooth and easy. Alternatively, a removable inner forestay with hanked-on staysail can be provided.
A powerful vang enables good control of mainsail twist, despite the lack of a mainsheet traveller, and lines for the towed headsail cars are led back to the working area of the cockpit for easy adjustment.
In the strongest puffs a little depowering of the mainsail helped to keep the boat on its feet, and had the wind continued to rise, a reef in the mainsail would have been useful. The main halyard and pennants for the Seldén single line system on reefs one and two are all led back to the central cockpit winch, making reefing a safe task for a lone watch keeper.
My own preference would be to also lead a luff pennant for the third reef aft, so that all reefing can be done from the cockpit.
As the skies cleared behind the cloud the wind eased, so when we tacked to sail into the estuary we swapped back to the genoa. We then continued close-hauled up the lower reaches of the Trieux river, against an ebb tide, with the electric winch taking all the effort out of playing the mainsail in the gusts.
The boat behaved impeccably with no worries about lack of control even in relatively confined spaces, nor was any great physical effort required.
In this respect, despite the Boréal 47.2’s evident long-distance capabilities, it felt like a smaller and more manoeuvrable vessel.
This exercise also demonstrated that, in the event of engine failure or a fouled propeller, we’d easily be able to sail into a safe anchorage.
Nevertheless, once the channel turned such that the wind was on the nose and the width of the river reduced to less than 150m we resorted to the engine. Our test Boréal 47.2 was fitted with the optional larger 75hp Volvo Penta D2 series engine married to a fixed three blade propeller. This provides plenty of power – even at just 1,700rpm we made an indicated 6.25 knots.
Warm and dry
We put the doghouse to good use in a heavy rain squall as we neared Treguier marina. There’s good visibility from the deep, secure bucket seat on the port side, although it stops short of a full 360° view thanks to blind spots on each quarter.
In more confined waters the best place from which to con the boat proved to be standing at the back of the pilothouse, steering with the pilot remote. This gives an all-round view, with the option of popping your head above the coachroof if the windows steam up.
The doghouse offers plenty of space to open up paper charts, plus room for a decent size monitor for a navigation computer. I was glad to see Boréal wasn’t tempted to add another wheel here – doing so would have added friction and complexity, and take up unnecessary space.
On a more mundane note, for those of us who have to continue working while cruising, the doghouse would make an excellent office, with loads of desk space and a fabulous view.
A full-height watertight door seals the doghouse from the cockpit. This allows easy access, but leaves a low sill making the interior potentially vulnerable to big waves from astern – I’d opt for a partial washboard for use when the door has to be opened in severe weather.
The pilothouse coachroof extends above the forward two cockpit seats, creating a further dry and sheltered space. This area can also be fitted a clear plastic enclosure that helps protect the boat’s interior in super-cold weather.
Overall it’s a brilliant arrangement, although it stops short of offering a sheltered position for sail trimming and reefing.
Boréal 47.2 Cockpit zones
The extra space in the back of the boat created by the more modern hull shape has been used to separate the cockpit into distinct relaxation and working areas.
The twin wheels also allow for an unimpeded passage from the fold-down bathing platform to the companionway, even with four people sitting around one leaf of the cockpit table.
Many of the lines led directly to the central winch have to pass through two 90° bends, which inevitably increases friction and loads. However, the arrangement appears to be well executed, with quality deck hardware of an appropriate size.
The mainsheet, headsail sheets and spinnaker sheets are usually handled by their own conventionally-sized winches aft of each helm station. However, the layout is arranged so they can also be led to the central winch when extra grunt is required. There’s also a halyard winch on the mast for spinnakers.
Moving around on the deck of the Boréal 47.2 is easy – there are no big steps needed when transitioning from cockpit to the wide side decks and the V1 shrouds are mounted on the coachroof, so don’t get in the way when walking forward.
Stanchions are of substantial aluminium, which avoids problems associated with mixing metals in a saltwater environment.
Even though most sail handing, especially in heavy weather, can be done from the working area of the cockpit, sturdy granny bars are fitted each side of the mast. The painted non-slip deck of our test boat provided excellent grip. There’s also a high toerail and metal handholds welded to the boat’s structure.
The hefty, combined twin bow roller and sprit is now standard equipment for a boat of this style. However, the location of the windlass owes nothing to convention. The anchor rode is led aft through a concealed channel under the foredeck to the windlass and chain locker immediately ahead of the mast.
The main advantage of this is that 100m of 12mm chain weighs almost one third of a tonne, so this weight is moved aft from the bows. In addition the windlass, which is located below an opening hatch, is not exposed to the elements and should therefore be more reliable than those perched near the stem.
Stowage and Accommodation
Principal on-deck stowage includes a cavernous sail locker forward and massive lazarette aft with twin openings. This also gives access to the quadrant and other steering system components.
Liferaft stowage is built into the starboard side of the lazarette and includes a dedicated transom door. There’s space on the foredeck to stow a decent sized fully inflated tender.
Easy steps from the pilothouse lead down into the saloon. This is offset to port, with the inboard settee neatly placed on top of the centreboard case which therefore does not appear to encroach on the accommodation.
Once you start poking around, one of the most striking aspects is the mass of stowage everywhere in the Boréal 47.2.
Thanks to batteries and tankage being low down in the centre of the boat, there are lockers under all the bunks, under and outboard of the saloon seats, beneath the cabin sole and so on.
It’s clear this is a boat that can easily swallow the enormous amount of stores, provisions and spares needed for prolonged self-sufficiency in remote areas.
The galley is to starboard, with extensive worktop space. As standard these are in Corian, although stainless steel was used instead for our test boat.
The large two-drawer fridge can be supplemented by an optional freezer in the starboard aft cabin if required. Our test boat was fitted with twin foot pumps at the galley – one for saltwater, the other as a back up for the pressurised water system.
Two large 13kg gas bottles, in a dedicated locker accessed from the cockpit, will provide even heavy users with several months of autonomy.
The extra volume in the forward part of the hull makes for a more spacious owner’s cabin than the previous generation Boréal 47. In particular, the peninsula bed is wider and the larger ensuite includes a generous separate shower stall.
Again there’s plentiful stowage here and the bed base lifts up on gas struts to give access to huge additional volume.
The aft cabins can be fitted out either as doubles or as twins. Alternatively, the smaller space to starboard can be configured as a big technical and storage area. The doghouse includes a full width dorade-style vent for the aft cabins that creates excellent airflow.
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This is a boat borne of considerable experience and attention to detail, taking a proven concept and refining it to a new level. There are many small but clever touches that may not be immediately obvious, but make a difference to life on board. So it offers a big step forward compared to the first generation Boréal 47. In particular, the larger owner’s cabin makes living on board for extended periods more civilised, while the bigger cockpit will work just as well in the tropics as at high latitudes. It’s a supremely capable yacht with long legs that will effortlessly put in good daily mileages when crossing oceans, yet will also be fun to sail in your home waters. However, what’s really unique is the combination of Boréal’s three signature features: rugged aluminium construction, shoal draught with ability to dry out, and the protection offered by the doghouse. The latest edition of the Vendée Globe has demonstrated beyond all doubt how important effective shelter is in challenging conditions, yet the subject is rarely so well addressed in the cruising yacht market as it is by the Boréal.