The hull shape of the new design is the result of extensive research in conjunction with the famous Wolfson Unit at the University of Southampton. To determine the shape that offers least drag, subtly different designs were assessed on a windward/leeward course. Racing crews can therefore be confident that the boat will perform well, while cruisers can revel in surprisingly fast passage times. Despite the 43’s slippery shape, the accommodation is also very well appointed, with plenty of space below decks.
As well as the reduced wetted surface area, and a more efficient T-bulb keel, the galvanised steel frame that took the rig loads of previous Grand Soleil models has been replaced by one of carbon fibre infusion that’s lightweight and extremely stiff. The new boat is 100kg lighter than its predecessor, but there’s an extra a quarter of a tonne of lead in the keel, increasing the already good sail carrying ability.
As well as the obvious benefits for racing crews, this boat is what a cruising boat should be like – fast, fun to sail and well-behaved. Don't be fooled by the big rig – this boat has top-notch systems to tame it, so is easier to handle than many more sedate designs.
There is a clean, almost minimalistic deck layout, with quality gear of a size and layout that makes handling the large rig easy, whether sailing with a large crew or just two-up. The halyard winch is electrically powered, which makes hoisting the main effortless, while two deep single line reefs make reducing the mainsail size a quick and easy task: one person can tuck a reef in within 60 seconds and needs only half that time to shake it out.
The winches and traveller of the German mainsheet system are within reach of the wheels, which works well when sailing shorthanded, but there’s also space and for a mainsheet trimmer in front of the helm. Primary winches are located further forward, at the front section of the cockpit, which has more of a cruising style, with side seats and coamings.
Stowage on deck is excellent, including a self draining liferaft locker on the same level as the cockpit sole, a smaller locker for warps and the like, plus a huge lazerette which has ample space for cruising equipment including dinghy and folding bikes. There’s also a large and deep sail locker on the foredeck, just aft of the chain locker. There's near-instant access to the steering quadrant from on deck, while cruising comforts include cockpit seat cushions and a large table that pops up from the cockpit floor.
Our test boat had the deep keel and the 9/10ths fractional tall racing rig, with double swept aft spreaders and discontinuous rod rigging. We had a blustery autumnal day for our test, with the wind varying from under 15 knots to gusts above 25 knots. There’s an excellent view forward from the leather-covered 900mm diameter wheel, with almost the whole luff of the headsail in view. It’s easy to brace yourself in place when sitting on the side deck, and there are folding foot chocks to provide a sure footing when standing at the wheel.
On the wind, even with full sail she could be dropped into a groove, feathering into the gusts. The helm has plenty of feel and, although the high-aspect rudder is clearly powerful, it has enough balance area to ensure that the helm remains light without being so low geared to lose responsiveness.
On a beam reach she made an easy eight knots with a long legged ease, and bearing away further we edged into double-figure speeds on the top of small waves. Throughout the boat remained predictably responsive and tracked well and clearly with a race crew we could have had a considerable amount of fun, planing at high speeds under good control.
Another area in which a performance boat scores compared to a high volume out and out cruiser is in handling under power. The efficient keel and powerful rudder mean that steerage way is maintained at the slowest of speeds, even in gusty conditions, and the boat will spin readily around the fin without the need for a bow thruster. Similarly, positive control is readily achieved in reverse.
The new boat has a larger interior than the previous 43, with three very good cabins, a forward facing chart table and large galley and saloon, with excellent natural light and ventilation. The effect is enhanced by the use of light veneers, although a dark mahogany trim is available as an option for those who prefer more traditional styling. Whenever possible Grand Soleil will work with customers to ensure that they get what they want from the boat and, short of moving bulkheads, most changes can be accommodated.
The saloon has two hull windows on each side, as well as the windows in the coach roof and two big opening overhead hatches. To port is a large folding table, with u-shaped seating that will accommodate the entire crew. Opposite this is a forward facing chart table with its own seat, plus a settee forward of this. The galley has plenty of space with excellent worktop areas surrounded by deep fiddles, plus twin sinks with pressurised hot and cold fresh water. There is an opening port above the cooker – a small but important detail that’s often overlooked.
There are two excellent mirror image after cabins – each is a decent size with good standing space, a large bunk with plenty of headroom and excellent natural light and ventilation. The owner's cabin forward is much larger and more luxurious, with a semi-island bed, lots of floor space, storage and a spacious en suite heads with a separate shower stall.
There are of course boats of this length that offer more accommodation volume, but this inevitably comes at the expense of weight, sailing performance and comfort at sea.
What it does well
High tech building and design may be more expensive, but it means the boat handles beautifully and weight is in the right place, so the boat stands up well to its sail area in changeable and challenging conditions. The interior volume is used to good effect, creating a feeling of space and luxury, with excellent stowage.
The new Grand Soleil 43 is a well thought out design with quality gear and offers an appealing blend of performance and comfort. Attention to detail is evident throughout the boat, with quality systems and efficient arrangements both above and below decks.
For more details, contact UK dealer Key Yachting. Like the look of the brand, but prefer something smaller? See our review of the Grand Soleil 39 Grand Soleil 39: Nifty, Charming and Fast.
Rupert Holmes has cruised and raced more than 60,000 miles, between 60 degrees north and 56 degrees south, in a wide variety of boats. He writes about all aspects of boat ownership and marine travel, including destinations, seamanship and maintenance, as well as undertaking regular boat and gear tests. He owns two yachts, one currently based in the Aegean and the other in the Solent.