Britain has a new maker of cruising yachts – Gunfleet Marine. Chris Beeson goes to the East Coast to test its first boat, the Gunfleet 43
For some, Gunfleet conjours up twilight encounters with Dickensian characters on misty salt marshes. Others may see it as an eyesore of a windfarm, we set off to the East Coast to offer our opinion of the Gunfleet 43.
For Richard Matthews, the man who founded and then sold Oyster Yachts, it’s a welcome return to the business of building high-quality cruising boats in Britain.
Performance of the Gunfleet 43
With a light nor’easter, never more than 10 knots, I was concerned that such a heavy boat might struggle to get going but in fact she positively sauntered in long-legged style.
At 35-40° to the apparent wind angle with 12-15 knots over the deck, she logged over 6 knots, peaking at 6.7 knots at the wider angle where she was more comfortable.
On a fetch, she clocked 5.7-6.3 knots with 9-12 knots of apparent wind and we beam reached at 5.4-6.2 knots before putting up the gennaker and tearing off at 7.1-7.5 knots.
We eased the sheets and broad reached between 120-150° at 5.1-6.9 knots before hardening up the gennaker to 75° apparent wind angle and logging 7.3-8.1 knots in 7-9 knots of apparent wind.
Motoring back, the 55hp Volvo driving a three-blade, folding Radice prop urged her along at 8.7kn flat out, at 2,800rpm, and 7.7kn throttled back to 2,000rpm.
At the helm on the Gunfleet 43
The Whitlock/Lewmar system’s steering cables run straight down then aft to the quadrant, and minimal friction delivers a feeling of power steering.
She’s finger-light but there’s a stately feel about her, like a Bentley at sea, that reminds you there’s a lot of yacht under your command.
The cockpit is positioned well forward in the yacht, which allows for a sundeck and aft deck, but the main feeling is of elevation.
You’re quite some way up in the cockpit, though the reason for that becomes very pleasantly apparent when you go below.
Coamings surround the cockpit but, while the ideal height for resting an elbow aft, they’re a bit shallow for a backrest.
The helmsman has his own.
Primary and mainsheet winches are within easy reach, likewise the traveller controls.
And the clever Flightdeck system means you’re not reaching through the wheel’s spokes to use the plotter or play with the throttle when manoeuvring.
Design & construction of the Gunfleet 43
The hull is drawn by Tony Castro, variously of Barracuda 46, Challenge 72 and Laser SB3 fame, – she’s got a good pedigree.
Castro also worked with Gunfleet’s own team to optimise her deck design for shorthanded cruising.
Iso/NPG gelcoat provides greater UV resistance and vinylester skin resin ensures water resistance.
She’s made of solid GRP laminate with isophthalic resin up to 20cm (8in) above the waterline where the end-grain balsa core sandwich begins.
Forward of the keel, the hull is strengthened by Kevlar and there’s carbon fibre reinforcement for the rig loads.
She has a composite floor and marine ply bulkheads laminated in place for stiffness, a stainless steel rudder stock and a lead bulb on a cast iron fin keel.
Sailplan of the Gunfleet 43
The 11/12th fractional rig features swept-back spreaders on a Seldén mast and an adjustable backstay above the transom.
She has a 113% jib for easy tacking, sheeted between the shrouds and lowers, and a stackpack main with end-boom sheeting on a traveller aft of the cockpit.
Genoa tracks allow for a larger jib but I’d like to see them extend further forward for effective sheeting, using the adjustable genoa cars, when the jib is deep reefed.
The stats say she’s by no means over-canvassed for a yacht of her displacement, but her performance in relatively light winds defies the numbers.
Deck layout of the Gunfleet 43
She has a big double bow roller with a short bobstay to bear the load of offwind sails tacked to the roller.
There’s a windlass with a warping drum on the deck between the bow roller and the anchor locker.
Big teak toerails keep your feet secure while moving aft through the shrouds, which is easy with the lowers inboard and the shrouds out, but the sidedecks are narrow.
Our test boat had no coachroof grabrail but, wisely, they do feature on subsequent hulls.
Aft of the cockpit is a sundeck and there’s a big lazarette locker on the aft deck with a gas locker in the port quarter.
There’s a winch at the mast for the spinnaker and genoa halyards; the rest of the lines lead aft to Lewmar 45 halyard winches, one of which is electric, to handle the main halyard.
Subsequent hulls also feature a halyard bin at the bridgedeck.
A removable cockpit table attaches to the binnacle but you need the optional footblocks to brace against, as the cockpit is too wide to brace against the leeward seating.
Living aboard the Gunfleet 43
If the topsides look formidable, the sidedecks parsimonious and the helm position elevated, the reason is space below – and it’s remarkable for a 43-footer.
The saloon is cavernous with 6ft 7in headroom at the companionway, 6ft at the forward bulkhead and 6ft 4in at the bar – yes, the bar – to starboard, opposite the forward heads.
Hull ports and huge windows in the coachroof flood the saloon with light and there are twice as many Xenon lights in the deckhead as you’d expect for illumination at night.
In addition to the grabrails below the coachroof windows, subsequent boats feature a grabrail in the centre of the deckhead, which you’ll need to make moving around below safe at sea.
The sheer volume of this boat becomes even more obvious in the owner’s cabin aft.
It’s vast, with 6ft 3in headroom, and bright thanks to the central strip of decklights and hatch, and the opening hull ports.
It features plenty of stowage including a vast drawer below the berth, great ventilation and some really nice touches, like the small cubbies at the head of the bed for phones and watches.
Forward of the vanity table/desk is the en suite with a shower cubicle.
The Corian sole is standard and there’s plenty of light and opening hatches.
Up forward there’s another large double berth, also en suite, and again very bright because of the acrylic strip running along the centre of the deckhead.
Stowage is abundant in soft-close drawers and lockers.
The design is thoughtful and experienced, the joinery sensational and the quality of materials uncompromising.
It’s a good size with stowage below the seat, forward of the knees and in a bin locker outboard.
Facing you is the CZone system from which you can control everything on board, from bilge pumps to steaming lights, and also monitor power draw, tankage and a hatful of other metrics.
There’s another smaller touch-screen panel in the aft cabin so you can run everything from your berth, too.
Experienced sea-cooks have put this galley together.
There’s 6ft 4in headroom so you’re not cracking your skull every two minutes, as you might well be on other centre cockpit boats of this size.
All the Corian surfaces are fully fiddled, to ensure that most spills will stay contained rather than turning the sole into a skidpan.
Lockers, also fiddled, are plentiful and there’s more stowage below the sole.
Gunfleet fits a GN Espace stove, which, in addition to gimballing fore and aft as well as athwartships, is designed to use trays that will also sit snugly on ledges in the galley sink and in the saloon table’s central serving space.
Maintenance of the Gunfleet 43
Gunfleet designs luxurious liveaboard yachts and maintenance access is a key factor in that.
If you can afford her, you’re probably in a position to hire someone else to do the maintenance, but rest assured, they will not struggle for access anywhere.
And if you ever have to diagnose and fix an engine fault at sea, you’ll be glad it’s so easy to get to.
Our verdict on the Gunfleet 43
What’s she like to sail?
I was impressed with her performance.
She has a rather low sail area/displacement (SA/D) figure of 16.3. Boats with this sort of SA/D usually have big engines to handle light winds.
To give this figure relevance, the Océanis 43 is 20.7 and the Arcona 430, 26.4.
They would revel in these conditions but I wasn’t expecting more than five knots from the Gunfleet upwind, in maximum apparent wind, and much less downwind. She was very fleet-footed.
Having said that, she’s not designed for pootling around the coast and it’s notable that the two other boats that match her SA/D figure are the Najad 410 and the Malö 40, both solid ocean cruisers designed to lug a life’s worth of kit around the top of the world.
The Gunfleet wasn’t fully loaded but she wasn’t empty either.
The helm position seemed unnervingly high to start with – you stand at a level only just below the sidedeck.
But once you establish that the boom isn’t going to decapitate you, you begin to appreciate the uninterrupted views forward.
The wheel wasn’t as engaging as I’d hoped for, with little in the way of feedback, but as a blue water boat.
She’ll spend the vast majority of her time under autopilot so the fact that she was smooth and light is a big bonus.
What’s she like in port and at anchor?
One thing’s for sure, you won’t be roughing it.
With the space below, and the evident emphasis on light, ventilation and stowage, you wouldn’t need to compromise your standards one iota.
The quality of workmanship is excellent throughout and a huge amount of experience has been built into this boat.
The basic spec is very high, including …
- CZone systems management touch-screen
- Shore power cable
- Battery charger and inverter
- Antifouling, fenders
- Mooring lines
- Wine glasses
- Whisky tumblers
- Bone china place
- Lewmar One-Touch winch handles
- Spare halogen bulbs
- Bucket and brush
…. and three bottles of Champagne – ‘one for launch, two to drink.’
You also get tanks two-thirds full and free berthing for the week’s sea trials they will take you through.
The only things you really need to add are a chartplotter, an offwind sail and the extra halyard for it.
I expect most owners will also ask for a TV, generator, watermaker and some sort of satcom, but she’s genuinely ready to go.
Would she suit you and your crew?
She’s no slouch, as we’ve established, but she’s also undemanding as a cruiser in that you don’t need decades of sailing knowledge to get her to perform to a very decent standard.
The deck is laid out to allow plenty of space to move around.
Lunch in the cockpit under the bimini, then lounging in the sun.
Before stepping down onto the aft deck, grabbing your mask and snorkel from the lazarette and jumping into warm, azure water for a poke around the coral.
Below decks, you’ll recognise the build quality as being a bit special and appreciate the fact that everything just works, everything does what it should and does it elegantly.
It’s a prime example of designing with experience and using technology well.
I see her owners as a successful couple looking to slow down their hectic pace of life and add a bit of uncomplicated fun.
I would imagine she’ll be more regularly found further south, where the weather is a bit more reliable, guaranteeing some sun in your busy schedule.
Nor would I be remotely surprised to see her seduce her owners into packing it all in and sailing around the world.
First published in the January 2013 issue of YM