Wauquiez Pilot House 40 Yacht review

Wauquiez Pilot House 40 Review 

 Issue: March 2002

Manufacturer: Wauquiez

I read somewhere that every European boat builder has a pilothouse yacht in its line-up. But not everything that’s fashionable is desirable. Not everything the Europeans do is innately superior to what we do here, though many Europeans assume it is so. And so do many Australians.

And perhaps I’m getting old. Let me correct that. I know I’m getting old, but I reckon the pilothouse style (or Pilot Saloon in the case of this Wauquiez 40) is a breath of fresh air in production yacht design. This sort of layout is as relevant in sunny, windy Australia as it is in cloudy, windy old Europe. Wauquiez (pronounced vow-kay) is part of the Beneteau empire and builds three Pilot Saloons at 40, 43 and 48ft lengths.

The 40, like the others, are meant for comfortable, short-handed cruising. The pronounced cabin profile enables you to see out when you’re sitting on the settee/dinette, and this in turn allows the designer to raise the profile of the cockpit as well as the cockpit floor, freeing volume beneath to allow a full-width owner’s cabin.

To qualify as a short-hander these days a yacht needs modern systems to handle the rig. The Wauquiez has the usual battened main with lazyjacks, but it is hoisted by the electric Harken winch mounted on the cabin roof, on the starboard side of the companionway.

Haul the main up by hand until it gets difficult, wrap the halyard around the self-tailer and press the button. Lock the halyard in its jammer and free the winch for the headsail sheet.

To appreciate the headsail arrangement, the sailing public may need a bit of education. There are two headsails, both mounted on furlers.

The jib is a non-overlapping self-tacker carried on a furler tacked a short distance from the bow. The genoa furler is tacked at the bow, which means that if the genoa is to be used it must be furled at each tack to clear the inner forestay.

This sounds a bit daggy, but I’ve tried other boats with a similar arrangement and the dagginess is not a problem because (a) for most outings you use the jib (b) if the wind drops out you use the motor and (c) the furl-tack-unfurl procedure is not much more burdensome that a conventional tack.

In many cases it is more relaxing; furl the genoa, complete the tack, unfurl the genoa when you’re ready. My missus likes this arrangement; she would enjoy sailing more if I could eliminate the flapping noise of the headsail, and you would be right in assuming that has caused the occasional argument. If you are long-distance cruising, don’t tack.

Short-handed coastal sailors use the engine as an integral part of the sailing inventory; if the breeze is light they don’t hesitate to fire up the diesel to maintain speed averages, no matter how well their boat sails in light airs.

Down below the French designers haven’t tried for the John West Award for most sardine-like accommodation, which is a good idea. Instead, there are two full double cabins with en suite bathrooms.

The feature of the interior, which takes a bit of getting used to, is the split floor level. The dinette and companionway are on one level and you take a step down to the rest of the saloon. This would presumably be no problem for an owner, but when new to the boat I mistook the bottom rung of the companionway ladder for the main floor level.

The comfortable dinette and table are on the starboard side. The table is split laterally, and half folds back to reveal a small, fiddled surface, presumably a good place to park the drinks, bikkies and cheese when sailing.

The straight-line galley has a two-burner stove with adjustable fiddles and has a brace/protection bar in front so the cook can either hang on or fend off. The fridge has 80lt of capacity and there’s a top-loading freezer.

The bow cabin has a vee berth, stowage ledges down both sides (for the wallet, keys, the favourite hat and the seasick pills) a deep hanging locker, open-fronted stowage bins under the bunk mouldings and small cupboards with shelves beneath the bunk. The bathroom is on the port side.

The owner’s cabin aft is the owner’s cabin because it is bigger. The bed is on the centreline and, although the cockpit moulding intrudes on the sense of space, there is no drawback because there is sitting headroom above the bed, and standing headroom everywhere else.

Out on the deck, teak is a reassuringly traditional feature on such a modern concept. Even the toe rail is teak. There is a teak strip down the centreline of the cockpit floor and, for the helmsman, behind the wheel. These are small in section but surprisingly effective, and necessary because this is a wide, wide cockpit.

The cockpit is wide because, like most modern hulls, there’s a lot of volume down the back and the designers flare heavily the topsides aft. Wide cockpits are attractive when the boat is at rest, but designers need to put a lot of thought into how to locate the bodies over such vast areas when the boat is heeled.

All surfaces are rounded and angled from the vertical, so this is a comfortable cockpit for lounging. The coamings are wide and easy to sit on, and you can happily sit outboard of the cockpit on the side decks.

All the sail controls are easy to reach on the coach roof, where a total of 11 jammers and the two primary winches handle a couple of kilometres of line. The control lines leave the mast at around waist height, head around turning blocks and are then led through open air till they reach the coach roof.

Here they vanish between the doubleskins of the coach roof, emerging back into daylight near their respective jammers. The spinnaker winches are down the back, in the usual place.

The rear bridgedeck behind the helmsman incorporates the helmsman’s seat, that opens up to reveal the fold-down swim platform from which the stainless steel boarding ladder folds.

The anchor is carried catted on the double steamhead fitting, so it can be rigged from either side, or a second anchor rigged simultaneously. Behind the anchor chain locker on the foredeck is a nice lazarette for fenders and spare lines.

Under sail we asked too much of the Wauquiez when we went out in a tough nor-easter, which built to 27 knots true. We should have reefed the main early, because the backstay needed more tension and the main was a bit too full.

But we got her headed upwind, with the self-tacker sheeted tight using the electric winch. The self-tacker, by the way, has a three-position clew so you can vary leech tension – with the self-tacking arrangement you have no control over sheet lead position.

The mainsheet traveller is led back each side to a simple, manual cam. I managed to ease the traveller and re-cleat without trouble in these heavy conditions.

“You should reef these hulls early”, said Vicsail’s Christoph Vanek. And he was right, but we got the Pilot Saloon 40 settled down and she worked her way upwind.

On a broad reach we saw 7 knots of boat speed in 23 knots of breeze, then on a deep reach/run a max of 7.8 knots, very close to the figures on the manufacturer’s polar diagram. You don’t learn much from a sail like this, except the self-tacking headsail is worth its weight in spent uranium.

But I did confirm the impression I gained from other craft that this Pilot Saloon style will do well on the Australian market, or I will eat my Docksiders. If sailing is comfortable, family and friends will want to go with you. The days of hair-shirt casual sailing have gone forever.

Story & Photos by Barry Tranter