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GRAND SOLEIL 46.3

Elegant and swift performance cruiser

By John Kretschmer with photography by Michael Wootton

 

J/46 The new Grand Soleil 46.3 is a worthy successor to the popular Grand Soleil 45. While the hydrodynamics are a bit more refined, the powerful lines and beautiful styling remain unchanged. Built in northern Italy by Cantiere del Pardo and highly regarded in Europe, Grand Soleils are a line of performance cruisers, ranging from 34 to 64 feet. Following the path blazed by Nautor and Baltic, each Grand Soleil model is designed by a well-known naval architect and features a sleek deck profile, modern underbody, elegant interior appointments and top-quality construction.

At first glance, the Grand Soleil 46.3, designed by the J & J Design Group, looks a lot like the Frers-designed 45 it replaces. However, a closer inspection reveals more efficient hull sections, especially forward, where the bow overhang has been reduced. The 46.3 is actually more closely related to the Doug Peterson-designed Grand Soleil 50, which is not surprising since J & J Design Group worked closely with Peterson on that project. Although the 46.3 is only a little more than a foot longer overall than the 45, the waterline length is nearly 4 feet longer. By pushing the interior to the ends of the boat, useful space has been gained, although the prismatic coefficient has also increased slightly. The additional LWL and the fact that the 46.3 actually displaces less than the 45 and carries more sail area, translates into improved performance, at least on paper. I was eager to find out how the 46.3 actually performed on the water.

I joined the boat dockside at Port Annapolis. We quickly cast off the lines and motored toward the bay to catch a crisp morning breeze. The Yanmar 4JHE 56-horsepower diesel with a saildrive pushed the 46.3 through the water smartly and quietly. In the cockpit it was hard to hear the engine ticking and conversations continued in normal voices. Clear of the channel markers, we hastily made sail. I took the wheel as we skipped along on a tight reach in 10 to 12 knots of breeze. The 46.3 accelerated effortlessly under working sail and soon we were sailing steadily at 7 knots.

Cantiere del Pardo has built nearly 2,000 yachts during the past 27 years and the new 46.3 is a combination of time-honed construction methods infused with top-quality materials and high-tech fittings. The hull is laid up by hand to 14 layers, using unidirectional fiberglass impregnated with vinylester resin in the first layers to prevent osmotic blistering. There are eight longitudinal stringers and 12 transverse ribs or floors to stiffen and support the hull and keel. For durability and ultimate waterproofing, NPG isopthalic gelcoat is used on the hull.

The external fin keel is fastened with stainless steel bolts, which are backed by galvanized steel U-brackets. The strength of galvanized steel is unquestioned but it may ultimately corrode in the bilge. To prevent this, Cantiere de Pardo coats the entire assembly with epoxy.

The deck is cored with termanto, a type of manufactured cell-foam coring, and bonded to the hull chemically and mechanically. Like other European builders, stainless steel rivets are used instead of bolts. The deck joint is further strengthened by an aluminum toerail that is anchored with 200 screws. The single-pod chainplates are attached to the hull by stout tie rods and massive stainless steel bolts through a stringer. The rudder stock is stainless steel as is the rudder's internal structure. The aluminum mast is stepped on the keel, well supported by a bridge.

The cockpit handily accommodated six adults as I eased off onto a beam reach. The view from the helm was excellent when standing, although a shorter person might have trouble seeing past the instrument pods mounted on the pedestal. A curved helmsman's seat makes for level seating when heeled, and the large wheel makes steering from the coaming possible as well. All sail controls are led aft to rope clutches on the cabintrunk and the Harken ball bearing mainsheet traveler and track car system runs just aft of the companionway, allowing for an efficient end-boom sheeting arrangement. There are small lockers port and starboard. The stern steps are wide and teak decking offers good traction when climbing out of the water. The ladder is cleverly recessed into the bottom step when not deployed.

Although teak decks are not standard, 95 percent of the production includes them. It would be hard to picture the 46.3 without them. Today's teak decks are not the maintenance nightmare and potential source of leaks they once were. The 46.3 decks have a minimum of fasteners, with just the king and outer planks screwed down while the rest of the deck is chemically secured to the subdeck. In addition to being lovely to look at, teak decks provide an excellent nonskid surface, especially when wet. Finally relinquishing the helm, I made my way forward.

On deck
A sturdy stainless steel bow fitting with double anchor roller is standard as is a Harken, or equivalent, roller-furling headstay system. The chain locker is beautifully recessed into the deck and houses the standard electric windlass. The deck and water fills are also here on a small bridgedeck, a good location that protects them from seawater intrusion. The locker doesn't have much of a lip, but that is by design since it is nearly impossible to keep water out of a chain locker anyway, the key is to make sure it drains well. Aft of the chain locker is a storage locker, which is a practical spot to stow fenders and docklines. The stanchions and double lifelines are well supported.

Our test boat was fitted with the optional tall rig, a triple-spreader aluminum spar set up with running backstays. The standard mast has double spreaders, swept back 5 degrees. The mainsail comes standard with two reefs. A 120-percent furling genoa, mechanical backstay adjuster and rigid vang are also included in the standard package. The Barbarossa genoa tracks include load-adjustable leads and Harken turning blocks. The standard primary winches are Harken 53.2 STCS, while halyard winches are Harken 44.2 STCS.

Down below
Dropping below, I was immediately impressed by the warm, Old World joinerwork and the open interior plan. American cherrywood, stained a mahogany color, gives the bulkheads and cabinetry a rich yet light look. Traditionalists might balk at the layout, which features the owner's cabin forward, an in-line galley to port, and a large table, settee and island settee to starboard in the saloon. But while I admit the arrangement is designed more for life at anchor or alongside a dock than for life at sea, in many ways it makes sense. During my mother's four-year circumnavigation, she calculated that for every day spent at sea, 12 were spent in port.

I have mixed feelings about locating the owner's cabin forward, but there is no disputing that the owner's stateroom on the 46.3 is superb. It includes an island double bunk, a dressing seat and a large hanging locker. The head features a separate shower with a curved door held in place by magnets. The island settee in the saloon fronts the table, which can comfortably seat six for dinner-no small accomplishment in a 46-foot boat. There are well-placed handholds throughout. The fiddles in the galley and at the nav station are also designed for a seagoing boat.

The galley occupies the port side of the saloon and includes double stainless sinks, a three-burner stove and oven, and a Frigomatic 12-volt refrigeration system. When the drop-down leaf over the stovetop is in place there is a lot of counter space to complement the large storage lockers behind. But there is no disputing that this will be a difficult galley to work in while at sea, especially on port tack when sailing rail down. The electrical panel is above and outboard of the large nav desk and there is plenty of room for instrument repeaters. The second head is aft of the galley to port. The identical aft cabins include double berths, hanging lockers, dressing seats and bookshelves. Ventilation is excellent with six opening hatches and opening portlights throughout.

Access to the Yanmar is from behind the companionway and through panels in the quarter cabins. Fuel capacity is 180 liters, which translates into just under 50 gallons and a range of nearly 300 miles. An extra fuel tank would be a necessary option for long-range cruising. The fuel tank is stainless steel. Engine room insulation is excellent. A three-bladed fixed prop is standard. Overall, the electrical and plumbing systems are well-designed and user-friendly. Fluid gauges are standard, which is a nice feature on any boat. The water capacity is 120 gallons in two polyurethane tanks. Serious cruising might dictate the need for a watermaker.

Under sail
Back on deck the wind was holding steady and the 46.3 was sailing effortlessly on a reach. It took a moment for me to realize we were still topping 7 knots; the motion is that smooth. I conned my way back onto the helm and we put the boat through her paces. Sheeting in tight, we found that the 46.3 maintained speed at less than 40 degrees apparent. If you were racing the boat, you could definitely hit upwind targets at 32 to 35 degrees apparent with a little coaxing. The 46.3 came through the wind with a minimum of fuss and setting up the runners was only a slight inconvenience. If I were considering the 46.3 for cruising, I would choose the standard rig and dispense with the runners altogether. Load-adjustable genoa track leads should be standard equipment on every boat; they make sail trim so much more efficient. They're also a safety feature as they keep the crew in the cockpit, instead of on the leeward deck, precariously standing on the sheet, frantically shifting the car.

As is always the case during a boat test, just when you really start to get a feel for the boat, it's time to head back to the dock. The wind was diminishing as we ambled toward the gilded spire of the capital building on a broad reach. I was impressed with every aspect of the Grand Soleil 46.3. Shamelessly, I offered Mark Karlin, Grand Soleil's American rep, my services for a transatlantic delivery-you know, just so I could really get a feel for the boat.

[April 2000 Issue] [Back to Boat Test]

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