Whenever the cold northerlies sweep through the Gulf of Genoa, it feels like getting hit on the back of the head in an ambush. It happens so quickly and unexpectedly, there’s hardly any time to react. While testing the new Grand Soleil 39 at Lavagna, the YACHT’s test crew was caught off-guard by such an assault. Within minutes, the offshore breeze jumped from 15 to 30 knots and more. One moment it was relaxed reaching under a code zero, then the large and fragile headsail had to be rolled up in a hurry to keep it from getting blown to shreds. At the time, the speedo showed 13 knots through the water.

The Grand Soleil 39 is a sleek, high-performance cruising boat, rigged for shorthanded sailing.

On the way in, sailing hard on the breeze, it was clear that the aluminum stick was not tuned for the prototype. There wasn't enough rig tension, the leeward shrouds were sagging badly, and the mast showed a nearly frightening amount of flex. Quickly the brand-new laminated main came down and was secured, as there was no chance to continue in a breeze that continued to freshen. Slowly, the auxiliary Volvo-Penta diesel pushed the boat home through choppy waters.

Despite the abbreviated test, the best impression of reaching under the code zero remained. With her flat hull bottom and high-aspect-ratio appendages, the Grand Soleil 39 showed her sporty character and lively temperament. The boat responded quickly and dynamically. The surprisingly rapid acceleration and well-balanced rudder system make it easy to steer the boat safely on course while keeping up the pressure. Based on the velocity prediction numbers in the polar diagrams, the 39 earns good marks. At 14 knots of wind the boat is supposed to reach at 6.9 knots sailing high on the breeze at a true wind angle of 40 degrees.

Traditional values, new concepts

With the Grand Soleil 39, Cantiere del Pardo wanted to introduce more than just a new model, because much has changed for the Italian yard in the recent past. In December of 2010, Bavaria Yachtbau, Germany’s largest production boatbuilder, took over the financially ailing company and its sister firm, Dufour Yachts in France. Now all three brands operate under one roof, benefiting from synergies, both in production and global distribution. The new CEO, Ruggero Gandolfi, is charged with repositioning and reinvigorating Grand Soleil, and with the 39 he has a solid and powerful tool at his disposal, with deep roots in the brand’s traditional and proven values. In terms of design and construction, the Grand Soleil 39 is synonymous with a new beginning at Cantiere del Pardo. The lines were drawn by Italian Claudio Maletto, who is succeeding Botin & Carkeek from Spain, Grand Soleil’s former standard designers.

The 39 replaces two older models in the lineup of Cantiere del Pardo, the Grand Soleil 37 and the 40. The most notable differences include a beamier and brawnier stern and an open cockpit, enabling the use of twin wheels with a passage between them. The portlights in the cabintop are larger, and as a clever style element, they help offset the conspicuously high freeboard. The 39 is visibly more voluminous than her predecessors, higher and beamier relative to her overall length. This helps the interior, but also the boat’s handicap under IRC (1.058) and ORC (602.8).

The designers retained the angular and stepped coachroof with the long and narrow opening for the portlights. The looks are consistent, and match the other Grand Soleil models despite many conceptual modifications. Conspicuously absent are lines and sheets on deck, as the running rigging is tucked away in hidden channels and recesses whenever possible, which improves both aesthetics and functionality.

The shrouds of the two-spreader rig by Sparcraft are now directly connected to the hull. In a departure from preceding models, Cantiere del Pardo no longer installs a structural steel grid into the hull. Added stiffness in the hand-laid hull laminate that uses vinylester resin comes from carbon fiber reinforcements in the densely structured GRP- floor section, which is directly laminated to the hull. Thus the rig forces can be channeled straight to the T-keel, which consists of a cast iron fin and a lead bulb.

The rig has a sporty bend and is tuned for performance. Following the general trend in performance boats, the mast is positioned relatively far aft. This extends the J-measurement, so the jib area, which is limited to a 106-percent overlap by the shrouds’ position, remains large enough to develop decent pressure in light air. In addition, a code zero or a flatter code one are recommended, as they have a wide spectrum of use and can be rolled up without fuss. Spinnaker and gennaker are offered as well. There’s also the option of a bowsprit, which prior to racing can be quickly attached in a recess in the bow area. The cruising version has a guide for the anchor chain instead.

Good ideas, clever implementation

A neat solution was found for the main sheet. Instead of being led forward on the boom and back to the cockpit, it's led under the cockpit floor and directly to the winches on the cockpit coaming. This arrangement is flawless, and runs smoothly thanks to high-end hardware and fittings, but racers can still get the optional German Admiral’s Cup mainsheet system. The mainsheet trimmer is positioned directly in front of the steering wheels, a spot that’s a bit confined and not exactly comfortable, and where it's nearly impossible to work the winches effectively. There’s more comfort for the helmsman, who finds good support on the unfolded footrests either sitting or standing up.

If the interiors of the Grand Soleil 37 and 40 were considered rather dark and conservative, the new model gets high marks for a pretty and modern arrangement. Cantiere del Pardo is using a lot of white surfaces and more painted composite materials. It looks splendid, and brightens up the interior a great deal. Because of the portlights’ larger size and greater number, the space belowdecks is also getting more natural light. In the standard version, the boat comes with mahogany veneers, with options of light oak or teak.

Gone are the linear interiors of the 37 and 40. The layout reflects the current standard in this category, with the owners' cabin and an optional additional head forward, and two separate aft cabins. Another layout version has a large lazarette that is accessible from below, plus a shower compartment in the head. The galley is L-shaped and the nav station is practical and forward facing.

Interior options include a layout with a large locker aft, accessible from belowdecks.

The yard also is quite flexible about the installation of the dividing bulkhead between the two aft cabins, which can be offset from the center. This produces one larger stateroom with bigger and more comfortable berth measurements, which families with kids might prefer.

The level of workmanship is pleasantly high, with exact and solid joiner work all the way down to the details. The only point of critique is that the hardware and hinges on lockers and storage-space hatches appear too small and fragile.

Not cheap, but reasonable

Without a doubt, the new Grand Soleil 39 is one of the hottest new releases in the performance cruiser segment under 12 meters, which will get her attention at the boat shows. The standard version is listed at 234,430 euros, which is not exactly a bargain, but considering the quality of equipment and workmanship, plus the sails that are included in this price, the calculation is quite reasonable.

To see the Grand Soleil 39 in action, watch this YouTube video.


For further information, visit Grand Soleil.

- Michael Good


  • Length Overall:  12.20 m

  • Hull Length:  11.82 m

  • Waterline Length: 10.40 m

  • Beam Max:  3.70 m

  • Draft:  2.40(2.00)* m

  • Displacement:  7,350 Kg

  • Ballast:  2,450 Kg

  • Berths:  6/8

  • Sail Area: 82 m2

  • Fuel Tank:  160 liters

  • Water Tank:  320 liters

  • Engine:  Volvo 29-hp sail drive

  •  Designer:  Claudio Maletto

  • Exterior designer: Attivo Creative

  • Interior designer: GS Design Team

  • Builder: Cantiere del Pardo

This story was originally published in YACHT Magazine.


Translated by Dieter Loibner, de.boats.com