TEST – I have been aboard Jimmy Cornell’s dreamboat!


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almodovardiplopie_4523_25703054760_o“So how does the boat look?” they ask. “Tastes like a cork.” They laugh. Fortunately, the French have a sense of humor. They are off Cherbourg on a spring day on paper but not in fact. Ten degrees, yellow ceratona, freezing wind from the north. I came here to try out the new Garcia Exploration 52, big brother in size to the 45 that Garcia Yachting (now part of the Grand Large Yachting group, which also includes brands such as Allures and Outremer) has made following Jimmy Cornell’s advice religiously. Again, the shipyard relied on Berret-Racoupeau Yacht Design for the design.

Detail of Marine Deck, cork-based composite that
Detail of Marine Deck, cork-based composite that “replaces” teak on the model we tested

The boat “tastes like a cork” because Marine Deck, which is a composite based on… cork. “It has numerous advantages,” the people from the shipyard on board with me explain, “besides being cheaper than wood, it dries quickly, is a good anti-slip, requires no maintenance, and a light sanding is all it takes to return to its original color. But not only that, it’s a great insulator, plus it doesn’t heat up in the sun.” They convinced me. I also want to make my own cork blanket.

But this is just one of the many (optional) special features of this special boat, 16.65 meters long and 4.80 meters wide. Featuring an all-aluminum hull, it is a larger-scale transposition of the ideas of Cornell, inventor of the ARC and one of the most famous “long range” sailors. One who has sailed all the seas and seen it all: that is precisely why he wanted the boat of his dreams, capable of braving ice as well as equatorial heat, to be safe first.

20160421_100009And safety, already when I go to visit model number 2 under construction in the Cherbourg shed, is the word that comes to mind as soon as I look at the metal structure of the hull. A weave of spars, frames, and stringers that feels like being in a spider’s web: at both bow and stern are two watertight bulkheads, so that the hull is divided into three “independent” compartments (in the event of a leak, only one compartment will fill with water, so the boat is almost unsinkable). The fuel tank (1,000 liters) is practically integrated into the structure and is also made of aluminum; the water tank (800) is made of plastic.

The anchor chain locker is below deck, arranged near the mast foot, for greater concentration of weight in the center
The anchor chain locker is below deck, arranged near the mast foot, for greater concentration of weight in the center

They are placed in the middle of the boat so as to concentrate the weights as much as possible for greater stability: also very interesting is the location of the anchor chain locker, also below deck at the mast foot (you just have to remember not to open it while you are sailing starboard tack or the chain will all come out!).. On the inner masonry, a double layer of insulating neoprene is affixed (two layers of 4 centimenters): aluminum is susceptible to temperature changes so it is good to insulate it. But not with foam: “The key word is safety,” Garcia’s people repeat to me, “everything must be removable for easy control.” Also for safety, all sea intakes have been placed above the water level.

Very interesting, I got to notice on site, is the double rudder blade design (equipped, moreover, with self-aligning bearings), common to the Exploration range. The upper portion, the one closest to the hull, has an “empty” area that can be sacrificed, without damaging the hull, should the blade hit the bottom: the rudder axis will be displaced a little, but the hull will not be damaged.

sacrificial rudderLook at the photos above: this is the left rudder blade of the Garcia Explorer 45 Aventura, the boat in which Cornell made the Northwest Passage. Cornell hit the bottom and the blade tilted, deforming the joint, tilting the rudder axis by a few degrees but without damaging the hull.

garcia exploration

The deck, characterized by an “angular” (I like it) design dictated by aluminum construction, has in the cockpit its strong point. Well sheltered by the rigid sprayhood, equipped with a folding wooden table, it provides a safe location from which to keep an eye on every maneuver. From the genoa to the self-tacking provided, from the mainsail to the various adjustments, everything is sent back to the cockpit, to the winches on either side of the benches or to the electric winches just in front of the two rudder wheels, thanks to which the helmsman can manage the situation in total peace of mind, even with a small crew. If in 45 the front view was somewhat sacrificed by the hard cover, in 52 the problem does not exist. Thanks to two openings in the deckhouse and a large entrance below deck, you can safely see through the saloon what is happening forward while standing at the helm without necessarily having to move too far to starboard or port.
almodovardiplopie_4534_25703053630_oThe broadside houses six windows each, four horizontal ones corresponding to the cabins and two vertical ones in the mid-hull, corresponding to the galley. At the bow, a solid dolphin guard and a small breakwater in the foredeck give the boat a true “icebreaker” look. Other characteristics, these, inherited from the 45′: “Jimmy, while engaged in the Northwest Passage,” they tell me at the shipyard, “crashed into an iceberg at 6 knots of speed. The boat was not hurt.” End of flashback, now they are back at sea, on the Garcia 52 model number 1.

I try to walk along the deck: the spaces are great, every point on the boat can be reached easily and safely, I am just a bit blocked by the low shrouds, which slightly obstruct the passage. Perhaps, since this is an all-metal hull, the attachment of the latter could have been made slightly further inland instead of at the main shrouds. In the stern, behind the helm wheels (perhaps a little low for me, being 5’8″), a step and there you are above a comfortable bathing platform. The raft is housed in a dedicated locker under the helmsman’s station on the left, ready for use. Cornell really thought of everything!

From the square, the view is perfect: here we were struggling against a smaller Allures 39.9
From the square, the view is perfect: here we were struggling against a smaller Allures 39.9

Before taking the helm, I take a ride below deck as the boat slices through the ocean and its waves: we went out with flat seas but now that the wind is blowing at 15-16 knots it has been quick to ripple. Above is a Swiss gentleman at the helm-I get to appreciate the stability of the boat, even in the waves. Credit to the aforementioned weight concentration, the fully lowered liftable drift (by the way, the draft varies from 3.00 to 1.27 meters, so you can venture with the Garcia into lagoons, rivers and heavy tidal areas) and, why not, even the Swiss gentleman. I ate a lot, too much at lunch, and the fact that I’m not being assaulted by gasps means that yes, the boat is stable.

The drift is raised and lowered manually, with lines. It is easily inspected from the square
The drift is raised and lowered manually, with lines. It is easily inspected from the square

One more word about the keel, or rather, the fin: very light, its function is exclusively to drift, because the naval architecture of the boat stipulates that stability in sailing is achieved through weight concentration and with ballast. So light that it is raised and lowered by hand, via a regular winch on deck.

big_Garcia_Yachting_(10)_1452785182I am impressed by the brightness in the square and the 270-degree view that the large windows in the deckhouse allow. From below deck, at the charting station located in front of the dining table, you will always have a perfect view of what is happening outside. In theory, you can drive the boat solo, under sail (with remote autopilot control) from the comfort of down here.

The front window features an inverted obverse to better deal with refraction and splash
The front window features an inverted obverse to better deal with refraction and splash

The front window is tilted forward so as to ensure good visibility even in refraction (Cornell’s idea) and spray. Beautiful and well-equipped longitudinal galley to the left in front of the bathroom (with shower compartment and even a space to house wet clothes), comfortable sofas around the raised dining table, fine finishes, countless storage spaces. In the bow, the master cabin provides a double bed on the starboard side (another small chart table on the port side) and a bathroom with a shower on the bow. All rooms are divided, again, by watertight hatches. Owners can choose from various configurations, two-, three-, or four-cabin: the latter option includes a small cabin (ideal for a child) in place of the technical area below the deck saloon, in addition to the two aft ones.

20160421_155643IN NAVIGATION.
But, you ask, does this boat – which weighs 19 tons and ready to sail, equipped with all the necessary accessories, comes close to a million euros (700,000 euros + VAT the basic version) – perform well? Is it worth the expense? I have not tested the boat in Cape Horn, but I can assure you that speed and reliability are its two strong points. With flat seas, winds of 12-13 knots, upwind wide (45°-50°) I reached 7.8 knots. In tighter upwind (35°) I only took it in lighter winds (8-9 knots), reaching 6 knots.

20160421_153449Same speed as I recorded at 52°, in 9-10 knot winds but with the sea more formed. On the traverse, I touched 9 knots with 16 wind. As for sail adjustment (jib and genoa, I haven’t tried anything else), it’s all very smooth, thanks to the lazy jacks and lazy bag, Facnor furler, and electric winches.

The mainsail is controlled through a German-style
The mainsail is controlled through a German-style “double” system.

The mainsail is controlled by two independent circuits: the leeward sheet, in upwind gaits, serves more as a second vang. When making turns, I noticed a tendency for the boat to “wag” a little, an effect typical of boats with dual wheelhouses. To answer the above question, if you want to sail in total safety, if you want to feel at home even on the boat, if you want to count on an efficient and helpful after-sale service (the virtual 3D model of your boat is kept at Garcia’s technical offices: just ask them for advice in case of repairs or spare parts requests), the Exploration 52 is the boat for you. Eugene Ruocco


garcia-exploration-52-rs-fc3a9vrier-2014-v1-page-001TECHNICAL DATA SHEET.
Overall length 16.65 m
Hull length 15.84 m
Length at waterline 14.59 m
Beam max. 4,80 m
Draft 3.00/1.27 m
Height at masthead 21.50 m
Displacement 18.88 t
Diesel tanks 1,000 l
Fresh water tanks 800 l
Number of beds 4/6/8
Berret Racoupeau Yacht Design
Construction Garcia Yachting
Technical consulting
Imported by Sail Away



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