Grand Soleil 40: An Investment in Speed and Comfort

The Grand Soleil 40 is disguised by its European flair, but with sails up its true identity is revealed. A boat review from our April 2008 issue

Grand Soleil 40 368

Walter Cooper

If you're thinking about pleasing both your passions, cruising and racing, the Grand Soleil 40 fits right into today's crossover designs by combining a Euro-styled exterior, optional teak decks, a comfortable interior, and good sailing performance. One GS 40 races IRC in Europe with a 1.094 rating, and the boat is expected to rate between 51 to 54 PHRF. With 40 boats sold in the first year after introduction to the European market, Grand Soleil has certainly hit a resonant note with a part of the market looking for teak-decked luxury and good sailing performance without the price of a Swan. At a base price of $319,000 (when we sailed the boat last October), the GS 40 is likely to appeal to weekend cruisers who like to occasionally bang around the cans. The fit and finish, and overall attention to detail is up to Cantiere del Pardo's usual high standards, which should assure buyers a good return on their investment when it comes time to trade up.

According to one sistership's IRC certificate, which has different specs from that of the manufacturer, the moderate-displacement Botin & Carkeek design weighed 19,427 pounds on a waterline length of 35.1 feet for a displacement-to-length ratio of 201 (a J/42 comes in at 203). Three rig versions and two keel options are available. We sailed with the standard rig and shallow 7-foot keel, and the boat moved fine in the light air and flat water, but with a heavier displacement and less sail area than other similar sized boats, the acceleration wasn't as quick and performance in a chop may suffer. Performance minded sailors who race in light-air areas will want to order the tallest IRC version rig and the deeper 7'1'' keel. The GS 40 is better than many production boats where dramatically shortened stern overhang (an attempt to have more "boat" in the same length) causes transom drag. At the speeds we sailed there was no immersed transom drag.

Upwind our GPS showed speeds of 6.8 to 7.0 knots with a 130-percent roller-furling genoa. Grand Soleil maintains the efficiency of this sail by mounting the furling drum below deck so the luff can be full length and the foot of the jib end plated to the deck. The three-spreader Sparcraft aluminum mast is supported by discontinuous wire rigging. Wire is an interesting rigging choice because it stretches more than the rod shrouds of most other boats this size. Shrouds and spreaders are swept aft so there is no need for running backstays. Forestay tension and mast bend are controlled by the winch handle-operated backstay adjustor, which serious racers will likely upgrade to a faster hydraulic system. Downwind we tacked the asymmetric spinnaker to the anchor roller, which served as a short sprit. Most GS 40s also sail with a spinnaker pole.

As with other Grand Soleil designs we've sailed, the 40 was easy to get in a groove, steered well, and was easy to sail in the relatively light air in which we sailed. With our crew of eight, proper crew weight distribution, especially when sailing downwind, was important, and the ergonomics of the cockpit worked well. We tacked through about 75 to 80 degrees, and had no trouble getting the overlapping headsail around the rig and shrouds.
The Grand Soleil 40's cockpit has comfortable seating, including the helm area where the cockpit coamings are lowered to a height suitable for sitting outboard. The cabin top is kept clean, with halyards and reef lines run under deck from the mast to jammers aft of a dodger-mounting rail. Standard hardware includes Harken traveler and self-tailing winches, two 40.2 halyard winches and two 46.2s for sheets.

The traveler spans the cockpit just forward of the steering pedestal where the mainsheet can lead directly to the end of the boom. With the standard layout, the mainsheet then runs forward along the boom and back to one of the cabin-top winches. Jib sheet winches are located abeam of the traveler on each side. Grand Soleil may consider this arrangement convenient for shorthanded sailing because the jib sheet can be reached from the helm, but sailing with a crew becomes difficult. Again, racers will probably opt for a pair of larger genoa sheet winches on the molded locations in the forward third of the cockpit coaming, and convert the mainsheet to a double-ended system leading to the winches set on either end of the traveler. With this setup, the main trimmer can reach both sheet and traveler, and the jib trimmers and grinders will have room for smooth tacks without elbowing each other and the helmsman.

The full-featured interior feels more spacious than one might expect thanks to the light provided by eight hatches, four large cabin portlights, and four hull portlights. The main cabin's focal point is a wrap-around dinette and table to starboard. There is a centerline seat, providing seating on all sides of the table, which is rare to see on a 40-footer. The galley lines the port side, and aft of the dinette, just to starboard of the companionway, is the navigation station with chart table, seat, and instrument mounting area. Further aft on each side are double cabins. Each has a door, bureau, seat, and double berth. Although not physically large, they, too have a spacious feel with light from an overhead hatch and from a cockpit portlight, illuminating white upholstery hull sideliner. Cabin soles are the familiar teak and holly-veneered plywood.

Cantiere del Pardo builds the Grand Soleil 40's hull and deck with fiberglass foam sandwich. Termanto closed-cell PVC foam is used in varying densities for the core, with E-glass skins. The outside layers of the hull are laminated with vinylester resin for increased blister resistance and the balance of the laminates use polyester resin. In addition to the stiffness provided by bulkheads, Cantiere del Pardo uses a steel grid framework bonded into the hull, which stiffens the bottom of the hull from the forward berth to the engine bed, includes the transverse keel stiffeners, serves as backing plates for the keel bolts, and mast step, and also transmits the chainplates into the structure.

Unfortunately, bilge access was limited and we were unable to see the keel-bolt attachment, which can be a concern for keeping an eye on the long-term health of the galvanized steel frame in an area that's likely to be wet. The keel is a lead casting bolted through a solid glass section of the hull and the steel frame, and the rudder is similarly conservative with a stainless steel shaft and backbone surrounded by a foam blade with E-glass skins.
The 27-hp Volvo D40 is quiet with good sound insulation including gasketed access doors allowing for conversation nearby even with the engine running. Most of the common service points of fuel filter, dip stick, and injectors are easily accessed by lifting the air spring-supported companionway ladder and attached engine box face, but the raw water strainer required an additional Allen key for access. Like most contemporary boats the Grand Soleil 40's engine uses a sail drive, which lessens vibration and has more efficient horizontal thrust. Performance-minded sailors would want to upgrade the standard fixed prop to a folding prop for a significant light-air speed advantage. We powered at 7.5 knots on the GPS at 2,500 RPM.

With three double cabins, central dinette, full galley, and two heads the Grand Soleil 40 packs a lot of interior and comfort into the 40-foot length. It tilts toward the cruiser side, but with a judicious choice of factory options can also have a good turn of speed for those seeking to combine cruising accommodations with club-level racing.