by Tim Day
Blue Water Sailing
A FRENCH VOYAGER WITH A DIFFERENCE
The Cigale 14 from Alubat offers exciting performance in an aluminum hull that is both tough and very comfortable
The market for aluminum-hulled offshore sailboats is one that has exploded in Europe while remaining fairly dormant here in North America. This could be in for a change, as a unique solutions-oriented passagemaker emerges from France that is packing all the gear you need for offshore sailing. She is the Cigale 14, a design that furthers the thinking on the capabilities of cruiser/racers while at the same time causing skeptics to reassess their views on what a cruising boat is, and what it should look like.
Aluminum-hulled offshore sailboat production is dominated by European designers and builders, and the French production company Alubat has been a major player in this field for 23 years. Alubat and the Finot Group, lead by Marc Finot, have recently teamed up to produce the new Cigale cruiser/racers, a series of light, fast and strong passagemakers that fully embody the “harmony with the sea” vision that Finot strives for. The Cigale 14, the smallest of the series, which includes the 16 and the 18, is crafted in the vein of ultralight displacement boats, or ULDB’s, and represents a combination of the Finot Open series concept, offering the speed and performance of modern offshore racing designs, and Alubat aluminum construction.
For 30 years Finot has devolved concepts that are unique and often breathtaking in their synthesis of speed and ease of sail. The Cigale brings these to the foreground in its solutions-based approach. It offers the serious offshore sailor the ease of handling and function so essential to shorthanded sailing, from the design and layout of the cockpit to the simplicity of the rig, as well as the strength and lightness of an aluminum hull. And it still manages to deliver a level of comfort comparable to any of the most modern cruising boats. The Cigale series should be thought of as an attempt by some of the most knowledgeable offshore racing designers in the world to provide a comfortable ride that can take you almost anywhere.
SAILING THE CIGALE 14
This fall BWS was given the opportunity to sail with owners Will and Angela Bramen, from Wellesley, Mass., aboard their Cigale 14 Ariane in Narragansett Bay. While this was not to be the 300-plus-mile sail that BWS typically does to test offshore designs, and the dynamics and power of the sail area/displacement ratio could not be fully appreciated, Will kindly allowed us to test out the boat and its rig as much as possible.
The Cigale 14’s performance on paper is impressive. With a light displacement, 15,432 pounds and 7,275 pounds of ballast in the bulb of a 7.3-foot fin keel, there is a ballast/displacement ratio of 47 percent, a high number even for stripped-down racers. This allows for a massive amount of sail area on the wind, totaling 1,144 square feet between the mainsail and the genoa, with a sail area/displacement ratio of 29.5.
The Bergstrom rig, with a fixed roller-furling forestay, a removable baby stay and two running backstays provides for a high roach main and double spreaders on a light aluminum alloy mast. Adding another 1,200 pounds of water ballast, which is flooded into compartments just aft of the cockpit and can be pumped from side to side in two to three minutes, the Cigale 14 was definitely built to maximize sail area potential while maintaining stability and angle of sail. And it does this very well.
The Bergstrom rig was modified on this Cigale, with three spreaders and a larger main, and it was obvious that with a full genoa and main, Ariane would realize her capacity of almost 20 knots when power reaching in a little more than 30 knots of wind. The failure of the genoa’s halyard, however, meant that we had to drop the headsail and bring out the baby stay for the staysail. Yet, even after putting a reef in the main, Ariane maintained good boat speed, with Finot’s polars holding true. With a light southeasterly breeze of 12 knots the light hull and deep keel quickly found their groove 28 degrees off the apparent wind, moving along at seven to eight knots, and we could feel the balance that a Finot design brings.
The success of the Finot concept, to provide superior offshore designs, stems from a philosophy emphasizing functionality and an agreement between speed, displacement and strength while providing the comfort found in cruising boats. The popularity in Europe of singlehanded offshore races such as the Vendée Globe and the Around Alone generated the Finot Open series, a rare agreement of stability in the water with low displacement. The design of the Cigale 14 brings the different concepts together to create a highly functional, comfortable and fast offshore cruiser/racer that is at once sporty and safe.
By combining the Finot design with Alubat aluminum construction, Alubat has given the Cigale 14 a high degree of safety while maintaining their optimal light displacement. The hull and decks are made of 5038H111 aluminum alloy constructed in an argon/helium environment. Aluminum panels are welded onto a multi-stringer skeleton that is both light weight and rigid, giving this 46-foot boat a remarkably light displacement of 15,432 pounds while providing a hull that is suitable for high latitude sailing and one that can deal with the tests of the sea, like submerged containers and bergs. The Cigale’s hull is radius based, providing a smooth motion in the water, and the light and rigid construction is now comfortable, strong and fast.
Heading off onto a close reach, with true wind topping out at only 12 knots and boat speed hovering at around seven knots, we fell off and went though several jibes. In keeping with Finot’s desire to design functional shorthanded boats that can be sailed with relative ease, on deck all handling can be done from the cockpit. The helm is center mounted in the rear of the cockpit, and two 54 ST winches lie on either side for genoa trim. All halyards, the main trim and reefing lines run aft to the protection of a soft dodger over the companionway, where there are two 40 ST winches to port and starboard. Considering the peace of mind that can be lost when out in the open ocean at night and having to make your way forward to the main mast to put in a reef, this is a gratifying feature.
The Cigale 14 performs well in most conditions, and Ariane managed well in light winds. But she was not as light in her movements as you might expect, and the oversized spade rudder needed more to draw from. Running downwind with a genniker and the main, Ariane felt almost underpowered, despite easily breezing by a 37-foot racer that was flying a full spinnaker.
Belowdecks, the Cigale 14’s semi-custom interior is bright and airy with oak trim. And, more importantly, it is a unique approach to solving the problem inherent in most cruising designs of limited space. Living aboard a Mason 43 for several years, limited seating was the first thing noticed with more than six or seven people in the cockpit or dinette. Finot’s attempt to resolve this is both enlightened and practical.
Immediately aft of the companionway, there is an oversized U-shaped dinette with seating for eight to 10, and the six fixed portholes that wrap around the transom add more light and views of outside, agreeing with another Finot belief in combining the accessibility and function of above and belowdecks. With only one hatch ventilation and heat might become a problem, particularly in low latitudes, but it is hard to argue with the thinking behind this feature of the layout.
The open galley to port is an expansive L-shaped, ergonomic design with plenty of countertop to spread out on, all nicely finished with an oak trim. With large storage spaces, a two-burner gimbled stove, a 120-liter refrigerator and a double sink with pressurized water, all the creature comforts of home are available. And with two large deck hatches and fixed portholes along the coaming, ventilation is excellent, a vital aspect for comfortable cooking at sea.
A little to the aft on the starboard side, the massive nav station, with a wide chart table and instrument panel, is an arm’s length from the companionway so communication to the cockpit is free from interference. Finot works out many of the problems of modern cruising boats but does so in a way that seems to favor the racing nature of this cruiser/racer.
That said, the Cigale 14 is definitely not short on a cruising essential, storage. In the main cabin to port, just forward of the galley, a double berth has both standing lockers and compartments below the berth foot. The aft central starboard cabin has storage in lockers below two Pullman berths, with a center-mounted locker above. Back in the dinette there are side lockers and a ventilated storage locker. Bringing too much gear onboard is the only real danger. The Cigale 14 is undoubtedly equipped for distance traveling.
With two double cabins and two Pullman berths, the Cigale 14 can comfortably sleep six. The main aft cabin to port has access to both the saloon and the forward head. The head has actually been divided into two, with separate shower and toilet, an apparent reduction in comfort, but one that fits well with the functional type of comfort that this design brings. Forward, in the V of the hull is another double berth that is almost queensize in width at shoulder level. With the two Pullman berths to starboard and the division of the heads, the layout is ideal for a cruising family of four. There is even room for a visiting couple to have their own cabin forward.
The Cigale series of boats is for the discerning offshore sailor looking for a remarkable coalescence of speed, comfort and safety in a superior design and build. Sailing Ariane on Narragansett Bay could not test her performance, her function or her offshore comfort to a degree that would allow for certain conclusions, but on a close reach in 12 knots of breeze with a reef in the main and a staysail replacing a full genoa she could maintain the Finot polars. I have sailed on few boats that could claim to have the agreement between so many factors as does the Cigale.
Designed by offshore people for offshore people, it has the look and the feel of a boat that is as at home cruising the coast of Turkey or the French Society Islands as it is dodging icebergs at 60-degree latitudes. Simplicity and ease of sail on deck are paradigms of shorthanded sailing, and this design provides both in spades. Two people could easily put her in her groove and sail many thousands of miles, while the cockpit layout would work for those intrepid souls who might want to go it alone.
Alubat and Finot have produced a boat that I think will rank as one of the superior cruiser/racer designs for years to come. The two French companies have recognized many of the key challenges to comfortable and safe offshore sailing, and they have brought a unique approach to their resolution.
The boat’s aluminum construction is among the safest and lightest on the market, and with a ballast/displacement ratio at 47 percent and an oversized Bergstrom rig the Cigale 14 is undoubtedly both fast and safe. It has all of the makings of a very comfortable cruiser as well, but that is ultimately a factor that is determined with the passage of many miles. As a concept she is remarkable, and as a boat beneath your feet she feels just right. BWS thinks that given the tests of time and offshore sailing conditions, she will handle this with ease.
LOA 45’ 11” (14.0 m.)
LWL 44’ 3” (13.5 m.)
Beam 13’ 9” (4.2 m.)
Draft 7’ 2” (2.2 m.)
Displ. 15,423 lbs. (8 tonnes)
Ballast 7,260 lbs. (3,300 kg.)
Sail area 1,155 sq. ft. (107 sq. m.)
Water ballast 1,320 lbs. (600 kg.)
Fuel 79 gals. (300 l.)
Water 132 gals. (500 l.)
Base price $380,000 (approximate)
Les Sables d’Olonne
back to top