The Wauquiez Centurion 57 marks a welcome return of the 50-year-old French Wauquiez brand, but is this hybrid design in danger of wanting to please too many? asks Toby Hodges
Nowhere is the north/south European divide more evident than in cruising yacht design. The cold North Sea and Baltic types tend to favour function first. For us it’s all about protection from the elements, comfort in a seaway, the ability to depower a sailplan easily and live harmoniously with the boat heeled.
Our Mediterranean-based counterparts, meanwhile, scoff at such trivialities. Their super-trendy yachts actually solicit exposure to balmy conditions, all straight-edged and minimalist, with maximum area for sunbathing.
This inevitably led to many a healthy debate during our trials for the European Yacht of the Year as the pan-European judging panel offered differing viewpoints on the various designs, though overall this boat appealed as she won the Luxury Cruiser category in the 2015 European Yacht of the Year Awards.
But then there’s the French, a nation of sailors who border both types of seas and weather conditions. Either they ignore everyone else and design what they like, or they try to incorporate the best of both worlds. And the latter is precisely what Wauquiez has done with its new Wauquiez Centurion 57. She represents a hybrid of styles, a potential all-rounder of cruising yachts.
By taking some styling notes from the south and providing some northern substance, the danger of this blended Wauquiez Centurion 57, however, is that she is neither exciting enough to belong to one camp nor practical enough for the other.
But with her launch, Wauquiez is certainly sending out a clear message that it is back in the business of producing quality cruisers for discerning sailors. It puts the yard, established by Henri Wauquiez in 1965 near Lille on the Belgian border, back on the map after a change of ownership and direction in 2010 – Beneteau owned the yard for the first decade of the millennium.
Wauquiez has benefited from its period under Beneteau by incorporating high-volume practices such as milling machines into its production to help offer quality at a reasonable price.
The 57 is still an expensive yacht though; with a base price of €690,000 (£544,000) it sits exactly between production and luxury semi-custom prices – it’s half the price of a similar-sized Oyster or Contest, yet twice the price of a Hanse. And in its European Yacht of the Year category of Luxury Cruiser it was up against two other yachts of similar length, price and market in the Italia 15.98 (see our test in January) and Euphoria 54.
In comparison with other such modern fast cruisers, the Centurion 57 looks a little dated. The Berret-Racoupeau-designed hull is fuller and heavier, with a slightly raked stem – evidence perhaps that she uses the mould of the company’s 55ft Pilot Saloon. But these are features cruising folk (and those of us from ‘up north’) might admire. Aboard the test boat we certainly did when we were one of the only yachts to venture out in a Force 7 and large swell during the Santa Margherita trials.
Indeed we had very un-Italian, ugly, testing conditions: 25-30 knots combined with a short, sharp swell. But with two reefs in the main and a couple of rolls in the genoa (both impractical laminate sails for the conditions), we were soon heading to weather competently.
The Centurion lived up to her Roman name, was steadfast through the swell and maintained a consistent 8 knots close reaching upwind. And she felt assured and powerful coming back downwind, where we averaged 9.5 knots with surfs up to 12.5 under white sails.
Sense of security
The test boat had some distinctly Mediterranean-oriented options, including a hydraulically lifting table that doubled as a sunbed. Although these were the owner’s choices, I think those looking at cruising offshore might still find the cockpit too small and shallow. Benches and coamings could ideally have been longer and deeper, and a fixed cockpit table and closed transom would add a sense of security.
Coachroof winches manage running rigging, preventing the area around the aft two sets of winches becoming a snakepit of lines. The primaries are inboard slightly, which works well and there is a full traveller for the main. However, it is still awkward to squat between the winches to trim, especially with a loaded traveller unnervingly close behind.
Safely nestled in the habour, with the rain lashing down outside and wind whistling through the rigging, I made the mistake of sitting down in the saloon – the leather sofas are the kind that you do not want to leave. “The main brief for the interior was to have a big saloon and galley to relax in port,” said business development director Patrick Bloch. “Brief fulfilled,” I thought.
The interior is warm and calming rather than flashy and fancy. There is only one real layout option, with three cabins, including a plush forward owner’s suite. A crew cabin rather than a sail locker and a workroom instead of a second aft cabin are the only alternatives to the accommodation plan.
The galley is a good size for long-haul voyages. Generous worksurface and stowage space are gained by splitting it each side of the companionway, including room for a washing machine and extra fridge – or, being French, a wine climatiser. The down side is that the chart table is pushed forward to the bulkhead, adjoining the port sofa.
This is certainly a comfortable and well-finished yacht throughout. But it is the quality of construction that impressed me. The Centurion 57 has the heart of a real cruising yacht. She feels robust, with places to hold on at heel. Tank capacity is generous and sited low and central where possible.
The hull is built using resin-infused GRP balsa sandwich, with bulkheads glassed and bonded to hull and deck. The interior is built inside the boat before the deck is fitted and a single team is used to fit out the yacht from start to finish. “The mast and winches are the only thing we subcontract out,” said Bloch. The yard has a carpentry shop, where all interior teak is hand-sanded and bees-waxed seven times. So you can literally feel the 50 years of heritage behind this brand.
LOA 17.70m/58ft 1in
LWL 15.42m/50ft 7in
Beam (max) 4.95m/16ft 3in
Draught 2.30m/7ft 7in
Disp (lightship) 22,500kg/49,604lb
Sail area (100% foretriangle) 154.3m2/1,661ft2
Engine 110hp shaft drive
Sail area: disp 19.7
Disp: LWL 171
Price (ex VAT) €659,000 (£523,826)
Designed by Berret-Racoupeau Yacht Design
If there is such a thing as a happy medium in the world of cruising yacht production, it is perhaps the Centurion 57. She is politely stylish, neither bold nor innovative, but pretty and practical enough to suit her purpose.
She is a very pleasant, well-considered yacht, impressively built and finished with a warm and comfortable interior. More versatile than radical, she could be cruised across the Atlantic in utter comfort and raced with equal enjoyment at Antigua Sailing Week.
The 57 has a clever design mix; she is angular, chunky and purposeful, but in an approachable, family-first sort of way. “Clients want a nice-looking yacht that still will be in ten years’ time,” is how Patrick Bloch described her looks in comparison with contemporary competitors.
The danger of trying to please the stylish south as well as the practical north is to risk an unsatisfying compromise. There is only a subtle difference between having savoir-faire or being just a tad dull – a decision that lies in the eye of the beholder.
This is an extract from a feature in Yachting World February 2015 issue