Sailboat review: Grand Soleil 44 Performance
Based on a thorough dockside inspection of the Grand Soleil 44 Performance, followed by a spirited test run in near-ideal conditions days after the United States Sailboat Show closed in Annapolis, Maryland, C.W.The Boat of the Year judges agreed on three key points: the GS 44 is beautiful to look at, sails like the proverbial witch and, without a doubt, won the title of best performance cruiser of 2022.
“It really defines a racer/cruiser in my mind,” noted judge and systems expert Ed Sherman. “I think overall it’s a very well-built boat.”
Our colleague Tim Murphy was quick to add: “I think it’s a very nice boat to look at, especially when you’ve seen it on the water.
Exactly on both counts, but for me the boat really came alive as we set sail and headed up the River Severn in around 12 knots of wind. During my turn at the helm, our ground speed hovered around 8.5 knots, with the occasional bump of over 9 knots in the puffs. The visibility of the witnesses was excellent. It was easy to get around the cockpit. And yes, the North Sails Dacron self-tacking jib and black carbon fiber mainsail provided plenty of power, as you would expect from a boat with a sail area to displacement ratio of 26.3 and a 105 displacement-to-length ratio, two sure indicators that the 44 leans heavily on the more racy side of the performance spectrum.
Grand Soleil is a long-time player in the racer/cruiser genre. Its performance lineup includes four models from 34 to 58 feet in overall length. The manufacturer, Cantiere Del Pardo in Italy, also has a range of what it calls Long Cruisers: the GS 42 LC, GS 46 LC and GS 52 LC.
The GS 44 was designed by Matteo Polli Yacht Design, an Italian firm specializing in optimizing racing boats for the various handicap rules. The 44, in particular, was designed for ORC and IRC racing, although it also offers all the amenities of a full cruiser, with a Nauta-designed interior.
The layout below is elegant and traditional, with an owner’s cabin forward which includes a head and shower compartment. Aft there are a pair of double cabins for guests or racing mates. These share a starboard head and shower, at the foot of the companionway. Opposite is an L-shaped kitchen with a few refrigerators, space for supplies, and fiddled-up counters for preparing meals. Forward of the galley, the U-shaped dinette can accommodate eight people and the table can be lowered to form an additional berth. Ahead is a settee which could be used as another berth, with a nav station at its forward end.
Hull ports and hatches let in lots of daylight, making the interior light oak woodwork look bright on a sunny day. A teak interior is also an option.
The 44’s hull and deck are vacuum infused with vinylester resin. The hull is solid glass below the waterline; a foam core is used in the topsides and deck. Grand Soleil bonds a composite grid to the hull to support the loads of the keel, engine and stepped mast. A look under the cabin sole revealed sturdy backing plates and double nuts to secure all the stainless steel keel bolts.
The boat we visited in Annapolis was powered by a 60hp Volvo Penta diesel and saildrive (a 50hp Volvo Penta is standard). The 60hp unit pushed us to 8.7 knots in fast reverse mode (2,800 rpm).
But the real options list comes into play on the exterior of the GS 44. Let’s start with the keel.
The boat we sailed had a foil optimized for ORC racing (7ft 10in draft), but depending on how an owner plans to use the boat, he or she can also choose an IRC keel (9 feet- 6 inches draft), the standard steel and lead torpedo keel (8 feet 6 inches draft) or a shoal draft keel (draft 6 feet 6 inches).
In addition, two carbon fiber bowsprits are available. The standard is 3 feet and 2 inches long; the racing spirit on the boat we sailed was 5ft 3in. As I mentioned, this boat had a self-tacking jib, but there were also rails on the deckhouse to accommodate genoas of different sizes. (Unfortunately during our sail a large upwind gennaker was not available to reach and run – now that would have been fun.)
The Performance version of the GS 44 we sailed on had a tall 72ft aluminum racing mast from Sparcraft. A carbon fiber rig is also available.
And then there’s the deck layout, which comes in Performance or Racing standard. In all configurations, a 2-inch toe rail wraps around the side decks to prevent feet from slipping overboard when moving. Lines are led aft under the coachroof from the mast, so the decks and cockpit are uncluttered. The 44 has a single rudder with two helms and such smooth Jefa steering. Driving the boat was a delight.
Beam carried aft, the cockpit is wide. The seats that end forward of the bars allow the crew to work in racing mode. The tradeoff is that in the open space between the benches, there’s no good place to brace your feet. Sherman noted, however, that the problem could be solved easily by fabricating a wooden wedge to fit into the holes in the footing designed to hold the legs of the removable cockpit table.
The Performance version of the GS 44 keeps things simple, with the aforementioned self-tacking jib, a double-ended German-style mainsail sheet and a pair of electric winches just forward of each helm and within easy reach of the skipper. The racing deck layout on the boat we sailed allows for more complex sheet and sail controls, although it is still suitable for cruisers. One of the winches at each helm is advanced to the cockpit coamings, where the crew can tend to the jib sheets, and two additional winches are added to the top of the cabin for reefing lines and the like.
In both configurations there is a cockpit scale traveler recessed into the sole of the cockpit which comes in handy when it’s time to depower the main. The jib furler for the auto-tacker or a genoa is below deck, forward of the chain locker, allowing for a larger headsail, although the furling drum is difficult to reach in the event of a problem because the trunk opening is narrow. The judges also noted that the bobstai used to support the bowsprit tends to get in the way when anchoring, although an owner will no doubt offer a workaround as well.
Related: 2022 Boat of the Year: Special Judges Awards
Those chosen nits aside, I have to say the GS 44 was one of the most fun boats the Boat of the Year team has ever sailed. I could easily see it pampering a crew on an extended cruise, but it would be a rocket ship around buoys and racing from point to point.
I’ll give Judge Gerry Douglas the last word: “The helm was just beautiful on this boat. It was a finger on the wheel at all speeds, which was just a delight.
Grand Soleil 44 Performance Specifications
|TOTAL LENGTH||47’5″ (14.45 meters)|
|WATER LENGTH||43’11” (13.39m)|
|DRAFT (standard/shoal)||8’6″/6’6″ (2.59/1.98m)|
|SAIL AREA (100%)||1,206 ft2 (112 m2)|
|BALLAST||6,613 pounds (3,000 kg)|
|SHIFT||19,840 lbs (8,999 kg)|
|THE WATER||44 gal. (167L)|
|FUEL||80 gal. (303L)|
|MAST HEIGHT||72′ (21.95m)|
|ENGINE||Volvo Penta 60 hp, saildrive|
|DESIGNATE||Yacht design Matteo Polli|
|WIND SPEED||12-16 knots|
|STATE OF THE SEA||Light chop|
|MOTORIZATION||Cruising (2,000 rpm) 7 knots|
|Fast (2,800 rpm) 8.7 knots|