Can a practical family cruiser also deliver performance? The Bavaria 32 Cruiser straddles both worlds with ease, says Rachael Sprot
Can a practical family cruiser also deliver performance? The Bavaria 32 Cruiser straddles both worlds with ease, says Rachael Sprot
When you think of the naval architect, Bruce Farr, many good things spring to mind: America’s Cup challengers, Whitbread winners and high-profile superyachts.
Family cruiser isn’t at the top of the list – yet the Bavaria 32 Cruiser is just that.
The Cruiser range, launched in 2011, is the product of a marriage between this renowned designer of performance yachts and one of the most prolific boat yards of modern times.
I jumped on board Solid Aire belonging to Nick and Tracey Hindmarsh, in Plymouth, to find out more. Nick and Tracey have owned the boat for three years.
Most of their cruising has been done locally, with Fowey and the Yealm within easy reach for a quick weekend getaway.
They have five grown-up children between them and three grandchildren. Their choice of boat was pragmatic from the outset: they wanted to get the family afloat.
Sharing your passion for sailing with your children is never an easy task; it’s even harder when they’re too old to press-gang into the crew.
They knew that they’d have to win over hearts and minds if they were to get them on board.
The day I joined them they had Tracey’s daughter, Abigail, and grandson, Arlo, on board, and it was his first taste of life afloat.
The Bavaria 32 Cruiser, which later became the 33, is the smallest of the range, which went up to 55 foot.
Solid Aire came with the Avantgarde spec which included lots of extras like the Webasto heating system, 30hp engine (instead of the standard 18hp) and electric windlass.
Of course all of these can be added by the owner subsequently but the quality of the installation is usually better when done by the factory.
The construction is solid GRP below the waterline, and foam core above and on deck.
A laminated grid gives strength in the bilges.
She is 10% heavier than some of the other 32 footers on the market, which is reassuring.
The pale grey hull is distinctive in the marina, although there is a white hulled version too.
Her lines are somewhat unforgiving on the eye but the overall look is sharp and there’s a hint of her racing parentage in her angular looks and bold bow.
What strikes me most, though, is how much boat there is squeezed into a mere 10 metres of length: every centimetre is used and the rewards of that are reaped when you step below.
The interior, designed by BMW, is phenomenally light and spacious for a boat of her size.
The angular look is continued below decks, where rectangular door frames and straight lines disguise the fact that we’re inside a boat and not a chic modern apartment.
The boat feels warm, dry and comfortable without a trace of damp or mildew thanks to the ample ventilation and good build quality.
Nick remarks that the only time they find a dribble in the bilges is if they’ve worn wet clothing below decks.
The companionway is particularly attractive with solid teak trim, substantial stainless grab rail, and an elegant set of steps.
Instead of a washboard there’s a handsome pair of saloon doors, which allow light in when closed, and save the faff of having to stow the board somewhere.
Bavaria certainly know how to make an entrance, they know their market and they know when to splash out on the details.
I suspect the swing doors would lose their charm if you had to stand in the hatch and brace yourself against them to take in a reef in a blow.
Most people probably wouldn’t buy this boat for long-distance offshore cruising itineraries.
Having said that, I did witness a group of Norwegian students setting off to Greenland in one.
They made it home OK, but there are other 32 footers which might be more appropriate if those are your cruising ambitions.
What she will do very well is get you on the water with minimum fuss and in maximum comfort.
The saloon comfortably seats six and there’s almost 6ft of headroom.
The table is enormous, which creates a great space for socialising, and combines clever stowage in the form of cutlery drawers in the end and a central locker for glasses in the top.
There’s also a small chart table which can be used from the port saloon seating.
The Bavaria Cruiser 32 comes as a two-cabin arrangement with a v-berth forwards and an enormous double aft that extends under the cockpit sole.
Portlights in the hull and cockpit allow plenty of light into the aft cabin where there’s a decent-sized locker and useful shelf running the length of the bunk.
The galley is small but functional, with covers for the sink and hob to extend the work surface, and a useful stainless grabrail.
Engine access is relatively good in the spacious engine bay, but the seacock was behind the engine and awkward to reach if the engine is hot – not ideal if you’ve sucked something into the strainer and want to clear it out.
The heads compartment would be the envy of many 40 footers: it is a decent-sized wet room with an independent shower – no more crouching under the short hose of a combined tap and shower head in order to wash your hair.
The generous wet locker is a welcome sight in our northern European climate.
But the thing that earned my greatest respect was the set-up of the holding tank: as a yachting instructor I could write a book entitled ‘When heads go wrong’ and I usually find the maintenance of plumbing systems to be totally overlooked by designers. Not here though.
The waist-height locker for the holding tank is a very civilised location for a very uncivilised item: there’ll be no grovelling around in the bilge if it gets blocked.
The outlet seacock was easily reached under the sink so that when the time comes you have a fighting chance of a swift resolution.
The clever layout and quality details don’t fully mask the fact that this is a boat built to a budget.
The inside of the hull next to the bunks and in the saloon is finished with a thin, plastic panelling that on first glance looks wooden but is actually quite flimsy.
Lift up a saloon cushion and the plywood edges of the joinery appear to have been sanded off but left unsealed, and there are several edges finished with sealant.
Nick and Tracey have maintained Solid Aire meticulously, but I wonder how the interior would look with less fastidious owners.
There’s no compromise on the important stuff though and on deck things work well.
The cockpit coaming is high at the forward end making the space feel secure, and its gentle slope creates a comfortable backrest for relaxing with a book.
The table is a decent size and will comfortably host six adults for sundowners.
As with the saloon table, the integral locker provides useful storage for water bottles and sun cream.
The bold decision to do away with a traveller entirely and sheet the main onto the cockpit table makes sense for the kind of cruising most owners are likely to do.
I’ve always felt that the traveller is overrated in cruising boats – if you’ve got a decent purchase system on the mainsheet and a powerful rudder you can cope with the odd gust and most cruisers will put a reef in rather than constantly play the traveller.
If you were regularly out there in 30 knots or racing around the cans, you might think differently.
It certainly got the thumbs up from Arlo, who thought it made a great climbing frame.
The cockpit locker was another score point.
Deep and wide, it’s easily big enough for a decent-sized dinghy, stand-up paddle boards or kayaks.
I’d have liked a drop-down front on it because in comparison to the size of the space, the access hatch is quite small.
There’ll be a temptation to throw bulky items in on top of each other and getting them out could be a struggle.
I had to get inside myself to stow the swimming steps for exactly that reason, and I was finding the space so big that it’s actually hard to work with from on top.
But ultimately it’s a luxury to have the space to carry a decent selection of toys and handy for a family that want to mess around in small boats as well as big boats.
The swimming platform is the pièce de résistance of the Bavaria Cruiser line.
The helm seat drops down like a drawbridge and swimming steps slot into place, followed shortly by a graceful dive into an azure sea…
The weather may not always be ideal for making the most of this clever design on our shores but it’s a lovely touch of superyacht on a small family cruiser.
Salcombe and St Tropez aren’t so very different, are they?
So far we hadn’t yet seen much of the ‘Farr’ effect.
We set off into Plymouth Sound with very little wind to see if we could eke some speed out of her.
She slipped easily out of her berth and followed her rudder nicely under power with the sail drive giving little prop kick and her deep fin keel giving the manoeuvrability you’d expect on a modern cruising boat.
The 30hp engine gave a cruising speed of 5 knots at 2,000rpm, and we squeezed her up to 5.8 knots at 2,500rpm.
The Bavaria 32 Cruiser was supremely easy to get sailing thanks to the in-mast furling which comes as standard.
Her cast iron, fin and bulb keel is deep at 1.95m (although there is a shoal draft version drawing 1.5m) so I expected her to have good upwind performance.
She did: in 5-6 knots of breeze she skimmed along at 4 knots on 35° apparent.
There wasn’t enough wind to put her through her paces but she gave an impressive upwind demonstration in light airs, and I expect she’s quick off the mark when the breeze fills in.
Solid Aire didn’t have the additional sprit for rigging a cruising chute, and I suspect that due to the small jib and swept back spreaders you’d have to sail very broad angles downwind to keep her moving, making the most of her shallow hull profile by taking a fast, reaching route.
Bavaria 34 - practical cruiser with plenty of room
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The chainplates are attached to the outside of the hull, just under the solid aluminium toe-rail.
Although it feels logical to make the most of the yacht’s beam for the rigging, the lowers cut right across the sidedeck and are a little awkward to navigate when going forward.
One safety concern is that the jackstays didn’t reach all the way to the bow, so if there was a problem with the furler at sea you could end up in a compromising position.
Admittedly this isn’t likely to be an issue on coastal cruises in fine weather.
After a couple of decades of phenomenal productivity during the nineties and noughties, the Bavaria brand became ubiquitous in sailing schools and on the charter scene.
They had a reputation for mass-produced boats that were perfectly functional but lacked the charm that might attract someone looking for their dream yacht.
The quality touches of the Cruiser range indicate a determination to buck this trend.
I asked Tracey if she thought the Bavaria 32 Cruiser would do the job of tempting the rest of the family on board. She replied: ‘I hope so… I mean, what could they possibly object to?’
And it’s true, the Bavaria 32 Cruiser is really nice in the best possible way. You don’t need a thoroughbred yacht to have a thoroughly good time on the water.
The sea provides the magic if you’ve got a good way of accessing it.
Bavaria has made all the right compromises with this boat. It’s affordable but still has some very stylish features.
There has been plenty of thought about ‘real life’ stuff such as ablutions.
But above all Bavaria has prioritised the things that make sailing fun in the first place – spending time with friends and family, and that little thrill when wind fills the sails.
The real testament doesn’t come from me but from Abigail and Arlo.
There aren’t many new mothers who would take their baby to sea, but seeing how relaxed they were on board I realised Tracey and Nick had made all the right compromises too.
Alternatives to the Bavaria 32 Cruiser
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 33i
The Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 33i was launched as a direct competitor to the Bavaria 32 Cruiser.
There are lots of these yachts on the charter market, for good reason, as they tick a lot of boxes on the entry-level, fast-cruiser list.
The interior is bright and modern, if a little minimalist, and she lacks some of the soft touches of the other family cruisers.
The standard two-cabin layout is slightly different in that the aft bunk is athwartships rather than fore and aft.
Although this might take some getting used to, it means that you can actually sit up and read a book or drink a cup of tea in bed.
This is unusual in a boat of any size, let alone a 33 footer.
The cabin door for the forward cabin is on the centreline, which also gives the layout a fresh feel. The saloon is spacious with a small, forward-facing chart table.
There isn’t as much storage as there could be, with a large empty space above the saloon lockers crying out for a fiddle to turn it into a more useful shelf.
The pay-off for the dedicated chart table is that the heads is quite compact.
The cockpit is comfortable for four people but might be tight for six as the fixed table takes up much of the available space.
She has a removable helm seat giving easy access to the swimming steps.
She’s over 10% lighter than the Bavaria with a bigger sail area, more weight in the keel and correspondingly higher ballast ratio so she’ll be pretty nifty around the cans too.
If you need to satisfy a competitive streak there is also a performance spec available.
This has an even bigger rig, and originally came with a whole host of extras like laminate sails, bigger winches and a folding prop.
At the other end of the spectrum there was a lifting keel version which reduced the draft to just 0.85m.
This has been popular in the UK and now commands a higher price tag on the second-hand market. Most, but not all examples, come with in-mast furling.
There’s a high turnover of them due to their popularity on the charter market, so you can pick one up relatively cheaply in the Mediterranean, or pay a premium for one which has been in private ownership.
Dufour 325 Grand Large
Dufour has traditionally designed yachts with slightly sleeker lines than the other big production builders, and the boat manufacturer has a reputation for delivering better-than-average sailing performance.
The Dufour 325 Grand Large is no exception, very much fitting into the ‘fast cruiser’ bracket without compromising too much on comfort and it has proved a highly popular model.
She’s easier on the eye than many of the other high-volume cruising yachts available from this period and she’s rewarding to sail, though you’ll need the deep draft version to get the best from her.
Originally launched in 2006, the Dufour 325 Grand Large was the smallest of the family, which had three bigger siblings – the 385, 365 and 455.
It was the beginning of the long-standing partnership with Dufour’s now resident architect Umberto Felci.
The 325 was eventually replaced in 2011 with the 335.
There’s a warm, dark wooden finish inside and a nice teak toe rail on the outside, so she’ll appeal to those looking for something a little more classic.
The internal layout is the standard v-berth and double aft configuration for boats of this size, but space has been taken from the saloon to give a generous, forward-facing chart table and larger-than-average galley.
If you’re a couple or small family I think this is a worthwhile trade-off as not everyone wants to accommodate six adults around a saloon table.
The heads is a good size and has an additional access hatch to the bottom of the deep cockpit locker – hallelujah!
Beneteau Oceanis 323
First launched in 2003, the Oceanis 323 still competes well with the newer designs in terms of accommodation and sailing performance.
The layout is as you’d expect from a boat of this size, with a surprisingly spacious heads, small aft-facing chart table utilising the end of the saloon seats, and good-sized galley.
There is over 6ft of headroom in the saloon, galley, aft cabin and heads.
The aft cabin benefits from a portlight in the transom, allowing plenty of light and a good view at anchor!
The cockpit is a bit smaller than the Bavaria 32 Cruiser, partly because the sugar scoop is lost space, but the fact that you can stow the table away gives you more flexibility.
She has a 9/10th fractional rig and more sail area than the Bavaria despite being much lighter, so she’ll probably be a bit flighty in a blow but will perform well in light airs.
The traveller is on the coach roof leaving the cockpit clear.
The mainsails were originally designed for two reefs and single-line reefing, which may not suit those wanting to head further offshore.
The hull is single-skin GRP with some areas of reinforcement, and structural inner moulding bonded and laminated to the hull.
At over a tonne lighter than the Bavaria Cruiser 32, I suspect the build quality may not have been as substantial as it could have been, but they’re an affordable way to get afloat in comfort.
There are deep, shallow and lifting keel versions.
Look for the ones that have had light use from private owners and didn’t end up in a charter fleet or sailing school.