After sailing two or three hundred boats, I thought there would be no utterly novel features for me to discover aboard the next one. I was mistaken. Boat designers are a creative lot, and when they're engineers as well, the result can be a vessel loaded with innovative features. The Belgian-built Etap 37 is just such a package of pleasant surprises. Or maybe I shouldn't be surprised; after all, a country that brews (and drinks) berry-flavored beers must be populated by creative souls.
The surprises start at the toerail, which at first glance looks like a long patterned aluminum cleat, with the horizontal tubular top section supported by short, sturdy verticals. This husky round rail is very strong, and deck water will drain instantly through. The bow, stern, and midship cleats are simply open sections of the rail.
The decks themselves are covered with an excellent TBS anti-skid surface; the cabintop has a more conventional dimpled pattern. Grabrails are handy, and it's easy for a sailor of normal height to reach about two-thirds of the length of the boom from the cabintop. The foredeck has a good locker for the anchor rode along with an electric windlass, and the standard Delta anchor snugs neatly into its bow roller. The cockpit seats are comfortable, and all the lines lead conveniently to hand.
But that's not the big news here. The surprise is the detachable mid-cockpit traveler. At first, this is a head-scratcher—why do this? After sailing a bit, it becomes clear. When daysailing with friends, you can pull the two pins that secure the traveler and stow it in its designated space in a locker, clipping the mainsheet block to an eye in the cockpit sole. Now you have lots of foot room for the crowd. When racing or sailing in heavy air, reinstall the traveler (a one-minute job) and tweak the main until you're happy.
The cherrywood interior is simple, bright, and elegant, but more pleasant little surprises lurk here. The double sink is in a central island, so it drains on either tack, and the island itself makes a solid brace point for working in the galley while under way with both hands free. Take the cover off the stove and it becomes a bridge to the island, creating more counter space for food preparation. Stow the sink covers in a fitted storage space under the stove when you're washing up. Somebody who has actually cooked offshore designed this space.
Stowage throughout the boat is excellent, with lots of lockers and well-planned space. For example, foul-weather gear can live in its own wet locker in the stylishly designed head, adjacent to the companionway steps.
The cabin layout is fairly standard, with a rather pointy V-berth forward and a pleasant owner's cabin aft. The 6-foot headroom lowers to about 5 feet, 9 inches at the forward end of the saloon, and, to preserve reasonable headroom with the sloping deck contour, there's a 3-inch step down in the sole. Owners will learn quickly to remember it.
The nav station's chart table will easily hold a full-size chart, folded once. There's enough panel space to mount a plotter or other electronic gear where it will be easy to see. The interior space is so well utilized that it's not at all obvious that this is a double-hulled, foam-filled vessel.
Construction and systems
The big thing about Etaps is that they not only float when flooded, but the crew can continue to live aboard and sail them in that condition. During construction the hull and lining are separated by several inches and foam is injected between them. This foam becomes quite hard and acts as insulation and soundproofing as well as flotation. There's more foam forward, as a flooded vessel tends to go down by the bow. This also puts a comforting crash box between you and a semi-submerged steel container.
According to Etap CEO Jan Verhaege, the French merchant-marine agency has stringent requirements for categorizing a vessel as "unsinkable" and for eliminating offshore liferaft requirements. To get this certification, the Etap 37 was loaded with eight people on the rail with all their gear inside. It was then flooded, and the mast was pulled down to the water. When the mast was released, the boat righted itself, two bunks and the galley remained above the waterline inside, and the crew could still sail the boat.
The deck flange is inside the hull, so the hull and deck are held together in compression, making the joint exceptionally strong. The joint is first riveted to hold it in alignment while adhesive and glass are injected, then the rail is bolted on. It's essentially a one-piece structure.
The inner liner precludes access to the outer hull for inspection, but everything I could see looked strong and neat. All the wiring runs through PVC conduits with messenger lines provided so you can add circuits later. Hoses are not only double-clamped to their through-hull fittings, but are sealed in heat-shrink tubing as well. Access to the saildrive powerplant is good. Its installation is neat and sturdy, and the soundproofing is exceptional.
On a sunny day with 8-to-12-knot winds, we motored the Etap 37s into the Chesapeake from a marina on Kent Island, Maryland, and raised the main. The boat made a bit of leeway while sailing to windward in this configuration, but it truly came alive when we unrolled the jib. I've not sailed any other boat that performed so differently under full sail versus main alone.
The reason is the optional tandem keel. This unique design achieves shoal draft with two separated in-line fins connected by a ballast bulb. Under main alone it felt like the foils were stalling, but under a balanced rig it immediately "locked in" and behaved like a normal single fin, with excellent performance on all points of sail. This is a tricky bit of design, and the engineers spent many hours of test time to get it right.
We got about 6 knots of boatspeed to windward and on reaches, with a perfectly balanced helm. The 37s tacked easily and was close-winded. I found the traveler and sheets easy to adjust under load.
At 2,500 rpm, the Volvo engine drove the boat at 6.5 knots, with an exceptionally low sound level—only 74 dBA—in the cabin. The boat turns a circle in about 11⁄2 boatlengths, and backing is straight and easy.
Etap has built more than 6,000 unsinkable boats, so this is a proven technology. The boats are comfortable, look sharp, and sail well. The engineering and construction costs a bit more than more conventional techniques and you lose a bit of interior space, but when you're offshore it should be comforting to know that nothing short of cannon fire will do you in.
Price: $159,900 (base, FOB East Coast) includes Elvström main with lazyjacks and jib with roller-furling, Raymarine ST-60 instruments, ground tackle, dock lines
Designer: Mortain & Mavrikios - ETAP Yachting
Builder: Etap Yachting, Malle, Belgium
U.S. importer: Sail La Vie, LLC, Freeport, ME; tel. 866-382-7872, www.etap-usa.com
Construction: The double-skinned hull is built of hand-laid fiberglass roving and ortho- and iso-resins, has a closed-cell foam polyurethane core, and is certified unsinkable. Bulkheads are laminated to the outer hull. All reinforcing and mounting plates are made of aluminum. The deck is also made with double-skin construction. Rig loads are carried by stainless-steel tie rods and shroud plates laminated to the outer hull.
13,948 lbs/13,508 lbs
828 sq ft (100% genoa)
29-hp Volvo saildrive
Sail area-displ. ratio