Roaming the pontoons of Cannes Yachting Festival in the early morning hours is a treat. The show is not open yet for the public, even the professionals haven´t arrived yet. Just sporadic activity on the yachts, mostly the cleaning crews who rinse and wash and polish the yachts for another boat show day under the relentless sun of the Cote d´Azur. For me the most relaxing time of the show, time to pay a visit to the boats which interest me the most. One of these is non-interchangeable, unmistakably.
If you happen to care for what is going on in yachting, especially in yacht design, you couldn´t have missed a young designer who plowed through the scene a few years ago, made himself a name as “Mr. IRC” designing World Champions and race winners: Matteo Polli. Once the house-designer for Italia Yachts, Polli came to serve another brand recently, Grand Soleil yachts of Italy. The new Grand Soleil 44 was launched some time ago but she is still a boat I craved to see live. And here we are: Her fine wide thin stern lured me into asking for permission to come on board. Permission granted!
Clearly a Matteo Polli
The Grand Soleil 44 is a true Polli. There are certain aspects of his designs which are unmistakably his handwriting. As seen on the Italia Yachts, his wide aft sections, large overhangs and thin lines are iconic. The boat measures 13.40 meters of the hull and has a width of 4.30 meters. 2.6 meters in standard draft is pretty deep, the performance keel can reach as deep as 2.8 meters or 2.4 as a light drought. The boat is offered in two versions, cruise and race. The version I saw is the cruising version although she was pretty racy still.
Grand Soleil is a brand that – this is my personal view – for a long time wasn´t really tangible for me. Aimed to be an upper brand, the boats never really touched me. In Germany we have a saying: “Not fish – not meat”. The cruisers by Grand Soleil looked like pimped up versions of a Judel/Vrolijk designed Hanse to me. I couldn´t really grasp what this brand was all about. With Polli´s design this changes a bit: More aggressive, more distinct. Grand Soleil becomes its own thing.
I especially love Polli´s sterns. His lines make for ultra-thin aft sections with huge overhangs. This worked so fine for Italia Yachts before and I must admit the Grand Soleil 44 has the most beautiful ass of almost al boats of this year´s boat show. For sure, this design is to optimize lateral plan and wetted surface when sailing, but it is also damn darn beautiful. Well done, Matteo!
Bred for racing
With a sails area of 106 square meters in cruising, 123 square meters in racing mode the Grand Soleil sports a decent SA/D-ratio. The boat displaces 9.5 tons which makes her pretty light. Compared to “our” new First 44 the numbers are competitive. The Beneteau 9.8 tons in racing version with 106/121 square meters of sails area. There are more competitors, like Solaris and even the XP 44 which this yacht looks forward to taking on on the race-course.
Even in cruising version her breeding is clearly visible. The Grand Soleil can be equipped with an easy self-tacking Jib or an overlapping Genoa. This one has a classic sheeting on a track but also adjustable inhauling for better fine trim.
Of course the boat can be equipped with standard aluminium mast or racy carbon. With sails, that´s a common thing in this class of yachts, the owners of the Grand Soleil will bring custom made garments of their sailmakers of choice. Looking at the winch layout I can clearly see that this cruising version is conceived to be sailed by a capable skipper single handed. All winches are positioned well in front of the steering wheel, easy to reach for trimming an maneuvers.
In this, this cruising version of the Grand Soleil 44 strongly reminds me of an Oceanis 51.1 or 46.1 which have all exactly the same winch positions. Except for the large mainsheet traveler which is retracted into the deck and using up all the width of the cockpit, nothing reminds a sailing guest that this is a thorough regatta machine.
Standing behind the nicely shaped steering posts the arrangement is also pretty familiar: Plotter, Triton-displays and control panels for bow thruster and auxiliary machinery are placed where you would guess they would be. From behind the wheel, bowing down a bit, you can reach for the electric winch knobs, this all is pretty standard and nicely positioned. In race version, working winches for halyards and reefing lines are next to the companionway, Jib-winches positioned on the coamings. This is much better for crewed racing of course.
Down below the Grand Soleil 44 is nicely fitted. Nauta Design is responsible for the interior and these guys do not fail to deliver. This boat was fitted with white Oak, white panels, lacquered surfaces and lots of wooden fittings dominate the saloon.
The design approach is pretty modern, straight lines and edges. There are no secondary colors nor any contrasts to Oak/White and for me personally this is too less. Quality of materials, the fabrics and the level of craftsmanship is absolutely top notch, no doubt, but here we are again: Not fish, not meat. What Matteo Polli accomplishes from the outside isn´t taken on internally. I just can´t see a Grand Soleil-style …
Central focus point in the saloon is the black mast foot of the stepped mast. A reminiscence of “proper” racing boats and the times when masts used to be sticked through the whole boat and stepped directly onto the keel-cage of the hulls. Not may brands fancy this technique any more. I wonder how boring the saloon would look like if this last bit of contrasting color wouldn´t be here and the mast would be stepped onto an ordinary stand on deck.
I liked the galley which is L-shaped and very big. There is sufficient stowage for kitchen stuff and working space for the ship´s cook. The sink consists of two smaller compartments, which I find pretty practical and there are two big fridges (I suppose one of them can be turned into a freezer too). Nice. The dining area is a classy U-shaped settee around a fixed table.
Again, a bit odd has been the positioning of the nav-station and the small chart table to starboard side. A 2-seater settee between forward main bulkhead and the wall of the aft bathroom. Why Nauta decided to have the bathroom wall sloped forward, I don´t know. The outcome is that one half of the two-seater is wasted cushion, nobody can sit here. Also, the main switch panel are positioned away from nav station, everything seems kind of discerped in some way. Nauta could have done better here.
At home under deck
Looking into the cabins – the Grand Soleil 44 offers a standard 3-cabin layout only – I started in the bow. The owners cabin is pretty decent in size. A large island bed facing backwards, one large hanging locker to starboard side and a shelf. Not too much of stowage but I guess enough for the average use case of this boat. For a cruising family I´d say that´s too less.
I didn´t really like the atmosphere in here. Again, Nauta Design chose to keep it very unemotional. Whereas in the saloon the wooden materials absolutely dominate, here in the fore cabin it´s a white environment. No secondary colors or contrasts of any kind, the atmosphere is pretty clean, kind of cold. This cabin – nicely sized and well proportioned – lacks emotion. I guess it will be better when the window blinds are open and some blue of the water or sunlight enters the room.
That´s different in the aft cabins though. Funnily, these are much better designed than that of the owner. Since the aft section of the Grand Soleil 44 is so wide, the cabins below are as well. Full standing height, wide beds and lots of air to breathe: I was astonished of how big these cabins appear!
What is it with blinding the hull windows? I have seen this feature on the Beneteau First 44 Racing version too. Is it just a design feat to keep the hull “clean” and “racy” but save working hours since the windows couldn´t be removed from the hull since its one hull for dual purpose? Well, if I was the owners, this would be a thing I´d left out: Happy to enjoy natural light inside, don´t keep it out.
As for the bathrooms, both are wide and spacious. The aft bathroom cashes in on the weird angles which cost much of the starboard side 2-seater. Inside, there is much space, and a decent shower. The owner´s bathroom is also very roomy but again, it somehow lacks “emotion”. This boat is kind of too “cold” for me: Too much white, too less feelings …
Racing or Cruising? Fish or Meat?
Now, what is it, this new Grand Soleil 44? I must admit I have mixed feelings about this boat. As the saying goes, the boat finds her owner, not the other way round. This boat won´t find a way not my heart I´ll have to admit. As much as I like her outward appearance so much – Matteo Polli´s lines are so tempting – the more I dislike the somewhat cold and un-inspiring interior of her. The boat fails to touch me emotionally, she is just … not what Italia Yachts for example does so exemplary: Touching my heart, being beautiful, likeable, attractive.
I can perfectly well imagine that she sails like hell, is fun to operate and also a wonderful cruising boat. Going out for a quick dash with lots of fun and even eat miles in a long haul trip. I love the wide cockpit and the racy style outside, but inside … well … as I said, something fails to touch my heart, make it beat fast and jump. So I leave this interesting sailboat with mixed feelings. Matteo did a wonderful job here, the rest, well, it´s just not my taste. But this is not a bad thing: I am sure there are many, many sailors who particularly love that boat for being the way she is. This is why we can enjoy looking at so many different brands, so many different approaches and so many different beautiful boats.
Related articles of interest:
Talking to Matteo Polli about his new Grand Soleil 44 concept
Meeting Matteo Polli at the Italia Yachts yard
Grand Soleil 46 Long Cruise walkthrough