Italian boatbuilder Cantiere del Pardo has spent the last four decades evolving its notion of performance cruising, and its latest offering to arrive in North America, the Grand Soleil 43, takes yet another step in that familiar direction.

First of all, the boat looks great. A plumb bow and stern, straight sheer, and low-profile cabin top give the 43 a sleek, no-nonsense appearance. More importantly, the boat sails like a dream, thanks to its powerful full-batten main, 107 percent genoa and Solimar steering.

“I really liked this boat,” Cruising World’s Boat of the Year judge Ed Sherman declared after we took the 43 for a spin on Chesapeake Bay last fall, following the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis. It was a sentiment shared by fellow judge Alvah Simon, who noted that it was “so easy to move around the boat,” an important feature for anyone considering passagemaking or even daysailing with a shorthanded crew.

Indeed, when my turn came to throw in a couple of tacks, I found the layout of the cockpit, with twin wheels and a clear walkway between them, quite simple to navigate. Perched at the leeward helm, I could readily reach forward to the Harken electric winch and release the loaded jib sheet. Then, as I spun the wheel and the boat turned through the wind, I simply took a couple of steps across to the opposite steering station, collected the new sheet and retrimmed the headsail with the push of a button. Easy as pie.

For the record, in about 10 knots of breeze, we cruised right along with the speedo hovering in the 8-knot range. A finger on the wheel was all it took to keep our heading spot on. And by the way, if we’d had more time during our test sail, I think I would have enjoyed rolling out the code zero that was furled and set on the carbon bowsprit.

A Ronstan traveler is located under the cockpit sole — it has a hinged cover so the track can be cleaned or lines cleared should they become tangled — and provides the helmsman with an easy way to tweak the German-style double-ended main to stay in step with the breeze. Both the mainsheet and the genoa sheets are led through tubes under the deck, which keeps the topsides clutter-­free and easy to move about on. Excellent nonskid helps too. Forward of the two steering pedestals, there’s plenty of room for guests to relax. A fold-down drop-leaf table sits under a panel in the cockpit sole when not in use, but is easily lifted into place when the drinks come out. The coamings are designed to be comfortable backrests when crew are seated but easy to step over when you’re headed forward on the deck.

grand soleil 43

Down below, the light oak interior gives the saloon a bright, modern look.

A couple of other design elements at each end of the deck caught the judges’ attention as well. All the way aft, they deemed the access to the steering quadrant, located under a panel in the sole between the two wheels, to be excellent. And at the bow, Alvah Simon noted the innovative way in which the vertical windlass was mounted securely below deck, allowing the anchor rode to drop directly into the locker.

Specifications

Like other production boatbuilders, Cantiere del Pardo often turns to well-known racing architects to keep its model line fresh. In the case of the 43, they brought in America’s Cup designer Claudio Maletto, who also drew the lines for the company’s latest 39-footer. The 43 we sailed in Annapolis is the third generation of the same length; the previous two also came with strong racing pedigrees. And the builder’s go-fast focus didn’t go unnoticed. The 43 won Boat of the Year kudos from our racy sister publication, Sailing World, which named the boat the winner of the Performance Cruiser and Handicap Racing category.

Grand Soleil offers the 43 in a couple of different configurations. The boat we sailed had the standard 61-foot rig and a 6-foot-6-inch T-bulb lead keel; a 64-foot mast and 7-foot-10-inch racing keel are also available.

Down below, the three-cabin, two-head interior layout is simple but stylish and well executed throughout. Light oak woodwork, gray upholstery, and white panels on the hull and overhead brighten the interior considerably, aided by three portlights in each side of the hull, long ports set into the cabin top, and hatches overhead. In the saloon, the two-piece hatch can open in either direction, a nice touch for dockside living when the breeze isn’t always from dead ahead. The judges did note the number of fixed ports elsewhere, though, and wondered how ventilation might be in more tropical settings. I found generous ­headroom in the owner’s cabin forward, and appreciated the elbowroom in its en suite head and shower compartment. Accommodations included a good-size hanging locker and an island queen berth.

In the saloon, the dining table could seat a crowd, with U-shaped seating outboard to port, and provided a welcome handhold when underway. A centerline bench doubles as a footstool for the settee opposite and, when not in use, locks into place under the table so it’s out of the way. Set to port at the foot of the companionway, the L-shaped galley appeared to be well designed for cooking underway, equipped with a three-burner stove and oven, a top-­loading freezer and a front-opening fridge. The nav station was located opposite, to starboard, aft of which was the guest head and shower. Twin aft cabins rounded out the living space.

The Grand Soleil line features top-notch ­construction and materials. The hull and deck are vacuum-bagged using vinylester resin and foam coring. A carbon-fiber grid is bonded to the hull to carry the load of the keel and rigging, contributing to the boat’s overall stiffness.

A price tag of $475,000 puts a tricked-out Grand Soleil on par with its competition at the performance end of the sailboat marketplace. But price alone doesn’t really tell the story. The look, feel and sailing ability of the 43 certainly contribute to its value as well. BOTY judge Tim Murphy noted that he and the other judges all came off the boat smiling after their dockside inspection. And out on the bay with the breeze on? “It was a happier sailing experience,” he concluded.

For more: http://www.grandsoleil.net/

@http://www.cruisingworld.com/