2023 Boat of the Year Best Multihull: Neel 43
Sailing World Magazine Annual Boat of the Year tests are conducted in Annapolis, Maryland, following the US Sailboat Show. With independent judges thoroughly inspecting boats on land and putting them through their paces on the water, this year’s fleet of new performance sailboats ranged from small dinghies to high-tech bluewater catamarans. Here’s the best of the best from ours 2023 Boat of the Year Nominees »
The power of three
- Neel 43 2023 Best Multihull
- Stated Purpose: Family cruises, occasional pursuit races
- Crew: Two to four
- Praise for: Easy handling, open interior layout, overall positive sailing experience
- European daylight saving time. Price as sailed: $600,000
In the sea of slab-side catamarans that make up the “Multihull Alley” at the US Sailboat Show, there is a homogeneity that makes it almost impossible for one cat sailing condo to stand out from the rest. (Exceptions for gunboats and HH catamarans are the high-ticket exceptions.)
Unique and mixed in between, however, is the trimaran Neel 43. From the dock perspective, it is a large and imposing ship. It’s also a proven bluewater performer, having already won its share of hardware. While previous French-built Neel performance cruising tris have been overlooked by the racing set, that is beginning to change, as are opinions about multihulls. Ask Texans in Galveston how many performance cruising multinationals are now hosting their annual Harvest Moon Regatta – more than ever. And the Caribbean Multihull Challenge in St. Martin? It’s getting bigger every year and that’s because boats like the Neel 43 can be one heck of a ride and capable of being the first to arrive on a coastal overnight vessel.
“What surprised me is how much it sailed upwind like a monohull,” says Allen. “When you start flying the weather hull — if it just skims the surface — the boat takes off. We didn’t have much wind for the test sail, but it was easy to see how the right combination of sails can really cover a lot. I could see this boat being easily driven from point to point by two people. With four crew members on a coast race it would be a great thing – drive around the island and then park the thing and have a great night.”
Neel trimarans, explains Alex Sastre, the North American agent, was founded 20 years ago by Eric Brunel, founder of catamaran giant Fountaine Pajot. Neel now builds nearly 200 boats a year at its facilities in La Rochelle, France and it will be building many of these entry-level cruising tris.
The whole interior concept of the boat is to have a large and contiguous living space visible from hull to hull. Step through the main salon’s sliding door and the living quarters are right in front of you with an almost panoramic view. There is an owner’s cabin in one hull, a guest cabin in the other and a sunken V-berth forward. The layout is a striking change from similar sized catamarans where the cabins are down and low in the hulls. At Neel 43 there is a sense of inclusion, like a loft apartment. It’s not necessarily better or worse in terms of owner privacy, the judges say. It’s just different. What the trimaran’s large center hull offers is a huge engine room below. Open a hatch and climb down a short ladder to an airy and brightly lit room where all boat systems are accessible.
“With four in a long-distance race, it would be amazing [to] circle the island and then park the thing at a berth and have a great night.”
– Chuck Allen
The boat is primarily intended for family cruising, says Sastre, but ultimately for sailors who appreciate performance. “When you furl the sails, the boat jerks forward,” he says, pushing his hips forward, “what a whack! It takes off!
“A trimaran,” he adds, “is more stable than a catamaran and faster than a catamaran, so this boat is a lot of fun to sail because it feels great to steer. With the keel, mast and rudder on the center hull, trimming the Amas is like a balancing act. It doesn’t heel too much and is very stable. This is a platform for adventure.”
“Of all the multihulls we’ve sailed, it was the least multihull,” says Powlison. “It handled like a monohull and the third hull really makes a difference by allowing the boat to turn easily without stalling.”
The boat is an impressive vinylester and foam core construction, with almost the entire hull built from a single mould. Neel promotes the use of environmentally friendly and recyclable materials, and some interior elements even use cork as a core. Solar cells on the roof supply the fridge and the electronics with electricity.
With a displacement of almost 9 tons, there are many boats that span 24 feet at maximum beam. Looking at the bow, it’s an impressive looking craft that glides quietly across the water when there’s 1,100 square feet of upwind sail on the carbon rig. With the furling gennaker down, the boat really shines like it should, says Allen.
The single helm station is high up to starboard with good visibility, the judges note, with all reefing and steering lines running into the helm area and canvas sacks.
The Dyneema cable controls, Stewart says, were very responsive: “This is hull #25, which is a good indication that they’ve hit the nail on the head with the type of owners who are interested in this type of boat. It definitely serves its purpose and does what it’s supposed to. It is stable and powerful and accelerates well even with the small jib. It felt much more nimble than other large multihulls we have sailed in the past. The way it can be turned easily is a really appealing attribute for the type of racing an owner can do, like in the Caribbean where racing is around islands and there can be quite a bit of turning.”
First around the island means relaxing first and that’s what the Neel 43 was designed for.