Hallberg-Rassy 46

by John Neal

Blue Water Sailing
March 2001


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Christoph Rassy started building production sail boats on Sweden’s West Coast in 1966, beginning with the Rasmus 35, a center-cockpit, aft-cabin cruising boat designed by Olle Enderlein. Dozens of these boats are still out cruising all over the world, and consistently the designs that followed have been comfortable, attractive and reasonably fast – very reliable cruising boats without any concession to racing design or passing trends. Copious tankage, large engines and fixed windshields with optional hardtops are common features, and dependably high construction quality has resulted in a steady increase in the value of these boats over the years.

In 1988 Germán Frers was hired to design a new series of yachts. The Frers designs brought improved performance with longer waterlines and other features such as external lead ballast, semi-balanced rudders and sloop rigs. Having sailed 114,000 miles on the Rassy/Enderlein-designed HR 31 and 42, I was eager to test the sailing performance of the new Frers-designed 39, 42, 46 and 53. The difference in both light- and heavy-air performance was surprising. The larger water plane area aft allows these boats to sail upwind in a lot of breeze and big seas with very little pitching motion.

Before selecting a Hallberg-Rassy 46 to replace our older-style Rassy/Enderlein-designed HR 42 – a boat aboard which we sailed more than 70,000 miles in seven years of running a sail training program – Amanda and I traveled around the world, inspecting boatyards and speaking with designers. On a visit to the Hallberg-Rassy yard in Ellös, Sweden, we met owner and namesake Christoph Rassy. An avid sailor himself, he commissions a personal boat every few years to cross the Atlantic, trading off with his employees for time aboard. Many of his 260-strong work force have been with the yard for over 30 years; furthermore, boatbuilding is a family tradition on the island of Orust and has been practiced there for over 10,000 years, according to archaeologists. The yard closes for four weeks every summer to allow employees to go cruising on their own boats.

We gave very little consideration to pursuing a custom design, having watched dozens of our ex-students suffer through the time lapses, cost overruns and seemingly endless teething problems of custom boatbuilding. Purchasing a used boat and going through a major refit – something I had done three times previously – was also an undesirable option. After careful evaluation, we took the major step (for us) of ordering a new production-built HR 46, spec’d exactly the way we wanted it.

I was especially pleased to be purchasing hull #92 of this particular design, and to know reassuringly that the yard had completed 8,000 boats to date. Between the time we ordered the 46 and when it was built, Hallberg-Rassy incorporated several standard upgrades for which they did not charge us a single krona extra.

Much of this boat’s construction only can be described as first-rate. And a number of its features are, to be sure, quite unique to Hallberg-Rassy. Noteworthy is the fundamental sturdiness of the structure overall. The hull and deck are fabricated up the road from the finish yard, at Hallberg-Rassy Marinplast AB, utilizing isophthalic resin and Divinycell closed-cell PVC foam core above the waterline. It is an excellent construction technique for a cruising boat, providing good torsional stability and greatly reduced chance of water absorption. A substantial structural grid of hand-laid fiberglass girders is glassed into the hull; this ties together the bulkheads, mast compression step and engine bed, and compartmentalizes the large storage area below the cabin sole. Indeed this area is substantial and on the 46 it runs to nearly three feet deep at the main bulkhead. We have five large Rubbermaid bins fitted and screwed to the gridwork and filled with spares and food. A boat with a flatter underbody no doubt would surf better downwind, but at the same time it would have reduced storage space and prove less comfortable going to windward in heavy weather.

It is notable that the yard takes the time to grind the inside of the hull and bilge smooth before painting it with a gray topcoat. This means no sliced or scraped fingers from errant fiberglass strands when installing equipment or cleaning hard-to-reach nooks. The notion that the hull is assembled under strictly controlled temperature and humidity conditions probably accounts in very large part for the clean osmotic blister record enjoyed by Hallberg-Rassy yachts in general. I have spent a good portion of the past 22 years in tropical waters aboard my own succession of HR boats without any blister problems whatsoever.

The hull-to-deck joint does not rely on bolts, screws, rivets or adhesive for strength or watertightness. The joint is heavily glassed on the inside the entire way around the boat, and solid stainless steel rods for mounting stanchions are recessed into the bulwark, thus eliminating the potential for leaks so common when stanchion bases are thru-bolted. The deck itself, like the hull, utilizes a Divinycell core, avoiding the water absorption problem we’ve seen on many boats with balsa-cored decks.

A Seldén deck-stepped mast is supported by a solid mahogany compression post below that transmits loading to the interior grid system. I have come to prefer this deck-stepped mast design because it eliminates leaks at the partners, corrosion at the mast base and deck collar, and the inevitable water in the bilge from rain entering around masthead sheaves. After a total of 156,000 miles on my HR 31, 42 & 46 – all rigged similarly – I have never experienced any deflection or problem with the deck-stepped masts.

Generous stainless tanks capable of carrying 275 gallons of fuel (including the additional 100-gallon tank option) and 243 gallons of water are mounted above the keel and below the cabin sole, leaving roomy storage space beneath and inside the main cabin settees. The tanks are installed after the deck is constructed and are easily removed without having to destroy interior joinery work. The engine lives in a large, fully insulated compartment amidship and beneath the companionway, with excellent access from all sides and ample room for extraneous systems. All accessories and pumps are reached from this central location. The bilge and sump are sizeable; beneath them is the keel comprised of external lead ballast and secured by a series of non-corrosive stainless keel bolts.

A semi-balanced rudder is suspended on three sets of roller bearings and operated by way of a Whitlock torque-tube and bevel gear Mamba steering system. It provides virtual fingertip control, even in heavy seas. I was concerned initially about the lack of a full-length skeg, but after 42,000 miles, the power-steering effect of a semi-balanced foil is addictive, requiring far less rudder input and effort. The rudder post is solid stainless steel, tapered at the bottom, and the substantial welded flanges are also tapered stainless steel.

Although few changes are allowed to the standard layouts, especially in terms of bulkhead placement and whatnot, the yard does offer several optional layouts for each cabin. We cut and pasted layouts from the brochure until we arrived at the combination we thought would work best for eight people on ocean passages in all conditions. We opted for a four-cabin layout, with upper and lower bunks in the portside cabin directly forward of the main bulkhead, a traditional V-berth all the way forward, and standard settees in the main cabin instead of easy chairs to starboard. In the aft cabin we chose a double berth to starboard and single to port, in lieu of a centerline double. The nav station is in a portside niche at the base of the companionway, opposed to starboard by a secure U-shaped galley.

All interior lockers – and there are plenty of them – are lined with satin-varnished mahogany battens, which eliminates moisture and condensation problems, even when we are sailing in Antarctic or Arctic waters.

Topside, a simple, efficient sloop rig minimizes foredeck clutter. Using a reefable 130% furling headsail with a foam luff we are able to sail to windward in up to 40 knots. In conditions over 40 knots upwind, we simply rig the removable inner stay on which we set a bulletproof hank-on storm staysail. Running backstays provide additional mast stability. In winds over 50-55 knots, we drop the triple-reefed main and hoist a storm trysail. We have had to hoist the trysail only twice – both times in the Roaring Forties – during our 42,000 miles to date on Mahina Tiare.

We went for the optional rigid dodger with an opening center window, a feature available on Hallberg-Rassy models from 42 to 62 feet. Once you’ve made a rough ocean passage with a rigid dodger, you’ll never want to go back to a conventional canvas dodger that is easily carried away. Permanent sun protection is also a consideration in these days of ozone depletion and high risk of skin cancer.

The 46 boasts an excellent anchoring system, with a watertight bulkhead and deck anchor locker big enough to corral 250 feet of 3/8-inch chain and three fenders. Happily, it drains overboard, not into the bilge. Two bow rollers are standard, and the boat handles the weight of a 75-pound. CQR and 44-pound Delta permanently stored on the bow. The powerful 1,300-watt, 24-volt Lofrans vertical windlass has worked flawlessly for us, even in depths to 90 feet.

One feature that we’ve come to admire on our boat – and it’s something you’re apt to take for granted when you have it and pine for when you don’t – is a sensible deck cleat arrangement. Mahina Tiare enjoys oversize thru-bolted mooring cleats, including all-important midship spring-line cleats, mounted on top of the solid teak toe rail in a way that minimizes chafe.

Another great perk aboard the 46 is the convenient swim step built into the reverse transom. We find this type of transom unbeatable for active cruising. Not only does it make getting out of the water after snorkeling and swimming a million times easier, but also it facilitates practicing the Lifesling Overboard Retrieval system. Mooring stern-to at floating docks or boarding from a dinghy with this type of transom is a breeze!

We chose far fewer options than most 46 owners, including no generator, no air conditioning, no furling main, no electric winches, no hydraulic furling systems and no bow thruster. Here are a few of my thoughts on the options score:
• In retrospect, the bow thruster is a good idea on a boat of this size and displacement, and we will probably install one when we sail back to New Zealand in 2002.
• Instead of the optional generator, we installed a total of four 8-D gel batteries for the 24-volt system and three Group 27 (one starting, two house) gel batteries for the 12-volt systems.
• A 3,500-watt Trace inverter provides 110-volt power.
• We replaced the standard alternator with a Balmar 135-amp, 24-volt unit and retained the stock 50-amp, 12-volt alternator. We chose not to utilize solar panels, and have found that one hour per day of engine running in the tropics is sufficient for battery charging.
• Instead of air conditioning, we had the yard install ten Hella Turbo fans, one for each bunk, plus additional fans in the heads, galley and nav station.
• I had planned originally to go with an expensive holding-plate refrigeration-freezer system that would have cost me $10,000 installed. A friend who had just completed a three-year South Pacific cruise aboard his HR 42 with the factory-installed Frigoboat evaporator system convinced me to try it, saying that with over 3,000 units installed, the yard really knew what they were doing. As a bonus, the cost was a fraction of that of the holding plate system. We have been delighted with how well this very simple system has worked, holding the freezer at 10 degrees F. in 82-degree water with a maximum one hour of engine running per day.
• I had the factory install Autohelm ST-50 series instrumentation that has worked well. I chose to install the Max prop and insulated backstay upon commissioning in Seattle, thinking it would be less expensive. In retrospect, I now really believe that the factory only charges their cost for options and I would recommend that anyone purchasing a Hallberg-Rassy have the factory install as much of the optional gear as possible.

After a mere 28 days of work from the time our Hallberg-Rassy 46 was taken off the freighter in Seattle, Amanda, a friend and I had commissioned the boat and were ready for our 10,000-mile shakedown series of sail-training voyages to New Zealand. We installed the mast, hardtop, SSB, VHF, weatherfax, INMARSAT-C, radar, watermaker, additional batteries, inverter and high-output alternator. This was the first big payoff of our purchasing strategy, namely the huge difference in time spent outfitting a new boat specifically designed and built for ocean voyaging over purchasing a used boat and bringing it up to snuff. The second major payoff has been how little time we’ve had to spend making repairs during the past 42,000 miles and four years of hard sailing.

In six months this summer we sailed 11,000 miles in eight legs from Victoria, Canada, through the Panama Canal, to the Caribbean, across to the Azores, then Ireland, up the west coast of Ireland and Scotland, and across the North Sea to Norway. We ended our cruise on Sweden’s west coast at the Hallberg-Rassy yard. Many people asked if the boat was ready for a major refit after so many miles, but our list was short: replace a couple of hatch seals, re-bed the windlass and service the forced-air furnace. We had hoped to have a bow thruster installed, but with a two-year backlog of orders on most models, this wasn’t possible.

The sailing performance has been very good. We are able to sail comfortably 160 to 180 miles per day, even in very modest winds. Our best 24-hour run to date is 200 miles, accomplished close-reaching in 35-45 knot winds from Rangiroa in the Tuamotus to Papeete, Tahiti. More impressively, we have found that this design can sail to windward into 30- to 40-knot tradewinds at over seven knots without pounding. We have twice experienced winds over 65 knots and seas over 30 feet at the edge of the Roaring Forties between Auckland and the Austral Islands, and have found that the HR 46 will heave-to handily in these conditions, although we prefer to run off or close-reach.

In retrospect, I know we made the right decision. The HR 46 has met our requirements and has proven a comfortable home. It has been a delight to spend our time teaching, hiking, snorkeling, and meeting people ashore – instead of making repairs. Having a boat that is fun and fast to sail has meant that we can enjoy going for daysails, tacking through narrow passes and negotiating confined anchorages without the need for motoring. And most important, the behavior of the boat offshore and its hardiness in oceangoing conditions are worthy of any skipper’s pride.

LOA 48’6” (14.8 m.)
LWL 39’1” (11.9 m.)
Beam 14’3” (4.35 m.)
Draft (std) 6’2” (1.88 m.)
Ballast 14,550 lbs. (6,600 kgs.)
Disp 35,274 lbs. (16,000 kgs.)
SA (100%) 1,076 sq.ft. (100 sq.m.)
Mast above water 63’9”
Ballast/Disp .41
Disp/Length 264
SA/Disp 16.0
Beam/LWL .36
Comfort Ratio 37.5
Fuel 175 gal. (662 ltr.)
Water 243 gal. (920 ltr.)
Auxiliary Volvo Penta
TAMD22P 4-cyl 102-hp
Designer Germán Frers

Hallberg-Rassy Varvs AB
Hällavägen 6, SE-474 31 Ellös
Ph: +46 (0)304 54 800
Fx: +46 (0)304 51 331

Eastland Yachts Inc
33 Pratt Street
Essex, CT 06426
Ph: 860-767-8224
Fx: 860-767-9094

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