A true dual-purpose sloop, the Salona 44 offers all the comforts of home in a design that is a proven winner on the racecourse by George Day
The sky over Miami was heavy with gray clouds and the wind was blustery from the southwest as we left the dock at Miamarina. We maneuvered the Salona 44 easily around the docks and soon we were motoring down the channel toward Biscayne Bay.
Designed by J&J and built in Croatia, the Salona brand has been in production since 2002. With dealers around the world, the company has become one of the world’s largest builders of racer-cruisers. From the start, Salona’s goal has been to build boats that are true dual-purpose yachts that have pleasant and comfortable accommodations for cruising but the design pedigree and build quality to compete at high levels with other racer-cruisers.
As we were going to press with this review in late April, we heard that two Salona 44s competing in Les Voiles de St. Barth, one of the Caribbean’s larger regattas, had finished first and third in the competitive Spinnaker 2, racer-cruiser class. The boat that finished first, Pretty Vegas, was skippered by Alex Sastre, who is the importer and prime dealer for Salona in North America and the man who was taking us out for a test sail on Biscayne Bay that morning.
We cleared the bridge that leads out to Key Biscayne by a few feet and then headed into the wind to hoist the fully battened mainsail. The rig stands 63 feet tall so the boat will fit under most ICW bridges. The big mainsail sheets to a traveler that is recessed in the cockpit floor just forward of the twin helms. The double-ended sheets lead along the boom forward and then to conduits in both side decks that lead aft to the sheet winches on both sides of the cockpit. This arrangement allows the mainsheet trimmer to tweak sail trim from the high side on both tacks. The traveler control lines also can be trimmed from both sides.
We rolled out the 135 percent genoa and trimmed for close-hauled sailing. We probably should have tied a reef in the main but decided against it. Instead, we got the genoa drawing nicely and then adjusted the traveler to leeward to keep the boat sailing fairly flat and fast. We threw her through a series of tacks and found in the steady 18 to 20 knots of breeze that she could reliably sail at 40 degrees to the true wind and maintain 80 degrees from tack to tack. In these conditions, the 44 sailed close-hauled at eight knots.
As we approached the shallows off Coconut Grove, we eased sheets to a broad reach down the bay for a few miles. The 44 was easy to handle and even in a good breeze never felt overpowered. With sheets, halyards and control lines all readily accessible from the cockpit, two people can handle her without a fuss.
The boat we sailed that morning had the optional teak decks, which are great underfoot in wet conditions and give the boat a classic yacht styling. Her cabin top is low so you have good visibility from the helms. The cockpit benches are long enough to stretch out on and have nicely sculpted back rests that catch your lumbar in just the right place. The life raft locker is under the cockpit sole aft so should an emergency arise, it is readily accessible for quick deployment.
We spent all morning sailing the 44 back and forth on Biscayne Bay and came away impressed with the boat’s fine sailing characteristics, well thought out deck plan and quality of construction. This is a light, fast boat that you can race and cruise with a high degree of confidence.
Production cruising boats have evolved steadily and many innovations have been incorporated into the most modern designs. Yet, in the 38 to 50- foot range, the simple three cabin layout has become the most popular. The boat we sailed is no exception. With two spacious quarter cabins and a large master cabin forward, the 44 can comfortably accommodate three couples. Or, it could be a very commodious floating home for a family of four.
In offshore mode whether racing or cruising, the after cabins will make good sea berths and the mattresses can be divided with weather cloths to allow two people to sleep on the high side. The bench seat in the dinette can also be used as a sea berth.
The master cabin forward has a large V-berth with ample storage under it and in the lockers on both sides. The forward head is large and has its own shower stall. The after head to starboard is large enough to also be a good wet locker when you have crew coming off watch in wet conditions.
The saloon has the L-shaped galley to port. Everything seems oversized with huge sinks, large storage lockers, a deep fridge and plenty of locker and drawer space. The acre of counter space and the three burner stove and oven will make preparing meals — for the family or for a hungry racing crew — a pleasure.
The traditional, forward facing chart table to starboard has a large desk with room to use a standard Chartkit or folded charts. The cabinets outboard are where you will mount your radios, SatPhone and other instruments.
The U-shaped dinette has a table with a large folding top. When deployed, the seating arrangement includes the bench seat to starboard as well as the four seats in the dinette. A bottle locker is built into the table’s base.
The boat we sailed had a pleasant, traditional look with a teak and holy sole, teak veneers with matching grains on the bulkheads and cabinets and stylish white cushions and hull and head liners. The quality of the joinery was evident in the way that doors, drawers and furniture were assembled. Even though the boat has been kept light to enhance performance, it doesn’t look or feel stripped down. The ambience is of a traditional cruising boat with all the comforts of a floating home.
J&J has designed dozens of modern cruising boats for production builders, such as Bavaria (before Farr took over). Their boats are always sensible, have good manners and are known to sail well.
In the Salona 44, they have created a moderately light displacement racer-cruiser that has a displacement-to-length ratio of 184. This non-dimensional ratio is a good indication of the boat’s relative weight compared to others in its class and its potential performance and sea-keeping qualities. Boats that are much lighter, with DLs under 150, will be good in light airs but may be tricky and even hard to handle in the stronger stuff.
The 44 has a sail area-to-displacement ratio of 27 (with the 135 percent genoa). This is at the high end for a racer-cruiser and shows that the rig in relationship to the hull is very powerful and capable of creating very high average speeds in all conditions. It’s like having an eight cylinder, turbo charged engine in your family Volvo.
The boat we sailed was nicely balanced and we were able to adjust the traveler and vang to take the pressure off the helms as we sailed hard and fast to windward. Off the wind we were able to vang down the boom to add leech tension and power. By being set up to race and cruise, the 44 offers even the most casual cruiser the opportunity to sail the boat well and fast, which adds to the pleasure of being aboard a fine sailboat and means that you will feel less inclined to motor.
The 44, like the whole Salona line, is built with vacuum bagged, infused layups that are light and strong and make the best use of both modern fibers and resins. The boat is built with a strong back that is laminated into the hull. This anchors all of the chainplates and rig and provides an impressively strong attachment point for the keel bolts.
Salona is a relatively new brand in North America but has built a strong following in Europe and around the world. For those who really like to sail and demand a boat that will reward good sails and sail trim with results, the 44 should be on their short list. This is true particularly if you want a boat that is fun and comfortable to cruise and will get you across the bay or across the ocean in comfort and style.
Ballast 7,495 lbs.
Displ. 20,944 lbs.
Sail Area 1,278 sq. ft.
Water 85 gals
Fuel 58 gals.
Waste 11 gals.
Coconut Grove, FL