Très Bon The NEEL 43 | By Kevin Green

Très Bon The NEEL 43

By Kevin Green

The Neel 43 is the latest evolution of this French builder’s trimaran range and the first of the brand to reach our shores, so two good reasons to go for a sail, reports KEVIN GREEN.

NEEL 43 Kevin Green
Image from NEEL

“The Neel 43 maximises living space in an efficient trimaran that rewards the keen helmsman.”

Trimarans rule the oceans when it comes to offshore speed records but in the cruising world they are much less distinguished. In the past, often epitomised by older more eccentric designs that perhaps required the more eccentric sailor. This image is one that Eric Bruneel has been steadily changing in the yard he established in 2010. The La Rochelle yard builds the Neel 47, 51, 65 and now the new 43. A few years ago I visited it, on the wild Bay of Biscay. My guide for the day was of course Eric, so I got a good insight into what he was aiming for with these boats.” When we start looking at smaller yachts the amount of gear that some cruising people wish to have aboard becomes a bigger issue relative to total displacement. As with any multihull, weight aboard is a critical part of the equation but we believe we have found a good ability to carry this weight and still have our owners enjoy great performance. ”Fast forward to March 2022, and hull number eight has been imported by dealer Multihull Solutions and its Neel specialist Andrew De Bruin, so I was keen for a sail and Moreton Bay obliged with some lovely weather.

Consider a trimaran

For those considering a trimaran, like anything in life, there’s pros and cons. At the extreme end, such as 105ft Sodebo3 that I boarded with iconic skipper Thomas Coville after its launch in Brittany, this represents one of the world’s fastest sailing yachts. Yet, the reasons why this vessel will do 50kts are some of the same reasons discerning sailors may consider a performance cruiser like the Neel 43. After all, they share traits such as minimising the wetted surface while the amas add stability without too much drag. Also, 80% of the weight is centralised in the hull while a skeg-keel aids windward ability and the large single rudder even feels like you’re steering a monohull. This centralised weight also allows them to operate in wider wind ranges than similar catamarans, as the trimarans typically can heel to about 10-20° (the Neel 43 heels about 8°) but with 25ft beam, stability is immense.

You can expect cruising speeds of around 10kts, allowing impressive 200nm days. Of course these figures will vary substantially with adverse swells, always the problem for trimarans because swells can break against their ama beams to create drag. Another downside is handling in close confines, even with a bow thruster, as fitted on our review boat. Also, at 25ft wide, marina fees could be an issue. Inside, accommodation can be quirky, as I found on earlier the Neel 45 designed by Joubert/Nivelt/Muratet. It had lots of bulkheads but this was reduced on the Marc Lombard designed 47, and the open-plan Neel 43 he also designed, completely avoids this problem.

Cruise faster

Knowing what you want helps when going shopping, so choosing the Neel 43 is for those seeking performance cruising with a meaningful helming experience. That’s why Youtube Aussie stars La Vagabonde have swapped their catamaran for a trimaran. They wanted to progress to faster cruising, yet with multihull-level liveability. This allows them, for example, to avoid the mid-Atlantic low pressure systems by racing away from them. Neel boss Bruneel is also a racer, in fact a former OSTAR winner (on his 55ft Trilogic trimaran) and the Neel yard has produced race boats like that MOD 70, so they are very aware of weight efficiencies, and this is reflected in the modest 9,000 kg displacement of the Neel 43 – which is several tons lighter than its catamaran competitors such as the Fountaine Pajot Astrea 42 (12,700kg) or the Lagoon 42 (12,100kg). Simply put, Bruneel liked crossing oceans but didn’t want to spend too much time actually doing it.

First impressions

Walking along the dock in Manly Marina near Brisbane with my host for the day, Neel Trimarans specialist Andrew de Bruin from dealership Multihull Solutions, the first impression of the Neel 43 was I thought, more of the same idea as the 47. However, stepping aboard via the wide ama steps then into the cockpit reveals a very different layout – that is a wide, open-plan approach that Marc Lombard has created for the 43. Looking around, it was clear to me that the company has incorporated much of the earlier 47 ideas, especially in terms of usable space. However those wanting catamaran-style openness in the cockpit may be disappointed but on the other hand, for those appreciating seaworthiness, this is pleasing. Mainly because there’s a spacious L-shaped dining area and even a double bench facing aft; yet without the acres of open space that can be hazardous offshore. Integrating with the saloon, this space that Bruneel dubs the ‘Cockloon’ is fully shaded by a hardtop bimini and can seat 10 guests around the inside-outside tables.

For the saloon, sturdy double sliding doors seal it off and deep scuppers shed any water. There’s a few blemishes here – the sharp edges of the doorway bulkhead and the low edge of the bimini caught my head, so I’d rubber-clad them. There’s also a transom based wet bar and grill, so ideal for keeping the fumes out of the boat. For the dinghy, a clever idea of using the boom with topping lift and electric winch as a davit sets the dinghy safely across the hull. Adjoining the cockpit, with three steps up, is the single helm station on starboard; which can also be accessed from the deck.

Topside berths

At first glance the saloon is most unusual. Three double berths are in view as I step inside. Off to port behind a low bulkhead is a three-quarter double bed with curtain for privacy, forward in the hull is another and to starboard behind perspex is the main double bunk. Adjoining its bulkhead is the longitudinal galley with the bathroom/shower beside the outside doors – so ideally placed for cockpit guests. Sleeping at sea in any of these bunks is not ideal because the motion is accentuated in both the bow and side bunks. But of course, this is a multihull, so it should be more bearable than a mono as De Bruin explained: “The the motion of the trimaran is similar to a monohull in a seaway and this is a point which many clients appreciate coming from a mono background but wanting to enjoy the advantages of a multihull.” Storage is another quirky affair with the French approach of letting you fill the gaps – rather than cabinetry – with moveable luggage.

What this layout creates is a really livable saloon space, with L-shaped dinette handily placed opposite the galley. Fully equipped with gas hob and oven, along with double sinks, fridge and overhead cupboards, the galley is highly functional. Just add some fiddles perhaps. Also functional is the navigation station in the forward port quarter, allowing steering by autopilot, should you choose to. Also handy is the compression post for the mast which is also a good handhold. Not so good is the single small opening window forward. For Australian use I’d put an opening hatch on another window to create airflow. Good natural light comes from tall windows all round and a small opening skylight.

Flexible sailplan

The Neel 43 has an extensive sail plan, so ideal for the varied conditions often found while bluewater voyaging. Our review boat came with the upgraded taller carbon spars and Dyform wire shrouds, which is a pricey item but enhances light air performance and reduces weight aloft.

This also allowed three reefs in the fully battened Incidences Dacron mainsail. A large foretriangle allows for a large genoa and there’s good separation on the fibreglass bowsprit for the asymmetric, that is deployed via a sock.

The single starboard helm station allows vision across the hulls and is protected by a canvas bimini. Behind the large steering wheel (800mm) is a stainless framed double seat that gives support and handholds – a good idea for an elevated steering position. The console controls included a Maxpower bow thruster (a wise option) and B&G electronics with autopilot near at hand and throttle outboard for the 50hp saildrive engine – which has a folding propeller. Sail controls are really well laid out with short and straight runs of all lines from the mast base directly to a wide bank of jammers and two winches. The second one is electric for halyard hoists. Another, a captive Antal winch controls the topping lift, which doubles as a davit for the dinghy. Neat. A simple thimble arrangement (instead of track) runs the genoa sheets. Overhead, a canvas bimini shields you but can be unzipped to view the mainsail via clear plastic. The mainsail is controlled by twin sheets running on transom mounted blocks to give good leverage on the boom and is easily accessible from the flybridge sunpad; plus there’s lazyjacks to gather the sailcloth.

Moving around the Neel 43 is easily done, thanks to flat decks and support from the saloon roof. Once at the bows, the nets on each side of the hull minimise weight and drag while also making for a sunken seating position. Here, you can also see the vertical bulkheads around the saloon, which creates volume inside while an outside lip gives shade. Anchoring is fairly well taken care of via a substantial vertical windlass which runs to the anchor beneath the bowsprit. Two large lockers are also good for general storage.

Deep central hull

Construction techniques have advanced for the build of the 43, as the three hulls are moulded in one process, which increases structural rigidity and reduces costs. Materials used are highquality isophthalic polyester and vinylester resin infusion moulding on closed-cell PET foam core with quadriaxial fibreglass skin reinforced with carbon fibre. The skeg is solid GRP and rectangular with depth that protects the saildrive leg. The deep hull allows generous volume which means the engine room is spacious with near-standing headroom. A hatch beside the galley has a ladder down to the forepart which has the tankage (fuel tank on one side, water central and hot water nearby), with electrics all forward including three 12V AGM gel batteries (360 amp hour). The 500L water tank is low and central in the hull so good for stability; and all tankage is substantial stainless.

Systems include quality Victron gear, Also good is the placement for the optional Fischer Panda generator in the central forward part of this room and all electrics are elevated to avoid water incursion. Further aft is the 50hp Volvo saildrive, which is dwarfed by the free space around it, so is easy to work on for servicing.

Sailing on Moreton Bay

Sheltered shoal waters is ideal multihull territory and Queensland is of course ground zero for most of the nation’s fleet, so the Neel 43 was made to feel at home as I steered under power from Manly. Smoothly cruising at 6.5kts as the engine spun at 2,200rpm. After turning to windward the mainsail was quickly hoisted at the press of a button and guided via the lazyjacks to the masthead. A quick response from my turning the wheel brought us off the wind, as the genoa was then unfurled. A one person job if you are so inclined. Helm feel was apparent right away, as the taunt line linkages pulled the high aspect rudder and when the pressure grew, I felt it on the stainless wheel. Unlike some large cats, there was no inclination to click the autopilot and watch the islands pass. Instead, I was encouraged to see how high the 43 could point as the growing hiss of water along the hull shouted encouragement.

To windward the ama rose steadily to perhaps 10°, reducing the wetted area, as the Neel 43 surged to windward at nearly 45° at a speedy 5.8kts despite the fickle 10kt breeze. Tacking through 100° was also a speedy affair, with only the genoa sheets to trim. This kind of light air performance will sell this boat to many tropical sailors. Sailing on to windward also had its rewards of course: the run home. For that we hoisted the asymmetric in its sock before I ran off at about 70° to put Manly on our the triple bows. At this true wind angle we speeded up to 7kts while not even spilling my glass of water that sat beside the helm. Gybing was equally well done, once the clew had been walked around the forestay and the deck-level winches deployed to sheet it. In my notes the phrase ‘sailors’ boat’ was written and never a truer word could be said about this Neel 43.

Australian distributor:

Specifications NEEL 43

Price  AUD $1,000,000 (as tested)
Overall Length  13.1m (43ft)
Beam  7.49 (24.6ft) / (27ft)
Draft  1.5m (4.95ft) fixed skeg
Air Draft  18.89m (62ft)
Displacement (CE norms)  9,000kg
Full battened mainsail  58.5m2 (630sqft)
Furling genoa  43.3m2 (466sq ft)
Water  500L
Fuel  300L
Engine  50hp Volvo sail drive
Builder  Neel Trimarans, La Rochelle
Design  Marc Lombard CE certification ICNN

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