Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Automation on a Cruiser?

The following is an excerpt of Elaine Bunting’s Yachting World review of the Hallberg-Rassy 64. We have to add that we too are firm believers in making sure that you stick to a boat you can sail even when mechanics fail you.

“Somewhere between 60 and 70 feet, you reach a size of yacht that really needs to be run by a professional skipper. That has been the traditional wisdom.

Such is the complexity and expense of cruising yachts of this scale that as soon as many yachts of mid 60-foot-size hit the water, a skipper and mate ship aboard and they head off for a life of occasional charter.

So I think it’s very significant that Hallberg-Rassy, builder and purveyor of bluewater cruisers, this year launched its largest and most complex yacht, the Hallberg-Rassy 64 (actually 65ft LOA), aimed squarely at couples and family sailors.

I tested the new HR64 in Sweden last week and spent three days sailing and living aboard the boat, along with photographer Paul Wyeth and Magnus Rassy, CEO of the family owned yard.

On the German Frers-designed HR64 everything is push button controlled. The cutter-rigged headsails, of course, and also the mainsheet, which leads from a single point attachment abaft the cockpit to a captive system controlled by a tackle and hydraulic ram inside the boom. The vang is hydraulic, even the halyard fine-tunes can be operated by switches at the helm console.

Below, there is a long list of remote-operated gadgets: a huge plasma TV rises out of a longitudinal island in the saloon; each side of the double aft berth can be independently raised and lowered using an iPhone app (a fun way of waking someone up…).

All of which makes the boat wonderful to live on and a joy to sail. And I mean that. I was very skeptical, but when we sailed the boat in gusty conditions – 25 knots swirling off the skerries, and the boat under full sail because the photographer wanted to see her “fully cranked” – I was able to play the mainsheet like a dinghy with just a dab of the in and out buttons.

Of course, bluewater cruisers will know only too well that anything that can break will break. On our three-day test, one of the primary winches stopped turning freely and we returned to the yard to get it fixed, and later the hot air heating appeared to be faulty.

So my major reservation about a boat of this complexity is that at any given moment, something, somewhere will not be working. I think you’d have to accept the odds that you will forever be sailing between repair stops (admittedly it’s how most of us sail, but with knobs on).”

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