A rare species? Here’s a cruiser-racer with good light airs performance, appealing accommodation and a proven heritage, the Grand Soleil 40
Grand Soleil 40 review: A rare-breed cruiser / racer
Grand Soleil’s latest launch, the Grand Soleil 40, is something of a rarity in today’s market – a cruiser-racer with a comfortable three-cabin interior, yet the ability to excel on the racecourse. Often such claims can be quickly dismissed, but the yard’s last new model, the GS 44, notched up two back-to-back ORC world championship victories.
The new Grand Soleil 40 is born of the same philosophy. Naval architect Matteo Polli was engaged to draw uncompromised hull lines that maximise performance and sailing qualities, particularly the hull balance as heel angle increases. Nauta Design was then tasked with optimising the accommodation within the available volume, while staying within a weight limit Polli specified for the interior and systems.
My first outing gave a chance to get the boat fully powered up at tight wind angles with the Code 0 in 12 knots of true wind, when boat speed consistently hovered around the hull speed of 8.3 knots. The helm positions are lovely and even though our test boat lacked foot chocks, the optional Flexiteek deck covering – which is specified by 90% of Grand Soleil owners – provided ample grip.
An efficient and deep single rudder is set well forward on the Grand Soleil 40. The helm stays light even when the boat is pressed hard, with the rudder retaining excellent grip, though feedback increases reassuringly as rudder loads build. Close-hauled in 9 knots of true breeze we made 6 knots, at an apparent wind angle of 33-34°.
My next sail was on a stereotypically gorgeous autumn Mediterranean afternoon, with temperature in the mid 20s and generally light airs, the true wind speed mostly around five knots.
Not long ago we wouldn’t have bothered sailing in such light conditions. However, despite the huge stability that’s so reassuring in heavy weather, today’s best designs also excel in light airs. This is often particularly true of single-rudder boats designed primarily for Mediterranean conditions that, despite wide beam on deck, don’t have a huge wetted surface area.
Even in these light airs the Grand Soleil 40 felt responsive and rewarding. Close-hauled we made a fairly consistent 4 knots of boat speed, though unsurprisingly this dropped quickly if you tried to pinch up too high. At optimal apparent wind angles for the Code 0 of around 60-65° we consistently sailed at the true wind speed in 4-6 knots, accelerating to 7 knots when the breeze built to 9 knots.
The ability to put in decent passage times in very gentle breezes is a game changer that vastly reduces the time spent under power and maximises enjoyment and satisfaction in fine weather.
Sadly we never had enough breeze to enjoy fast surfing conditions downwind, but a close look at the underwater profile shows that, despite the constraints imposed by displacement of 7.5 tonnes, the designer has incorporated a fairly flat run aft that will promote easy surfing. Polli avoided the latest fashions for very broad forward sections, which means they balance the finer stern sections well and give a more comfortable motion at sea.
Spec to suit
Three torpedo bulb keels are offered, including a 2.4m draught IRC optimised option and a 2.1m ORC version. The latter has no extra ballast, despite the reduced draught, because the calculations assume there will be crew weight on the rail for stability. Alternatively, there is a shallow 1.85m option with extra ballast for cruising.
At first sight the shallow cockpit, combined with a relatively low boom, looks as though it could be problematic. However, the test boat’s boom clears all but the tallest people above head height and it would be possible to have the clew of the mainsail cut slightly higher to increase clearance or give better headroom under a bimini. Despite the boat’s generous beam the cockpit is not overly wide – at the front you can even brace your feet on the opposite cockpit bench.
We tested the race version of the Grand Soleil 40, with a 70cm taller keel-stepped aluminium mast (only 20% of owners opt for a carbon rig) and a 60cm longer carbon sprit, plus a mainsheet traveller in the cockpit. The yard says this is the configuration specified by the overwhelming majority of clients, other than those in the Aegean where winds are consistently stronger. The race pack also includes rod rigging with graduated bottle screws and a single Harken hydraulic backstay.
In common with most of today’s performance yachts the rig is set well aft, which allows more options for efficient headsails and reaching sails. The standard configuration is for a self-tacking headsail with just four winches, two aft on the coaming for the mainsheet and two on the coachroof. However, all but a handful of owners opt for a larger blade jib, with conventional towed genoa sheets cars on the coachroof and an extra pair of winches on the coaming. Our test boat had an optional upgrade to electric for the starboard coachroof winch and it’s possible to add headsail sheet inhaulers, although these were not fitted. Disappointingly, there was no provision for rope bags or bins at the companionway.
There are only two stowage spaces on deck, plus a liferaft locker directly accessed from the electrically opening hinged bathing platform (which has a manual override). The large lazarette aft has a small opening, but is generously sized even if a tender needs to be fully deflated for stowage. The chain locker is at the bottom of the forward sail locker, so the latter isn’t a guaranteed clean and dry compartment, although this is unlikely to be a serious inconvenience for boats that don’t anchor in mud.
The comparatively aft mast position required the interior design team to consider different layout options than usual. This means there’s less length available for the central saloon and galley areas, but the generous maximum beam of 4.1m at the aft end of the galley means there is still a feeling of plenty of volume and enough space to handle and stow race sails.
Working the spaces
Historically, sub-40ft performance boats have rarely offered a sizable owner’s cabin. However, this boat excels in that respect and has room for a large peninsula bed, plus ample floor space. There’s also excellent stowage volume below the bunk, although you have to hold the mattress up in an awkward fashion to access it. In addition, there’s a decent sized full-height locker with deep shelves, plus extensive shallow eye level shelving for small items.
The optional en-suite is well appointed, but lacks a separate shower stall, as does the aft heads. Both aft cabins have large berths with good clearance above and a deceptive amount of storage, including a large bin outboard of the bunk in the area of the chine.
The saloon area is split between a generous 2.6m-long linear galley to port, and table with a 2.4m L-shape settee, plus a small aft facing chart table, opposite. The galley has twin sinks, good worktop space with deep fiddles, a top-loading 75lt fridge and multiple cupboards and drawers, plus an optional 42lt front-loading fridge. There’s easily accessed dry stowage under the central saloon seats.
Optional eye-level lockers in the saloon and galley significantly increase easily accessed stowage, at the price of a little extra weight. The standard arrangement is fine for typical Mediterranean summer sailing, mostly in shorts and T-shirts, though those who spend longer on board and sail out of season or in cooler climates will appreciate the extra locker space.
Even then, tankage is not particularly generous, at 170lt for fuel and 300lt for freshwater.
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Around 80% of Grand Soleils are used predominantly for cruising. This design, with its spacious and welcoming accommodation, has a lot to offer in that respect. Undoubtedly many will be tempted by the owner’s cabin, which makes the boat stand out in this part of the market, even if the linear galley is not ideal for extended passagemaking. At the same time, there’s no reason this boat couldn’t be as successful on the racecourse as the GS 44, although the 7.5 tonne displacement means it won’t deliver the same thrills downwind in a stiff breeze as lighter planing designs. But owners can blend elements from both the Race and Performance versions to create the boat that best suits their needs. Cantiere del Pardo has not offered a yacht of this length for the past 15 years, yet historically this was an important size for Grand Soleil – 180 of the previous version sold. There’s every chance this one will be just as successful.