New Boat

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

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS - Words Pip Hare Pic­tures Christophe Breschi / Amel

Amel 50. French ketch builder has launched its first sloop in two decades. Pip Hare goes for a sail and finds rugged lux­ury that will take you round the world in com­fort

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.

PER­FOR­MANCE

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 poled­out 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.

DECK LAY­OUT

The Amel has a cen­tre cock­pit cov­ered by a full dog­house with three-quar­ter-length solid win­dows and a roof that slides out to full length. The back of the dog­house can be en­closed by fab­ric pan­els to fur­ther pro­tect oc­cu­pants from the el­e­ments.

There is a deep sail locker for­ward with ac­cess to the re­tractable bow thruster and an­chor chain. Aft, the full beam lazarette is cav­ernous and houses the gas locker and pro­vides ac­cess to the rud­der stocks. The tran­som opens up to cre­ate a bathing plat­form with flip down stain­less-steel lad­der.

Though the huge aft deck would be great for sun­bathing I felt vul­ner­a­ble travers­ing this area while heeled over and Amel have al­ready in­di­cated that later builds of the 50 have in­cluded ad­di­tional hand­holds on the coachroof and foot chocks on the cabin top.

AT THE HELM

Helm­ing the Amel 50 was a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me; I’ve never steered a yacht from in­side a dog­house be­fore and I won­dered whether I would en­joy be­ing sep­a­rated from the el­e­ments. As we slogged up­wind in the rain and the first wave crashed over the dog­house, how­ever, I ac­cepted there could be an­other way.

The small wheel is off­set to port, with stand­ing room di­rectly be­hind it and a helms­man’s chair set abaft. I pre­ferred stand­ing to helm, even with max­i­mum heel. The view from the helm is good; the lower tell tales and the hori­zon can be seen through the panoramic wind­screen while the mast top and main­sail are viewed through roof hatches. The off­set wheel is po­si­tioned di­rectly be­hind the slot giv­ing a great view of the jib on star­board tack but on port tack only some of the head­sail luff can be seen. This was more pro­nounced when using the gen­naker, as the whole sail be­comes ob­scured by the main when reach­ing on port.

The helms­man’s chair is com­fort­able and can be height ad­justed then swiv­elled to lock in any po­si­tion, but the chair can­not be moved closer to the wheel and I found reach­ing out to the wheel un­com­fort­able over time. I am not sure there is

ALL WINCHES AND FURLERS CAN BE CON­TROLLED FROM THE SHEL­TERED HELM

any easy so­lu­tion to this prob­lem with­out a sig­nif­i­cant en­gi­neer­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tion and my own so­lu­tion would be to stand when hand steer­ing and use the chair as a look out po­si­tion while the au­topi­lot was en­gaged. In reality, I won­der how many own­ers of the Amel 50 will ac­tu­ally choose to hand steer when sail­ing any dis­tance.

The in­stru­ment and con­trol panel sit in front of the wheel, hous­ing nav­i­ga­tion screens and all op­er­a­tional con­trols. All winches and furlers can be con­trolled from the wheel as well as the wind­lass and en­gine. Furl­ing con­trols are on joy­sticks rather than but­tons, which I found very user friendly.

DE­SIGN & CON­STRUC­TION

Not only has this new sloop bro­ken a 20-year run of ketches by Amel, but it is the first model to be made using vac­uum in­fu­sion and also the first to sport twin rud­ders. De­spite these sub­stan­tial changes the Amel trade­marks are still ev­i­dent: all bulk­heads and fur­ni­ture are lam­i­nated in place; there are four wa­ter­tight bulk­heads, the deck is made from ‘Amel Teak’ – a no-main­te­nance gel­coat fin­ish moulded to look like a teak deck – and there is a solid, hip-height stain­less steel handrail sur­round­ing the en­tire deck.

The 50 has a an­gu­lar, mod­ern look with a blunt stem head and stain­less-steel bowsprit and an­chor hous­ing, a full vol­ume bow, and lit­tle sheer along the length. Un­der the wa­ter the hull has a fair amount of rocker and a cast iron L-shaped keel.

Ev­ery­thing about the Amel 50 seems well en­gi­neered with fore­sight to avoid fail­ure or break­ages. The re­sult is solid, but sur­pris­ingly has not brought a huge weight penalty – with a dis­place­ment of 18.75 tonnes the Amel 50 is com­pa­ra­ble to other boats of this genre.

RIG & SAILPLAN

Pre­vi­ous Amel ketches have made sail han­dling eas­ier by split­ting the aft sail area be­tween two masts. This 50 footer, with a main­sail of 64m2 has been con­sid­ered small enough to han­dle on a sin­gle mast and I agree. Build­ing the 50 as a sloop has kept costs down, and cre­ated more space both on deck and down be­low; no need for mizzen re­in­force­ment.

The stan­dard boat comes with an in-mast furl­ing main­sail and elec­tric roller furl­ing genoa. Our test boat had the op­tional self-tack­ing stay­sail, also on an elec­tric furler. For me the ad­di­tion of a stay­sail is a ‘no brainer’; on our test we tried sail­ing up­wind both with genoa only and as a cut­ter. Using the

stay­sail, even in 20 knots of true wind speed added boat speed while main­tain­ing bal­ance. With a sail area of 24m2 the stay­sail of­fers a great self-tack­ing heavy weather sail.

The mast has a twin spreader rig; the back­stay is not ad­justable but there are check­stays stowed at the shroud base, which need to be clipped into po­si­tion on the aft deck when reefed and un­der stay­sail alone. The chunky jib pole is an­chored to a sin­gle point at the base of the mast and stored ver­ti­cally. In a rolling sea it was cum­ber­some to lower, but once down there were plenty of points to at­tach braces and it pro­vided a strong sup­port to the sail.

AC­COM­MO­DA­TION

Be­low decks the Amel 50 is noth­ing short of lux­u­ri­ous. The only lay­out op­tion has three cab­ins, con­sist­ing of: a huge aft master cabin with is­land bed, desk, sofa and en-suite, a big dou­ble in the bow and smaller Pull­man cabin on the star­board side. All bunks and berths are fit­ted with sub­stan­tial lee­boards or cloths. The for­ward heads can be ac­cessed from the dou­ble cabin or the sa­loon.

The fin­ish is light oak with hand­holds and struc­tures in stain­less steel. This gives a con­tem­po­rary look, which ap­pealed to my taste. In par­tic­u­lar I loved the stain­less steel back­bone to the com­pan­ion­way steps.

High deck­heads ac­cen­tu­ate the size of the sa­loon flood­ing it with nat­u­ral light through win­dows and hatches. A ta­ble on the port side folds out to com­fort­ably seat eight peo­ple. On the star­board side, there is an L-shaped sofa and two small stools which can be used when the ta­ble is ex­tended. The sa­loon is a won­der­ful open area, but would be a big space to fall across while at sea. The only sup­port go­ing for­ward is a grab han­dle on the ta­ble edge, which runs down the cen­tre­line of the sa­loon. Amel tell me they are adding some hand grabs, ex­tend­ing and repo­si­tion­ing others to ad­dress this prob­lem.

The two dou­ble cab­ins were ser­viced well with stowage, but

BE­LOW DECKS IS NOTH­ING SHORT OF LUX­U­RI­OUS

in the Pull­man this was limited to un­der the bed and be­hind the head­boards. In most ar­eas, raised cabin soles also gave large bilge ar­eas, which pro­vide a lot of ex­tra space. There are use­ful size head-height lock­ers wher­ever space al­lows around the boat.

CHART TA­BLE

The chart ta­ble is a comfy for­ward-fac­ing area just at the base of the com­pan­ion­way steps. The ta­ble it­self is big enough to work on and the seat shaped well for bracing on ei­ther tack. The ta­ble is flanked by well laid out con­trol pan­els for 220V and 24V as well as a plot­ter screen, in­stru­ment re­peaters and a sec­ond VHF. Ac­cess to wiring is from be­hind the pan­els and un­der the seat. This is cramped but neat, well la­belled and has spare fuses where re­quired.

GAL­LEY

The cor­ri­dor gal­ley has a de­cent length of work sur­face and is nar­row enough to of­fer se­cu­rity at sea. There is a huge but­ler style sink and pull-out fridge/freezer draw­ers.

Head-height cup­boards in the gal­ley have a two-stage open­ing sys­tem with doors that hinge up and draws that slide out. This clever de­tail re­tains the cup­boards’ con­tents when the boat is heeled but will still al­low ac­cess to con­tents at the back.

The heavy crock­ery drawer, which is on a tra­di­tional push-but­ton clo­sure, has a rod that will slip in through the work­top lock­ing the draw in po­si­tion at sea.

MAIN­TE­NANCE

Ac­cess to the wa­ter­tight en­gine room is un­der the cock­pit sole, down a small lad­der. The space is big enough to house the 110HP Volvo en­gine, a gen­er­a­tor, in­vert­ers, wa­ter maker, a salt wa­ter in­let man­i­fold and still room to swing a cat. There would be plenty of room to work com­fort­ably in this en­gine room and be­cause of the top open­ing sys­tem, un­usu­ally there is nat­u­ral light and good ven­ti­la­tion.

Through-hull open­ings are re­duced to a min­i­mum using a sea­wa­ter man­i­fold which ser­vices all ar­eas of the boat via one sin­gle in­let and strainer. All grey wa­ter drains to a sep­a­rate sump tank in the bilge, which au­to­mat­i­cally emp­ties; keeping the rest of the bilge dry and clean.

The main­sail furler and out­haul fea­ture cur­rent-sen­si­tive au­to­matic cut-outs. The mo­tors will stop if too much cur­rent is drawn – min­imis­ing po­ten­tial dam­age to sails and furlers should a snag oc­cur. Amel ex­trude its own mast sec­tions which are made with sep­a­rate com­part­ments to al­low the hous­ing of main­sail furler, hal­yards and the wiring loom en­tirely sep­a­rately so they can­not get tan­gled, cause chafe and would be easy to re­move or re­place.

Clock­wise from left: The rig is viewed through hatches above the helm; a com­fort­able chart ta­ble; ac­cess to an im­pres­sively sized en­gine room un­der the cock­pit sole; hoist­ing the ex­tra of­fwind sail area was well worth the effort in light wind

The light oak fin­ish helps to ac­cen­tu­ate a spa­cious in­te­rior

Mul­lion-free win­dows help give a panoramic view from the helm

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