In a sense, this is a story about two boats. The boat we sailed carries a lot of options and, because this is a specialised boat for a specialised role, has a slightly different character and performance from the standard boat. Another owner would choose a different specification, but the result would be the same – the X-50 is a very fine yacht.
I ended up jealous of the owner and the way he plans to use his new yacht. It will be based in Darwin and will be expected to cruise Indonesian waters and to race competitively in regattas like Hamilton Island Race Week.
How can the X-50 perform these diverse tasks? Its owner has chosen clever options to make his boat a comfortable cruising yacht. It has a shallower keel than standard, and to offset the loss of righting moment underwater, it has a carbon-fibre mast to save weight where it counts. It has an in-boom furler for the mainsail (good for cruising) and it has all the appliances you could need for living on board, including air conditioning, water maker and washer/dryer. This X-50 shows that you can have near-grand prix performance on a comfortable boat. You can have your Danish and eat it, too.
That terrible joke is inspired by the fact that X-Yachts is a Danish company that makes a range of performance cruisers, edgier one-design racer/cruisers (X-41 and X-35) and a couple of pure cruisers. All are carefully built and carefully targeted at very specific markets.
All X-Yachts use sophisticated construction techniques to keep hull weight down, good for performance and the extra weight of cruising options.
The 50 shows the usual X-Yacht restraint in styling and decoration. The hull exterior is unadorned, distinguished only by the company’s trademark boot-top stripes in dark blue. The interior exhibits classic styling in teak, uninfluenced by the apartment styles other builders strive for.
“X-Yacht interiors are timeless,” says Robert McClelland, from importers North South Yachting. And I must agree. This boat’s interior is conservative, but there are neat design details.
There’s a lot of optional equipment on this cruiser/racer, like the carbon mast and the in-boom mainsail furler previously mentioned. As well as the genset and the watermaker, in the forward lazarette, there is a clothes washer/dryer. The electronics include the latest sat-phone (“more a cell phone,” says Robert) which can handle broadband internet connection. And she carries 450lt of fuel.
Standard are rod rigging and a hydraulic mast ram which lives off the boat. This makes rig tuning easy (for racing) as you can lift the mast, remove the shims, and lower it again for easy rig adjustment, or for moving the mast heel.
The winches – stainless steel and electrically-powered Andersens – are worth a story in themselves. The primaries (for the headsail sheets) are big two-speeds, but the mainsheet and line winches are sort of automatic, in that they vary their speed as the line load comes on.
There are too many layout options for me to work out; you need to see both the website and the brochure for the full story. This boat has three cabins, each with an ensuite bathroom. The galley is a linear arrangement on the starboard side; it’s a set-up that works only if the cook can get support for the backside, in this case provided by a rigid two-seater divan. A more common arrangement has the galley further aft, near the companionway.
In the bow is a full-depth lazarette/sail locker with a ladder. This boat also has access to the lazarette through a door in the owner’s stateroom, made possible because the double berth is offset to port. Personally, I would prefer the centreline berth option.
The true nature of this boat is shown by the twin stern cabins. In each there is a pipecot as well as a leecloth between the mattress halves. This set-up is great for a race crew as you can sleep three bodies aft and to windward when off-watch. But it is just as important for cruising. Most modern production cruiser/racers simply ignore the need to sleep at sea. In port, the leecloths stow away so the bed can be a normal double. Rob says you can also add your own leecloth to the settee in the saloon.
This is a really important feature as it illustrates the nature of the Danes, who steadfastly refuse to sacrifice seaworthiness on the altar of fashion or style.
If you were led blindfolded onto the X-50, you would know you were on a 50-footer seconds after the sails sheet home. This is a big boat with quite a lot of sail, and she responds immediately to wind pressure. This hull, which first appeared in 2004, is quite slender and narrow-sterned, and this is reflected in the way she moves through the water.
During our time on the water, the breeze didn’t reach eight knots but at all times we felt we were sailing fast; a sensation you can get only from a long hull with plenty of sail.
The builder’s speed targets show a standard boat should reach 6.03 knots in 6 knots of wind. On this heavily-optioned boat with three aboard, we reached 6.0 in 6.8 knots of breeze with no weight on the windward rail, which would help.
At the end of our sail, the boom was adjusted to the right angle (marked on the topping lift and boom vang) and the sail is rolled away using a powered winch. The headsail rolled away too.
“In an ideal (racing) World,” says Richard Allanson from North Sails, “you would not have furlers.
“But when we return to the dock we will be packed up and walking away in minutes. These days, everyone is time-poor.” The performance compromise: the furlers’ demand is minimised, because the mainsail foot can be adjusted for optimal shape, while the forestay is also adjustable, a new feature for a furling set-up.
When racing, the working sails live on their furlers and the other sails live in the sail locker forward, so the interior is not threatened by yobbo crews tossing gear into the saloon.
Richard is on board to see the sails, which are made from a taffeta laminate that is light but durable – again an appropriate compromise. My mum used to make my sisters’ dresses from taffeta; I suspect it’s not the same stuff.
The 75hp Volvo Penta auxiliary is almost silent. The sound-proofing is good and X-Yachts uses a fan to move air through the engine compartment, so there are no vents to let the noise out.
As we approached the marina, Rob used the retractable bow thruster. It is electric-powered, and quiet.
This X-50 is a remarkable boat – lovely to sail, well built and properly engineered.
When you see the quality of the engineering on the simple things – the underfloor fuel and water controls, for example – it gives you confidence about the engineering you can’t see. You have to admire the Danes; function over form, every time.
When this owner called for the best of conflicting worlds, his X-50 rose to the challenge so well that what could have been a massive compromise is in fact no compromise at all.
Hull length: 15.24m
Draft (std): 3.00m
Draft options: 2.70m, 2.40m
Displacement (std, empty): 12,400kg
Genoa #1 (135%): 77.9sqm
Engine: 75hp Volvo Penta D2 Base yacht with Prestige Pack (inc. Bow thruster, teak decks, Raymarine instruments, electric winches):.
Price as tested : (including carbon rig, furler boom, aircon, watermarket, genset) $1,600,000.
More information from North South Yachting, Church Point, NSW. Phone (02) 9998 9600. www.x-yachts.com.au