Grand Soleil is well known for its stylish cruiser-racers. Yet its new 46LC is an out-and-out cruising yacht. Why? Sam Jefferson discovers a number of compelling reasons
For those of you not fully acquainted with Grand Soleil yachts, I’m going to tell you a very brief story relating to this Italian marque. Over the years I have worked sporadically as a charter yacht skipper and for two lucky weeks I was fortunate to be in charge of a Grand Soleil 43 and fell rapidly in love with this cruiser-racer. She was a sharp contrast to the people carriers I usually sailed; so stylish that people came bounding down pontoons and complimented me on the boat when I moored up. What’s more, she sailed like an absolute dream.I returned the yacht to the charter base only with the deepest regret, enthusing about how the boat had literally sailed rings around another much larger yacht.
The Croatian gent dealing with the handover beamed with pride and said with great feeling: “This.. this is the race car…that,” here he turned and gestured contemptuously and melodramatically at a perfectly respectable piece of tupperware next door, “that is the bus.” And he was right…
With this in mind, I was rather worried when I discovered that Grand Soleil had moved away from the cruiser-racer formula that has served it well since the company opened for business in Bologna in the 1974. The new 46LC (Long Cruise) is the first of a new breed of pure cruisers with no pretensions toward racing at all. You don’t have to look too far to see where the concept came from; X-Yachts is a fellow specialist in the cruiser-racer field which has enjoyed plentiful success with the Xc range of performance cruisers in the past few years. It was a smart move and there is no reason it won’t work for Grand Soleil either. No one particularly chooses to own a slow boat, so there can be little harm in developing a fast cruiser.
To this end, the 46LC retains slippery lines, a decently proportioned rig and a relatively modest displacement of 12,000kg. Yet that is where concessions to speed end; make no mistake, this is first and foremost a cruising yacht. There’s a good deal more freeboard than you’d usually expect on a Grand Soleil and the mast is deck stepped. Water and fuel tankage have been upped to 600 and 300 litres respectively with long distance cruising in mind and the mainsheet is tucked away Beneteau-style on a rather large arch above the cockpit. Meanwhile, a self-tacking jib replaces the usual overlapping genoa. Below the waterline she has a single spade rudder and an L-shaped lead keel with two draft options of 1.8m or 2.3m. One thing that should be clear is that this is not a simple rehash of the Grand Soleil 47 with a different deck tacked onto it. This is important because, although the 47 is an excellent yacht, in common with almost any modern cruiser/racer her hull is a comparatively shallow dish which can tend to become noisy in a head sea and generally capricious in wild conditions. Cruising sailors don’t like that and by going for a new, completely stand-alone design, Grand Soleil has hit upon a much more cruiser-friendly hull shape.
This shines through in a more gentle motion at sea and far greater volume down below. I suppose the only drawback is she has gained a bit of freeboard on her sportier sisters and therefore looks slightly less sleek. Her design is, however, very modern, stylish and inimitably Italian. She features a short, integrated, beaky bowsprit that keeps her anchor well outboard of her plumb bow, while her transom is also straight. The hull is punctuated with large, angular portlights. Gone are the hard chines that are starting to date-stamp yachts circa 2010. Now, I realise I could be describing almost any production yacht designed in the last couple of years, but the 46 has a certain presence that most others do not. How the Italians achieve this is a mystery – just like their wiring systems always used to be (not now, I hasten to add), but it’s seductive.
On the water
We tested the Grand Soleil in the Solent in rather boisterous autumn conditions: 25kn of wind combined with a savage wind over tide chop. I couldn’t help but feel that the natural domain of this yacht was some sun kissed Mediterranean shore and that she was wildly out of place here. In football, pundits always rather sardonically eye some fancy dan foreigner who has excelled in the early season by dourly repeating the cliche ‘that’s all very well, but how will he perform on a wet November night in Stoke?’ This seemed like the nautical equivalent, with the oil refineries of Marchwood adding some very realistic grittiness. Happily, the LC46 responded with aplomb, swatting aside the vicious chop with ease and a pleasing lack of slamming. She was unquestionably a quick boat and was hitting seven knots upwind despite the frankly horrible conditions. She was also supremely balanced: we started out with a full main and most of the jib unrolled and I was expecting a battle. Instead, there was absolutely nil weather helm even when she was palpably overpowered. She was also incredibly nimble and we short tacked her up the Beaulieu River with ease, the self-tacking jib meaning there was minimal fuss, while the helm was light and responsive. This is an easy boat to double hand and she’s also a lot of fun. Despite the wild conditions, the cockpit remained dry and, heading down below for respite, I found this was peaceful despite the row outside. There were also handholds aplenty.
Charging back home downwind we hit 12kt and moored up shortly thereafter with smiles all round.
My expectation for this test was to sail a racing boat with a few concessions to cruisers inelegantly tacked on. The reality was a thoughtfully designed yacht that is unquestionably designed expressly for cruising.
Yet this is cruising Italian style and there’s nothing dour about it – she’s quick and she’s chic and has a good deal more character than many of her rivals. I felt the very light, stylish interior was a real success and this is an area that manufacturers frequently struggle to get right. The LC is never going to be a heavy Swedish style cruiser, but she offers something different and can undoubtedly deliver you across oceans with both speed and style.
LOA: 48ft 4in (14.7m)
LWL: 41ft 9in (12.7m)
Beam: 14ft 6in (4.4m)
Draught: 7ft 7in (2.3m)
Displacement: 12,000kg (26,455lb)
Sail area: (100% foretriangle) 99m2
Engine: 75hp shaft drive
Sail area: disp 19.2
Disp: LWL 162
Price ex VAT: £312,000 exc VAT
Price as tested: £460,000 exc VAT
Full story in Sailing Today magazine, on shelves now.