Okay folks, I am in love. Again. Thanks to Frederic, a Yacht Broker for AYC in Southern France, whom I visited for finally getting a live look onto my favourite sailing yacht, the Cigale 16, who said rather incidentally: “Oh yes, and then we have another very interesting boat – you wanna see it?” Yes I did – and it was a good decision, because this sailing yacht really blew my mind in several aspects. Ladies and Gentlemen, please meet the Akela 50 racer-cruiser …
The boat was standing on dry land on a display – coming up really high into the clear blue sky of France which was even increasing the impression this sleek hull was making on me. Very slim, very aggressive tempting indeed: The Akela 50 is a very special boat and I would say an extreme design for a sailing yacht even by today´s standards. But why?
The AKELA 50 by Georges Auzepy Brenneur – a rather extreme design?
The French are making the best yachts in the world, this is my firm belief, as this nation is situated at two Oceans and has a century-old seafaring tradition, and I am talking of the high seas here, of real offshore sailing. But besides the large production boat companies, like Beneteau which by the way is the world market leader, there are so many very interesting smaller brands, like JPK Yachts for example, which stand for a large variety of different approaches to sailing.
The Akela 50 is one fine example: Designed by Georges Auzepy Brenneur back in the year 1988, this design would be called “old” today. But I would say that there are so many aspects to this yacht which are even today straightforward and modernistic. First of all, the boat is an extreme in itself: With a length of 15.25 metres and a max beam of 3.93, this boat is extremely slim – the length/width-ratio is 3.9, compared to a modern-day Oceanis 51.1 with a 3.4 or a performance-cruiser like the X-Yachts Xp 50 with a ratio of 3.5
But has “extreme” to be bad? I would say definitely no! As modern designs tend to be allrounders and try to satisfy the needs of a large range of different customers – from the leisure family cruising family to the occasional club-regatta sailor – designs have to meet a large range of demands: Wide open cockpits, easy access to large bathing platforms, BQ-statuons, ice-cube makers and all sorts of sunbathing-areas – which naturally comes at a price: A boat can always just be a compromise. The more compromises you grand, the more you dilute a character. With the Akela, there is a clear tendency towards one simple thing: Maximum performance! It’s a sailing machine and every detail on this boat is dedicated to achieving the optimum. Let´s have a thorough look …
Touring the exterior of the AKELA 50 performance cruiser
Standing on the fore deck I first notice that it is kind of a trouble to reaching this area: That´s because all of the lines which are diverted back into the cockpit are occupying most of the narrow walkway to the bow. Here´s a difference to modern day cruising-oriented boats, where all the lines are put under the deck or on special ducts to allow a free and wide passage to the bow-area. Not so with the Akela – access to all rollers and blocks and easy maintenance is priority: The design of the roping-layout almost reminds me of thoroughbred racing yachts.
What I loved was the view back to the pilot house: Because of the very slim width the boat looks even meaner and more aggressive. Almost like a “needle” that is pinching through the waves, as it struck my mind instantly. No flush hatches (of course, this is a 2005 built boat) but everything is made to last, made to being easily maintained.
I just loved the awesome look of the mast shoe with all the running rigging being diverted aft: The current owner (a sailing fanatic, as Frederic told me) has gone for a very nice colour code which I though was not only nice to be looked at but also very easy to learn – because of the high contrast of the different lines it must be easy to differentiate between them after a couple of manoeuvres – also a contrast to some modern day production boats where the lines are mainly coloured to match ONE certain company colour and aren´t to differenciate between so easy.
By the way, the sail area of the Akela 50 is pretty awe-inspiring: You´ll get a 56 sqm main sail, an 81 sqm Genoa sail and a smaller blade jib, which makes for an impressive 137 sqm upwind sail area capacity and with a Gennaker that even increases to 196 sqm on a reaching and running point of sail. For comparison, the X-Yachts Xp 50 has an upwind sail area of 150 sqm and 300 sqm downwind, but also weighs in 11.9 tons, whereas the Akela is rated 9.5 tons. So even for an “old“ boat these are pretty great figures.
Everything on this boat was in near-to-perfect condition for a used yacht that occasionally was based as far down south as Mexico. The Spinlock jammers looked brand new, the running rigging was new indeed. By the way, the owner seemed to have utilized just the best when it comes to inventory: Spinlock jammers and locks, Profurl-mechanics for the jibs and Genoa, Fredericksen tracks and Harken backstay tighteners. This boat is in an awesome condition – and wait, till we go down below!
Of course the six cockpit-stationed winches are of the best material: Danish based manufacturer Andersen in stainless steel. I love the looks of these! The main halyard winch of this particular Akela-yacht is electric, the others are manually powered. So how´s it like to be in control of this sleek beast?
Fast sailing the AKELA 50 – the cockpit layout
Sadly enough, we couldn´t go out on a quick dash under sails in the Med here, but standing behind the large single wheel I could imagine how the helmsman was working the winches here. Everything aboard this Akela 50 is though-through and well positioned. Behind the wheel you just turn briefly and have all the Genoa- and secondary winches well within reach of both arms. Some of the jammers though are positioned rather forward but in general this yacht´s layout is absolutely single hand-approved.
Behind the short mainsheet traveller – also oversized to fit the high demands of the boat´s performance and within reach of the helmsman – there is a large free area on the open transom. I guess this makes for a nice – though a bit narrow – space to be used for sunbathing or jumping to the sea when at anchor. Notice the thick upper rudder bearings here, as well perfectly situated for maintenance.
The Akela 50 bears a double rudder blade-configuration and despite that these rudders were missing the distinctive “tubercled” design they reminded me of the very blades on the Clubswan 50 which I was walking thoroughly during 2017´s Duesseldorf boat show. I find it very interesting that the designer of the Akela 50 opted for double blades on this boat despite the fact that the Akela is very, very slim. So maybe heeling angles are that extreme that a single rudder would be out of the water significantly? Anyway, that´s an interesting detail concerning this yacht´s design being more than 20 years old …
All in all the yacht made a very, very solid impression on me. The layout proved to be well thought and suitable for “real” sailors who want to sail fast and exciting. I was astonished of the double aft spreaders (adjustable) but also the adjustable aft spreaders for the cutter stay. This boat is able to be fine tuned to the max by a dedicated sailor.
A solid sailing yacht for high Latitudes
You know it from some previous articles of mine on the North West Passage and high Latitude sailing that I am a big fan of going the “rough” way around the world (I guess, that´s every sailor´s dream though), and behold, the Akela 50 might also be very well suited for meeting the rough conditions up (and down) there in the Northern and Southern Oceans. In fact, she may be the perfect adventure-vessel.
First of all she features a very deep and hence safe cockpit. Because of her narrow width the cockpit is also narrow which is perfect for having a save counterpart for one´s feet when the boat is heeling and in general not too many open spaces and always a safe grab handle within reach. You see the massive superstructure on that picture? That´s the pilot house – and it´s a special configuration fitted to just this particular Akela 50.
The entrance to the pilot house is granted through a massive crash-safe door. It can be shut completely watertight and pressure-proof when the boat should meet extreme conditions like heavy storms with high, breaking waves. As a strong Simrad Robertson autopiloting mechanism is mounted, in case of foul weather the boat can be steered completely sheltered from within it´s interiors.
Well suited for extreme sailing adventures, don´t you think. That’s mainly also because the Akela 50 is made by Alumarine Shipyard of the highly durable AG4 aluminium alloy – and that means: Steel is real. I would say that the choice for this material is the strongest pro of this yacht going down south furthermore than you would go in a GRP-boat, wouldn´t you?
A custom highlight of this AKELA 50: The pilot house
A rather big highlight of the Akela 50 racer-cruiser was the pilot house. After visiting some very interesting pilot house yachts, such as the aluminium made Berckemeyer 49 or the Amel 50 I really love the idea of having a warm, sheltered space for the watch in case of cold temps and foul weather sailing. The owner of the Akela 50 has fitted a pilot house to this boat which I think is a great idea!
The outward design is formed like the cockpit of a modern airplane with no less that 7 large solid windows (of which the frontal is actually a hatch that can be opened for ventilation or escaping in case the crash door should be jammed) grant a perfect view from inside of the forward 180 degrees. As temperatures were as high as 38.5 degrees Celsius when I walked the Akela, the sunblinds had been turned down and I hadn´t found the energy to detach them, but sitting at the foldaway stool in front of the chart table I can say that the view must be awesome.
Right behind the chart table there´s the large main switch panel which was in extraordinary nice shape – concerning the fact that this yacht is 12 years old. It may be a bit risky to have all the electric installations being positioned in this close proximity to the cockpit (and hence the water) but I guess the pros outweigh the downsides of this configuration here.
From the pilot house stool there is a two-step staircase down to the internal deck level of the boat at port side. And as everything comes with a price in yachting, as nice and clever as the pilot house configuration on this Akela 50 might be, there is also a downside to it …
Paying the price: Low headroom on the AKELA 50
And that´s low headroom. I mean, really low headroom. I am as tall as 1.86 metres and I had to tilt my head completely 90 degrees and even bend my knees a bit in order to underpass the entryway down. As Frederic told me, the current owner is a small man and that it suits perfectly well his body composition – the standing height in the pilot house-area of this Akela 50 was a real downer I must admit.
Upon entering down one passes by the port side part of the galley. Another concession to having the pilot house: The galley is partitioned into two. On the port side there´s the fridge/freezer and some stowage of provisions and utensils needed, the other part of the galley is all the way around the base of the closed pilot house vis-à-vis on starboard side. Here a gimbal-mounted two burner stove is situated as well as the large sink.
What is even more disturbing is that here, on the starboard half of the boat´s galley most of the cooking action will take place. It is really inconceivable for me to imagine myself preparing a decent meal here as standing as cramped as this makes it purely impossible to be here chopping and frying for 30 minutes or more in this position. Larger persons definitely have to cut the upper parts of the roofing construction of the pilot house away to open up headroom – which also would cut a significant portion of the tray area above. Well … that´s speaking of compromises …
Perfect interior woodworks!
Indeed, cutting away large portions of the ceiling would be a drama, because the panels and all of the internal woodworks on this Akela 50 are made with supreme craftsmanship and are of best quality, no, really, I know what I am talking about when it comes to the pain in the ass you feel when refurbishing roofing panels so I really admire the fine quality of the Akela 50´s woodworks here.
The boat features a standard dark coloured Mahogany interior which is classy but also makes the boat kind of dark inside. Also, on the standard Akela 50 where there is no pilot house at all, the large front windows are providing a sufficient amount of natural light – not so with this boat. So again, the white lacquered roofing panels look just awesome!
But it is not just the looks of it, their white paint is a nice large reflection area for the natural light that is coming through the narrow coachroof-windows which provides for most of the natural light in the salon. I guess some might find it too dark and maybe the fitting of another skylight in the very roof could produce some relief (or the cutting away of some of the roofing to open up headroom will also instantly provide for more natural light).
Speaking of the salon: It is a proper salon with a large dinner table with two folding extensions at either side. Two thickly cushioned settees will provide space for six adults to have a decent meal here or for two additional berths or reclining areas in the salon. I must say that I like the salon as it is “ship like” and the large area at the bulkhead is an invitation for a nice gas lamp, an historic naval chart or a picture to put up at the wall.
Drop keel configuration on this AKELA 50
Oh, did I mention that this Akela 50 is fitted with a drop keel? I´ve had my first own experience with a hydraulic drop keel recently and it really opens up a lot of areas to go in which otherwise wouldn´t be possible to enter: Shallow bays and anchorages, rivers or atolls are no problem. The standard Akela 50 is fitted with a fixed fin keel creating a draught of 2.26 metres. That´s different on this special Akela 50 though …
Upon opening the massive dinner table one can get a clear sight onto the upper side of the drop keel. Again, the mechanics and hydraulics are in excellent shape on this boat. The keel on this very version has a max draft of 2.80 metres – then the extra-thin performance-fin and the lead bulb will unfold maximum righting moment. When completely retracted the boat will have a shallow draft of merely 1.60 metres, which is awesome for a 50-footer!
Aaaaaand that won´t be enough when it comes to the underwater body of this yacht. The Akela 50 is as well equipped with a daggerboard just at the forward crash box situated right behind the watertight frontal section of the boat. The daggerboard can be manually retracted to add further protection for the keel and stability when sailed in extreme upwind conditions. Fascinating!
A big boat – for a young sailing couple
The boat, although being a 50-footer, is not very voluminous and roomy. In fact, the boat just has two cabins. And the cabins are of questionable size – compared to modern day cruiser designs. There is an owner´s cabin in the front that features a well sized double berth, some shelves and stowage and even a two-seater bench for getting dressed and undressed. Again, there is just one escape hatch in the roofing which makes for a very low amount of natural light here, with the sunshades on it´s a dark cave. Even some small portholes in the hull would make up for this, or just another skylight?
The aft cabin is even smaller, it also has very low headroom due to the fact that Akela 50´s stern section is not as wide and voluminous as on current cruiser designs, where hard chines provide for very large volumes aft. Nevertheless, maybe the fact that you just only enter the berths in order to catch some sleep – and not to spend a great deal of daytime sitting around here – can be an argument for accepting this.
On port side of the boat there is another “cabin” which is left bare. Another watertight crash door to the aft compartment of the boat (where the steering mechanism is located) can be secured here, the tank for Diesel fuel is also situated down here – in the standard version the tanks are located right down next to the fixed keel.
Frederic, of course loves the boat as he has to sell it in the first place, but I grant he is a thorough sailor too. He also values her great features like the performance rigg, the multitude of trimming features, her being made of aluminium and all the other features which make her a perfect performer and a very suitable boat for experiencing the rougher areas of our planet´s oceans.
Especially the aft arch (which is a nice design feature) is to my liking, offering lots of possibilities to have solar panels mounted, electronic gear like Radar, antennae or other stuff. In the end we finish our walkthrough of this fascinating, truly polarizing boat here at her stern. As Frederic puts it: “It´s the perfect sailing yacht for a young couple who wants to sail very quick and love the adventure of going where a standard yacht seldom goes.” And I have nothing to add here rather to strongly than agree.
I really loved the idea to play around in my head with the conception of being underway with this boat. It is obviously a thoroughbred racer-cruiser capable of high speeds, it is great fun to ride the waves with the Akela 50 and I guess there won´t be a single minute of boredom on this boat. As she is made of aluminium, she is very solid, stiff and durable, capable of doing the rough stuff. If the future owners – and I am sure there will be somebody fall seriously in love with this boat – can accept the lesser space, the lesser volume and the somehow narrow interior, this is absolutely a great sailing yacht I every sense of the word.
Interested in this yacht? Drop a mail to Frederic here.
Love aluminium sailing yachts? Here´s more:
Berckemeyer yachts of Germany: Aluminium marvels
A modern classic: The Bestevaer 55 ST sailing yacht
Talking to Marc Lombard on the new Alubat Cigale 16