Ketch builder Amel has launched its first sloop for 20 years, a sloop with modern twin rudders at that. Pip Hare travels to La Rochelle to test her
French builder Amel has, for 50 years, been selling a dream, and the Amel 50 is no exception; with this boat you could head off anywhere. Imagine cruising through the Chilean channels with a panoramic view from your warm and cosy doghouse, shortening sail at the touch of a button. Amel’s philosophy is everything on board should be designed in such a way to make the owner’s life easier and the onboard experience more pleasurable – making long distance cruising achievable for anyone who can afford one.
Although Amel’s current smallest, this boat is still 50ft and made for the open ocean, but don’t expect to tack through narrow channels, even though she’s the first sloop the company has produced in two decades. The decision to make her a sloop was chosen to keep costs down, while still having a rig that can be easily handled.
Cocooned under a hardtop, surrounded by glass on three sides I was surprisingly engaged by sailing Amel 50. I didn’t expect to feel connected to the sailing experience without feeling the wind, but in a full range of conditions I really enjoyed it. I did, however, prefer to open the windscreen windows and get a bit of breeze in my face when the weather allowed.
Upwind in reasonable seas and 20 knots of true wind our close-hauled angle was not great but acceptable for offshore passage making and our boat speed a good 8.4 knots. More impressive was our light airs upwind performance; managing to hold 4.4 knots of boat speed in only 5 knots of true wind.
The steering system uses push-pull cables, rather like those on an engine control, to move the quadrant. Combined with the well-balanced twin rudders this results in a helm that gives little feedback, but has a good level of response when the wheel is turned. It takes good concentration to hand steer but the autopilot coped well in all situations.
We tried additional offwind sails during our test, boosting our light airs performance and increasing downwind boat speed from 7.8 to 9.2 knots in the heavy breeze. If haring downwind with a spinnaker is not your cup of tea, the poled-out headsail gave us reasonable performance in all but the lightest airs. However, I feel the boat really benefitted from the extra sail area and would recommend a code zero on a furler as an easy-to-manage compromise that will keep you sailing for longer.
There is no hiding the size of the Amel 50. It looms over an alongside pontoon requiring a fender step to get up the high topsides – the alternative is to drop the bathing platform and come over the stern. Despite the size I found the steering position high enough to have good vision of all the ‘corners’ while manoeuvring in the marina, and I was comfortably able to reverse into a finger berth using the joystick bow thruster control and minimal wheel steering. Turning tightly without the bow thruster is almost impossible as the position of the rudders relative to propeller gives very little turning moment from prop wash.
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THE TEST VERDICT
The Amel 50 is a luxurious, well-engineered yacht which genuinely exceeded my expectations on sailing performance – for a boat designed to cross oceans in luxury. The Amel philosophy of a maintenance free boat results in features that are clever but at times chunky. Thanks to this approach I believe this is a vessel that could sail tens of thousands of miles and show little sign of wear and tear.
At €790,000 ex VAT the Amel 50 would clearly suit couples seeking adventures in their retirement and I believe she caters well to this market, offering a sailing experience with minimal physical effort and a high standard of living accommodation. There are some aspects of sailing the Amel 50 that smaller people, women in particular, may struggle with, such as the seated steering position and handling the jib pole. However, the electric furling and winches make sailing this boat a generally inclusive experience.
WOULD SHE SUIT YOU AND YOUR CREW?
This boat is clearly aimed at couples with occasional guests who are looking for maximum comfort and space. It is designed to sail well but with minimum effort. This type of low engagement sailing offers a compromise; it allows those with a thirst to see the raw beauty of remote places to do so without having to endure physical hardship along the way. This boat will not suit those seeking more interactive quality of sailing but it will be great for effortless offshore passage making; and when you eventually decide to drop the hook, the Amel 50 will provide a sumptuous standard of living on-board regardless of conditions on deck.
For those looking to explore the world by boat, and who have the funds to do so, the Amel 50 offers the opportunity to take on the challenge with a mix of luxury, style and practicality few other boats this size offer.
FACTS & FIGURES
Price as tested €1,128,000 Inc VAT (Approx £995,180)
LOA 16.47m (54ft)
Hull Length 15.51m (50ft 10in)
LWL 14.51m (47ft 7in)
Beam 4.79m (15ft 9in)
Draught 2.15m (7ft 1in)
Displacement 18,750kg (41,337 lb)
Ballast 5,360kg (11,817 lb)
Ballast ratio 28.6%
Displacement / Length 170.7
Sail area 126m2 (1,356sq ft)
SA/D ratio 18.2
Diesel 675 litres (148 gal)
Water 600 litres (132 gal)
Transmission Shaft Drive
RCD category A
Designer Berret-Racoupeau Yacht Design
Tel +33 546 55 17 31