Can one new performance design appeal to many tastes? Toby Hodges explores the ideas and multifarious options offered on the new Grand Soleil 48P
Without meaning to sound too shallow, looks make a big impression. Take the impact of this opening photograph. Who wouldn’t want to be in that helmsman’s position, heading offshore at the wheel of a sexy new Italian performance yacht?
Its sharp design attracts buyers aboard, while owners of these yachts want heads to turn wherever they go. But Grand Soleil knows all too well that the Italian fast cruiser market is brimming already and that looks alone won’t translate to sales. The 48 Performance has therefore been designed with plenty of smart thinking to back up the seductive styling.
It’s conceived as a versatile new model, which comes with a multitude of options to make it suitable for inshore and offshore racing and sporty cruising. Designer Marco Lostuzzi describes the Grand Soleil 48P as a ‘transformer’ because of the flexibility of layouts and versions it boasts.
There are three different keels offered, three sailplans, three cockpit layouts, three different build materials even, and the choice of four, six or eight winch packages. “It’s not easy to do all these solutions on a production yacht – that was the main challenge,” Lostuzzi reveals.
Is the Grand Soleil 48P today’s answer to the cruiser-racer all-rounder then? We joined builders Cantiere del Pardo for its annual Grand Soleil Week in Portopiccolo to find out.
Reinvention for the times
When you think of Grand Soleils over the last 45 years, it’s the dependable cruiser-racers of the 1980s and 1990s that spring to mind, designs that hit the demand to be cruised hard and raced harder. But times have changed, along with how we spend our time afloat.
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In response to that change, this Italian brand has completely reinvented itself. Seeing the decline in the racing market, it brought out its first cruising yacht, the 46 Long Cruise, in 2015 and this has already proved to be one of its most successful, with over 50 sold.
Then came a new powerboat line, for which there has been huge demand. And now Grand Soleil has launched its biggest yacht to date, a maxi-style semi custom 80-footer.
But is there still a market for a mid-size cruiser-racer? Grand Soleil has already sold 18 of this 48 – over half have been to Italians and four have been full Race versions – so the company is obviously on to something.
“They like the racing looks but with cruising comforts inside,” says Lostuzzi of the buyers so far, adding that the design allows them to mix and match the choices between the standard Performance (cruising) and tricked-up Race versions.
He studied 120 hulls in CFD (computational fluid dynamics), because the yard wanted to win races, particularly in ORC. The answer he came up with was a relatively light and stiff hull with a powerful shape and a sheerline that rises gradually to the bow, a generous 4.55m of beam and a deep, single rudder.
I’ve sailed both versions of the Grand Soleil 48 now and they were at opposite ends of the performance spectrum. The Race model was fully tricked up with all the carbon extras, while the Performance version was set up for easy cruising, with the standard shorter alloy mast, shallow draught keel, self-tacking jib, minimal winches and Vinylester used in the build as opposed to epoxy.
For my trial of the Grand Soleil 48P on the north-east Adriatic we managed to find only brief spells of light wind, typical Med conditions you might say. But this is precisely when you want a relatively lightweight performance design, to hunt down and maximise fickle breezes.
And with the aid of the all-important Code 0, we were able to match wind speeds as low as 4-5 knots true. The code sail had quite a deep cut, which made for better reaching than fetching – around 90-100° to the true wind seemed ideal.
And when the breeze did fill in briefly to double figures, it helped us clock 8.5-9 knot speeds. Even when sailing deep with the code sail heading back to shore we made 7 knots in 11 running low at 135° to the true wind.
Here is a yacht that you feel privileged to helm. To stand in the quarters with excellent visibility over the low coachroof as the Grand Soleil 48P heels onto its full waterline is very special indeed. In the more stable wind we sailed under jib at 6.5-7 knots in 9-11 knots.
Although it was a doddle to get the boat up to speed, I found it tricky to find a groove. It was enjoyable sailing, but there remained a nagging amount of weather helm – which Lostuzzi thought might have derived from too much rake set-up in the rig. The wheel should be akin to a musical instrument in such conditions, yet it still felt as if some tuning was needed.
Foot chocks can be added and the flat side decks make a comfortable perch for the helmsman, although the split backstay can foul your head when standing. There is a good slot between the wheel and winches which invites you to sit forward of the wheel and trim. This is particularly pertinent to this cruising deck layout combined with self-tacking jib, which makes it easy for one person to enjoy actively sailing the boat.
So although the Grand Soleil 48P has a powerful sailplan, it is easy to handle. The placing of winches and sail controls is particularly well thought out. The aft end of the benches join the side decks seamlessly and are punctuated by two Harken winches (optionally powered) each side, both in reach of the helmsman, with one positioned inboard.
The wide coamings house the conduits for the running rigging, led aft neatly to these winches. The single point mainsheet is also routed here, German style, meaning along the boom and back aft, while decent-sized tail bags do a good job of keeping the cockpit tidy.
The deck design is ergonomic yet minimalist. The flat-topped coachroof is kept very low indeed, which certainly adds to the sharp styling, but when moving forward along the side decks this does mean you need to bend double to grip the coachroof handrail. There is, however, a wide and comforting toerail, which has a scupper to guide the water run aft and overboard, and also helps keep the helmsman’s perch dry.
The wide cockpit contains a large fixed table with long benches but, true to Italian trends, the backrests are rather low. Those seeking some more comfort can lean back against the aft-facing coachroof. Other than the sprayhood, there is very little in the way of protection offered to those in the cockpit.
Cockpit bench lockers have been surrendered in favour of headroom in the aft cabins, so the only stowage aft is in the stern locker. The quarters of the stern space are closed off for machinery, but there is enough room in the central locker for an inflatable tender.
The Grand Soleil 48P’s design and engineering allows for the modular fit-out of lockers and furniture. Consequently, those choosing the Race version will be able to strip out weight (the displacement of the 48R is already one tonne less than the Performance version) and create more space for sail stowage.
The Performance version has a more substantial interior including a larger, L-shaped galley and considerably more stowage. Carbon is used in high stress areas on both models including chainplates and the top of the grid structures. The saloon floor is placed on an aluminium frame above this structural grid.
The Grand Soleil design looks particularly clean, something that is a trademark of Nauta Design. Nauta designs tend to allow in plenty of light, and it comes here from multiple coachroof and hull portlights. The white headlining and light oak trim also play their part.
The grain and feel of the veneer used on the test boat was excellent and made me wonder why anyone would want to pay €10,000 to upgrade to teak. Cotton fibre hull lining and tasteful, indirect lighting also add a quality feel.
A feeling of space
Beam and volume help generate a great feeling of space, although this will be far more appreciated in port than at sea. Grand Soleil has maximised the saloon area to create enough room for eight to sit around the fixed table. Both saloon berths are also long enough to sleep on.
There’s no navstation in the standard version, just a switchboard behind the sofa to starboard. A bank of drawers forward could be used, but only if sitting sideways. The layout does have a second heads and separate shower with a seat and wet hanging locker, with private access from the starboard cabin. There is enough space enough in this cabin for twin berths.
The modest galley has a large resin worktop with fiddles, but only a two-burner stove and the stowage for pots and pans is limited. Elsewhere stowage is good, especially in the forward cabin, where there are deep drawers below the central berth and a bank of raised lockers high up at the hull sides. The space for clothes and belongings here will be a boon for anyone planning to spend longer periods of time aboard.
We also tested the Grand Soleil 48 Race version, which had optional extras such as a carbon rig and sails, extended bowsprit, deep keel, twin backstays, eight winches, transverse jib tracks and a hydraulic ram on the forestay.
Although this nearly doubled the standard price of the boat, it helps extract considerably more potential for racing. The sailing on this model was rewarding and we were able to maximise the 10-knot breeze to clock up to 7, 9 and 11 knots under jib, Code 0 and gennaker respectively. Planing at consistent speeds under gennaker was a highlight of the test.
Helming was engaging rather than thrilling, with good feedback and control from the single rudder. The cockpit was well thought out for manoeuvres, and the full-beam traveller and transverse tracks helped get the most from the square top main and jib.
The Race version, including carbon rig, deep keel, deck gear and hydraulics, is a €146,000 upgrade.
This is a sporty cruiser/cruiser-racer with serious appeal which, for a series-built boat, offers an unusual amount of scope for customisation. There is certainly stiff competition from companies such as Solaris and X-Yachts, and with Beneteau about to launch a First 53 designed to undercut exactly these yachts, Grand Soleil’s ability to spec the 48P individually will be key to its sales success. Although I’ve sailed both the Performance and Race version of this model now, I’ve only experienced the former in relatively light conditions – but that is exactly where an Italian steed of this calibre should excel and prove utterly compelling on the helm. It’s the particularly well-designed deck layout, together with the different options offered, that helps give the Grand Soleil 48P its broad appeal and make it a modern day all-rounder. This is a yacht that looks good, sails well, and can be set up for fun racing or cruising. It is also, importantly, a good-looking design that will turn heads wherever it goes.