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Bavaria 40

2002 April 7

German engineering, good design and a great exchange rate make this cruiser irresistible

For once the conditions were perfect for a boat test. The afternoon sea breeze had slipped beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and quickly vaporized the lingering morning haze. The pale sun backlit the handsome Bavaria 40 as it galloped toward Pier 39 on a close reach, kicking up sheets of spray. The only problem was that I wasn't actually aboard the Bavaria. I was on a leaky 16-foot Whaler masquerading as a photo boat.

"Don't worry, if you don't make it aboard the water temperature is in the mid-50s, you'll survive for several minutes," joked photographer Bob Grieser, as he maneuvered the Whaler around, over and occasionally through the square waves. Fortunately the crew aboard the Bavaria rolled in the headsail when they spied us, slowing their forward motion. Grieser, like other SAILING Magazine photographers I work with, is a superb boat handler, although his sense of humor is another issue. Nearing the pitching Bavaria 40 he accelerated toward the port quarter and then quickly slowed as I clutched the stern pulpit to steady myself. With my trusty notebook in hand I plopped aboard and pushed the Whaler away. It may not have been my most graceful entry, but at least I was dry.

The details
The Bavaria 40 is a new model from Germany's largest production sailboat builder, Bavaria Yachtbau GmbH. The company builds a complete line of J&J-designed, performance cruisers from 31 to 50 feet and three center-cockpit bluewater designs, including the Ocean 40, not to be confused with the aft-cockpit Bavaria 40.

Mention Bavaria to most American sailors and they think beer not boats. However, Bavaria has quietly become the second largest sailboat company in the world, rolling out 1,700 to 1,800 boats a year off its high-tech assembly line in southern Germany. The factory is strategically located in the small town of Giebelstadt, which isn't close to any major body of water, but is just a day's drive for a delivery truck to the seaports on the Baltic, Mediterranean and Atlantic.

The reason for Bavaria's success in the marketplace is value. A new, well-equipped 40-footer delivered stateside will cost less than $200,000. And this is for a high-quality, nicely appointed boat that sails beautifully. The value becomes readily apparent as you stroll around a major boat show and pit the Bavaria 40 against its competitors. How do they do it? By marrying an old-fashioned economic principle with state-of-the-art technology.

While many sailboat manufacturers are limiting production and charging more for boats built to order, Bavaria is taking another tack by churning out boats and keeping prices low. The company has invested in computer-aided manufacturing equipment that has streamlined the production process. Bavaria employs special tools for cutting not only the interior wood sections (other builders do this as well), but also for edge trimming and finish cutouts on the deck. This process reduces man-hours per boat significantly, and the company passes the savings on to the consumer. The task for Bavaria is to be able to sell enough boats to make it all pay. North America should become an important market for Bavaria, especially in the short run as the strength of the U.S. dollar makes exports appealing for European builders.

On deck
Once I finally settled myself in the cockpit, Len Baronit, Bavaria's West Coast dealer, rolled out the 140-percent genoa, and I took the helm. Off we went, accelerating like a sports car and pushing the rail into the water. We were overcanvassed, but it was great sailing just the same.

The cockpit is deceptively large, and the helmsman has good visibility and leg support. The pedestal is more of a console with a molded display for both sailing and engine instruments, with easy access to the single-lever throttle control. The steering is made by Whitlock, and it was very responsive despite the large headsail. The leather-wrapped wheel felt good in the cool conditions. The helm station is located well aft, making it a bit of stretch to reach the self-tailing Harken primaries. The cockpit seats are covered with teak, as is the cockpit sole, a feature I prefer to the more traditional teak grating. The seat backs are angled for comfort, and although we were heeled, the cockpit felt very secure. There are two decent-sized cockpit lockers and a swim step and boarding platform aft. There are well-positioned stainless steel grab rails over the companionway, although there isn't much of a bridgedeck, and you'll have to keep the hatchboards in place to keep an errant wave from entering the cabin.

Teak decks are about a $7,000 option, and they not only dress the boat up, but also offer a terrific nonskid surface. Although teak decks are not the maintenance worry that they used to be, they still require periodic care, making them something of a triage that defines a sailor's priorities. I confess, I prefer the no-maintenance, strictly utilitarian molded nonskid myself. Call me lazy, call me boring, I can deal with it.

Teak covered or not, the decks on the Bavaria 40 are wide and easy to navigate. The shrouds are inboard, making for tight sheeting angles, and they are led to single-pod chainplates that transfer the rig loads to the hull via a tie rod below. A double-spreader Seldon mast and rigid boom vang along with a conventional mainsail are standard. Furlex roller furling is the standard gear for the headstay. A 7-ounce, 140-percent genoa by Elvstrom is also standard. The mainsheet traveler, which is located forward of the companionway, is a bit on the short side, and regular readers know I am not a great fan of midboom sheeting.

A stainless steel anchor roller and electric windlass housed in an external anchor locker are standard. The tapered stanchions could be taller, and the solid, brushed aluminum railing is curious. It looks great and has fairleads for mooring lines, including an amidships springs, but you can't secure lines to it otherwise. There are long, stainless steel handrails on the cabintrunk. Bavaria uses first-rate deck hardware and fittings, including Goiot cleats, Gebo hatches and Rutgerson opening portlights.

Down below
Falling off onto a tight reach, Baronit and I dropped below. I was immediately struck by how quiet things were. It was windy and we were sailing at 7 knots, yet there was no creaking or groaning. The 40 is obviously a well-built boat. The Bavaria's hull is solid fiberglass below the waterline, with a reinforced bow shield made of Kevlar that the company claims is actually bulletproof. The hull centerline carries extra laminate layers, and the keel flange is also reinforced. Floors are S-glass for added strength. The standard keel section is cast iron with a draft of 6 feet, 4 inches. An optional lead keel is available, as is a 5-foot, 4-inch shoal-draft keel made of either material. The topsides and deck are cored with Divinycell foam. All Bavarias are built under strict Germanischer Lloyd's guidelines.

"The Bavaria 40 is available with two interior plans, either a two- or three-cabin model," Baronit said. It is interesting how you look at things differently at different times in your life. Ten years ago I would have noted that cramming three private cabins into a 40-foot boat was an absurd waste of space. Today, I like the idea of a private cabin for each daughter. Both arrangements feature elegant varnished mahogany joinerwork, a clean white molded overhead liner and first-class appointments. Both models include a V-berth cabin forward with a hanging locker to port and a head to starboard. There is a dressing seat and actually enough room to stand up and change clothes without toppling into the bunk. The head, which is located within the forward stateroom, is a bit tight, although the aft head is spacious and includes a separate shower stall. I haven't completely abandoned my earlier principles. I still believe that a single head is adequate for a 40-foot boat.

The saloon in the two-cabin model features a wraparound dinette to starboard and two comfortable seats opposite. There is a small table between the seats for cocktails or cards, and storage in lockers behind them. If you don't need the extra sleeping cabin, this arrangement is the most livable. The Bavaria 40 is filled with small but nice standard features, including curtains for the ports, roller shades for the hatches and lovely Kerpen blue interior fabric-touches commonly found on European boats.

The C-shaped galley is to port, with the stove and oven outboard and two stainless sinks facing forward. Twelve-volt refrigeration is standard. There is enough counter space to create a meal without too much shuffling, and stout fiddles will keep the chopped vegetables from sliding to the sole when cooking in lumpy conditions. The navigation station is opposite the galley, and it has a good-sized chart table, a comfortable seat and tool locker beneath. While the nav station is situated in the same location on either the two- or three-cabin model, the galley lines the port side of the saloon in the three-cabin model. This arrangement provides ample counter space but doesn't work as well as the C-shaped galley on the two-cabin model for cooking when under way. The three-cabin model also includes a centerline dinette settee.

The two-cabin model places the large double aft cabin to starboard, while the three-cabin model puts a smaller double to each side. Bavarias are turning up in more and more charter fleets, and charter companies obviously prefer the three-cabin layout.

Under sail
Back in the cockpit, we were scooting across the bay. We brought the boat through the wind and eased off onto a moderate reach. The 40 accelerated quickly and tipped the speedo at 7 knots. It didn't take long to push it up to 7.5. Grieser had to work to keep up with us in the photo boat. Naturally there had been weather helm when we were blasting upwind with the big genny, but the helm was light and balanced once we came off the wind. The crisp westerly was steady at 20 knots, and we slipped lower onto a broad reach. There was just enough of a sea running to feel an occasional lift and a bit of surfing as we skidded toward Alcatraz. After a careful but well-executed jibe, we hauled in the sheets and started driving upwind again. The motion was surprisingly easy, with little tendency to pound. I made my way forward to clear the foot of the headsail on the pulpit. We were well heeled, but I felt secure with one hand on a handrail on the cabintop and good nonskid underfoot.

The Bavaria 40 combines excellent German engineering, versatile sailing characteristics and comfortable accommodations in an affordable package. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Bavaria soon becomes a major player in the U.S. sailboat market.