Neel broke ground with its cruising trimarans a decade ago. So what’s changed with its new 50+ footer, the Neel 52?
We’re beating out of the approach channel to La Rochelle in 8-10 knots of true wind, with some tacks as short as 90 seconds. The yacht is tacking cleanly and accelerating willingly afterwards, underlining how manoeuvrable it can be in skilled hands. Yet this isn’t a lightweight monohull – it’s a 52ft semi flybridge multihull weighing more than 13 tonnes, the Neel 52.
The first generation of Neel trimarans, including the Neel 51 launched in 2017, set a new standard in combining handling that echoes that of a monohull with accommodation of a scale that can only be found on a multihull. The concept of the Neel 52 remains the same, using the hulls of a fast racing trimaran with narrow waterline beam, as a platform for expansive four- to six-cabin accommodation.
On paper there’s no significant difference in the key dimensions of each boat, but that conceals a number of important changes. An example for this market is a much improved owners’ cabin which now occupies part of the bridgedeck and can also include the entire starboard ama.
There’s also a big difference in how the new boat handles. Offshore racing multihulls are designed to optimise straight line speed, but that’s rarely the key priority for cruising yachts. As a result the shape of the main hulls and amas of this new Lombard design are very different to those of the Joubert-Nivel-designed Neel 51 it replaces (42 built).
In particular the forward sections have a very shallow forefoot compared to the old model, where maximum waterline length was a key priority. The change improves manoeuvrability and is an important factor behind the ease with which our boat tacked in the conditions we experienced for our test. The Neel 52 is also lighter, with improved balance thanks to a mast (and engine room) further aft and a larger jib.
On the helm
Close-hauled in more open water, with the true breeze still predominately between 8-10 knots, we consistently made just over seven knots of boat speed at a true wind angle of 60°-65°. In these conditions there’s very little heel – just enough for the windward ama to skim above the water and markedly reduce wetted surface area.
Steering is via Dyneema cables, which gives a more direct response than many alternatives, though the boat’s heavier on the helm than a well set up monohull, with a less precise feel. Nevertheless it’s still good by the standards of many cruising catamarans.
The standard Neel 52 sail plan includes a square top mainsail, slightly overlapping headsail of around 120% and staysail. Our test boat also had a very flexible 150m2 furling gennaker that can be used for reaching in 10 knots of true wind or less and broad-reaching in winds well above 20 knots. Neel also offers a larger asymmetric spinnaker as an option, as well as a marginally taller carbon rig with higher-spec Hydranet sails.
All lines, except spinnaker sheets and furling lines, are led to three electric winches at the helm station. Separate luff and leech pennants for all three mainsail reefs help tame the sail quickly. There is, however, lots of rope in this area and insufficient rope bins to handle it.
Downwind and reaching sails sheet to the back of the amas, while genoa and staysail furling lines are led to the aft end of the starboard ama. This arrangement for the furling lines greatly reduces friction compared to the convoluted route they would have to take to lead to the helm station, but means furling these sails isn’t an easy single-person operation.
With the true wind building to 10-11 knots and puffs to 13 we consistently made speeds of around 9 knots, with occasional bursts just into double figures when reaching at 110°-120° TWA, with the gennaker and staysail set. This was easy sailing at speeds that will quickly gobble up the miles when on passage.
Visibility from the Neel 52 helm station is excellent on port tack, but there’s a big blind spot on starboard – you need to descend four steps to see under the jib or gennaker. A semi flybridge above the hard top, with space for up to eight people, includes generous sunbeds. This is right next to the helm/winch station, so communication between the two is easy and, unlike many multihulls, it doesn’t feel as though the helmsman is isolated from everyone else on board.
You have to be sure guests are sitting before tacks and gybes, when hoisting and dousing the mainsail, and when reefing on port tack. There’s a bimini for sunshade over the helm area, with a clear overhead panel for sail trim, but no provision for sun protection over the flybridge area, though the hardtop over the main aft cockpit gives plenty of shade.
A key selling point for Neel is offering a very refreshing change to the familiar layouts of cruising multihulls of similar length, and the Neel 52’s arrangement feels generally bright, welcoming and innovative.
Neel 52 – bridgedeck cabin
The older Neel 51 benefitted from Neel’s trademark bridgedeck level cabin, which gives a fantastic view out almost all round the boat when you wake up. This comes at the expense of some privacy, though, which is largely solved by closing the window blinds in the bulkhead that separates the cabin from the saloon. But this space was small compared to typical catamarans owners’ cabins.
Owners with guests will still need to close the blinds on the main bridgedeck cabin on the Neel 52, but this now links to the whole of the starboard ama. This is a private area with a desk/dressing table and a generous amount of stowage in hanging and shelved lockers. Ventilation is provided by several overhead hatches and there’s a long hull window above the desk which provides plenty of natural light.
The mid part of the owner’s ama has a heads with a separate shower stall, while further forward is an additional space that was left fairly open in our test boat, with the exception of a washer/dryer. This area has obvious potential for much more stowage, or even a workbench.
The aft cockpit under the hardtop is relatively small, but this doesn’t feel important since this space fully opens up onto an expansive saloon, with the interior and exterior tables together forming a dining table that can be extended almost seamlessly to just over 3m in length.
Ahead of the saloon area is a large navstation with a double seat and a good view forward, to port and aft. However, the bridgedeck owner’s cabin creates a large blind spot on the starboard quarter and there is no hatch above to view the mainsail.
All layout options have a large and well equipped galley forward on the starboard side of the saloon. There’s acres of worktop space, a four-burner gas hob plus oven, large refrigeration and freezer capacity, plus a slimline dishwasher. Stowage is in 17 lockers both under the counter and at eye level. The saloon has two opening panels in the front windscreen for natural ventilation, plus a small opening hatch over the cooker.
In four-cabin boats steps lead down to a double cabin in the port ama, with a large double berth aft, above which is a long hull window that gives a great view out. Stowage here is primarily in a small hanging locker, plus empty space under the berth that can be used for easy access to kit bags. Forward of this are heads and shower compartments mirroring those of the starboard ama, and further forward a space similar to that with the washing machine on the starboard side.
Alternatively the port ama can be fitted out as two doubles that share a central head/shower compartment. This option is also available in the starboard ama for six-cabin charter specification boats. These also gain additional saloon and dining space on the bridgedeck as there’s no owner’s cabin at that level.
Seven steps at the front of the saloon descend into a further double cabin in the centre of the main hull, under the solid bridge deck. There’s plenty of space, but natural light and ventilation are restricted, with the former coming solely from the two escape hatches. There’s stowage plus a heads compartment (without shower) shared with a forward cabin at the front of the main hull.
On the test Neel 52 this is fitted out as a Pullman-style cabin with bunkbeds. Crew cabins, each with a single berth and head/shower, can also be specified at the aft end of each ama.
On the downside, some elements of the interior have hard edges in places that may not wear as well as rounded corners. And traditionalists won’t be impressed by the inside of lockers which have a similar feel to mass market home furniture.
Neel’s trademark full height technical area with engine and systems is restricted to the back of this model. Nevertheless, it remains a well laid out and useful space that will make maintenance and repair easier than on many yachts. Unlike cruising catamarans, Neels have only a single engine in the main hull, so a bow thruster is fitted as standard. A stern thruster is offered as an option that can make Mediterranean-style mooring a lot easier.
Deck stowage includes large lockers that can accommodate sails, fenders and watersports toys, while the tender rests on purpose made chocks at the aft end of the main hull. It’s lifted using a line from the end of the boom – a simple arrangement that avoids the weight, complication and cost of davits. Access to the water is from the extended bathing platforms on the aft end of each ama and the transom of the main hull.
Our test Neel 52 was set up with just under 2kW of solar panels on the coachroof. Neel says this is almost enough for complete autonomy while cruising when combined with the boat’s lithium iron phosphate battery bank, though as standard 625Ah of 12V AGM batteries are fitted.
Yachting World is the world’s leading magazine for bluewater cruisers and offshore sailors. Every month we have inspirational adventures and practical features to help you realise your sailing dreams.Build your knowledge with a subscription delivered to your door. See our latest offers and save at least 30% off the cover price.
There’s much to like about this boat for anyone who needs the accommodation volume offered, or is seduced by the appeal of Manhattan-style loft living. The Neel 52 also offers a big advantage over its predecessor thanks to the reconfigured owner’s suite with immensely more space. Speeds under sail are unlikely to differ noticeably to the 51, which already had potential for very quick passages when reaching, although upwind and downwind VMG for both models is less impressive, other than downwind in a blow. However, the way the new boat behaves under sail gives it a feel closer to that of a cruising monohull. More importantly for this part of the market, the 52 is easy to handle, with few operations requiring more than one person on deck. These factors, combined with the various layout options, boost this yacht’s appeal and by the time the prototype had been in commission for three weeks, delivery schedules were already stretching into early 2026, with 26 boats sold.