Rochelaise builder Amel has given its luxurious ocean cruisers a makeover, but has anything been lost in translation? Chris Beeson takes French leave to find out
What’s she like to sail?
She’s not terribly quick but, as Antoine points out, fast tends to be uncomfortable. A cruiser light or powerful enough to log impressive speeds brings problems of her own in a blow. Amel’s ethos is comfort, reliability and minimum effort, which means sedate and fabulously comfortable, almost regal, progress.
When we were overcanvassed, particularly with too much mizzen, the helm was very heavy indeed, but even at the best of times it felt dull. Whether this was due to an unbalanced rudder with all the feeling of a lock gate, or a lack of balance in the ketch rig is almost irrelevant as she will spend 99 per cent of the time under autopilot. Point her in the right direction, flick on the autopilot, make a note of the rudder angle, tweak the sails until she balances, then settle down with an aperitif and watch the miles tick off. What could be easier? Having the propeller in the keel’s trailing edge means there’s no propwalk, but it also means that during berthing manoeuvres, getting propwash over the rudder, which is well aft, isn’t easy. The solution? Amel fits a 12hp retractable bow thruster as standard.
What’s she like in port and at anchor?
In port she’s luxurious. LED lights in the deckhouse, on spreaders and at the end of the mizzen boom give her a glamorous superyacht touch at night. With one cockpit table leaf up, you can step from the aft deck into the cockpit and walk down the companionway to the galley without interruption, to fix your gin and tonic and settle into the cockpit cushions.
If the local insect life gets too much, simply unfurl the cockpit tent and whack up the air conditioning or retire below and flip on a DVD. At anchor, the sundeck will provide an opportunity to dry naturally after a swim and a bathing platform shower, and the lazarette is big enough for plenty of toys.
Down below, there’s abundant evidence of the Amel philosophy, which affirms that comfort levels should never drop when you’re sailing as a family. If you have the money, why not include air conditioning, heating, dishwasher, microwave, freshwater flushing heads, TV and stereo systems? And why not have cameras on the spreaders so you can survey the bottom before anchoring, or make the perfect stern-to approach from the wheel?
Would she suit you and your crew?
You’ll want to sail the world, because a yacht like this is wasted on mere port-hopping, but you won’t need decades of experience as she’s a doddle to sail. You’ll need to be wealthy, though, because this is an expensive boat. That said, Jay Roche, the UK dealer, believes Amel is up against the likes of Hallberg-Rassy, Oyster, Discovery and now Gunfleet, making her a relative bargain.
For this sort of money you’ll really struggle to find a duff boat, but where Amel sets itself apart is through practicality.
Big-name luxury marques often cram their boats with impressive fly-by-wire electronics – fine as long as they work – but Amel keeps it simple. Yes, there are electrics to make life easier but if they go wrong, you’re not entirely crippled as everything has a manual back-up. Also, as you would expect of a blue-water cruiser, maintenance access is carefully designed to encourage you to ensure everything’s in good working order. Amel is a co-operative in a world of corporations. It goes its own way. The 55 will suit the leftfield couple, self-reliant ramblers on the path less-travelled.