by Greg Jones
Blue Water Sailing
The unsinkable Etap, a combination of practicality and performance
That’s what they said about the Titanic,” was the response of a friend when I mentioned I was going out on a boat that was unsinkable, but unlike the passenger liner, which sank because the watertight compartments did not extend to the decks, the Etap 37s really is unsinkable. It is actually two boats, one inside the other, and the space between is filled with closed-cell, waterproof, polyurethane foam. This is something of an oversimplifica-tion because the foam isn’t uniformly distributed. It is placed so as to produce an even keel when the boat is flooded. With the seacocks open, or a gaping hole in the hull, Etap’s entire line of boats will not only float but also be capable of making sail and getting home.
The certification process for validating such a claim is overseen by the French Merchant Marine, and it isn’t enough that the boat remain afloat with the decks awash. It must be capable of navigation and be stable. To meet the certification standards, the boat, when flooded, must return upright after a 90-degree knockdown, with the crew all sitting on the leeward rail. This is enough to convince me that the boat is unsinkable, although, on our recent test of the new Etap 37s, we didn’t actually try to sink the boat.
The boat, newly purchased by Walter Wasiliew and his wife Elizabeth, who already own an Etap 20, had just been commissioned, with her name, Elizabeth, shiny on the stern quarter. Accompanied by Dane Somers, Etap’s U.S. importer and owner of Sail-La-Vie, his Etap dealership, we were to take the boat from its home waters of Barnegat Bay and the cozy environs of Dillon’s Creek Marina on Tom’s River (N.J.) to Newport, R. I., for the boat show, a cruise of some 250 miles.
Our first look at the boat showed a trim, well laid out deck, a 9/10 fractional rig with lazy jacks combined with a sail cover similar to the Doyle StackPack. The Elvström Sobstad main incorporated single-line reefing on a Seldén boom and deck-stepped double-spreader mast. The main was partially battened and two of the three reefs were rigged with lines. The third reef, which appeared to be just shy of the mast trucks, would serve nicely as a storm sail. We would like to have some method of “reefing” the rather voluminous sail cover; it is fairly big and disrupts airflow over the lower two feet of the main by flapping and bunching up.
A reverse transom incorporating swim steps and drop-down boarding ladder terminates the absolutely straight sheer line extending aft from the conventional bow. The nonskid on the decks was an attractive gray, not dark enough to get hot in the tropics, and, as it turned out, very effective while being easy on the knees when working on deck.
It was an easy step into the cockpit, over the Lewmar 44ST mounted on the coaming, where we then took a seat to get the feel of the arrangement. The cockpit seats are seven feet, nine inches long and, while wide enough for napping, would be a bit narrow to spend the night while at anchor in some tropical lagoon. The cockpit is kept clear when not underway by use of the removable traveler, a good solution to the problem of employing end-boom sheeting, a superior arrangement for most boats in comparison to mid-boom sheeting. The six-part main sheet’s power is further boosted, for fine adjustment, by the use of a three-part compound block system by Antal. Later on our cruise when we were hard on 25 knots of wind we appreciated this as it made fine-tuning the main a one-hand operation.
It’s all too easy to get distracted, when discussing a boat like the Etap 37s, by its unsinkable design, but its sailing and handling are features that the owner is going to use daily, and with any luck at all, the owner will never test that aspect of the boat that gets the most attention. We didn’t intend to be so distracted, and that was why we conducted our boat test over the course of 250 miles at sea.
The boat’s home waters are going to remain Barnegat Bay, with regular cruises offshore to destinations such as Bermuda, the Caribbean and the northeast U.S. While Barnegat Bay is an excellent sailing area, even the most chauvinistic Chamber of Commerce member wouldn’t say that it is blessed with deep water. The chart is sprinkled with single-digit numbers, and, for this reason, Walter chose the shoal-draft version. Requiring just four feet, five inches of water, the tandem keel, from the looks of it based on the tandem keel designed by Warwick Collins, was refined by the Etap design team of Mortain & Mavrikios to deliver the same performance as the deepwater keel, drawing another two feet of water at six feet, five inches. We weren’t able to test both varieties, so we will have to accept the word of the Etap factory that the performance of the tandem keel is comparable to that of the offshore keel.
This is by no means the first time such keels have been used. The entire Etap line offers this keel, and the one on the 37s is a tweaked version of Collins’ basic keel. The design modifications were done in the course of a collaboration between Yiannis Mavrikios (his partner, Alain Mortain, does the interiors) and the University of Berlin physics department, which did tank testing on a series of 1/5-scale models.
The semi-balanced rudder is set well aft, with the post at the farthest aft full section of the hull. The emergency tiller is sensibly stowed under the lifting helmsman’s seat and is a sturdy, graceful, chromed stainless pipe with the usual square socket on one end. To our surprise, and as a tribute to the designers, we found we could steer the boat very easily, and without removing the wheel, in winds that occasionally gusted to 20 knots.
Further credit is due to Mavrikios, who holds degrees in naval architecture from the University of Michi-gan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for making a refined hull shape that has forward sections sufficiently rounded that we rarely fell off a wave with the sort of jarring impact increasingly common on boats with broad, flat underwater sections.
The seats and coamings are covered with teak, set into the fiberglass and sealed in the usual manner. This is the only teak to be found topside so Etap owners can donate their varnish brushes to a suitable maritime charity. The coamings are slanted nicely to allow you to sit comfortably to windward when heeled.
We crossed Barnegat Bay under a steady 10-knot breeze and, after threading our way through the inlet at Barnegat Light, found the wind and our destination, Block Island, to have identical bearings. The wind was forecast to back to the northwest within 18 hours so we motorsailed with the main by the lee on a starboard tack, waiting for the wind to free enough for us to sail.
The Volvo 2030 engine, rated at 28 horsepower, was remarkably quiet running at 2,000 r.p.m. (and making 5.2 knots), and even when revved up to the maximum operating speed of 3,300, conversation in the saloon was possible without having to raise one’s voice. Much of that is attributable to the hull, which, filled with foam, does not act as a sounding board. Some of the credit is also due to the efficient soundproofing. You get to the engine in the usual manner, with the companionway steps being removable rather than hinging. The entire engine compartment is lined with soundproofing that is covered with a stainless steel mesh, easy to clean and apparently very efficient. A ventilation fan, exiting under the helmsman’s seat, runs whenever the engine does, reducing the amount of engine heat that soaks into the saloon. All the usual engine chores are readily accessible, again to the designers’ credit.
The engine has a factory-specified redline of 3,600 r.p.m., but we couldn’t get it to rev past an indicated 3,300. As there was no black smoke in the exhaust, which would indicate it was running rich and therefore possibly overpropped, we suspect something mechanical needs to be adjusted, perhaps the throttle travel between the single lever engine control and the motor’s throttle lever. Later, at full throttle in light airs, we recorded a through-the-water speed of 7.9 knots, which is the hull speed, further convincing us that the two-blade prop was most likely pitched correctly. A tribute to the power of the two-blade, 16-by-13-inch prop and the undisturbed water that a saildrive works in was that the boat could come to a crash stop from full ahead in slightly more than a boat length, verified by performing the test when going by a fixed mooring. Full turns were tight, roughly two boat lengths’ diameter, and were slightly tighter turning to starboard, but not appreciably so.
The bridgedeck consists of two six-inch-high steps, so close together they can be considered to be one. The companionway opening, with a Lewmar 40ST winch and four stoppers on each side, is just over 24 inches wide at the bottom, and the vertical portion of it is 27 inches high. The edges are sealed against the washboards with a large, soft rubber gasket, and, although we didn’t have the opportunity to test the seal of the washboards with a boarding sea, it gave the appearance of being a very workmanlike solution.
“Workmanlike” is a good term to use when describing the general tenor of the boat. If it were a car, it would be a Volvo: not particularly sexy, not noted for its speed, but solid, straightforward, well made and, above all, safe. We were impressed at nearly every turn with the Etap’s sensible, solid construction. And that sensibleness goes beyond the unsinkable aspect. It can be noticed in the aluminum toerails that run the length of the boat, and the sturdy cleats, fore, aft and amidships, that are the size of the toerails. Bigger than the cleats you would find on nearly any other production boat smaller than 50 feet, we were able to cleat 5/8-inch anchor rode on the forward cleat and secure it with a turn. The boat lacked a chain stopper, however, and some method of securing the anchor chain other than the forward cleat would be the first upgrade we would make on a new Etap 37s.
As you step below, the first view is of the large windows spanning the breadth of the boat, fully two feet wide and almost five feet long. Standing in the saloon you can look nearly full circle to take in the surroundings. What appears to be three large windows is actually one window, with two frames placed inside that stand free of the window material.
There is a double sink in the center of the saloon, an arrangement we have seen previously in a Feeling 34, also designed by Mortain & Mavri-kios. Just as your feet touch the sole you need something to grab, and there, perfectly placed above the sink, bolted to the deckhead, is a U-shaped rail that lets you brachiate over to the next handhold. The handholds also work nicely when you are at the sink, giving you something to hang onto while the other hand is busy in the sink. More sensibleness.
We liked the central double sinks, each 11 3/4 inches in diameter and seven inches deep, but had some reservations about the circular shape. Dishes near the size of the sink’s diameter become very difficult to deal with and can even get temporarily stuck. When not in use the sinks are covered with circular lids. You remove them by sticking your finger into a small centrally located hole, and (here’s the clever part) you store them under the stove, placed on a small knob that exactly fits the hole.Headroom from the companion way to the saloon table is six feet, six inches, dropping to five feet, eight inches thereafter.
To starboard is the nav station, where you face forward and can brace yourself against falling out by placing a leg against the central sink module. It is exactly the right distance, and we felt secure while doing nav chores, regardless of the conditions. The table is 24 by 30 inches, with the short dimension as the width. The table is fiddled on the inboard side, saving pencils and dividers from sailing off onto the teak and holly sole.
To the right of the navigator is a panel for instruments, the electrical panel, VHF and the usual gear. A separate section of the panel is tilted out, facing the navigator, and is sized to allow placement of a seven-inch screen for a chartplotter. Under the nav seat is the battery compartment. The boat comes stocked with a pair of AGM batteries, a 108-amp/hour house and a 70-amp/hour starting battery. There is room for one more house battery, and two additional batteries could be accommodated by moving the distribution bus bar.
To port is the galley with a 20-inch-wide, two-burner Eno stove and an icebox to the right of the stovetop. The galley is arranged in a linear manner, but the sink island affords a place for the cook to brace against in a seaway. This arrangement only works marginally well to use the stovetop since it is a long reach as you are braced diagonally. A cook’s strap would solve the problem and be easy to install, but no clips come with the boat as sold.
The top-opening refrigerator has two lids that hinge to each other in the middle, and the full opening is 20.5 by 20 inches, with the box itself 19 inches deep. The lids are nearly two inches thick, leaving enough vertical space to easily fit tall bottles.
Galley counter surface is 28 inches deep and an inch short of six feet long, with the same brushed chrome fiddle rail that is on the deckhead and the sink island.
Settees are straight, nicely padded and six feet, six inches long and 24 inches wide. A very serviceable leeboard can be made using the washboard, which fits exactly between the inside edge of the settee and the table. The fixed table has drop leaves on both sides, with built-in stowage for five bottles of wine (or lemonade, if it’s that sort of cruise), and there is additional stowage under the settees. A row of lockers runs along under the deck, but there is no stowage on the hull behind the settees because that is where much of the foam is located.
Indeed, it is only when below that you notice, and then only if you look carefully, the price paid for the Etap’s instinct for survival afloat. The boat is small inside for a 37-footer, resembling something along the lines of a 34- or 35-footer. For that reduction in size you get peace of mind, but on a daily basis there are other benefits. The boat is eerily quiet, even when underway. You can hear the water outside, but it’s muted. Outside sounds barely intrude, a genuine blessing when off watch, sound asleep and the crew decides to tack. The other benefit is the lack of condensation. For a liveaboard accustomed to the constant battle against rivers of condensation that run down the sides of the hull, the Etap can provide a whole new world.
The V-berth, with a small hanging locker on both sides, is six feet, 10 inches on the long side and six feet, six inches up the middle. The wide end is five feet, nine inches while the short end is best described as a cozy fit for the person with the longer legs. A hatch, measuring 16.5 inches square, is placed so you can look at the stars, and it’s big enough to use as an exit.
Back topsides I found Elizabeth would comfortably and speedily tack through 90 degrees. The inner forestay meant the headsail would not reliably blow through on a tack when the 140 percent headsail was fully out, but the installed stay rollers kept the sail from tangling with the standing rigging.
Standard nav lights on the boat include a masthead tricolor with an anchor light as well as a bicolor with a steaming light on the mast. We are delighted that boats are beginning to come equipped with a masthead tricolor, definitely the most visible arrangement for a sailboat, and the extra lights lower down are good for harbor work, where other boats won’t tend to look up for your lights.
As we left Block Island we had the best wind of the trip, to the enjoyment of everyone. It was constantly in the low 20-knot range, and we decided, strictly in the interests of a boat test, to run up the full main and jib, at least long enough to see how she handled being overcan-vassed. With the lee rails occasionally awash, we made nearly seven knots through the water with an
apparent wind angle of 90 degrees and apparent wind of 22 knots. With the first reef in and the headsail rolled up to 100 percent, the motion and angle of heel were far more civilized, and we made 7.1 knots with an apparent wind of 22.5 knots and 90 degrees.
Hardening up a bit, with the wind at 60 degrees and remaining at 22.5 knots, we made six knots, and closehauled at 30 degrees apparent turned 5.8 knots through the water.
After a few attempts to figure out the right combination she would heave-to with the headsail at slightly less than 100 percent and the main with a single reef in a breeze that had slacked to the high teens. When hove-to she had impeccable manners, “like pulling over to the side of the road,” exclaimed Walter.
The steering pressure at all points of sail was negligible, and when set right she would hold a course without a hand on the wheel. The rack-and-pinion steering was precise, effortless and completely lacking in slack. With just 1 and 3/4 turns lock-to-lock, it was precise, and when backing under full power in reverse there was no “grabbing” of the rudder.
The sailing performance is in line with the non-dimensional numbers. The SA/D, calculated with a 100 percent foretriangle, is 14.24, placing her at the lower-powered end of oceangoing sailboats, but the D/L of 188 saves the Etap from feeling underpowered. The ballast ratio of 33.5 percent reveals a boat whose motion won’t be quick or harsh. We were able to get Elizabeth past her calculated hull speed of 7.64 knots under either sail or power, hitting eight knots often but never seeing 8.5. The Etap 37s has a CE seaworthiness rating of “A,” or offshore, their top category. With the shoal, tandem keel the STIX rating is 43.08 and the LPS is 121 degrees. Both numbers improve with the deep keel, as expected, but not by a significant amount. For the six-foot, five-inch fin keel the STIX number is 41.38 and the LPS 123 degrees.
The bottom line? The Etap 37s is a safe, comfortable, easily handled boat, designed and built with care and distinguished for its well-thought-out engineering. The double-hull building method produces a boat that is stiff, quiet, dry and, yes, unsinkable. The price for this is reduced volume below, but that is nicely compensated for by the benefits of the design. Good value, good cruiser, perhaps less stowage space than on some 37-footers, but one of the most comfortable medium-sized offshore boats we have ever sailed on.
LOA 36’11” (11.26 m.)
LWL 32’6” (9.9 m.)
Draft 6’5” or 4’5” (1.95 or 1.35 m.)
Beam 12’ 8” (3.85 m.)
Air Draft 56’7” (17.25 m.)
Displacement 13,970 lbs. or 6,350 kg. (deep); 14,410 lbs. or 6,550 kg. (shoal)
Ballast 4,400 lbs. or 2,000 kg. (deep); 4,840 lbs. or 2,200 kg. (shoal)
Sail Area (100%) 525 sq. ft. (47.25 sq. m.)
Auxiliary 28-hp. Volvo 2030
Fuel 30 gals. (116 l.)
Water 65 gals. (250 l.)
SA/D (100%) 14.24
Ballast ratio 31% (deep), 33% (shoal)
LPS 123° (deep); 121°(shoal)
STIX 41.38 (deep); 43.08 (shoal)
Sailaway price $170,000
9 Timber Ridge
Freeport, ME 04032
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