by Quentin Warren
Blue Water Sailing
Fast, fun and, yes, unsinkable
We approached the Belgian-built Etap 39s with no small amount of interest and curiosity. Indeed, here was a sweet-looking 40-footer with great lines, impressive numbers, comfortable cruising accommodations and the kicker, a claim of unsinkability. How simple! Take away the sailor’s worst fear and you’re left with all the good things that describe voyaging over the horizon. “The 39s is unsinkable and as such it offers incredible peace of mind and a whole new way of approaching safety and survival.”
To be sure, the entire Etap line, from the company’s 21-footer to the 39s, enjoys the trait, and it is certified by the French Merchant Marine for good measure. That certification is three-tiered: “First, the vessel must, when fully flooded, maintain freeboard equivalent to at least three percent of its LOA. Next, it must, in this state, be maneuverable enough under sail or tow to make its way, albeit slowly, to shore. Lastly, again when flooded, it must be able to right itself from a 90-degree knockdown with the entire crew on the leeward rail.”
How do they do it? Etap prototypes relied on substantial chunks of buoyant foam, which usurped huge amounts of volume belowdecks and dealt the resulting blow to tankage and storage in general. Given time and technology, however, the process has been refined, and in the modern versions of these boats, millions of microscopic cells of super-buoyant polyurethane foam—seven cubic meters of it—are vacuum-packed between the double fiberglass skins of the hull and deck, under the V-berth, in an aft compartment, behind the starboard settees, and where coaming boxes are usually found. As dividends, the double skins promote structural stiffness and offer exceptional insulating qualities.
Nondimensional pointers include a relatively low D/L of 178 and powerful SA/D of 18.6, well into the realm of modern performance cruisers. The rig is in keeping with this appraisal: A deck-stepped, 7/8 Seldén section features double spreaders swept 18 degrees, discontinuous shrouds and a manually adjusted permanent backstay. End-of-boom sheeting to a traveler just forward of the helm describes the mainsail scenario.
In a 400-mile sea test of the 39s Sail-la-Vie on delivery from Annapolis, Md., to Newport, R.I., BWS encountered conditions that ranged from banal to furious. Our observations of the boat’s behavior offshore were generally positive: “In eight knots of breeze off Cape May, N.J., Sail-la-Vie’s light rig and ample canvas scooted us along at 6.5 knots. In higher winds on the order of 20 to 25 knots off the south shore of Long Island, the boat drove ahead behind a single-reefed main and jib furled about a quarter of the way at a commanding eight knots. In these exceptional conditions we experienced a little rounding up, and had to fight the helm a little to rein her back off the wind. When the pressure leveled off at 10 to 15 knots, as it did for the last eight hours of our trip, we chugged ahead at a steady 7.5 knots.”
With an attractive interior emphasizing comfort and upscale finish, available in any number of configurations, we came away suitably impressed with the Etap 39s. “She scores high in the usual categories—performance, livability, style—and stands mastheads and shoulders above any other production boat in the realm of safety.”
LOA 39’7” (11.88 m.)
Hull length 38’1” (11.60 m.)
LWL 33’6” (10.21 m.)
Beam 12’8” (3.86 m.)
Draft (std.) 6’5” (1.95 m.)
Draft (opt. shoal) 4’11” (1.50 m.)
Ballast (std.) 4,520 lbs. (2,050 kgs.)
Ballast (opt. shoal) 4,960 lbs. (2,250 kgs.)
Displ. (std.) 15,000 lbs. (6,804 kgs.)
Displ. (opt shoal) 15,432 lbs. (7,000 kgs.)
SA (100%) 708 sq.ft. (65.8 sq.m.)
SA/Displ. (std.) 18.6
Fuel 37 gal. (140 ltr.)
Water 92 gal. (348 ltr.)
Auxiliary Volvo Penta 40-hp
Designer J&J Design, Etap Yachting N.V.
ETAP Yachting N.V.
2390 Malle, Belgium
In the U.S.:
Sail La Vie, LLC
9 Timber Ridge
Freeport, ME 04032
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