February 5, 2023

Byte Class Technology

Byte Class Technology & Sports Update

Solaris 50 review: fast, fun cruising

The drive to include all the features we now expect of new yachts, such as easy handling, big cockpits for al fresco dining and huge accommodation volumes, all too often risks compromising the fundamentals of creating a yacht that’s fun and rewarding to sail. When developing its latest range of 40-60 footers, however, Solaris tackled these aspects as a top priority as is on display in the middle model, the Solaris 50.

An optimised helming experience is intended as a key feature. Designer Javier Soto Acebel deliberately pushed the helm stations as far out to the sides of the hull as possible to maximise the view and make it possible to see the full length of the headsail luff – something that’s difficult on many of today’s yachts. Despite the boat’s 16 tonne displacement, the steering is direct and responsive, with twin rudders offering excellent control.

This direct focus on the owner’s experience when sailing the boat also hints at the yard’s understanding that to be successful in today’s market requires more than producing great physical products – the overall ownership experience counts as well. More on that later.

There’s one drawback that, on paper at least, might be significant for a cruising yacht: there’s no proper helm seat. When sailing upwind I often like to sit on the side deck, with my feet braced against the pedestal – it’s a position that can be comfortable for hours at a stretch.

But the wheels of this boat are so close to the edge of the hull there are no side decks here. Our test boat had small plinths extending inboard of the gunwale to provide a perch of sorts, but it’s not suited to long periods of use, especially when heeled. The yard offers an optional folding seat, but that’s still not an ideal solution.

No helm seat, but a small plinth for the helmsman to perch at for short periods. Photo: Guillaume Plisson/Solaris Yachts

Solaris has clearly wagered that owners will put up with the lack of a seat, given a better experience for as long as they’re happy to stand at the helm. And the reality is that, once offshore when cruising a boat like this, the autopilot is likely to be steering.

In other words this boat offers owners the choice: enjoyable helming when it suits them, but with no imperative for a human driver to be glued to the wheel.

For my first sail we had 17 to 22 knots of true wind with a short cross sea. Close-hauled with full sail, the boat had a very responsive and positive feel to the helm. It was easy to get into a groove.

Solaris 50 a stable platform

With attentive steering the Solaris 50 was responsive enough to accurately steer over waves when close-hauled to prevent slamming in the awkward sea state and, despite the hull’s reasonably broad forward sections, we only had the occasional gentle bounce. Those wide hull sections create a huge amount of form stability that combines with the efficiency of a 2.8m draught bulb keel. The boat was able to comfortably carry full main and 97% self-tacking jib when close-hauled in these conditions.

Bearing away and unfurling the North Helix furling gennaker the solaris 50 was eager to start surfing, even with the apparent wind as far forward as 110°. In 17 knots of true breeze we averaged around nine knots of boat speed, with easy gentle surfs to 11 knots.

Sailing the Solaris for European Yacht of the Year trials. The cockpit sole aft from the winches extends to the side of the hull, giving a protected area with deep bulwarks. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud

The Helix gennaker is an impressively flexible sail. You can wind the halyard tight to use it as a Code 0 or ease it off to sail at deeper angles. At 135° apparent in 16 knots of true wind (158° TWA), we were still making 8.7 knots of boat speed. With its bigger sail area, a conventional A2 spinnaker would have clearly been quite a bit faster at deep angles, but would require a second sail to be carried for reaching.

When pressed really hard while reaching in more than 20 knots of true wind, at times loads started to build in the helm. However, the rudders retained grip until we gybed with full main in 22 knots and were slow to ease the mainsheet. Even then, it was a gentle spin out and easy to regain control.

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As with many performance cruisers of this size, the German mainsheet is taken down to a single point on the cockpit floor, rather than a traveller, and controlled via winches each side. This has potential to leave crewmembers handling the winches each side vulnerable to the sheet if it’s not controlled precisely in a gybe, or when reefing the mainsail.

On the test Solaris 50, an electric winch on each side means sheeting the sail is quick and requires little effort. When reefing, the risk can be mitigated with a short tack so reefing pennants are on the windward side and clear of the arc of the mainsheet.

Although not a planing design, the Solaris 50 offers easy speeds. Photo: Guillaume Plisson/Solaris Yachts

The boat is offered in both performance and cruising versions. Our test boat was the latter, with all controls led to a pair of winches ahead of each helm station. They’re somewhat inboard so you’re not out at the edge of the boat, which helps to give a feeling of security when you’re on the lee side, with the deep bulwark and waist high guardrails also contributing to the safety factor.

You can’t easily reach the mainsheet from the helm, but I don’t see that as being a problem on a boat of this size. If you’re alone on watch on deck, then you probably have the pilot steering in any case.

Solaris 50’s clean aesthetic

A recessed track for the self tacking jib and below deck electric headsail furler, plus flush hatches, concealed lines and an integrated teak capped sprayhood stowage combine to give a very clean deck layout. Other manufacturers of course strive for a similar outcome, but few manage the execution as well as with the Solaris 50.

There’s also an option for a larger, slightly overlapping jib with conventional coachroof-mounted genoa tracks. My experience in light airs on subsequent days suggests the larger sail isn’t necessary, providing you have a Code 0 or similar to increase sail area when off the wind.

Unhindered views forward. Photo: Photos: Guillaume Plisson/Solaris Yachts

Close-hauled in only 5-6 knots of true wind speed, for example, we made a fairly consistent 4 knots of boat speed, increasing to a shade over 5 when we bore away slightly. Bearing away still further and deploying the Helix gennaker we maintained a consistent 5 knots or more of boat speed at apparent wind angles of around 60° and the true wind aft of the beam.

A neat aspect is that the wheels are connected via a chain and twin gearboxes, so if a problem is encountered with the system on one side of the boat that wheel can be isolated and the other used to control both rudders. Outboard of the winch stations two very easy steps lead up to the side decks. It’s also easy to step across the cockpit seats and onto the side deck.

Deck stowage includes a longitudinal tender garage with space for a 2.5m RIB. The large sail locker forward can be fitted out as a crew cabin and there’s a large dedicated chain locker right forward that also gives access to the below deck furler.

Liferaft stowage is at the forward end of the cockpit under the sole. In addition, there’s a small under-seat cockpit locker to starboard and two lockers each side of the tender garage, with space for fenders and lines, plus access to the rudder stocks.

Wide aft beam helps create a transom tender garage for a 2.5m RIB. Photo: Photos: Guillaume Plisson/Solaris Yachts

At the front of the cockpit there’s a big seating area in which our test boat has substantial folding tables each side. These break up the space giving a feeling of security and plenty of opportunity to brace your legs when the boat is well heeled. The cockpit also allows plenty of space for people circulation, even with the two tables in place.

Cruiser-racing

This is definitely a Mediterranean-oriented design, but with space and stowage to venture further afield. The boat has potential to easily eat up miles on a longer passage, although tankage is on the small side for longer periods of autonomy. On the other hand, even with the cruising deck layout, there’s scope for occasional racing.

For example, weeks after taking delivery the owner of our test boat, Paulo Oligeri (who previously had the earlier Solaris 50 and then a 58), competed in the Solaris Cup, taking 7th place in the event, which featured 70 entries from 40-80ft.

Low, flat coachroof helps makes for a clean look. Photo: Guillaume Plisson/Solaris Yachts

Of course, Solaris isn’t alone in organising events for owners, but it’s an important extra layer to the experience of owning a particular boat and is often a highlight in an owner’s calendar.
Oligeri says his new vessel is as comfortable to live on as his previous Solaris 58 and is a lot easier to handle. In addition to the sailing qualities it confers, he also praises the wide hull shape, which means the boat resists rolling when at anchor.

This was particularly appreciated while cruising Sardinia’s rugged west coast in the summer of 2022. He says it’s “never busy, even in July and August, when there are some spots with no other boats, but it’s a windy area and the anchorages have less protection.” Despite only taking delivery a few months before I sailed the boat, he had already sailed more than 2,000 miles, yet everything still appeared new.

Spacious saloon has good natural light and
ventilation. Photo: Guillaume Plisson/Solaris Yachts

Solaris 50 customisation

The interior style of the test boat elicited a variety of responses at the European Yacht of the Year trials. Some jury members loved the light limed oak effect, while others were less keen. However, more than anything, this is an example of the level of customisation offered by Solaris. The company builds only 30-50 sailing yachts per year, which gives scope to incorporate owners’ individual requests.

The test boat has a three cabin/two heads arrangement, though there’s also a three cabin/three head option which has a linear galley along the starboard side of the saloon.

The main saloon is bright and airy with a pair of hull windows each side, two opening overhead hatches and a useful opening port above the cooker. There’s a supremely comfortable deeply upholstered settee to starboard, which is parallel to the boat’s centreline so will also make a good sea berth. To port is a larger U-shaped seating area around the dining table, which can seat up to eight.

Forward cabin offers enough space and stowage to be able to spend extended periods on board. Photo: Guillaume Plisson/Solaris Yachts

The L-shape galley of the layout with two heads is to port at the base of the companionway. This has excellent worktop space with deep fiddles, a central sink area close to the centreline, plus two fridges or a fridge and separate freezer. There’s decent stowage for items that need to be accessed quickly, and room elsewhere to stow longer term provisions if necessary. There’s also a proper forward-facing workstation to starboard.

For many owners the best part of the accommodation is found in the forward cabin. This is impressively large, with plenty of floor space, four full height lockers and more easily accessed stowage under the peninsula bed, the foot of which lifts on gas struts. Natural light comes from two big hull windows, plus two overhead hatches that are hinged aft to give good airflow over the bed when at anchor. There’s also a large heads compartment with a separate shower stall.

Deeply upholstered settee, plus nav station, on the
starboard side of the saloon. Photo: Guillaume Plisson/Solaris Yachts

The port aft cabin can be set up as a double or as a twin. There’s a lot of easily accessed stowage here, plus further useful volumes under the outboard bunk. The starboard aft cabin is arranged as a conventional double. It’s broadly a similar size, although there’s less stowage.

To maximise accommodation space, systems are distributed around the boat rather than being concentrated in one place. The optional diesel generator, for instance, is in the 50cm wide tunnel between the aft cabins. Access is okay for routine maintenance, but would be more difficult for major operations such as overhauling the cylinder head. The optional watermaker is at the other end of the boat, under the head of the berth in the owner’s cabin, which is also where the optional aircon compressor is located.

The standard engine is a 50hp Volvo Penta unit, with a 75hp model offered as an option. Fuel tanks total 370lt, which will put a limit on autonomy, especially if generator use is extensive. Construction is of Airex sandwich and vinylester, with vacuum bagging used for gluing the core. Otherwise lamination is done by hand, which results in a heavier boat than if a full vacuum process is used.


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Verdict

The longer I spent on board the Solaris 50 the more it appealed to me. The accommodation works well, especially the big owner’s cabin, with its huge amount of easily accessed stowage. This has to be a big plus for anyone who hopes to spend extended periods on board. Solaris has also done a good job with the clean deck styling and the general ease of handling this boat offers. Despite its size and displacement, this is still a boat that’s fun and rewarding to sail. The idea of the outboard position for the helm locations sounds great and I appreciated being able to see most of the jib luff when steering, but for me comfort, space, ease of handling and performance are stronger reasons to buy this boat, especially for those who plan to mostly sail in warm parts of the world. That Solaris has sold 35 boats in less than a year since it was announced is testament to the appeal of this model.

Details

LOA:15.50m / 50ft 11in

LWL:14.68m / 48ft 2in

Beam:4.78m / 15ft 8in

Draught (standard keel):2.80m / 9ft 2in

Draught (optional keels):2.6m or 2.35m / 8ft 6in or 7ft 8in

Displacement:15,900kg / 35,060lb

Ballast:4,850kg / 10,700lb

Sail area:155m2 / 1,670ft2

Water:510lt / 112gal

Fuel:370lt / 81gal

Base price:€636,000 ex VAT

Builder:solarisyachts.com