This new offering from Cantiere del Pardo, traditionally hailed as the Nautor Swan of Italy, replaces the yard’s earlier 43-footer, which was introduced in 2006. A thoroughly modern performance-cruiser, or racer-cruiser depending on your bent, the Grand Soleil 43 is second in the yard’s new M series and combines improved build materials with an of-the-moment design by Claudio Maletto, who worked on both Luna Rossa and Il Moro di Venezia in the 32nd America’s Cup.
The hull and deck are vacuum-infused in vinylester with a foam core down to the waterline. The galvanized steel grid that stiffened hulls in previous Grand Soleil models has been replaced with a lighter carbon-fiber structure. Impressively, too, bronze plates, rather than more corrosion-prone aluminum, are embedded in the deck laminate under hardware installations.
Compared to Grand Soleil’s previous 43-footer, this new 43 has a less wetted surface area in spite of carrying much more of its beam aft. The overall weight of the new boat is also a couple of hundred pounds lighter than its predecessor, and much more of its weight—an extra 550lb, to be exact—is carried as ballast in a more efficient T-bulb lead keel.
The boat features an open-transom cockpit with twin Solimar helms connected to a single rudder turning a very easily accessed steering quadrant. To further enhance access to the water for swimmers and those boarding tenders, there is a narrow fold-down swim platform. The liferaft is housed in a dedicated locker under the aft end of the port-side cockpit seat and can be easily pushed straight overboard off the back end of the boat.
All sail controls, including the double-ended German-style mainsheet, are led aft belowdeck to a series of Spinlock XTS clutches and six good-sized Harken winches. Lines coming from the mast are fed through individual tubes so that new lines can be reeved without messengers. The mainsheets tails, which run under the side decks, can be accessed through the overhead below if necessary.
The wide main traveler is recessed beneath the teak cockpit sole directly ahead of the twin wheels, with a flap behind it that folds back so you can fully access the track as needed. Forward of the traveler, there is a very clever fold-down cockpit table that collapses straight into the sole and can be raised or lowered in an instant. It’s important to note, though, that this is a light structure that can only be used when the boat is idle.
Even farther forward, a series of flush Moonlight hatches gives the deck a very sleek appearance. Outboard there are proper raised bulwarks running the length of the boat, which makes it much easier for crew to work on the lee side when the boat is heeled. At the bow, directly behind the belowdeck Furlex furler and the anchor well, there is small but useful sail locker.
The interior layout is quite straightforward—what might be called traditional these days for a boat this size—with twin staterooms aft under the cockpit and one owner’s stateroom forward of the mast. What is remarkable for such a performance-oriented boat, however, is how large and comfortable all these staterooms are. The aft staterooms have great vertical clearance over full double berths, which are perfectly rectangular with no cut-outs to abridge usable area. There’s also full standing headroom at the door, with lots of ambient light and storage space. The forward stateroom, meanwhile, seems truly luxurious, with oodles of space, a generous island double berth, and an ensuite head with a segregated shower stall and a swank electric Tecma toilet.
In the middle of the boat, there is an L-shaped galley to port opposite a small head with another Tecma toilet. Our test boat had sleek black Corian galley counters, which dramatically offset the bright blonde wood interior. The galley seemed a bit small, but not cramped, with a three-burner Techimplex stove and oven, and two fridges—a big top-loading Isotherm unit left of the sinks and a smaller front-loading Frigoboat unit just beneath them. One useful feature I particularly liked was a dedicated trench with a lid in the counter right behind the sinks for stowing damp sponges and dishwashing soap.
Just forward of the galley, there is a traditional U-shaped dinette with a full-length settee suitable for sleeping and a smaller centerline bench seat opposite set on a short athwartship track in the sole so it can be slid out of the way when sailing. To starboard there is a short settee, not suitable for sleeping, and a small nav station, which is quite necessary, as there is nowhere in the cockpit to mount a chartplotter.
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Our test boat carried the standard 9/10ths fractional Sparcraft aluminum rig with two sets of sweptback spreaders and discontinuous rod standing rigging. A carbon-fiber racing rig, about 3ft taller than the standard rig, is an option. We also carried the optional shoal-draft keel, which draws 6ft 6in, as opposed to the deeper standard keel, which draws 7ft 10in.
We sailed the boat on Chesapeake Bay off Annapolis in a brisk 13 to 17 knots of wind in generally flat seas. I was immediately impressed by how very light the helm felt. Initially, this led me to oversteer a bit until I appreciated just how light a touch the wheel wanted. Once I adapted to it, I found the steering to be quite precise, with subtle, but accurate feedback. When the boat was pressed, closehauled or nearly so with the sails strapped in as some apparent gusts over 20 knots came through, the helm loaded up very little, and the rudder never came close to losing its grip.
Given we were sailing the “de-powered” version of the boat, our speed was more than respectable. Our strongest apparent angle was at 80 degrees to the wind, where we made 8.5 to 9 knots of boatspeed in 16 knots of apparent wind. Tightening up to about 32 degrees, we were still doing well over 8 knots in 18 knots of breeze. Pinching a bit to 25 degrees, we carried over 6 knots as the wind lapsed slightly to 15 knots. Though we had an A-sail aboard, as well as the optional fixed carbon bowsprit installed forward (which is supported by a bobstay, so it can be also be confidently used for flying Code 0 sails), we elected to bear off under just our working sails. Sailing an apparent wind angle of 120 degrees, we never saw our speed drop below 5 knots, despite being under-canvassed.
Auxiliary power comes courtesy of a 55hp Volvo diesel engine, which on our test boat was turning a two-bladed folding Gori racing propeller. I wondered if the propeller settings needed tweaking, as the engine only made 2,600 rpm with the throttle wide open. Our speed at this setting was 8.4 knots running with the wind behind us in flat water. Pulling the throttle back to a more cruiserly setting of 2,000 rpm, we were still making 7.8 knots.
Turning hard, I found the boat spun easily around its T-keel in one boatlength. In reverse, the boat was equally predictable and easy to control.
Unlike many so-called racer-cruisers, the Grand Soleil 43 manages to preserve its identity as a performance boat while making almost no concessions in terms of creature comforts below. The staterooms are just as roomy as those found on most equivalent cruising boats. This would make a great boat for serious sailors who sometimes race, but still want to cruise with and pamper their families.
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