By Paul Heys
Having sailed and been impressed with the handling and performance of the Grand Soleil 46LC in the warmer waters of the Med, it was great to see how she would cope with Solent wind against tide conditions.
This is a large boat; moored alongside her elder sibling, a Grand Soleil 46.3 from 15 years ago, she is bigger in every dimension. If you thought that you might need a 48-50-footer, you might be pleasantly surprised by this boat.
Our maiden voyage was with journalist Sam and photographer Joe from Sailing Today Magazine. From Key Yachting we were three, Hannah our Sales Director, Mike who runs our matters technical and myself.
We set sail from Hamble in 15 knots of wind with a full main and 1 roll in the jib. The boat is super stable and absolutely perfectly balanced, through all angles of heel. With the mainsheet set on the high level arch and all control lines led through under-deck channels the forward cockpit is completely clear of ropes and fittings.
The arch does require a change to mainsheet trimming as the vang which is powerful becomes a very important tool for leach control.
This boat is equipped with Harken radial manually powered winches, there is little doubt that manoeuvres such as hoisting the main will be much easier if the winches are upgraded to power.
Beating around Calshot spit and down the Thorn channel with 2 knots of tide pushing us into 20 knots of breeze, we were maintaining a boat speed of 7 knots plus, despite the ugly short chop. The high freeboard, generous bow flare and windshield ensured that the cockpit stayed completely dry.
Mike and I took the opportunity to add some extra turns on the leeward shrouds and were delighted to find that even on the leeward side decks we remained completely dry, the benefit of decent freeboard. Oilskins were not required!
Tacking is as simple as turning the wheel and swapping sides, the mainsail having full battens does not make much noise, there is a rattle from the ball bearings of the self-tacking jib car, however with no need to tend to sheets it is very relaxing for the crew.
The boat has the staid poise of a larger boat, the motion on board is such that despite the width of the cockpit, the heel angle does not feel threatening, at the show we talked about adding foot braces or a cockpit table, in reality they are probably not required.
Rudder response is outstanding; our photographer was keen to have some shots in the Beaulieu river to take advantage of the beautiful background. This allowed us to enjoy tacking a 46 footer against a falling tide in a very narrow river. With a conventional sail plan and a less nimble boat this would not have worked. To the delight of all on board, the boat could, in a few seconds, transfer from a squeezing high into the wind mode through to a bow down max speed mode with just careful adjustment to the wheel, whilst at all time instilling confidence that the helm had complete control.
We spent an hour sailing up and down this extremely narrow channel, whilst waiting for the tide to turn and rise so we could escape back to the Solent. In order to slow her down we reverted to sailing under mainsail only and quickly learnt that she would always tack on a sixpence and that there was sufficient rudder grip to be able to bear hard away without easing the main. Southerly gusts of over 20 knots which would have made many boats round up if the sheets were not eased, could be dealt with by a gentle application of rudder. At no point was there any suspicion that the rudder was suffering from cavitation or losing its grip.
Having an arch does necessitate a high boom, which will make dropping and stowing the main harder. We have installed a Harken switch track with ball bearing cars for the luff. This clever system allows the luff cars to stow port and starboard rather than stack vertically, thus lowering the headboard by more than half a metre. Dropping the main for the first time it ran down well and was nicely contained by the stack pack just leaving a tidy up and zipping of the cover once back on the berth. This system works really well, it is absolutely not essential to have a furling main, although some will prefer.
This boat, whether in the hands of a keen helm or under autopilot, is going to sail fast, dry and with great comfort for all on board. On our sail back to Hamble Mike coaxed her up to 11 knots of boat speed.
Down below she was very quiet, further confirmation of the high build quality.
If you were intrigued by the boat at the show and want to see why she was voted 2016 Yacht of the Year by a band of international journalists, please call us for an appointment to sail her. We can offer delivery in the UK or the Adriatic or Mediterranean coasts of Italy in time for next season.