Rupert Holmes tests the Solaris 40, a chic, contemporary 40ft performance cruiser with a surprisingly spacious interior
Solaris 40 review: appealing mix of style and performance
Helming your own yacht – or watching friends and family do so – ought to be one of the biggest pleasures of owning a boat. Along with promoting a clean, streamlined aesthetic, this was a core principle in the development of this Italian yard’s four latest models, from the Solaris 40 I tested for this report, up to the 80.
“We wanted to be very aggressive with this aspect – we want the helmsmen to feel the same benefits as sailing a racing yacht,” designer Javier Soto Acebal told me. He therefore eliminated the side decks towards the back of the cockpit, enabling the helm stations to be positioned well outboard and aft.
The result is to maximise visibility from the helm, with an excellent view of the luff of the headsail and of oncoming waves. On my first day on board, sailing upwind in 12-14 knots of true wind, at a 45-50° true wind angle, we made 6.5-7.5 knots boat speed, against an awkward and confused short head sea that would have proved testing for most boats.
Broad reaching back towards port and with the furling gennaker set the boat came alive, the seas that had impeded progress upwind now aiding us and the boat accelerating down the face of the waves at speeds of 10 knots or more.
Had there been a larger asymmetric spinnaker on board we’d undoubtedly have been measurably faster, but one of the intriguing aspects of the test boat was just how effortlessly it is set up to sail. The combination of a self-tacking jib and the furling gennaker makes for a boat that offers brisk performance, without placing big demands on its crew.
The following day we had a little less breeze – around 10 knots true – but a more comfortable sea state. This time close-hauled we still made 6.5 knots, tacking through 90°, but with a positive feel on the helm that made it easy to settle the boat into the groove. Bearing away and unfurling the gennaker we made an effortless and consistent 7-8 knots.
Soto Acebal has drawn a typical contemporary hull shape, with maximum beam carried well aft, broad forward sections and almost full length chines. Flare above the waterline, both forward and aft helps to reduce wetted surface area, thus promoting light airs performance, while twin rudders provide lots of grip, at the cost of a marginal loss of speed in very light airs.
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I’ve recently sailed several boats with helm stations similarly far outboard and no obvious helm seat, as there’s no side deck – nor, in some cases, provision for a seat aft of the wheel.
Solaris has addressed this with a neat folding seat, which allows you to sit facing outboard. It would be near perfect, except that the test boat had no foot chocks to brace against.
Slimline helm station pods are built into the neat cantilevered pedestals for the wheels and have space for steering compass, engine controls and a small MFD or instrument displays, without being intrusive. However, placing the wheels outboard means there’s a bigger gap between them, which can make changing sides more difficult, especially when the boat is well heeled.
The high freeboard allows for a low profile coachroof and lots of flat deck space, as well as a very cool aesthetic, although the 40 is not as sleek in this respect as the larger models. Two easy steps forward and outboard of the helm stations take you from the level of the cockpit sole to the side decks. Unlike many of today’s yachts it’s also easy to step over the coaming from the cockpit bench to the side deck, avoiding a detour towards the transom.
When going forward the long stainless steel coachroof grab handles are welcome, though our test boat would also benefit from a couple of smaller ones near the companionway.
By cruising standards the cockpit feels as though it lacks protection, especially for those who plan to sail in cooler parts of the world, although the optional sprayhood would help in this respect. Even then, short benches at the forward end of the cockpit limit the number of people that can sit around the optional table.
All sail controls, including the German mainsheet, are led to two pairs of winches ahead of the helm stations. One of the starboard winches of the test boat was upgraded to electric power, which takes the effort out of tasks such as hoisting the mainsail.
The winches cannot be reached to trim sails while steering, but with today’s top-notch autopilots that no longer needs to be an issue. A useful advantage of this approach is it allows the winches to be positioned where there’s plenty of room to work them.
The optional mainsheet traveller is deeply recessed in the cockpit sole just aft of the winches. It looks neat, but means the sheet slices across a part of the cockpit in which crewmembers tend to be present during manoeuvres. As a result the traveller needed careful attention in every tack or gybe, so I’d be tempted by the standard arrangement, with the sheet led through a fixed block on the cockpit sole.
On our test boat the traveller problem was compounded by the low boom, which sweeps across the cockpit below 6ft. However, owners could specify a mainsail with a slightly higher clew to avoid this.
By today’s standards the mast is relatively well forward in the boat, which makes the self-tacking jib quite a high aspect ratio sail. There’s also no control of the jib sheet lead, other than the different holes in the clew board of the sail, which makes adjustment to control twist while underway difficult without temporarily furling the sail.
On deck stowage includes two useful smallish cockpit lockers under the aft end of the side benches, one of which has enough space for a liferaft. However, a corner of the rope bags has to be detached to open each of these lockers.
A big lazarette aft, accessed via a large hatch in the cockpit sole, gives access to the quadrants and tie bar for the steering. It also has space to stow the optional neat folding carbon fibre passerelle. The wide fold-down bathing platform reveals the gas locker and stowage for the boarding ladder.
The remainder of deck stowage for three-cabin boats in an oversized chain locker, which has enough space to stow all the fenders. Two-cabin versions add a big, deep cockpit locker to starboard.
Solaris 40 below decks
The high freeboard helps to create a lot of volume below decks and the interior is therefore larger and more comfortable than the sleek external appearance might suggest. The conventional two- or three-cabin layout includes a proper forward facing chart table to starboard, although this means the settee ahead of it is not quite long enough to function as a sea berth.
There’s a lot of wood veneer in the saloon, yet it doesn’t feel dark, as the relatively slim coachroof windows are augmented by large hull windows.
The owner’s cabin benefits greatly from the extra beam in the forward sections of the hull. This will undoubtedly swing the balance for many buyers – there are few performance cruisers of this size that offer as much space here. There’s a full-size peninsula bed, as well as plenty of floor space, even with the optional en suite, plus reasonable stowage. Large hull windows help provide plenty of natural light and a good view of the outside world.
Aft cabins are smaller, but have plenty of width, although natural light and ventilation is more restricted. The aft heads is nicely appointed, with a cool carbon counter top, but the three-cabin boats lack a separate shower stall.
The L-shaped galley has good worktop space, deep fiddles and a proper crash bar across the cooker. There’s also a 1.5 bowl sink and both top-opening and front-opening fridges.
Construction is of vinylester sandwich, with the foam core glued in under vacuum, then the remaining laminate hand laid. As it’s not infused this is a fairly heavy boat and displacement is among the highest of performance cruisers of this length. Nevertheless, fore and aft bulkheads are fully bonded in and, even when upwind in a confused sea the structure appeared stiff, with no undue squeaks or creaks.
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Not long ago 40ft performance cruisers were a key part of the market, but it’s now a decade since firms that used to dominate this space, including Beneteau, Elan, J/Boats and Dehler, have launched an all-new fast cruiser of this size. Yet yacht design has taken big steps forward during that time – today’s boats are generally faster, easier to handle and have significantly more interior space. The Solaris 40 is therefore welcome, offering an appealing mix of style, performance and spacious accommodation. It’s a design that offers the potential for fast cruising, with easy and enjoyable passages. While many aspects of the boat are geared for sailing in Mediterranean waters, this design will also be in its element further afield, although tankage is on the small size for extended periods of autonomy. What about the aim to make a cruising yacht that’s as much fun to helm as a thoroughbred racer? Solaris has done a good job in this respect, with my main reservation relating to displacement, which inevitably has a knock-on effect on performance. In other respects, as all boats are built to order, owners can choose exactly the specification they want. The small items I noted that might benefit from improvement would therefore be easy to rectify.