The Swedish yard is turbo-charging its range of offshore cruisers, but have they left good old-fashioned seaworthiness behind? Theo Stocker spent 48 hours sailing the Hallberg-Rassy 40C to find out
Steep waves rolled in unchecked from a brutally cold Skagerrak, and the cold winter sun glistened in the spray scattering to leeward as the sharp bow sliced to windward. A Force 5 in late December on the exposed west coast of Sweden might not seem like the ideal setting for a boat test, but these are exactly the kind of conditions the Hallberg-Rassy 40C was built for.
The Swedish yard has long been a byword for high-quality, long-distance cruisers; a reputation built on generations of beautifully executed and eminently seaworthy yachts that have taken sailors all over the world. Their understated styling and conservative design were a big draw for many, but the world of yacht design is changing rapidly and Magnus Rassy, the yard’s owner, was determined that Hallberg-Rassy should not become outdated. While fabulously wide transoms and twin rudders have been proliferating among racing and cruising boats alike, they are something of anathema to traditionalists. Surely a deep hull, long keel, generous overhangs and a skeg-protected rudder are safer and more sea-kindly?
The Hallberg-Rassy 40C is their fourth boat to fly in the face of such received wisdom and Magnus Rassy insists she is the best sailing boat the yard has ever built. She is a dramatic departure from her two predecessors, the 40 and 40 MkII (the C in 40C stands variously for ‘cruising’, ‘centre-cockpit’, and the third model), while the 412 remains as the aft-cockpit option. The 40C’s modestly pretty sheerline, blue hull stripes, solid wind screen and brass rubbing strakes instantly mark her out as a Hallberg-Rassy. The vertical ends, integral bowsprit and vastly beamy transom look startlingly different.
Germán Frers has designed a broad hull (a mere 2cm narrower than the larger 44) and near vertical topsides generate large amounts of form stability, enabling her to stand up to an increased sail area for the same displacement weight, creating a more powerful boat. This is turned into speed through the water with a waterline length of 11.74m (38ft 6in) which is only 56cm (1ft 10in) shorter than her length on deck and fully 2ft 3in more than that of the 40 MkII. Under the water, the knife-sharp entry gives way to a generously rounded forefoot, avoiding the flat sections of a V-hull that can slam when heeled, and leading aft to moderately flat sections for good running speeds. This is all tamed by two deep rudders, splayed to the extremity of her quarters for grip and control.
Magnus Rassy believes this approach is a ‘win-win-win’, giving better sailing performance, greater accommodation space and more stowage.
‘It’s hard to see why cruising boats didn’t go in this direction before,’ he enthused. But can such a hull-shape really be as seaworthy?
THE TEST VERDICT
Yacht design has changed dramatically recently, and the new 40C is part of Hallberg-Rassy’s drive to redefine what a serious offshore cruiser looks like. Superficially, she might not appeal to traditionalists, but under the surface you’ve got a serious medium-displacement boat built to withstand the rigours of long-term cruising and ocean sailing: solid construction, impressive fit out, stowage and tankage, sea-kindly hull sections and a semi-integral keel.
The difference is that this boat’s performance has been turbo-charged. The substantial beam, grippy twin rudders, long waterlines and powerful rig, means this boat will tick off some serious miles, whether you like the aesthetics or not. What I was impressed with, however, was her ability to do so equally well in both light winds and in the rough stuff – on test she picked up her heels and ploughed on, unperturbed, whatever the weather. The wheel remained light but she remained engaging to helm. It was a shame she lost grip when over-pressed by a gust in flat water; more warning through the wheel would have been nice.
Below decks, you get the kind of space and comfort seen on a 60-footer just a few years ago, and a top-quality finish to boot. There were a few little things that I’d want to change – beefing up the mainsheet, adding a footbrace for the helm, and adding a heads compartment for the aft cabin (the first two are easily done) – but other than that, this boat was the complete cruising package.
WOULD SHE SUIT YOU AND YOUR CREW?
It’s clear that Hallberg-Rassy is looking to appeal to a new generation of owners, and families taking time out from successful careers are among those buying. She can be sailed comfortably shorthanded thanks to her push button controls, making her suitable for long-term cruising couples to sail without crew. If you are lucky enough to be looking at buying a new Hallberg-Rassy, you’re clearly after a serious boat, but for those wanting a boat that’s fun to sail that is still a match for any weather, the 40C delivers everything you would expect in bucket loads.