Hallberg-Rassy has been known for consistency for a long time. The Swedes are not prone to giant leaps in development, nor do they water down the used-boat prices with rapid introduction of new models.
The HR 31 remained in the program for 17 years, believe it or not; the HR 34 had a 15-year run, and the HR 53 had a shelf life of 14 years. Rarely does the term consistency fit better than with the respected builder from Ellös on the island of Orust, a one-hour drive north of Gothenburg.
Sporting the characteristic blue trim stripes, the newest yacht follows a similar model policy. The Hallberg-Rassy 55, which is the second largest boat of the current lineup, is based on the hull of the HR 54 that was introduced in 2006. The body was carefully adapted by lowering the stern and lifting the bow, which resulted in 14 cm more spring in the sheer line. That brings more visual excitement, which has an advantageous effect, also because of the new deck shape.
Now the cockpit is longer, saloon windows and deck hatches are flush, and the cabintop is more stretched out and flatter forward, which means it levels off more elegantly. The bow pulpit and stern push pit have a softer bend radius, which is also seen in the end panels of the cockpit windshield. Even the traditional Dorade vents were replaced with inconspicuous mushroom-shaped vent covers.
By themselves, these measures might seem insignificant, and there’s no doubt that the 55 remains a typical Rassy. Yet they inform the overall appearance perceptibly. Rarely has a boat from Ellös come across with more consistent harmonious proportions on the water. Not even the top-model HR 64, one of which was docked next door in Hallberg Rassy’s marina, manages to outshine her smaller sister.
Because of the extensive upgrades to systems and interior, company boss Magnus Rassy did not just assign a new tag, as with the HR 43 Mk III, but designated the boat as an entirely new product, perhaps motivated by the intense competition in the crowded luxury segment under 60 feet, including the Contest 57 CS, Southerly 57 RS, Oyster 575, Amel 55, Discovery 57, and lately the Gunfleet 58.
Pure sailing pleasure
Can Hallberg-Rassy’s careful facelifts score points against all the newbies of the competition? And can the HR 55 keep up with her in-house rival, the HR64, which set new standards for sailing performance?
It takes only a few miles of sailing on the ocean to find the answers. After two days and two nights on board, the first impression is only reinforced: Yes, she can.
And how! On smooth water in 12 to 14 knots of breeze, or in the rough Skagerrak in 5 to 6 Beaufort under full canvas, the 17-meter vessel masters each gait from slow trot to full gallop, from dressage to military. Her talent for the rough track should not surprise. It’s what she’s cut out for -- crossing oceans.
Her nonchalance and agility while covering great distances without pounding are simply exciting. Stiff, without creaking and with accurate feedback from the rudder, this Rassy, with her 30 tons of displacement fully loaded, easily handles conditions that might force you to work much harder on other boats.
The HR 55 talks, reacts, and interacts. She lets the helmsman feel if the traveler is a few inches too far to windward and gratefully responds when it is eased. But she doesn’t get cranky and she won’t shoot into the sun if the trim doesn’t get adjusted. It’s incredible how well the designers and builders managed to strike this balance, but there are many reasons including solid construction, a stiff Selden rig, the first-rate Epex membrane sails that are easy to adjust, and the new progressive push-rod steering system that largely compensates for the resistance that normally increases corresponding to the rudder angle.
In this game, the HR 55 does not allow precious energy go to waste, turning the tension on the sheets and halyards and the power of the gusts into forward motion. It might sound far-fetched, but this boat resembles a finely tuned musical instrument that masters notes and whole octaves, but also the delicate nuances in between.
High base speed
The real surprise of this German Frers design comes in light and medium breezes. While others in this segment might struggle, the HR 55 remains lively, clocking 6 to 7 knots through the water in 2 to 3 Beaufort. Sailing through the Skerry islands it was a nearly surreal sensation to sneak past much smaller and lighter vessels with a soft ripple and a gentle heel. There’s no numbness on the rudder and not a trace of sluggishness -- just pure and quiet joy.
Those who don't have to count pennies can quite literally activate the boat’s potential via pushbutton control by checking numerous items on the long list of options, including having the sail trim handled by electrical and hydraulic systems. That adds 100,000 euros to the tab, but the system worked as advertised during the test. However, the mainsheet winch was a tad slower than Lewmar's 65 genoa drums, which perfectly master sheeting in and easing off.
Hallberg Rassy did a good job with the ergonomics of the cockpit. Aft, the standing and sitting positions are slightly elevated for better visibility forward and into the rig; also exemplary are creature comforts and shelter from the elements. Even in 5-foot seas only the occasional splash finds its way up into the center cockpit.
Motoring by choice or necessity won’t disturb anyone. Thanks to the rpm-reducing Gori folding prop the engine is barely audible at 7.2 knots of cruising speed.
The shrouds and chainplates do obstruct passage to the foredeck a bit. It’s something to get used to. The stowage space on deck totals about 3 cubic meters divided into three cockpit lockers and the anchor locker forward, which is not exactly lavish for a 55-footer. With dinghy, gennaker, and bluewater cruising gear, it might get crowded.
|Genoa (140% )||96.0 m2|
|Engine||Volvo-Penta 132 kW/180-hp|
On the other hand, there’s no shortage in storage belowdecks. The HR 55 offers amenities and lots of variability for six sailors with the usual top-notch workmanship. The harmonious grain patterns of the optional teak trim of the test boat’s interior displayed a quality that’s rarely found even on boats of the upper segment.
Save for the longitudinal settee in the saloon that’s a bit close to the lounge seats, and the size of the forward and amidships berths, which aren’t exactly expansive, and the somewhat limited cross-ventilation in the saloon and the galley, there’s nothing worth mentioning to criticise, and no nits to pick, either. The are others in the luxury class that are more completely kitted out, but the appointment of the HR 55 is high-end and quite comprehensive.
The surcharge policy is an area Hallberg-Rassy should really reconsider. What’s the point of charging 4,400 euros extra for a common inline galley, or 6,600 euros for a double berth aft? And why does the yard charge extra for lee cloths, three-color light, sun shades, and deck shower?
That seems strangely petty and doesn’t fit. Because the HR 55 is otherwise as richly endowed with talents and virtues as few other yachts are. Yes, one could claim that she possesses true greatness.
For more information, visit Hallberg-Rassy.
This story originally appeared in YACHT magazine, and is republished here by permission. Translated by Dieter Loibner.