Germany’s Hanse Group may be a boatbuilding powerhouse, but it began in the humblest of fashions, by repurposing other builders’ discarded molds. I well recall seeing Hanse’s first boat, the Hanse 291, at a boat show in 1993. In its previous life it had been the Aphrodite 291, a fast and well-mannered 1980s Swedish cruiser-racer. Hanse founder Michael Schmidt built the boats by the score in a derelict furniture factory in the former East Germany, where cheap labor and a bare-bones inventory allowed him to undercut every other production builder by a hefty margin.
So successful was the 291 that Schmidt was able to commission Judel & Vrolijk to draw the sporty Hanse 311, which set the tone for all the Hanses that followed with its bold styling, powerful fractional rig and self-tacking jib.
One of Schmidt’s last acts before selling the company a couple years back was to introduce the Varianta 44, which has now been followed by the 37—a pair of no-frills cruisers based on a couple of older Hanse hulls and priced to attract buyers who would otherwise be looking at smaller—or secondhand—boats. In other words: it was back to Hanse’s roots. Varianta has been a hit in recession-struck Europe, but how will it fare here? I sailed the first Varianta 37, renamed the VAR 37 by its importer, Martin van Breems, in an effort to find out.
The VAR 37 employs the hull and (modified) deck molds from the long-running Hanse 370/375, a 2005 Judel & Vrolijk design. However, where Hanse’s hulls are sandwich construction, the VAR’s is a simple but robust solid laminate, with a vinylester skin coat to ward off blistering. Bulkheads are tabbed to the hull and deck, and a stiffening grid pan is bonded to the hull. The deck molding is foam-cored. The rig is similar to the 375’s, but with a slightly overlapping jib as opposed to a trademark Hanse self-tacker.
Despite the heavier hull construction the VAR 37 ends up considerably lighter than the 375, thanks to its stripped-out interior. Combined with the deep cast-iron T-keel and spade rudder of the 375, this tranlates to an excellent turn of speed.
The VAR looks very stark and white, lacking even a cove stripe to soften those high topsides. Aside from the (optional) teak on the cockpit seats, there’s not a splash of color. There’s also little in the way of deck gear—only four mooring cleats, for instance—although that’s all you really need to sail the boat. It also makes the 37 an easy boat to move around. Side decks are wide and clean, with the jib sheet tracks mounted on the cabintop. As standard, halyards and the sheets for the 109 percent jib come back to clutches and a pair of Lewmar 40s on the cabintop, but the sheets on the test boat were led aft to a pair of Lewmar 45s right by a big wheel. The mainsheet tackle is clipped to a padeye on the cockpit sole in front of the helm. Van Breems is planning to offer a self-tacking jib as an option, which will make this boat super-easy to handle. Meanwhile, the small jib is hardly burdensome.
The VAR 37 is an odd mixture of high-quality and just-good-enough. No shortcuts have been taken with basic construction, which is to a good standard. Nor with the rig—tapered Seldén spars are installed on the boats bound for the United States, with single-line reefing and a solid vang. Belowdecks, however, it doesn’t take long to realize where the real cost-cutting has taken place. This is a bare-minimum boat. There are no reading lamps, precious few overhead lamps, and the electrical installations are minimalist. Everything meets Germanischer Lloyd standards. It’s just that there’s not a lot of it.
Interior joinery is about as simple as it comes, angular fabrications of formica-faced marine ply that reminded me of the early efforts of the East German Hanse furniture makers-turned-boatbuilders. It all looks sturdy enough; it’s just not what you are used to seeing. And it’s practical too. I’d rather see large bins outboard of the settees where I could stuff a seabag or a bagged sail than a row of lockers too small to take anything larger than a loaf of bread.
A two-cabin layout is standard, though the boat I sailed had the optional three-cabin configuration. Berths are all sensibly sized and well upholstered. The linear galley has plenty of stowage, though it’s unorganized, and is equipped with only a two-burner stove and a small fridge (which will be increased in size for U.S. buyers).
Savvy Euro-sailors have been buying these boats, gutting them and having custom interiors installed, in the process saving thousands over of the cost of a competing production boat. The U.S. importer is similarly offering a number of upgraded joinery packages to be installed by local boatyards. It’s a novel concept that just might work.
If simplicity is a virtue, then the VAR 37 is unimpeachable. There’s no looking for the correct line to tweak on this boat, because there are so few to choose from. Belowdecks and above, this is a blank sheet upon which an owner can sketch out a boat the way he or she really wants to—or it can be left as-is, thereby providing an uncomplicated, perfectly satisfactory sailing experience.
I sailed a boat equipped with the standard deep keel on a quiet day on Long Island sound. Its sporty nature was evident as soon we set the sails. It was not a day for high top speeds, but we had enough to hint at the boat’s potential, with the GPS indicating over 6.5 knots hard on the breeze (12.5 knots apparent), on both tacks.
The Jefa steering, with its roller rudder bearings, was feather-light, and the boat was a delight to steer. We tacked through less than 90 degrees and could have done better with practice. The Hanse 375 was no slouch, and this boat is some 600lb lighter. I have little doubt she’ll gobble up more than a few 40 footers, if you’re into that kind of thing. Under Power
The test boat was equipped with the optional 30hp Volvo diesel swinging an optional Flexofold folding prop—a 20hp engine is standard. The Volvo made its presence felt without being unduly noisy, though better sound insulation would not hurt. The easily driven hull cruised at over 6 knots in flat water. The standard diesel would suit most buyers.
If you’re the kind of sailor who values simplicity and efficiency and enjoys fitting out a boat, the VAR 37 offers excellent performance at a bargain basement price point. The rest is up to you.
Ballast RATIO 37% SA/D RATIO 19 D/L RATIO 134
What do these ratios mean? Visit sailmagazine.com/ratios
BUILDER Hanse Group, Greifswald, Germany
U.S. DISTRIBUTOR Sound Sailing Center, Norwalk, CT, 203-838-1110, varyachts.com