The Hallberg-Rassy 44 marks a big departure for this traditional yard. Pip Hare spent two days aboard in Swedish winter conditions
Stepping aboard the new and comparatively modern Hallberg-Rassy 44, conducting a two-day test during the Swedish winter, the bitterly cold wind is cutting through my four layers of technical clothing as though they are made of mesh and I can actually feel my lips chapping on a second-by-second basis the moment I lift my chin out from the collar of my jacket.
The instruments tell me the water temperature is 4ºC, something I well believe when clutching the steering wheel with numb fingers. But it is difficult to feel hard done by, on an otherwise beautiful day for sailing.
We are tanking along under full sail, weaving our way through endless pretty pink islands, achieving 7.5 knots of boat speed to windward.
I hand over the helm to Magnus Rassy and slide forward in the cockpit to make some notes under the cover of that trademark windscreen.
Instantly the wind chill disappears and the sun’s rays are enhanced through the glass, wrapping around me like a big warm hug, while warm air wafts up from the companionway and the central heating below.
Almost instantly the cold is just a memory, I am protected and comfortable, and can focus on watching the beautiful scenery slide past.
Launched in April 2016, the Hallberg-Rassy 44 marks a serious step-change for this long establish bluewater boat builder, with a new German Frers hull shape that suggests more powerful sailing performance.
This may appeal to a growing group of customers that aspire to cruising 200-plus miles per day, but is this new shape really what Hallberg-Rassy owners want?
Will the new features of the Hallberg-Rassy 44 (such as twin rudders) be a bridge too far from the traditional views of seaworthiness?
Breaking with tradition
I spent two days aboard Magnus Rassy’s own Hallberg-Rassy 44 on a mini-cruise around the archipelago just north of Gothenburg to find out just how different this new boat would be.
Living on board I would get to test every element of this boat to see how well the traditional Hallberg-Rassy values would sit inside their new skin.
From a distance the hull shape of the Hallberg-Rassy 44 looks more akin to a modern cruiser-racer.
The bow is blunt and topped off with a short integral bowsprit and anchor roller. The foredeck is long and clear, there are wide empty side decks spanning a centre cockpit and a roomy aft deck.
The topsides are sheer and beam is carried aft to a wide uninterrupted transom with a minimal nipping-in above a waterline that reveals the tops of twin rudders.
The more I looked at this hull shape the more I liked it and it made me realise what a departure this is for such a traditional yard.
The bluewater cruising community may have fallen into a bit of a rut with the accepted wisdom of what is ‘right’ for taking on the oceans and previous HR models have followed more or less similar lines. It takes a bit of adjustment to accept this long legged shape.
But the closer you get, the more the trademark Hallberg-Rassy elements come into focus, including the blue stripe, built in rubbing strake, deck house and centre cockpit with windscreen.
Shapely furling mainsail
The first surprise of the day was delivered as we unfurled the in-mast mainsail to reveal a membrane sail with a headboard and a roach, shaped and supported by full length vertical battens – this was no saggy Dacron triangle. Elvström’s FatFurl system creates a genuinely well-shaped main.
In 12 knots of breeze, with full sail we set off from the yard on a tight reach, easily trimming the main with an electric winch on the aft deck.
Even with the relatively short traveller length the vertical battens kept leech tension in the sail without the need for extra vang; within seconds we were trimmed and up to 7.5 knots of boat speed.
There is an adjustable backstay for further mainsail trim and the top section of the mast can achieve reasonable bend.
The backstay purchase is set up as 1:48, which I found a little hard to trim and would have appreciated an extra loop in the cascade.
In a sensible show of balance, Hallberg-Rassy has kept the more traditional V shape underwater profile forward of the mast, where others have gone flatter for downwind performance.
This greatly reduces slamming upwind and, coupled with the long waterline length and three spreader rig, created a fast and comfortable upwind ride, making the most of old and new.
The twin rudders are perhaps the most controversial design feature; but the choice to change from one large, heavy rudder to two smaller ones was made to improve handling both under power and sail by splitting the load.
The Hallberg-Rassy 44 features Lewmar progressive steering which uses rods and a gear box to connect the wheel and the rudders – the gearbox delivers a powerful and uniform linkage between wheel and rudders, so no matter how loaded up the rudders are, the force required from the helm to turn the wheel will always be the same.
The result is smooth wheel action and a very well behaved boat even when fully powered up.
The steering position is raised up from the cockpit floor, which gives a great view over the whole boat when standing. I found it easier to sit out to leeward when helming upwind as a lack of foot support meant I kept slipping off the windward side.
Sitting-in was comfortable and easy to brace across the width of the cockpit, though it is hard to see the tell tales. A central foot chock behind the wheel would have given more options.
Following an upwind stretch out of the harbour, we bore away and headed north-west. With a TWA of 90º and TWS up to 18 knots the same effortless speed was evident.
Trimming using the reversible jib sheet winches actually made me giggle it was so easy. I sat to leeward nudging buttons with one hand and steering with the other.
The boat speed never dropped below 7 knots and though water rushed past splashing on the side decks, in the high centre cockpit we remained completely dry.
Ducking between islands the wind dropped but we carried our way and maintained a speed of 5 knots in less than 10 knots TWS.
The Hallberg-Rassy 44 was now ghosting along so silently I could hear the beating wings of birds on the water as they took off in front of us.
Short tacking performance
Tacking through a narrow channel the following day I was really able to put the Hallberg-Rassy 44’s windward performance to the test.
At most we had 240m (0.15 miles) between the rocky shores and in the 24-knot breeze both the main and the genoa were reefed. Our track on the plotter showed near 90º tacking angles.
I have never seen windward performance like this in a boat with in-mast furling.
It was mind-blowingly good, with the full vertical battens maintaining leech profile despite the reef.
Heading into the mainland shore we were able to benefit from the small lifts and accelerations caused by neighbouring cliffs, the helm remained light and responsive throughout.
After a full 45 minutes of short-tacking I glanced down at my Fitbit, which declared I had done zero minutes of exercise today – my index finger wasn’t even sore from all of that electric-powered winching.
Despite the new shape there is no getting over the fact that a boat jammed with cruising luxuries is going to struggle with downwind performance in light airs.
Waves passed under the boat causing it to roll and with only white sails we were not able to steer any lower than 150º true. I suspect in these conditions owners may favour motoring.
In 15 knots of wind and above, the Hallberg-Rassy 44 does start to come alive downwind. It generates enough speed to keep up with the waves and feels responsive enough on the helm to pick up the odd little surf.
The twin rudders made the boat feel nimble rather than labouring against the weight of a barn-door style single rudder; I can only imagine this benefit will be felt all the more in a bigger seaway.
Push button performance
I have never been a fan of thrusters on smaller yachts, believing a few good spring lines can get you out of almost any situation, but I can appreciate that not everyone wants to make a cat’s cradle every time they leave a berth.
Everything else about this boat is so effortless, why make the handling under power the exception? With bow and stern thrusters and a 75hp engine, the Hallberg-Rassy 44 can park sideways into boat-length spaces and turn in a ridiculously small circle.
Even anchoring was a push-button affair. Thanks to windlass controls at the pedestal, you can simply come up to your spot, press the down button and use the thrusters to keep into the wind while the chain pays out. The test boat also featured a rode counter.
Picking up the anchor can also be done without leaving the cockpit as the chain is self-stowing and the anchor stows perfectly into its space in the bow roller without any need for crew intervention.
Below decks the Hallberg-Rassy 44 is understated, yet comfortable. Space is used but not used up and making my way through the saloon while under sail there was plenty to lean on or grab and a minimal distance to fall should it all go wrong. Handholds are moulded into the furniture wherever possible, including two grab holds in front of the galley and the chart table, and a mahogany handle on the deckhead in the saloon for those tall enough to reach.
The test boat had two armchairs opposite the saloon table and a linear galley fitted into the corridor running down the port side of the boat.
The standard layout sees a U-shape galley to starboard, however, so far, every boat on order is specified with the linear galley in the walkway to the aft cabin.
This layout stretches out the galley along three surfaces and one can stand braced between the two ‘sides’ and have access to multiple cupboards, drawers, fiddled surfaces, a dishwasher, the cooker and the sink.
Standing headroom is achieved by positioning the walkway directly under the cockpit coaming.
Designed for living
Natural light floods the saloon during the day from multiple coachroof windows as well as two in the topsides.
I was able to appreciate how well placed these topside windows were while eating lunch at anchor – as the boat swung around in the breeze I was treated to a beautiful vista exactly at eye-level from my seat at the saloon table.
A full-length, half-height stringer has been built into the structure to compensate for any loss in strength caused by the addition of these windows.
There are multiple options for the layout of cabins forward and the model we tested had a V berth in the bow, split from the saloon by a corridor housing two open bunk beds opposite a heads with shower.
The bunks were a comfortable size and would make excellent sea berths, but they only had a small amount of stowage space.
The aft cabin is the owner’s haven, swamped with natural light and a wonderful view from a hatch facing aft.
The test boat’s island bed would not work conventionally as a sea berth but, wedged into the enclosed aft end, wrapped in my duvet and watching the stern wake reflected in the mirror, it certainly was comfortable.
The engine is located under the cockpit sole, accessed from a small door aft of the galley.
It is huge, with room on the starboard side for a generator and with all the manifolds, switch panels and piping easily accessible.
I could stretch out easily and get my hands onto every part of the engine.
First published in the June 2017 issue of Yachting World.
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The Hallberg-Rassy 44 in some ways shocked me. I expected the comfort and luxury, but aspects of the sailing performance genuinely blew me away. This boat will never have me jumping up and down behind the wheel with a big ‘I love steering’ grin but I certainly didn’t just want to put on the autopilot and read either. The history and development that has been passed down through this family company is worked into every tiny detail of construction to ensure the yachts will look after you to the highest level. All this comes at a price of course. The test boat with all of the extra upgrade comes in at 5,600,000 SEK (£488,564). Is the price tag justified? I say yes – you are buying a couple of generations’ worth of experience. These boats have evolved and will keep evolving to meet our ocean-going needs. Sailing this boat has also opened my eyes to the ‘other way’ – the fact that you can actually enjoy adventurous sailing without enduring physical discomfort. Its push-button cockpit means there’s no excuse for not sailing, or for going into a marina instead of dropping the anchor. The lush interior could take you to far flung corners and extreme climates yet still keep you dry and warm with clean socks and freshly made cakes. Some ocean sailors may struggle with the modern lines, which do not fit into the perceived notion of traditional ocean-going characteristics. I believe a greater number will be drawn to its better sailing performance as well as the superior liveaboard experience. In my opinion, what marks the HR44 out from models past is that this boat is not just an adventure enabler but part of the adventure itself.