La Dolce Vita

Boat Review: Brenta B42

Italian daysailer is big on style as well as function, by Vanessa Dudley

AFTER living abroad for years, returning to Australia to a new home on Sydney's waterfront has been made all the sweeter for the Cooney family by the arrival of a beautiful, extravagant toy in the form of a Brenta B42.

Their boat Requin Blanc is one of two B42s to be shipped into Sydney earlier this year, joining a B38 already at home in these waters. Jim Cooney only has to walk down to the jetty at the end of his backyard, step aboard and be sailing within perhaps a quarter of an hour, without needing anyone to help him with the sails. Both the self-tacking jib and the mainsail are set up with roller furling and the two self-tailing winches for halyards and control lines located to either side of the the companionway are both electric-powered. Stepping aboard for the first time, it takes a moment to register that these Harken 50.2STs are in fact the only winches around the deck of the 42-footer.

Extra pairs of hands are not required once underway, either, because the boat is set up with push-button controls for hidden hydraulic systems controlling the mainsheet and traveller, boom vang and jib sheet tension. For each of these functions there is a pair of buttons, one to apply tension and the other to release it. All but the jib sheet are positioned on a console at both steering stations, while the jib controls are also within easy reach, so the person at the helm can operate the yacht without any assistance. That could mean solo sailing, but equally it could cover a boatload of family and friends, none of whom know much if anything about sailing.

Controlling the sail trim completely by button-power is a novel experience and a little unnerving when you are trying to remember which one does what (the hydraulics' response to a command is fast enough to allow you to apply a quick touch of trial and error), but this is an aspect of push-button sailing that would soon become second nature when you spend enough time sailing the boat. And “One of the objectives is trying to minimise the time it takes to go sailing,” said Lorenzo Argento, co-founder of the Italian company Luca Brenta Yacht Design, while visiting Sydney for the initial sea trials of the two new B42s.

The B-yacht mission

If the B42's Italian dayboat looks and minimalist setup make you think “Wally Yachts”, perhaps it will come as no surprise that the B42's designers were involved in the groundbreaking early days of those bigger craft.

Brenta Yacht Design specialises in large custom craft for wealthy private owners, like Ghost, a 122ft Wally B, but over the past few years it has gone into production with the B-yacht range of semi-custom performance cruising boats, from 30 to 60ft LOA.

“High performance, easy to use, semi-custom-built boats blending past experience of large custom projects solutions into something new,” says the brochure, also defining the mission as: “High weight stability, very generous sail plan, great cockpit comfort and pure sailing pleasure mixed with style.”

“We decided to go for a highly ballasted boat and made it as narrow as we could, while still with accommodation and deck space,” Argento explains. “We wanted a very balanced hull shape, because it has to be easy to drive and particularly because such a powerful boat will heel considerably, you really like to have a symmetrical hull shape so it doesn't go ‘funny' when it heels over, which is what more dedicated downwind boats do when they sail upwind.

“We don't have people who sit on the rail, so you need high stability if you want sail area and power.”

The B42's ratio of sail area to displacement is quoted as 29.9, while the displacement to waterline length figure is 108.

“The boat is not a downwind flyer as such because there is weight there,” says Argento. “We feel that people enjoy the upwind bit and if they want to sail downwind and have fun you really need to set a spinnaker and then you need people.” [The B42 does have a fractional gennaker, set from a retractable carbon bowsprit pole.]

“But here you have all these races for white sails; this is something that we don't have in Italy. There the racing is always very serious, while here you have the serious side but also a lot of more relaxed [no-extras] racing. I think this boat is perfect for that, or just to cruise around; whatever opportunity you have.”

Into production

Lorenzo Argento says he and his design partners decided to set up production of the B-yachts only after they unsuccessfully sought a builder. “We were strong believers in this concept but nobody wanted to build these boats, so we found ourselves right in the middle of it.

“We found a builder to make the tooling and 48 boats later… nobody's become rich but it's a very good group of people; we have boats in Long Island [USA], boats here in Australia, in the Med, up in Denmark, Moscow, Stockholm…The owners are very specific in what they want, very demanding but also ready to pick up the technology of this boat.”

The hull is infused carbon fibre and E-glass epoxy over a Corecell foam core. “We lay all the dry fibres and then we apply the vacuum bag and by sucking the air out and the epoxy resin in, have control of the amount of resin and the weight differences between the boats is minimised,” says Argento. Built in female moulds, the use of the infusion process allows the boats to be spray-painted rather than gelcoated.

The composites company High Modulus was enlisted in the challenge to maximise the usable interior volume, resulting in a single moulding keel and mast support structure. To achieve this, a finite element model of the hull, deck and internal structure was built and subjected to a variety of loads for detailed analysis.

Ballast is provided by a lead bulb on a fabricated steel blade keel.

Focus on deck

Jim Cooney's new B42 is set up with North sails on a King carbon fibre mast from Argentina, with carbon spreaders and PBO composite standing rigging weighing around 10kg as compared to around 50kg for comparable stainless steel rod rigging, a major saving in a rig package of around 100kg, Argento says. The Leisurefurl NZ boom is highly regarded as an effective and secure mainsail furling system, but its bulk and weight are slightly at odds with the rest of the rig. “It's the only thing from a pure design perspective that I'm not very happy with, but I understand the use,” says the Lorenzo Argento.

There is no backstay, offset by the 30 degree aft sweep of the spreaders and the powerful controls for the boom vang and mainsheet.

Tacktick Micronet instruments with remote control and a Raymarine autopilot complete the package.

The Volvo 27hp saildrive engine drives an alternator to charge the four batteries, three of these 105ah units for the hydaulic systems, which have a 2.5kw motor for the hydraulic pack. “You can sail the boat all day long and have plenty of power left, you just have to charge it every three or four days,” Argento says.

The cockpit is unrestricted and refreshingly different. It's easy to see how this boat could appeal to non-sailors, as there is almost nothing to trip over and even when sailing on a heel the bench seats feel quite secure.

Halyards and lines from the mast are led aft under the coachroof cover, where there are also ventilation ports for the interior.

Below decks

Although the B42 will most commonly be used as a daysailer, it does have a stylish interior which is relatively small for a 42-footer, but has more headroom than the low freeboard and low slung cabintop would indicate, and could sleep a family on the forward vee-berth and soft settees.

There is a small galley to starboard of the companionway, with a two-burner stove, ice box and sink. Opposite is the enclosed bathroom, with an electric toilet and hand basin. A hot water shower is housed at the aft end of the cockpit.

The LED lighting is very stylish and the minimalist approach to décor provides a fresh atmosphere.

Performance

We sailed in the occasionally bouncy waters of Sydney Harbour in a breeze gusting from 5-15 knots. The B42 proved to be a well balanced and enjoyable boat to steer, particularly upwind where the helm was responsive and remained reliable when the boat was pressed in the stronger gusts.

Deep draft is no problem for Sydney Harbour and the fine bow seemed to slice quietly through the chop; in these conditions there was no spray in the cockpit. Attempting to master the press-button sail controls provided me with a few slightly anxious moments and it might help to have some labels on the buttons. The point is that the B42 is not like most other boats and safe sailing will depend on its master developing the correct instinctive response when a quick decision needs to be made.

In conclusion, deciding to buy a B42 might not be the most ‘sensible' move you'll ever make, but you won't be relying on all your mates to help sail it, you might survive and even enjoy a family sailing outing without needing to shout orders at your kids or parents-in-law through each manoeuvre.And the boat is guaranteed to turn heads whenever you hoist sail.

ANDREA FRANCOLINI/B.YACHTS

 

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