An absolute plus is the fact that the halyards and lines go from the mast to cockpit area through aluminium pipes, which run along the top of the coach house. Not only does it look neater, but it is also a lot safer.
The set up is fairly interchangeable and I could see a race-oriented boat going with a changed mainsheet set up and increasing the size of the primary winch. As it was, the boat was set up with a nod towards short-handed sailing. With four of us on the boat, we were fairly in control all the time – something which would be vastly improved with a little more practice. The driver of the boat controls the backstay and that is pretty much all he can do due to the size of the wheel and the access to his office.
As a taller helmsman, I found the standing position quite uncomfortable and had limited vision of the tell-tales on the foresail. When I was standing I relied on the bank of instruments which were laid out across the front of the companionway on a dashboard. The binnacle-mounted liquid compass is located directly in front of the wheel and is at waist height which means you have to pick your method of course and stick to it- otherwise your eyes will be everywhere. Once I sat to windward on the generous bench I had a better view of the tell-tales.
On the way out to our test area, we did a little motoring and got a feel for the 27-horsepower Volvo D40 engine which, unsurprisingly seeing as it is brand new, ran perfectly and responded instantly to throttle changes. Like most modern cruiser-racers, the 40’s engine uses a sail drive, which lessens vibration and has more efficient horizontal thrust. For sailors who want more performance from the engine, they may want to upgrade the standard fixed prop to a folding prop. This would be very advisable for many waters around Asia where light wind sailing is the norm and any advantage through drag-reduction is embraced. We enjoyed 7.5 knots boat speed at 2,500 RPM, a very respectable set of numbers.
The sail plan for the GS40 is very forgiving and plays well into the hands of the short-handed cruising sailor, or the race team that doesn’t want to have too many crew members. The biggest upside is the inclusion of an asymmetric spinnaker, which means there is less need for a multi-tasking, able-bodied and completely sober foredeck! Again, the asymmetric leans more towards the racer as the cruiser will want to set a spinnaker on a pole and sail to it, whereas the asymmetric needs more attention. The asymmetric spinnaker on the model we tested came with a snuffer which is not generally well-received by racers, but can be very useful for the short-handed sailor.
Down below is a pleasant surprise for a boat which is more go than slow. There is a wide open feel to the area and the cherry-stained mahogany complements the specially chosen solid colour fabrics and materials. There is a very large C-Shaped master berth forwards with the option of having an en-suite fitted. The standard heads are located at the bottom of the companionway and offer plenty of space for all business. There is a wrap around dinette on the starboard side which looked comfortable if not a little compact for those sea salts with a slightly larger girth. The light from eight hatches, four large cabin and four smaller hull portlights adds to the feeling of space and will help allay any feelings of seasickness, which can be common in less-well lit areas below deck.
The build quality of the 40 underlines the design quality of the boat. The hull and deck are made of fiberglass foam sandwich with Termanto closed-cell PVC for the core and E-glass skins. A feature that sets the 40 apart from many other boats is the reinforced internal grid structure, which absorbs the load of the keel, shrouds and mast. It is this grid which gives the area below decks so much extra space and which will keep the hull solid and free from flex after as many crossings to the Philippines as you can manage.
At the finish line
Overall, the Grand Soleil 40 is an absolute winner. On the helm it is a very delicate boat to sail, but gives the weekend racer plenty of leeway in keeping the boat going in the right direction. The rudder is quite small but is so well balanced that it gives you plenty of warning before it cavitates and the boat rounds up. The overall handling was very light with the boat powering up quickly and getting into the groove after tacks and gybes. We didn’t get the opportunity to try it, but I suspect that the 40 would be a very exciting boat to sail downwind in waves with the asymmetric kite flying in anything above 20 knots.
After the sail I was given a run down of the specifications that came on the test boat, from the stock Harken fittings to the custom made UK Halsey sails. In the bottom corner was a figure which I was very surprised to see for a boat of this calibre. I advise anyone who is in the market for a very competitive racing boat which will make a very comfortable cruiser to contact Jebsen Marine and find out just what that number was!
In South China: www.jebsen.com