Hylas 44

2009 March 1

This center-cockpit classic is set up for world cruising

An Australian friend asked for my opinion on the Hylas 44. He and his wife are looking for a capable bluewater cruiser and the center-cockpit 44 is high on their list. Although he hadn't actually seen one, he had done a lot of research. He was concerned about a couple of items, including inferior stainless steel, a tendency to be squirrelly sailing downwind and when pounding sailing upwind. I was taken aback and asked him where he found this information. Online, he told me, mostly in forums because there were not many owner reviews available.

His concerns made me stop and think about boat reviews in general. I have written hundreds of them, and while I usually have at least some personal experience with the boats I write about, occasionally I rely on published information and conversations with owners. And sometimes, I glean insights from online forums. The Internet is a fabulous resource for information about boats. I love the sailing forums and the interaction that takes place. However, my friend's worries made me realize again that you must be diligent in your research: One opinion does not a fact make.

You see, the 44 is a boat I know very well. As the former head delivery skipper for Hylas, I have logged thousands of miles aboard the 44 in a variety of conditions, including sailing through the eye of Hurricane Bob. Believe me, I've learned much about how the 44 handles downwind sailing, and it isn't squirrelly. The truth is that none of his worries were justified. Like all boats, the 44 has quirks, just not the ones he was fretting about.
The Hylas 44 is designed by German Frers. According to the timeline on the Hylas Yachts Owner's Association Web site, the 44 was first available in the U.S. market in 1985 and was in production until 1993 when the addition of a swim step transom turned the same 44 hull into the Hylas 45.5. In 1996 the Hylas 46, a fresh design, officially replaced the 44 and 45.5.

Built by Queen Long Marine Ltd., in Taiwan, the Hylas 44 and its bigger sister, the 47, were the core boats of the Caribbean Yacht Charter fleet in the late 1980s and 1990s. The charter connection was a mixed blessing for the Hylas brand. It was a clever way to sell boats, but charter boats have always carried a stigma. Today Hylas builds top-quality world cruisers from 46 to 70 feet and is no longer associated with any particular charter company.

First impressions
The Hylas 44 is not a clumsy, high-freeboard cruising boat. It represented a departure from many of the bulky center-cockpit designs of the day, with a comparably low-slung deck line and subtle sheer. The cabintrunk is a bit boxy. The hull shape features a clean entry with a deep forefoot without the flattened sections that make the newer Hylas 46 much more spacious up forward. The fin keel is on the long side and the rudder is skeg hung. It is definitely not a hull shape that will pound in a seaway. Many sailors are surprised when they see the 44's specs. Although the published numbers are all over the place, most sources list the displacement at just over 22,000 pounds, much lighter than comparable boats and more in line with the Bavaria 44 and Beneteau First 44.7. The ballast is more than 11,000 pounds, translating into a nearly 50-percent ballast-to-displacement ratio. The simple sloop rig has an air draft of 60 feet and a total working sail area of 866 square feet.

The 44 is a solidly built boat that has proven itself at sea. Several 44s have completed circumnavigations, including one known passage around Cape Horn. That's not your average charter boat. The hull is heavily laid up fiberglass and is supported with full-length foam longitudinal stringers that also encapsulate the bulkheads. I have encountered severe weather in many different 44s and have never felt the hull flex or heard it groan. The deck is cored with either Airex or balsa; apparently Queen Long went back and forth on this material. The hull-and-deck joint is the standard inward flange with through-bolts and chemical bonding. The bolts, on 6-inch centers, also tie down the aluminum toerail. The bulkheads and furniture facings are securely tabbed to the hull, there's not a molded liner in sight.

The interior woodwork is impressive. Dick Jachney, the United States importer of Hylas, told me that in the old days each hull would be assigned its own team of shipwrights who would then fashion bulkheads, veneers and trim pieces by hand.

"There was incredible pride of workmanship, the crews competed with each other. The ballast is lead and is mounted as a shoe on the keel stub, a great way to include the advantages of both an internal keel with those of external ballast."

What to look for
My friend was concerned about the stainless steel and the boat-handling characteristics. He should have been more interested in the steering cables and annoying leaks that are more common problems. The push-pull steering cables that are easier to install in center-cockpit boats are prone to corrosion. If they have not been changed before, or show signs of corrosion, or if the steering is stiff, replace them. Also, looks for signs of leaks. The overhead hatches and portlights are notorious for sprouting leaks; not a serious problem, just an irritation. Many owners have replaced hatches at this point and that's a good thing. Examine the hull-and-deck joint in the forward cabin and look for signs of leaks. Finally, the early boats had the venerable Perkins 4108 diesel while later models preferred four-cylinder Yanmars. Engine access is not very good so the less time needed in the engine room the better. Keep this in mind when comparing boats.

On deck
The cockpit is probably the 44's least desirable feature. I remember writing the same thing about the Hylas 47 in an earlier review. I can say this without guilt because I admire both boats immensely and wouldn't hesitate to take either across an ocean. The 44's cockpit is small, you have to climb in and out of it and the seat coamings hit you right in the small of the back. The bridgedeck is also rather small-just a lip really­-and it requires a good spray dodger and the need to keep the washboards handy in rough weather to keep water out. That's another compromise of a center-cockpit boat, they are wetter than aft cockpits simply because they are farther forward and closer to the arc of the wave as it crashes over the bow.

The cockpit does have some positives. The visibility from the helm is superb-one benefit to a center cockpit is there isn't much boat in front of you when it comes to maneuvering in close quarters. Of course, you have to remember to glance behind from time to time. The winches are well placed and easy to handle from the helm. The mainsheet traveler is aft of the helm, providing quick access and the efficiency of end-boom sheeting. With most sail controls led aft, the 44 is not a chore to singlehand, and for couples who cruise, singlehanding is part of the daily equation as somebody is often below in a bunk. Although there is not much stowage in the cockpit, there is a huge lazarette astern.

Moving around the wide side decks is a pleasure, although the molded nonskid can be slick when wet. Well-placed teak handrails are mounted on the trunkhouse. The deck hardware is beefy-Hylas didn't skimp when it fitted out the boat. Naturally, be sure to have the standing rigging inspected. If the original swage fittings are still on the boat, it is definitely time for a re-rig job. Also, check the chainplates. Riggers and surveyors are increasingly concerned about crevice corrosion and the internal chainplates on the 44 are vulnerable. The mast is keel stepped and solid, and most boats are set up without runners. The partners are a potential leak source; consider securing the area with SparTite. The stainless steel stemhead fitting and double anchor rollers are ready for serious ground tackle. The chain locker is accessible from below, a mixed blessing.

Down below
The interior plan is original and functional. The joinerwork is excellent and the boat is beautifully appointed. People prefer center cockpits despite their sailing limitations because of the interior with its separate aft cabin with a genuine double berth.

Frers was one of the first designers to use a double walkthrough arrangement, meaning that the aft cabin can be entered from either side. This really opens up the boat. The aft cabin can be reached either through the galley or the aft head. After dropping below, the galley is to starboard and situated in the walkthrough. The double sinks are placed under the cockpit, on a console that also covers the engine. This is a clever use of space and allows for huge refrigeration and freezer compartments opposite and lots of counter space.

The navigation station is opposite the galley and features a good-sized chart table, room for repeaters and a comfortable seat. The electrical panel is impressive, and hopefully the wiring hasn't been tampered with too much by the previous owners. Just behind is the aft head with two doors and access to the aft cabin. The aft cabin is a wonderful stateroom with an abundance of drawers, lockers and hanging space. Hylas did a nice job of blending teak and mica, the boat has a warm wood feeling but it is not a cave. Ventilation is also excellent with hatches and opening portlights.

The saloon features an L-shaped settee to port and a straight settee opposite. The saloon is not huge, and there isn't much storage because water or fuel tanks are located under the settees. Continuing forward, there's another head to port. Neither head has a dedicated shower stall. The forward cabin came with either an offset double or a V-berth.
The Hylas 44 charter background produced some useful features for cruising. The boat is loaded with redundancy, including double alternators on the engine, extra plumbed pumps for the freshwater system and the ability to access the important electrical fittings from a cockpit panel. The manifolds for the water and fuel tanks are robust, easily reached and bulletproof.

The original engine was a Perkins 4108 50-horsepower. A few boats had Westerbeke 62s, but most, fortunately, came with the Yanmar 4JH-TE, 55-horsepower diesel. It is interesting to note that most of the boats for sale have very high engine hours. This is likely for two reasons. The first is that the 4JH-TE is a very good engine that will run a long time. The second reason is that because of the location of the engine it is a big job to repower the 44. Look for a boat with a low-hour engine if possible.

Access is below the sinks and although it is not as handy as many center-cockpit engine rooms, you can reach it from every side. The 44 carries 110 gallons of fuel in two stainless steel tanks providing a realistic motoring range of over 500 miles. The 44 handles well under power and the efficient hull shape speeds along at 6 plus knots without the need to push the engine much over 2,000 rpm.

I have made at least 10 passages from Fort Lauderdale to the Virgin Islands in Hylas 44s, several passages between Newport, Rhode Island, and the Caribbean, and one passage from Trinidad to New York. That's about 20,000 bluewater miles. What have I learned about the way the boat sails? It is simple: The boat handles very well at sea. It is close-winded for a cruising boat and tracks well. The passage to the islands was invariably a hard beat. It doesn't pound upwind, even in sloppy seas, and most importantly, doesn't make excessive leeway. It can be wet upwind, however. It handles large following seas with ease. I remember running before the distant swells caused by Hurricane Grace and surfing along at double-digit speeds. It is stiff, although it does heel a bit, and in heavy weather it heaves-to efficiently.

The Hylas 44 is a terrific value for couples or families looking for a strong, capable, roomy cruising boat that still sails well. The well-respected Hylas brand and the solid Frers pedigree will ensure the boat's resale value as well. Prices range from around $150,000 to just over $200,000. In these uncertain times, an investment in fiberglass just may be the commodity of choice.