OVNI Evolution is the mane of their new boat.
Well, this 'Evolution' had a positive result. Very positive I will dare saying ...
Now let’s see why I say so.
We are Thursday the 25th of April in Les Sables d’Olonne (France), the weather is gorgeous after a dull winter whith weeks and weeks of rain and cold and I have been invited by ALUBAT to go out and test their new ALUBAT 52, some time called OVNI Evolution.
So this morning at 09:00 I left my trusted HANAMI II OVNI 445 and after a short drive to the marina I walked down the pontoon where Lagoons wait for skippers to deliver them to charter companies. At the very end of it I find her : a white lady.
Seen from the ponton
Gaïa, it’s her name, is a stunning all white 52-foot all aluminium boat. She has a hull shape that reminds me of the two Cigale 16 I sailed before and for sure, she looks huge compared to the OVNI 345 moored next to her.
It is her progessive shine that reminds of the Cigale. Shines (and aluminium of course) are ALUBAT’s signature. Some years ago they were seen as « old stuff », something from the past some shipyards kept doing to make building boats easier, which is false. Now they are gaining more and more popularity as almost all IMOCA 60 footers from the Vendée Globe adopted this design . Looks like the battle between shines and ‘en forme ‘ is over.
Well, OK, she looks a bit like a Gigale 16 but with some differences as a quick glance reveals.
First the cockpit that has an impressive size and could easily host half a dozen people with plenty of room left.
Of course there is always this rear frame that is the OVNI’s hallmark. On Gaïa it supports two 100+W solar panels and two D400 wind turbines. On the opposite side is a second arch, above the companion way. This is new ! This one hosts the main sail traveller track and some LED lights that should prove quite useful during night crossings.
Second, Gaïa is, of course, a real lifting keel, unlike the Cigale 16 . Her a draft vary from 1.1 m to 3 m depending on the dagger board’s position, the same as the 445 but the two boats are incomparable in terms of both design and behavior under sails. It is a lifting keel yes, but what is different from other OVNIs is that the dagger board does not fit fully into the hull when it is up: it protrudes about 20 cm. This, of course, no longer allows beaching the boat on a hard surface. Grounding in the mud or very soft sand only ... Okay, it can be seen as a limitation but how many people do really beach their boat? Voluntarily I mean ... and how often on the concrete ?
Obviously this is a new boat, more a mutation than just a smooth evolution.
I won’t do too much description as a whole article will be devoted to this boat in an upcoming issue of the french Voiles et Voiliers whose reporter was on board for this test.
Now let’s climb on board and have a look at the outside.
What you see first is space.
From the bow to the transom there is space evrywhere. From her designer Gaïa got a very flat and ‘tense’ roof line that gives her a whistle profile as seen on all Marc Lombard’s designed boats.
She has a very neat and clean flush-deck and hidding all ropes below the surface of the deck and roof did require some technical prowess from a boilermaking point of view. It is about esthetic of course but also about speed for drainning the water brought by the waves or the rain.
On the roof are several deck panels/hatches and four additional solar panels required by the owner.
The painting is the usual ALUBAT one with their very effective anti-slip one.
At the bow behind the 1500W windlass and the plates for the sails’furlers is a wide hatch opening on a sails locker. On this boat it is an impressive workshop not just a sails locker.
Usually most of that space is used for a large forward cabin, but here the owner decided to sleep more to the aft which makes sense on long cruises.
|Those cockpit seats are slatted with Iroko wood (no more teck available) and airy as on all the other OVNIs. It may looks like a minor point but it becomes something you appreciate on long cruises as it keeps moisture away and protects your bum. |
In the coamings behind the seats are three deep storage compartments on each side which is very handy.
Further back are the two steering wheels, each with a protected compas and a pod fitted with all the electronics needed and there is also a motor control handle ( the engine is Volvo D2-75 turbo charged) and the bow thruster on each side.
At the very back is a half meter deep transom with a Watt&Sea hydrogenerator attached.
Well, at this point let’s do some math : Six solar panels, two D 400 wind turbines, a Watt&Sea, a power generator and two alternators ! That’s a lot ! Energy should not be an issue when sailing Gaïa whatever the size of the batteries bank might be. I won’t critisize this as I have almost the same on Hanami II.
When the tender is in use it may be suspended at the rear frame which is equipped with a classic but huge gantry lift.
On the starbord side of the transom is the open compartiment for the BIB. Easy to access of course. On the port side is the gas bottle compartiment that can accomodate 13 kg bottles.
Now, let’s have a look inside.
|After climbin down a few steps, space, again, and light are what comes to your mind first. |
It is not a deck saloon from which you would have a nice forward view on the sea even if the height vary from 1.8 to 2.1. The view goes backward to the cockpit through a companion way that must be close to 2 times the normal width . That gives a lot of space, clarity and light and I have to say it is enjoyable. And people inside stay close to the ones outside a bit like what you have on a catamaran but with two levels as the companion way has three steps.
Att eh entrance of the companion way is a trap with a wooden cover (iroko too) that can be used to store the hatch panel or other thing and when up may prevent water from slipping inside.
Regarding equipement, there is a large and well fitted galley to port. Here are all the usual items plus a well sized freezer and a lot of drawers and lockers, may be less than on the Cigale 16 whose aft saloon is totally different. Water tanks are in the range of 600 liters, fitted with a 24v 120 l /h water maker and carbon filtration.
On the other side a living-dining area to starboard. The table (which lowers to become a bed) is 1.3m by 1m and is surrounded by benches and movable seats that can be fixed to the floor when under sails.
To port is a large guest cabin with two bunk berths and lot of storage too of course.
In the corridor we find successively a conventional head and a good sized separate shower made of moulded polyester that will be easy to clean and is a "first" on OVNIs.
Finally, going through a waterproof door we enter the workshop / sail locker which was discussed above, in which the saloon of a 38 footer could be fitted in.
It won't say too much about this part of the boat, first as it is definitely not the one I prefered. Second because it can be shaped and organised any way one may fancy.
Hence my comments would be irrelevant.
There is plenty of room and the only question is "how to best use it"?
Under sails with lights winds and a bright sun.
Once the lines are cleated off the huge cleats, leaving the pontoon is easy, thanks to the bow thruster and provided the dagger board is ‘in ‘ (or ‘up’) when it is low tide .
Once in the open sea, facing the wind with the pilot in the auto mode the main sail goes up the mast easily, thanks to the electric winch on the roof.
The genoa deploy fastly by releasing the clamp and under her all white sails Gaïa happilly shrugs, takes off building speed rapidly and start heeling gently.
A mainsail and genoa from the well known Incidence sailmaker in la Rochelle, associated to a 150 m2 genaker with the beautiful name of Gaia on it, is what we used for the test.
Whatever sails combination we used and whatever the wind direction was, from upwind to downwind, Gaïa’s speed never dropped below half the one of the true wind speed and we had between 13 and 18 knots from 11:00 to 16:00 on a rather flat sea and under a bright sun.
We always sailed comfortably with a steady 7.2 and 8.7 knots and Gaïa behaved perfectly.
People on board who sailed Gaïa a couple of days before with Marc Lombard and had more wind and more bumpy seas did stress her ability to manage waves smoothly even at speeds exceeding 10 knots.
Unfortunaletly we had more sun than wind during this 5 hours test and could not check this, but from what we experienced I would believe it is true.
Turning and tacking maneuvers were smooth, the boat turns sharply and quickly, especially since there is currently only one headsail. When the staysail will will be installed (runners are already there) it may be different if the genoa needs a bit of furling to move from one side to the other as it will slow down the maneuver.
With the genaker furling was madatory as the sail was fixed on the fairlead and has little space between himself and the rolled genoa. A bowsprit may help but not much judging by my experience on the 445.
At the helm.
Here it is "just fun".
With two rudders the wheel is soft, reactive easy to handle.
With the Auto pilot ON and in the Auto mode the Lecomble et Schmidt system works perfectly and as there are no cables involved there is no risk of breaking one. And the whole system is easily accessible for repairs or maintenance.
When the autopilot is off the helm is definititly not something to be used to build muscles. In my opinion the winches will be more effective because on this boat the only one electric one : it is the main sail’s halyard one ... and fortunately it's there.
Once Gaia is well equilibrated under sail with all the sails tails in the rigth direction, wich we always managed to achieve easily, taking the hands off the whelle and letting her free, she pushes straigth forward without significantly changing course, at least with the winds we had.
On both sides of the cockpit when at the helm visibility is perfect and the arch above the companion way is never an obstacle.
Bringing the main down is easily done by opening the halyard cleat ( halyard is in Dynema course, like all other cables) after a little bit of winching to release the tension and ... pffttt ... everything goes quietly and silently straight in the lazy bag: the dream!
As the boom is a little high it must be pushed to the side to store reef in the lazy bag and close it after climbing on the coamings.
Comfort on board.
With plenty of room and all this equipement this is a non-issue and among other things all bunks are equiped with lee cloths.
It is also said that ‘gentlemen never sail windward’ as it is bad for the china but on Gaïa, except for heeling china would have been safe as there were no bumps. The boats manages the waves smoothly and I reckon that on bigger seas it migth be manageable too.
What more to add?
Probably lots of things as a number of details probably escaped me. I am sure they will be found in a forecoming issue of the french Voiles et Voiliers that may have a vision different from mine. But for my part this short ’in vivo’ testing is conclusive.
Of course, if this boat was mine I would definitely add a few things I am used to, like genoa travellers adjustable from the cockpit and one or two electric winches, two options that the owner refused.
Maybe I would remove some electronic ones too.
But almost everything one can dream of for sailing does exists or is possible on OVNIs as those boats are custom made.
What we have seen is what the owner wanted, not what the shipyard suggested.
The price tag for this configuration, all existing options included is around 750K euros.
Thinking of my fortcoming program, sailing the ARC and WorldARC with such a boat would definitely be a great experience with good chances of ranking in the top 10.
I whish, one day there will be someone to do it.
If ALUBAT build the 47 or 43 footer they have in their drawers and I if have to change boat I think it will be hard for me not think of this boat.