Visit any maritime museum gift shop and you can be sure to find a novelty tea towel that explains why a boat is always a ‘she’. You know the ones listing cheesy analogies like: ‘it takes an experienced man to handle her correctly’, ‘she needs a lot of paint to keep her looking good’ or ‘when coming into port, she always heads straight for the buoys’ …
Well, if the nautical gender concept still holds true, then the imposing Hanse 545 is here to challenge that particular axiom, because, without question, this boat is definitely of the male persuasion. What’s more, he’s a well-built fella – with broad shoulders and a pair of wraparound sunnies that suggest just a hint of attitude. It’s handsome, too, in that blokey sort of way in which rugby players can surprise you when you first see them in a suit.
Not that the many women who have an increasing say in yacht purchases need fear that this boat will encourage their partners to wag domestic duties in favour of a weekend away with the boys. There’s a lot more than masculine good looks to the Hanse 545, which boasts plenty of cruising appeal for the guys and the girls, both above and below decks.
But enough of the gender stereotypes – how does the 545 stack up against the competition? In a small window of beautiful weather amid weeks of rain, I had the chance to find out – and an afternoon’s sail down Sydney’s Pittwater with a brief sojourn to sea courtesy of Peter Hrones and his Windcraft team (which import Hanse, Moody and Dehler yachts) suggested this new chum will travel well in Australia – both in the water and in the marketplace.
As might be expected from the much-respected Hanse Group, attention to detail is evident throughout the boat from the moment you step aboard – an action best achieved from the stern swim platform (ladders are de rigueur for scaling the substantial topsides on many modern cruisers of this size, if you insist on that option).
The Hanse 545 offers style with pragmatic simplicity and a lineage that owes more than a nod in the direction of luxurious superyachts such as the Wally range. Despite its unlikely name, the highly innovative Wally Yachts goes to extraordinary lengths to create boats that largely sail themselves; yachts that are also largely uncluttered by visible evidence of the paraphernalia normally associated with exertive crew work.
In a similar fashion, the 545’s decks have clean, uncluttered lines; hatches are flush-mounted, seating and sunbaking areas are extensive and comfortable, teak is ubiquitous (even on the coachroof), headsails look after themselves, ropes are hard to spot and someone down the back pushes buttons and steers, apparently.
For those along for the joyride, the cockpit is both ample and comfortable, with angled seat cushions and a central table against which you can brace yourself as the boat heels. The flat and very open deck provides excellent all-round viewing for everyone, although I suspect it would be a tad too exposed in a solid breeze and a good seaway. Hrones proposes to add a low dodger to this boat, as he will be cruising in it with his family for a few months – one gets the impression this would fit neatly into the area behind the mainsail sheet and forward of the companionway, without much loss of forward visibility.
As to those sunglasses I mentioned earlier? Well that’s a reference to the continuous black windows that wrap all the way around the front of the coachroof. Photographing the Hanse from a chase boat, I got the vague impression of a pair of eyes keeping a close watch on me from behind those sunnies!
NEAT AND SIMPLE
The crew area, if one can call it that, is so neat and simple as to be easily missed. Just forward of the helm, the electronic winches control furling and sheets for mainsail and headsail, fed by a cluster of clutches that control lines from the mast and foredeck, hidden within the coachroof. Behind the helmsman, a secondary winch is used for headsail or A-sail sheeting.
Lean forward from your seat and simply push a button once in a while and the sheets conveniently wind themselves into the rope tail bag in front of the wheel.
In this push-button sailing era it’s good to know that industry is responding to a growing occupational health threat fort hose using electronic winches. Our trimmer, Ric was telling us that Ronstan was running an entertaining promotion at Hamilton Island Race Week, handing out the ‘RF109 Thimble’, designed to protect trimmers’ index fingers from repetitive strain injury!
Surprisingly for a cruising yacht, the standard Hanse 545 comes without dedicated seats for the helmsman. The seating position on the coaming is very comfortable and provides excellent forward vision under sail, but it is hard to believe that this would suffice for hours of motoring, or indeed for the novice steerer who quite reasonably would prefer the classic ‘ten to two’ double-handed wheel grip seated behind the helm.
So, I was relieved to see that Hrones had fitted two bench seats (with built-in lockers) behind the helm positions; indeed I was impressed with how comfortable they were and what useful and easily-accessed additional storage they provided in a cockpit where the main locker space relies on the huge dinghy garage below your feet. The seats also provided an ideal spot for the headsail sheet trimmer to sit to leeward; a no-brainer standard fitting for my money.
In some small eron-deck details, stylish simplicity might better give way to practicality, although in practice it’s perhaps more a matter of personal preference. I’m not a great fan of thin, square-edged deck cleats (nor are the mooring ropes whose lives they shorten), even if they do drop flush with the rail, and I’d prefer a more simple rounded handrail on the bridge deck linking the cockpit and companionway for ultimate comfort and safety at sea. However, these are relatively minor quibbles, as there are plenty of elegant and very practical design touches on this boat that elevate the Hanse well above much of its competition.
Examples are plentiful on deck: the neat, low-profile headsail furler and anchor arrangement reduce the usual pulpit clutter; the self-tacking jib is a shorthander’s godsend and the mainsail sheeting system works neatly, being sited forward of the companionway and well clear of guests.
SPACE TO SPARE
The 545’s saloon is generous enough in height and width “to swing a very large cat”, as one happy Hanse owner described. The whole cabin is brightly lit by endless ports and its crisp, contemporary styling has a more timeless and homely quality about it than some of its funkier counterparts, whose fitouts, I suspect, will date rather more quickly.
Timber prevails – mahogany, high-gloss beech or American cherry – and can be optioned with a wide selection of soft furnishing finishes and colours. On our boat, the cherry and dark blue cushion covers provided a warm and inviting finish.
The galley is workmanlike, with a deep double sink and reasonable storage; the Nespresso coffeemaker option is a smart and practical solution for a boat, avoiding the fuss of a conventional espresso machine.
What a relief, too, to find a modern 50-something-footer with a proper navigation station; a comfortable one as well, with a decent-sized chart table and a natty vertical chart drawer – full marks, Hanse!
Engine access is easy, with a hydraulically-raised companionway cover revealing a large engine space and plenty of room for a genset to sit atop.
Access to the bilges is equally easy via a deceptively simple grid floor panel design, from which just about every small floorboard can be removed with a sucker pad.
The range of berth options on the 545 is versatile; in ours the master cabin was forward of the saloon and was roomy, comfortable and quiet, especially when the boat was under power. The smart ensuite with shower could best be described as cosy, but offered clear head height, plenty of natural light and high quality fittings.
The two double cabins aft are generous in size, with plenty of light and what appears to be good air circulation from large ports opening into the cockpit. Interestingly, the Hanse boats feature outward-opening ports at deck level, so they can still be left open when it rains – a real blessing.
The large forward lazarette can be optioned for additional berths and head, with separate access from the deck – an alternative that Hrones plans to pursue with bunks for his children. It’s a good option for a skipper’s berth, too, if the boat is under charter.
So all is neat and shipshape below, but how does the 545 perform when underway?
Pleasingly, under both engine and sail the 545 is well behaved and rewarding for a boat of its weight – a not inconsiderable 20 tonnes when loaded.
Despite the absence of twin bow thrusters on our boat, we maneuvered easily in and out of a relatively tight berth, also demonstrating the advantages of a single rudder when reversing.
The 72hp Volvo engine is reassuringly quiet above and below decks and has the boat pottering along comfortably at 7 knots and a steady 2000rpm. Apparently, fuel consumption at that speed averages 4.6lt per hour and if you need more grunt the ‘turbo’ kicks in to gain a top speed at around 9 knots and 8.5lt per hour. The equation is simple: whenever you can, be kind to the planet, your budget and wellbeing with more potter and less grunt.
The Hanse 545’s chief designer, Judel Vrolijk is as well known for his America’s Cup designs as he is for his cruising yachts, but in both cases he applies his eye to arrive at a good looking yacht and to that end the Hanse’s rig does much to help offset her large hull.
I’ll express a personal preference for high aspect rigs (an aesthetic as much as a performance inclination, I confess) and the Hanse really delivers on this account, matching it’s voluminous hull with a tall three-spreader mast and a vertical-battened, narrow-roached mainsail and self-tacking headsail, which provide plenty of power to drive that long, 2.8m deep keel.
Selden appears to be the furling gear supplier of choice for many European cruising yachts and the Hanse is no exception, providing simple in-mast mainsail furling, a system that seems to be gaining popularity over the conventional mast hoist and lazy jack option.
Cruising forums and blogs are full of the relative merits of furling versus hoisting options, the former being arguably more convenient, especially for single-handing, and the latter tending to offer better sail shape and therefore better performance.
For a large cruising boat, high performance is probably not the first item on the must-have checklist and besides, the tall and very narrow mainsail on the Hanse makes shape less of a problem. Hrones also observes that those buyers from a non-sailing background – a notable trend as larger yachts get ever-easier to manage shorthanded – prefer the simplicity of a push-button, in-mast furler.
While the 545 was never designed to be a light wind specialist, with the sails unfurled care of busy index fingers, she (or should that be ‘he’?) moved quickly to 7.7 knots at 30 degrees apparent in a building nor-easter of 10 to 12 knots as we worked down Pittwater. We were soon in the 545’s comfort zone as we headed offshore in a steady 15 to 17 knots, building speed to what we estimated from Peter’s handheld instruments as 8.5 knots of boat speed (the log was evidently carrying weed).
The boat’s weight is fairly apparent on the helm, even with the optional carbon wheel, but it’s surprisingly reassuring to have a firm feel on a yacht of this size as the breeze builds, and there was no arm wrestling required as she settled in and carved a clean line upwind, making easy going of a light swell.
In such beautiful weather on a midweek late afternoon, and with the boat in her element, it was tempting to hog the helm and head further out, but I was also keen to see how it felt below decks while under sail at sea.
The remarkable absence of noise in the saloon – not a creak, thump or rattle – was refreshing indeed, but it was the wash of light that flooded the cabin as the water coasted silently past the two deep, ship-like leeward ports behind the saloon lounge that was the surprise package down here. This is a winning feature more often seen on superyachts, so expect to see the competition follow suit.
Moving around the large saloon felt safe, although the deckhead handrail in the middle of this tall cabin might be a bit of a reach for those of smaller stature. But I would happily have spent a little more time in this haven.
Up on deck again and we were headed back towards Barrenjoey headland. With no asymmetric sail aboard, the downwind pace was pleasant and comfortable, if a tad leisurely; no hardship here as we shared sailing anecdotes coasting towards the early evening sun and our distant marina.
Comparing the Hanse with its competition is probably about as productive (and pointless) as comparing the merits of Sydney or Melbourne. Each has its own virtues and values that appeal to very different interests.
But if style, space, ease of handling and a sense of luxury more commonly associated with larger yachts is your thing, then the Hanse 545 will be a rewarding choice.
As to the final arbiter of any purchase, namely value for money, the 545 certainly boxes well above its weight – to use another male analogy.
SPECIFICATIONS: HANSE 545
Displacement: 18.7 tonnes
Total sail area: 156sqm
Fuel capacity: 400lt
Water capacity: 700lt
Engines: Volvo D2-75 (75hp)
Price as tested: $659,000 (excl. GST)
More information: Windcraft Pty Ltd, tel: (02) 9979 1709, www.windcraft.com.au