Germans know cars and Kiwis know boats. Something of an over-simplification, but when successful European yacht builder Bavaria decided to match its reputation for building affordable production boats with a new focus on quality and style, that seems to have been its thinking. Establishing an alliance with its distant motoring cousins at BMW Group Designworks USA and Farr Yacht Design in the US, whose origins stem back to famous New Zealand yacht designer Bruce Farr, seemed logical.
The result is evident from Bavaria’s range of new boats released over the past 18 months, in particular the new Cruiser, 55.
Approaching from the stern, the huge lowered swim platform and cavernous garage for the tender gives a first hint of the boat’s impressive volume, but it’s only as you move to the side pontoon that the true scale of the boat is revealed as you stand chest-high to the deck (mooring stern-to will clearly be the preferred berthing choice).
Stepping on to the deck, the scale is just as impressive from above, with the boat carrying her beam so far forward you could fit a small marquee on her massive and clutter-free foredeck. The Bavaria brochure suggests this area is probably better suited to sunbaking and without doubt there’s room here for plenty of guests to lounge around. The expansive area of white fibreglass could prove a little glary if not signing on for the teak deck option, an alternative that is, however, not generally popular on maintenance grounds in hotter climes like Australia.
The cockpit is spacious and well laid out, with ample room to manoeuvre around the large table. The simple and easily handled dodger and bimini combination would be as effective against rain as sun and the helm and crew controls would seem to fall easily to hand for shorthanded sailing.
Versatility is the name of the game here and the impressive 4m-wide sliding bench seat on the stern serves, in turn, as helmsman’s seat, sun lounge, extra dining seat or even gangplank to the pontoon.
Looking aloft, the rig is strong and simple (with a remarkably modest mast section given that the mainsail, with its vertical battens, rolls away inside) and Bavaria has gone with trusted and tested brands for furling gear by Selden and sails by Elvstrom.
It’s not hard to imagine just how roomy the boat is below decks when you first see the height of the topsides and, sure enough, as you head down the companionway steps into the main saloon, the first impression is one of remarkable space, in large part due to the extraordinary height of the cabin for a yacht of this size.
Grabholds are placed at sensible heights around the main saloon and the steel rail fiddle around the galley island in the middle of the cabin doubles up well as a long grab rail when heading forward. The island would also act as a natural and comfortable bracing point when working in the galley while underway.
As Jamie Millar, Bavaria’s Brand Manager, points out, the term ‘galley’ does a disservice to what is, in reality, a kitchen. With heaps of room, ample worktops, a large fridge-freezer, a cupboard for a drawer-style dishwasher and endless storage space, the MasterChef team would be quite at home here.
The proliferation of skylights and ports provides plenty of light below and there are numerous clever touches in the main saloon, not least the bench seat that slides out from the galley island to permit at least eight people to sit comfortably around the table when the extra table wing is raised.
The almost universal application of electronic charts, on-deck plotters and flat-screen TV displays on modern boats means that navigation stations are becoming something of a token gesture on most of today’s new yachts. Like much of its competition, Bavaria has a bet each way on the Cruiser 55, with a dedicated navigation station and a small table that would fit a laptop and a writing pad, with the option for a folded chart in the drawer below.
In the four-cabin configuration that we sailed, the owner’s cabin in the bow is large, light and seriously accessorised; the cabin’s ensuite ‘wellness bathroom’, as the brochure describes it, would do justice to a luxury apartment, with a full headroom separate shower and a large top-lift laundry bin space that can accommodate a washing machine if preferred. There is even a walk-in wardrobe.
The other three cabins would happily accommodate guests or children and the bathroom off the main saloon (the word ‘head’ is much like the word ‘galley’ on modern cruising boats; not in the lexicon) is compact, but well thought-through, sporting a folding, full-height glass frame to protect the sink area when the shower is in use.
The design team has not forgotten the brand’s roots. One of the chief attractions of the Bavaria product oft-stated by owners is the use of real wood below decks. While the new boat boasts plenty of interior changes that may challenge or excite current Bavaria owners who are used to a slightly more conservative design style, real timber remains omnipresent in the cabin.
Bavaria offers various options of timber interiors; in this case a light-coloured oak for bulkheads and cupboards, with a dark-coated ply timber floor. It’s a pleasing combination, despite the distraction of the silver-headed screws breaking up the clean plane of the dark floor-boarding.
Lift the floorboards along the keel line and a very reassuring sight greets the eye; the yacht’s solid integrated grid is glassed and baked with the hull for maximum strength. Considering there is also a full-thickness fibreglass hull construction below the waterline, it’s clear that Bavaria intend this boat to handle coastal or deepwater cruising with equal aplomb. The presence of a dedicated storm trysail luff track on the mast – a true blessing for anyone who knows what it is like to fumble with unfamiliar gear at the worst possible time – adds further encouragement for those contemplating heading out into the rough stuff or caught out in a serious blow.
The influence of car design is present everywhere on this boat and as we climb up the companionway stairs that also act as a ‘bonnet’, lifting hydraulically to give easy engine access, we step into the cockpit to lower the dodger canopy into its sportscar-style covered stowage.
“The Bavaria builders love a ram,” quipped our skipper Nick as we stowed the dodge before leaving the dock. “So you can be sure the next version will have a push-button canopy control,” he added.
With the boat barely three weeks in the country and the team at North South Yachting (importers for Bavaria in Australia) having only had time for a brief shakedown sail the previous day, it was clear we were all in for a bit of a learning curve as we left the dock.
As our skipper manoeuvered the boat off the pontoon, the quiet bow thruster lent a hand to perform three impressively tight doughnut turns as we tried to unfurl the Bavaria flag on the backstay to free-up the topping lift.
Heading down Pittwater, the 110hp Volvo Penta had us effortlessly powering along at 9 knots, with the rev counter sitting quietly at 2300rpm. It displayed a reassuring power-to-speed ratio for a boat on which high topsides may well test the engine’s resolve in strong winds.
Bringing the boat to a halt under power, Nick lent forward from the helm and pressed the headsail sheet winch control to unfurl the jib, while, with a push of the outhaul button in the cockpit, our trimmer, Justin unfurled the mainsail from its housing in the mast. With the sails set, the boat got underway with remarkable ease in a fitful 5-10 knot breeze and it soon became evident that, despite weighing 18 tonnes when loaded, and supporting a relatively low-aspect rig plus a mainsail with the narrowest of roaches, this boat has a very slippery hull.
Sailing closehauled at 35 degrees and gliding along at more than three knots in barely five knots of wind, the helm proved responsive in a shifting breeze. The twin wheels have direct drive to their respective rudders, so there is very little play and just enough weather helm to give some agreeable feel.
The good news got better still as occasional gusts came through, the boat heeling quickly as the wind built to 11 knots, with the hull finding a groove and tracking straight even as she hit a sudden gust.
Other reviews of the Cruiser 55 written shortly after its launch in Europe last year suggest that these good habits persist higher up the wind range, so one could well imagine having a lot of fun downwind in a stiff breeze with a gennaker rigged on the bow. The deep twin rudders would probably make the fun-to-fear ratio more palatable for the helmsman in that scenario, as well.
Tacking the 106 per cent overlap jib was very simple, with the sheet easily hauled home without needing to use the winch handle for anything other than fine-tune trimming as we tacked back and forth in breezes up to 10 knots or more. It occurred to me that those not wishing to expend energy on a muscle-bound crew should consider the option of a self-tacking jib.
After an hour or so of tacks, gybes and photo set-ups, we returned to the dock with smiles all-round; not least from the Bavaria team members, who were clearly already very impressed with their new acquisition.
So, where will this boat fit in the Australian yacht market? Bavaria has not previously had an offering of this size, so Bob Mulkearns, CEO of North South Yachting, thinks the Cruiser 55 will appeal to existing Bavaria owners looking for the next step up, as well as to those wanting a cruiser that can also be raced – a minor, but important distinction from a cruiser/racer. The boat also comes with options aimed at charter, but ultimately Mulkearns thinks this is unlikely to be a major selling point here, where the tough regulatory environment for larger keel yachts makes this less appealing, in his opinion.
I predict this yacht will provide some serious competition for its European counterparts in this size range and, at under $600,000 ready to sail, it’s certainly highly price-competitive against the likes of Hanse, Jeanneau and Oceanis in the 50-foot-plus range.
Bavaria will not have to wait long to find out how she competes, as the 55 is about to appear alongside its competition at the Sydney International Boat Show, before heading north for Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, where it will look to prove its racing credentials in the large Cruiser division.
Pretty may not be the word foremost in your mind on first encounter with the Cruiser 55, but the total package exudes style and even some bravura. In my opinion, any aesthetic quibbles are not likely to undermine the dominant impressions of the boat’s build quality, user friendliness, performance and value for money and I’d expect the Bavaria 55 is likely to be a winner in Australian waters.
The BMW/Farr combination Bavaria has successfully demonstrated that cars and yachts have more in common than most of us might have imagined.
Bavaria will, doubtless, continue to develop and stretch this concept and who knows how far it may take it. How about 0-60 in 3.8 seconds – now that’s a yacht worth waiting for!
NB: The Bavaria Cruiser 55 will be heading for Audi Hamilton Race Week with its new owner in August, so we plan to bring you a report after the regatta on just how well the boat performs in both racing and party mode.
SPECIFICATIONS: BAVARIA CRUISER 55
Length of hull: 16.16
Beam (Max): 4.76m
Draught: 2.35m (option for 1.9m)
Sail area: 146 sq m
Mast height above waterline: 23.25m (with105% JIB)
Cabins: 3, 4 or 5
Engine: Volvo Penta D3-110hp
Water: 700 lt
Fuel: 380 lt
Price: Standard Sailaway Package
$597,000 excl GST
Contact: Bavaria Yachts Australia www.bavariayachts.com.au