It says something of the nature of these boats that my initial correspondence with Jean-François Eeman (see photo up top), managing director of Boréal Yachts, regarding a visit to their yard, was interrupted for a month while he and his family took off on a cruise to Antarctica. On a Boréal, of course. Indeed, Eeman’s boat was the first Boréal 44 ever built, the ultimate product of a chance encounter on a dock in Ushuaia, Argentina, between Eeman and another Jean-François, surname Delvoye, a designer and builder with many bluewater miles under his belt who had long been nursing an idea for an ideal cruising vessel.
The basic concept here is not at all unusual. Aluminum bluewater centerboard boats, though not often found in North America, have long been a staple of the French cruising scene. Major French builders Garcia and Alubat have focused primarily on boats like this for decades, and several smaller builders have followed in their wake. Boréal, barely ten years old, is the rising star on the scene, thanks to a focus on build quality that rivals that of the early Garcias and also to some unique design features that take the concept to a new level.
I have long been interested in boats like this and have sailed passages both on an older Garcia Passoa 47 and on Jimmy Cornell’s new Garcia 45. I am strongly prejudiced in favor of aluminum construction (for lightness, strength, and lack of cosmetic maintenance it can’t be beat; see, e.g., my current boat Lunacy) and my experience has taught me these centerboard designs are reasonably fast (particularly off the wind in strong conditions), very seaworthy, and almost supernaturally comfortable for monohulls. This last attribute I credit to their ballast being situated in the bilges of the hull, rather than low down in a fixed keel; my theory being that on any ballasted boat it is the ballast that moves least (it serving as the fulcrum of the lever, as it were), and thus the closer you are to the ballast the more comfortable you will be.
So I was looking very forward to visiting the Boréal yard in Brittany, outside the little town of Tréguier, after I finished up my visit with Clare and Edward Allcard in Andorra the week before last.
A Boréal 47 at rest on a dock in Tréguier. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but I think these are exceptionally attractive boats. I particularly like the big flush deck forward of the mast and the way the doghouse is neatly grafted on to the cabinhouse
Two guys named Jean-François (who are actually Belgian, not French). That’s Eeman on the left and Delvoye on the right. They’ve both been there and done that when it comes to high-latitude sailing. The latter first conceived of the prototype Boréal while cruising with his family on a steel boat he built himself
The bones of the beast. The hull form, you’ll note, features hard chines, which both simplify construction and increase form stability
Pieces of the puzzle. All the metal used is high-quality 5083 and 5086 H111 alloy from Norway (none of that cheap crap from China). Pieces are laser-cut on a CNC machine offsite and are delivered to the plant ready to be welded in place. Plate thickness varies throughout the boat, from 10mm in the bottom and keel area decreasing to 4mm in the deck, coachroof, and cockpit
This massive solid piece of metal forms the bottom of the stem and is the battering ram that leads the way in any forward-motion collision. Strength and watertight integrity is further enhanced with full collision bulkheads both forward and aft
The transom on a 44. The panel in the middle folds down to serve as a small boarding and swim platform. Plate thickness in the transom is 6mm
The transom skirt on a 47, which is otherwise identical to the 44. Note the solid lengths of pipe that make up the hull-deck joint. This enhances the joint’s structural integrity and is also more aesthetically pleasing than a hard corner. Those vertical exterior frame pieces you see tacked on to either side of the transom are temporarily installed to keep the panel from distorting as it is welded in place
The vertical core of the boat. The massive I-beam is the compression post for the deck-stepped mast, with the centerboard trunk behind it. That big tall box forward of the post is the chain locker for the anchor rode, which is brought aft from the bow through a heavy pipe that forms the spine of the forward deck framing. The pipe is lined with plastic so as to isolate the steel chain running through it
The water tanks are laid out either side of the centerboard trunk and will be coated inside with food-quality paint. This ensures water potability and also saves the tank interior from coming in contact with any chlorine in the water, which can cause corrosion in aluminum welds. The fuel tanks are situated fore and aft of the centerboard trunk, over the ballast compartments, which contain large lead pigs sealed in resin. End result: everything heavy in the boat (including the house batteries, which are located either side of the aft end of the centerboard trunk) is concentrated low down in the middle of the hull. This boosts performance and stability and reduces pitching motion
All below-the-water through-hull fittings are stand-pipes that reach up above the waterline. Seacocks are fitted on top of these and can be removed and serviced with the boat in the water
The vents for all tanks are routed to the top of the forward end of the centerboard trunk
The centerboard itself is also aluminum and is hollow. It is shaped as a NACA foil to enhance windward performance
The structure is insulated with panels of polystyrene foam above the waterline. The underlying metal is coated with sprayed-on cork (see, for example, the structural knee in the foreground here) and cracks and crevices are filled with blown foam to eliminate any possibility of condensation forming behind or around the insulation panels
After touring the plant I had a chance to go for a sail on a finished boat, which you can see in profile in the drawing above. As is typical on these centerboard boats, the rig is relatively short to compensate for the ballast being secured in the bilges rather than lower down in a keel. The boat also features what might be called a double-headsail rig, as opposed to a true cutter rig. Either the full genoa is flown, or the smaller staysail (which is self-tacking, sheeted to an athwartship traveler on the foredeck), but not both simultaneously.
You’ll note too the rudder is quite shallow, which allows the boat to be beached when the centerboard is up. There is but one rudder on the boat’s centerline lined up behind the massive keel box, as opposed to twin rudders on either side, which are vulnerable to collision threats. To help enhance the boat’s directional stability there are instead a pair of offset aft daggerboards, built of epoxy composite rather than aluminum, so they can break away if struck by anything without damaging the structure of the boat.
In sailing the boat I noticed immediately that the steering was not as precise and responsive as on a typical modern boat with a high-aspect spade rudder. Consequently I had a tendency to oversteer at first, until I clued into the secret of the daggerboards. Sailing on the wind you play the leeward board and can dial in just as much lee or weather helm as you want. Or you can set the board for a perfectly neutral helm, in which case you needn’t touch the wheel at all, and the boat will happily sail itself for as long as the wind strength remains the same.
The board, which is of course foil-shaped, also helps the boat point higher. Our closehauled sailing angles were quite good for a boat of this type, but not terribly impressive by modern keel-boat standards. Sailing in a 15- to 20-knot breeze the boat was fully powered up at a 45-degree apparent wind angle and could pinch to about 40 degrees at the cost of about a knot of boatspeed. Our speed overall was good, running 6-8 knots depending on the wind strength. I know from experience that the highest speeds on boats like this are attained surfing off the wind in a strong breeze with the centerboard up and and an aft daggerboard (or boards) down. In such conditions I would expect to see some nice spikes into the mid-teens.
What most impressed me was how stable the boat was. We had a fairly steady and moderate wind sailing out the mouth of the Tréguier River, but as we closed the shore again we saw sudden dramatic gusts as high as 29 knots. We were flying the full mainsail and genoa (about 130 percent, I’d say) and none of these gusts engendered any panic or even very extreme heeling angles. A couple of times we had to ease the mainsheet to keep the boat from rounding up, but otherwise the boat’s motion was soft and manageable.
Sailing back up the river we rolled up the genoa and deployed the staysail and had fun playing the intermittent gusts and catspaws the five miles back to town. Even at very slow speeds the boat was easy to control. Later, after we stowed the sails, I tried backing down under power. Again, the rudder didn’t bite as crisply as a deep high-aspect rudder would, but once the boat got moving she was perfectly maneuverable.
As for the boat’s interior, a glance at the accommodations plan doesn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary. This is the standard three-stateroom layout (two aft, one forward) found on most modern boats, with the galley to starboard in the middle of the boat opposite a raised saloon dinette. The interior’s most appealing feature, a nifty nav desk and seat in the doghouse just forward of the cockpit, isn’t readily apparent in the drawing.
The view from the cockpit. In the doghouse just behind that inspiringly bulletproof companionway door you’ll find the nav station. The mainsheet is double-ended and can be controlled from either side of the wheel. The winches are positioned so that the two sets of sheets for the mainsail and genoa can be led to either winch, per your preference. (The staysail is controlled with a single line.) The splayed-out web of the multi-part mainsheet on the roof of the doghouse is surprisingly effective. By hauling in on the windward side of the sheet, you can easily bring to boom to centerline, as seen here
Inside the doghouse. The concave saddle nav seat keeps you tucked in place when the boat is heeled, and the wrap-around view of the outside world allows you to comfortably keep watch here in nasty weather
In the standard deck layout the only line led aft is the vang control. Everything else is handled at the mast, which personally is the way I like it. More controls can be led aft to the cockpit if you want
The anchor windlass is in the middle of the boat, right over the midship chain locker, and can also be used to hoist the mainsail. To manage the windlass from the bow while deploying or recovering your anchor you’ll need a wireless hand-control
The back edge of the doghouse roof incorporates a narrow full-breadth wind-scoop that helps ventilate the aft cabins
The saloon settees and table are raised enough that you can see easily out the cabinhouse windows. Note the Refleks diesel heating stove to the left of the galley. This circulates hot water through radiators in the staterooms
You can order the aft cabins with a pair of split single berths like this, or with a flat double berth. As you can see here, light streams in from both sides
The spacious master stateroom forward features an island double berth on centerline. The mattress is split so you set up a lee-cloth in the middle while underway
A 55-hp Volvo or Nanni diesel (as seen here) is standard, or you can upgrade to 75-hp. Access to the engine is good, and there is room in the systems space for both a genset and watermaker
The day after my plant tour and test-sail I attended the launching of a new Boréal 47. Here you see a member of the launch crew whipping a messenger line on to one of the centerboard control lines, which run up inside the mast and are controlled with a halyard winch. Alternatively, you can order the boat with hydraulic centerboard controls
The boat was launched with the lid of the centerboard trunk removed, which afforded this unique view
Below you’ll find some numbers to ponder. Studying them myself, I’m struck by how similar they are to the Garcia Passoa I mentioned earlier.
LOA 45’3” (without scoop transom)
-Board up 3’3”
-Board down 8’1”
Displacement (lightship) 26,638 lbs.
Ballast 8,377 lbs.
Sail area 1,076 sq.ft.
Fuel 158 gal.
Water 200 gal.
-Boréal 44 €417,500
-Boréal 47 €453,000
Postscript: While driving from Andorra to Brittany I stopped and spent the night in La Rochelle. This gave me a chance to see Bernard Moitessier’s famous steel ketch Joshua (see image above), which is kept at the marine musueum there. I have always wanted to do this! This is the metal boat that began the French fascination with metal boats. (See this post here to find out how Moitessier really lost her.)