In our efforts to sail trial the new Grand Soleil 545, Simon and I ended up spending a night and two days aboard the boat to get a real feel for what it is all about. Simon delivered it from Long Island to Newport, R.I., primarily under power on a windless day. I had the pleasure of sailing the boat, with Harold del Rosario and his wife Susie who import the boats from Italy, on a glorious September day in the waters off Newport. I definitely got the better half of the bargain.
We hoisted the big mainsail as we slowly motored past Newport Harbor’s Fort Adams. The late morning breeze was just filling in, and by the time we had the main set and the jib drawing, we had a solid 10 knots blowing up Narragansett Bay.
The main is mounted on a Leisurefurl in-boom system with the control lines led aft to the cockpit. The 100-percent jib furls on a seven-eighths headstay. The rig is simple but powerful and designed to be handled by a couple. The boat we sailed had electric winches for the main sheet, the primary jib sheets and the main halyard. By the end of the day, my thumb was developing a callous from trimming the sheets.
The 545 has a slick, modern hull design with a very fine bow, a straight run aft and high performance rudder and keel. The keel is a bulbed fin with the bulb shaped like a torpedo, which makes the boat stiff and very close winded.
As we sailed seaward, we hardened up close to the wind. There is no question the 545 was created to sail like a thoroughbred. With 12 knots of true wind speed showing on the instruments, the boat sailed at close to eight knots and held that speed at about 42 degrees off the true wind angle.
Throwing the boat through a tack was a cinch. If we timed the tacks right it was possible, even in the 10 to 12 knots of breeze, to sheet in the jib without resorting to the electrics. This is a 54-footer, remember.
Once we had cleared the headlands, the breeze on Rhode Island Sound was a bit lighter but still strong enough for good sailing. We cracked off the wind and trimmed at about 100 degrees true where the boat slipped along very nicely. The low center of gravity and beamy hull give it a stable feel under foot and the ability to carry a lot of sail.
At the end of our trial, we dowsed the sails and motored in. With the motor running at 3,000 rpm, the 545 skimmed along at better than 8 knots, burning about one gallon an hour. At 3,800 rpm in flat water it scooted at close to 10 knots.
The whole experience of sailing and handling the GS 545 evokes the qualities of the finest cars or airplanes. The boat is a real performer and her systems and layouts have been optimized to make that performance seem both effortless and elegant.
(Simon, a professional yacht designer, takes over from here.)
Grand Soleil is used to being at the vanguard. For 36 years they have been building good quality modern racer cruisers. They have used many of the world’s leading yacht designers, and their yachts have had many successful racing results. Most recently they have been very successful in the European IMS racing circuit with their GS 43 open transom, designed by Botin & Carkeek in Spain. Botin & Carkeek have been Grand Soleil’s primary designers for their latest series of yachts. But for their new 545, Grand Soleil broke from B&C and went with the cutting edge of Italian style.
In choosing Luca Brenta & Co. to design the new 545, Grand Soleil picked one of the most influential and forward thinking European firms. Brenta & Co., based in Milan, Italy, have designed many of the worlds’ most sleek, modern and typically Mediterranean super yachts. They can be credited with inventing the “Wally aesthetic” that, over the past two decades, has taken modern European yacht design by storm.
Taking many cues from racing yachts, this aesthetic really comes down to high topsides, large, open and uncluttered decks, a low, long coach roof with sharp corners, lots of windows and skylights, a large open cockpit, a plumb stem, and almost no overhangs. Many builders and designers now emulate this motif, but the Grand Soleil 545 meets all of these parameters to a tee.
With the 545, Brenta &Co. have maintained their commitment to the modern aesthetic while creating a very well thought out and practical sailing yacht. The look of the 545 is strong and muscular, beautiful in the same way as a race horse or a Ferrari. She has a tall rig and a deep fin keel with a bulb and a powerful hull shape. Throughout the yacht there are many practical details that set it apart from its rivals. The design accomplishes everything it sets out to do without feeling like it is trying to do too much.
The 545 is built by Grand Soleil’s yard Cantiere del Pardo in Forli, Italy. The entire manufacturing process happens at their yard. The workmanship, from the hull layup to the joinery work, is top notch. The hull and deck are built of cored fiberglass infused with polyester resin—a very standard production boat technique. The structural grid is a mixture of galvanized steel and carbon fiber, a first for Grand Soleil. The structural bonding and construction details are all very neat and tidy.
Every aspect of the deck preserves the clean and modern look. It is full of distinct and innovative solutions and details that keep the deck clear without compromising the sail handling or the usability of the yacht. The halyards and mainsheet run aft to the cockpit hidden in tunnels in the cabin house and the side decks.
Everywhere you look, you will find clever solutions. For example, the main traveler track is recessed into the cockpit sole just ahead of the twin wheels and cover plates leave only a small slot for the traveler car and block to move back and forth. This is not really a practical feature; it just looks pretty sleek. But removal of the cover panels and access to the track and traveler lines for service is easy and straightforward.
The cockpit table is hidden in a specific locker in the cockpit floor when not in use. There are four decent sized cockpit lockers for storage of lines, winch handles, etc. Another nice feature is the garage for the dodger. All too often modern yachts of this style completely neglect the importance of protecting the cockpit. As if it never rains in the Med. Brenta’s solution is practical as well as attractive. On the cabin top, in front of the cockpit there is a U-shaped garage that the dodger folds into. When closed, the garage is completely flush with the surrounding cabin top and almost disappears. The one thing that the Grand Soleil team seems to have overlooked in the design of the cockpit is a place to stuff miscellaneous gear, such as sunglasses, hats or sunscreen. Some small mesh bags on the end of the cockpit seats would work nicely.
Up forward, the anchor locker is, surprisingly, something of a work of art. The large stainless steel anchor is mounted on a retractable stainless steel bow roller that is fitted with a hydraulic ram, all of which folds neatly into the deck locker where it is out of sight. When is time to drop the hook, you deploy the anchor and roller, which folds neatly forward over the bow. When you are heading out for a sail, you simply haul in the rode with the windlass, snub the anchor into the roller and then use the hydraulic arm to fold the whole contraption back into the locker where it is completely out of the way.
Not to be outdone by the bow, the stern has a wide garage door—actually the transom itself—that can be opened with hydraulic pistons. Once opened, the stern is transformed into a swimming and diving platform, while the open space revealed under the cockpit has been designed to house a 10-foot RIB dinghy. Once the dinghy has been stowed away, all you have to do is press a button, close the garage and away you go.
The interior of the 545 follows a fairly standard plan typical of production yachts—it just does it in a very elegant way. It feels like a modern European apartment. Throughout the interior, the details are streamlined and well thought out. Again, it is not trying to do too much. Typical of many yachts of this style, Grand Soleil has given up some of the more practical traditional features, such as fiddles on the main saloon table and good prominent hand holds through out the yacht.
At 54 feet, the boat has enough volume so that all of the cabins feel big and well laid out. Nothing feels cramped or compromised. The large square hull windows and continuous cabin house windows interplay with the light wood veneer and white trim to give the whole interior a bright and spacious feel. This style can feel a little clinical, though.
Up forward, there is a large master cabin with a private head and a separate shower. The main saloon can easily sit six for dinner or eight for cocktails. It features a stool that slides under the table on rails and has storage for eight bottles of wine. Cabinets run the length of the saloon under the deck and along with the space behind and under the seats, provide plenty of storage for an extended trip.
To port, the L-shaped galley also follows a fairly standard design. It has large, deep sinks and a huge fridge. The fiddles are a little low for my liking but would work while cooking under way. Across the yacht on the starboard side, the nav station works more like an office than a proper navigation station. The small, outboard-facing stool would make it hard to work at the nav table while underway. Grand Soleil does offer a more traditional forward-facing nav station, which would be my preference.
Aft under the cockpit there are identical twin cabins, each with their own head. The head on the starboard side has a separate shower that would also work well as a wet hanging locker. The aft cabins have large double berths that can easily sleep two adults. And there is plenty of hanging locker and storage space to accommodate them.
There is good access to the machinery space by lifting the stairs and removable panels in the guest cabins. It is easy to get to all sides of the Yanmar 110-horsepower engine. There is also space for a generator behind the engine.
The GS 545 makes a dramatic statement from any angle. The hull lines are aggressively modern. The rig is huge but easy to manage. The decks are clean and simple, evoking the Wally aesthetic. Down below, the interior offers elegance combined with modernist simplicity of line.
In our view, the 545 is a true, dual-purpose boat that will be fun for a family to enjoy day sailing or on long, over-the-horizon cruises. The boat is certainly capable of crossing oceans and world cruising.
But it is also capable of sailing very competitively in buoy or point-to-point races. The 545 is fast, close winded and capable of breakaway speeds when powered up off the wind.
A thoroughly modern boat, the new Grand Soleil 545 will turns heads, particularly as you sail right by the other cruising boats around you.
Grand Soleil 545
LOA 53’ 7”
LWL 48’ 9”
Displ. 35,273 lbs
Ballast 14,330 lbs
Sail Area 1,880 sq. ft.
Fuel 105 gals.
Water 158 gals.