Northwind 43 • European style and modern cruising performance combine elegantly in this Spanish-built passagemaker
Over the years, we have sail tested hundreds of boats, but we never really know in advance what moment of a sail test will crystallize our thoughts about the vessel we plan to inspect. Sometimes it is the moment we step aboard, sometimes the moment when the sails first fill
and the boat reacts or fails to react to the breeze, sometimes the moment we flop into the dinette after a brisk sail to share a beverage with our hosts. But it always comes.
In general we prefer to sail a boat some distance offshore to see how it behaves in a wide range of conditions and how it works for living aboard. But extended boat tests are not always possible. For our trial of the North Wind 43 (new in 2000), we had to forego a long-distance sail in favor of a five-hour excursion in Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway and out in the Gulf Stream waters off Palm Beach.
Like several other European imports now on the market in the U.S., the North Wind 43, designed by Sparkman & Stephens (New York), sports a center- cockpit, raised-deck/saloon cabin design on top of a moderate but modern fin-keel, spade-rudder cruising hull. The combination – seen in Oysters, Hylases, Moodys, Wauquiez’s, and several other designs – works aesthetically with varying degrees of success. As a rule, the larger the boat, the easier on the eye the layered topsides and expansive windows. Conversely, the smaller the boat, the more the design style conveys the look of a wedding cake.
Happily, at 43 feet the North Wind is long enough and carries enough fullness in the hull (for headroom below) to enable her builders to give the boat a stylish, low-profile appearance. On first sight, the 43 looks ele-gant and comfortable, sleek and power-ful – every inch a thoroughly modern blue-water cruising boat for the new
The 43 is the smallest in the North Wind line of semi-custom and custom cruising boats. But, being the little sister, she still had to live up to the company’s basic premise that its boats be safe, comfortable, and easy to handle offshore. The onus that fell on the shoulders of the S&S designers was to fit all the required interior comfort into a 43-foot package that would sail well and stand up to a breeze.
The resulting design shows a modern canoe hull form with enough rocker fore and aft to give the hull an easy motion in a seaway and enough volume for the required 6’4’’ headroom throughout. Displacing over 25,000 pounds, the 43 has the bulk to ride easily through waves and to move with grace in confused and crossing seas. The bulb-fin keel carries 8,444 pounds of ballast (in the standard configuration), which translates into a middle-of-the-road ballast-to-displacement ratio of 34 percent. In fact, because the ballast is carried deep, the boat feels stiffer under foot and under a press of sail than the 34-percent ratio might otherwise indicate. Both the rudder and keel are modern shapes that provide the lift and the surface area needed for a solid grip on the water.
On deck, the cockpit layout and sail-plan were created for simplicity, ease of handling and efficiency. The 43 is very much intended to be a couple’s boat able to be handled by a lone watchkeeper in a wide range of conditions. With a roller-furling headsail and an in-mast or in-boom furling main, the boat can be trimmed, reefed and controlled from the cockpit – which is a huge benefit on dark and stormy nights at sea.
The layout has been drawn to provide the 43’s owners with a comfortable private cabin aft and a pleasant guest cabin forward. Both cabins have ensuite heads. Instead of turning the boat’s ample interior volume into multiple sleeping areas and toilets, the 43 concentrates on making two couples extremely comfortable, with the after cabin being one of the roomiest and most livable we have seen on a boat of this size. The head aft has a full shower.
The concept of the 43 – cruising safety and comfort combined with excellent sailing performance – can be a high bar for designers to hurdle. S&S has done a fine job in this instance not only by clearing the bar but also by doing so with grace and imagination.
Built in Barcelona, Spain, North Wind cruising boats are constructed to the European Union’s Category A (Ocean) CE regulations. Like the ABYC standards established for North American builders, the CE regulations set standards and practices for boat-builders to follow, then award category certifications according to how well a builder meets the regulations in certain categories. The Category A (Ocean) rating is the highest a boat can receive.
Although relatively new to the North American market, North Wind has been building cruising boats in Spain since 1973 when the company was formed in a joint venture with Spain’s largest shipbuilder and boatbuilder Astilleros Viudes (founded in 1940). To date, North Wind has built more than 500 commercial and pleasure craft that range from 40 to 121 feet.
The 43’s hull is a hand-laid composite laminate of vinylester and polyester resins, glass-fiber matt and roving around a PVC foam core; a layer of Kevlar cloth is added to the exterior to mitigate collision damage. The laminate is vacuum bagged and cured under constant temperature. To prevent osmotic blistering, the exterior gelcoat is an isophthalic resin and the underwater area of the hull is coated with an epoxy barrier coat.
North Wind uses building techniques that are state of the art for semi-custom builders and provides owners with boats that are both extremely sturdy and of moderate weight. The hull deck joint, for example, is secured both with stainless steel bolts and a full fiberglass laminate, yet the deck piece has been built as light as possible with high-tech coring and vacuum bag techniques.
The keel-hull attachment, like the hull-deck joint, is both mechanical and composite, as the keel is first fastened to the hull with stainless steel bolts and then the whole structure is laminated to the hull. The rudder, a foam-core composite, is built around a stainless steel web frame and a solid, conical stainless steel rudder shaft. North Wind’s philosophy is to build the boats tough but to concentrate the weight where it will do the most good.
We sailed the 43 on a pleasant December day along Florida’s east coast. In every way it was a day designed for sailing – plenty of sun, a good easterly breeze of 12 to 15 knots, a responsive boat and the company of good sailors. Naturally, the day started with yours truly driving the 43 hard aground on a sand bank just off the channel. We rolled out the genoa, throttled ahead full and proceeded to drive the boat’s bulb keel farther onto the bank. Plan B worked better. We threw the 56-horsepower Yanmar into reverse, wiggled the rudder from side to side as the Max-Prop bit the water and, hey presto, the 43’s keel broke free, the boat slid back off the sand bank and we were under way again.
We deployed the main as we cleared the cut leading seaward and as soon as we passed the first sea buoy rolled out the genoa and cut the engine. As the sails filled, the first reaction of everyone aboard was a subtle “wow” because the 43 accelerated much more quickly than we had anticipated. In 15 knots and sailing at 45 degrees true, the boat heeled to about 15 degrees (quite stiff) and shot forward to seven-plus knots. We had hit the boat’s best upwind groove in our first attempt.
Trimming a little tighter and working on the mainsail’s shape, we were able to get the boat to sail closer to the wind – about 42 degrees true – but her speed dropped off to six knots. Easing the sails slightly and increasing the twist in the main as we fell off to 50 degrees gave her a real boost and we were back over seven again and soon creaming along at a happy eight knots, a speed the boat carried from about 60 degrees to about 140 degrees off the wind.
Without downwind sails, we were not able to test the 43 on a real reach or a dead run. But judging from the hull’s slipperiness at closer angles and the design’s powerful stern sections, the 43 promises to be a trade-wind screamer that, given a spinnaker or two and enough crew motivation, should be able to knock off 200-mile days in the company of many 50-footers.
We had a lovely sail out to the Gulf Stream and back and never bothered to crank up the engine as we sailed in the cut to the ICW. The breeze died off as we sailed farther inland, yet the 43 kept up a good pace. Trimming sails in the puffs and seeking out patches of wind pressure, we were able to keep her moving nicely in a breeze that fell to under six knots. For those of us who love to sail, a boat’s ability to keep moving in light air is a performance characteristic most endearing.
As noted at the top of this report, we never know when our overall view of a new boat will crystallize during a sail test. As we ghosted north along the ICW, that moment arrived. The 43, we realized, not only stood up well to a breeze and offered elegant living accommodations below (with the concomitant weight), but also had that rare quality among blue-water boats of sailing well in the full range of breezes. That’s real pedigree.
Under power the 43 did what it had to do without fuss or bother. Getting off a sand bank had been no problem, once we figured out the drill, and maneuvering in and out of the marina slip in tight conditions and with a cross breeze happened without sweat, incident or a raised voice. The boat steers in reverse like a sports car.
The Spanish family (two generations) that owns and runs North Wind yachts is full of dyed-in-the-wool cruising sailors who build boats for like-minded people. With their friends and their customers, the builders often sail overnight from Barcelona to the Balearic Islands for a weekend of cruising and friendly racing. Two years ago they sailed one of their new boats across the Atlantic just for fun.
Having a vocation that is also an avocation is one of the happiest life situations a person can find. The builders of North Wind yachts have managed just that and the results show in every boat and every detail of their boats. This attention to detail is reflected in the very complete list of standard equipment that comes with every North Wind yacht.
The 43 we sailed was meant to be sailed in all conditions, meant to be taken across oceans, meant to be lived aboard by a competent sailing couple and their friends, and meant to be maintained by her owners in the easiest and simplest way possible.
LOA 42’7” (13.1 m.)
LWL 36’9” (11.3 m.)
Beam 14’0” (4.3 m.)
Draft 6’4” (2.0 m.)
Displ. 25,000 lbs. (11,390 kg.)
Ballast 8,500 lbs. (3,840 kg.)
Sail area 1,070 sq. ft. (100 sq. m.)
Fuel 90 gal. (360 l.)
Water 145 gal. (650 l.)
North Wind Yachts (USA)
100 Second Ave. S., Ste. 200S
St. Petersburg, FL 33701