Boat Review May 2007 Issue

Hallberg Rassy 342 New Boat Test

In our new sailboat test, we review the Hallberg Rassy 342, a relatively small cruising boat from the prolific Swedish builder of cruising yachts. Designed by German Frers, the Hallberg Rassy 342 shares many traits 34, of which over 500 cruising sailboats were built during a 15-year production run.

Like all the Hallberg Rassys in production, the Hallberg Rassy 342 was designed by Argentine naval architect German Frers (who aficionados claim designs some of the best cruising sailboats), and it’s clear from crunching the numbers on this relatively small cruising sailboat that the Swedish boat builder wanted peppier performance than its predecessor, the Hallberg Rassy 34. Everything about this Hallberg Rassy is bigger: its waterline is longer, its sail area is greater, and, of course, its price tag is higher. In Practical Sailor’s new sailboat test, we find the end product to be a well-balanced modern cruising sailboat, though we still find a few things to complain about.

                                               ****

Introduced to the U.S. market last fall, the Hallberg-Rassy 342 is the newest addition to the line from the prolific Swedish builder, which includes eight models ranging from 31 to 62 feet. Like its sister-ships, the 342—which replaced the company’s popular HR34, of which over 500 were built during the 15-year production run—sports all the features that make the brand so recognizable: the cockpit windshield, low-profile coach roof, prominent bulwarks, gentle sheer line, rugged rubrail, and, of course, the standard blue-and-white color scheme. In Europe, the boat was well received by the sailing press and the public, and the company took 122 orders within the first seven months after its introduction.

Hallberg Rassy 342
Though wheel steering is the norm these days, tiller steering is standard on the HR342.

DESIGN

Like all of the Hallberg-Rassys currently in production, the 342 was designed by noted Argentine naval architect German Frers (who also designed the 34-footer it replaced).It’s clear from crunching the numbers that the builder wanted peppier performance than its predecessor. Everything about the new boat is a little bigger: its waterline length is 15 inches longer, the mast is almost 2 feet taller, and it carries 5 square meters more sail area. It all translates into a boat with a displacement/length ratio of 197, which puts it on the light side of moderate. And with a sail area/displacement figure of 20.1, it’s clear that Frers was not shy about designating horsepower.

The sail plan is encapsulated in a 7/8ths fractional set-up that puts the drive emphasis on a larger mainsail complemented by an easily handled, 105-percent overlapping jib. In the case of the 342, it’s self-tacking as well. (That said, our test boat’s sail power was compromised by a furling main that we’ll address below.) The rig is a deck-stepped, double-spreader configuration with slightly swept-back spreaders and a touch of pre-bend to the aluminum spar. There are two keel options, a shoal-draft fin with attached bulb that draws 5 feet, or the standard 6-foot fin with bulb.

The 342 has a fine entry and minimal overhang at the ends. As naval architect Bob Perry has noted, "Frers likes to knock the corners off his transoms at the sheer and has done so for years. This looks good and helps reduce the visual bulk of the transom." As on Perry’s Valiant 40, the keel and rudder are separated, in the style of contemporary performance cruisers.

As with most Scandinavian designs, the interior layout is very traditional, functional, and straightforward. This boat has sleeping cabins in the ends; a central space that includes the saloon, galley, navigation station, and head—and, each is extremely well executed. The builder does not allow for even slight modifications or customizing.

 

DECK LAYOUT

Starting forward and working aft, the 342 sports a husky stemhead fitting with double anchor rollers serviced by a Lewmar horizontal windlass adjacent to a deep chain locker. A Seldén Furlex 200S headsail furler handles the self-tending jib, which tacks on a small track mounted on the coach roof just forward of the deck-stepped Seldén mast. There are a couple of large Lewmar deck hatches and a pair of low-profile dorade vents. Our test boat included the optional spinnaker-gear package with the Seldén pole mounted vertically on the mast. One nifty feature is the standard, nearly 8-feet-long boat hook that’s stationed in its own mount atop the coach roof.

The side decks are clear and unobstructed and measure 18 inches at their widest point. Together, the 2½-inch bulwarks, the 24-inch-high lifelines, and the teak handholds atop the coach roof offer a nice feeling of security when moving fore and aft along the side deck. The lifeline gate on our test boat was fitted well aft on the transom, between the rails of the stainless-steel stern pulpit, which is ideal for boarding the boat via the swim ladder when on the hook, but not as convenient for everyday amidships comings and goings on a dock or from a launch.

All reefing lines and halyards are led aft through a series of turning blocks at the base of the mast to a pair of Lewmar rope clutches to port and starboard of the companionway.These work in conjunction with twin Lewmar 16C winches for hoisting and reefing sails. With the cockpit dodger raised—it fits nicely atop the standard windshield—working space is somewhat compromised, but not excessively so. The cockpit is deep and self-bailing, with 6-foot-9-inch cockpit seats for sleeping or stretching out. The primary winches are Lewmar 40 CST self-tailers. A huge starboard cockpit locker is home to the teak cockpit dining table and a series of nifty slots for the companionway slides. The propane locker is aft. All glasswork in the lockers is impeccable, and serves as a reflection of the boat’s overall construction quality.

The standard boat is tiller-steered, but our test boat came with a 36-inch Solimar wheel (the quadrant and cables are accessible via a hatch at the aft end of the port quarter berth) with the traveler and mainsheet just forward. A drop-down swim ladder and step is smartly integrated into the boat’s transom, and is accessed through a small, removable section aft of the steering station.

Two notes about the wheel set-up: First, there’s only a foot of clearance between the wheel and the cockpit seat directly astern of it, which will be too close for comfort for some helmsmen. Plus, it’s a tight squeeze to get around the wheel to trim the mainsheet and traveler, which is necessary to get some purchase on the lines when under load in a breeze. For these reasons, and for better visibility and views of the jib telltales, the cockpit coaming is the more natural position for steering.

Yacht broker Jim Eastland of Eastland Yachts, in Essex, Conn., said he prefers the wheel over the tiller for several reasons. According to Eastland, it’s more compatible to a beefy autopilot and it heightens the resale value of a boat that costs over a quarter of a million dollars.

 

SYSTEMS

The 342 is equipped with a three-cylinder, fresh-water cooled Volvo Penta D1-30 diesel engine with a sail-drive configuration and two-bladed bronze folding propeller. The 44-gallon fuel tank is located under the starboard settee. The dedicated starter battery is rated at 62 Ah while the house bank of dual, flat-plate batteries has a capacity of 225 Ah (up from 124 Ah in the previous HR34). A 115-amp engine alternator handles charging. Engine access and battery storage are behind and below the companionway steps, which are locked down when underway and opened with a special allen-style key. It’s a secure system with good, all-around access, however, it could also be compromised if you needed to get at the engine quickly but couldn’t find the key.

The pressurized freshwater system is connected to the 71-gallon water tank that’s located under the port settee. The compressor for the optional air-conditioning unit is stashed beneath the V-berth. There’s a nice, deep, 24-inch sump, at the bottom of which is installed a Jabsco Hydra-air bilge pump. The Mastervolt battery switch is stationed alongside a switch panel for the fuel and water gauges, the voltmeter and the automatic circuit breakers. Valves and transducers are easily accessed under the floorboards. Our test boat was equipped with Raymarine electronics, including the chartplotter and basic ST 60 Tridata (speed, log, and depth) instrumentation; there’s plenty of space for additional electronics. The electric fridge utilizes a Danfoss compressor and a well-insulated box with basket and cooling unit.

 

ACCOMmODATIONS

The 342’s interior plan is a traditional layout with a double cabin forward housing a V-berth that measures 6 feet, 8 inches wide at the head, 6 feet, 6 inches long, and 22 inches wide at the foot. There is plenty of storage in the pair of lockers abaft the berth, in shelves and lockers above it, and in a large bin beneath it. Headroom is just over 6 feet. The furniture throughout is fashioned of khaya mahogany with a satin-varnish finish that makes for a surprisingly light, airy atmosphere (which is reinforced by the 10 opening ports below).

The main saloon features a central dining table with a pair of 6-foot-2-inch settees to port and starboard. The seat backs for these settees can be raised and hung from the cabinroof for additional storage (though they’re not robust enough to be used as berths). The settees below would make excellent sea berths with the backs in the raised position, except for the fact that the chainplates are anchored in stout fiberglass knees precisely where a sailor, in repose, would be lying. Altogether, it’s a curious, unsatisfactory arrangement.

The L-shaped galley, to port, is at the foot of the companionway, across from the nav station and the head compartment. The galley is a nice, functional space with the requisite drawers, lockers, and counter space, and a useful double sink. The forward-facing nav area is snug, but adequate, with excellent storage under the seat.

The head includes a Corian wash basin and countertop, plus a good-sized shower and wet locker, the latter being a nice detail one wouldn’t necessarily expect to find on a boat of this size. The holding tank is just aft in the starboard cockpit locker.

The aft cabin, to port, is another fairly tight space, but it serves its purpose as a sleeping station with a berth that measures 5 feet, 10 inches wide at the head, 6 feet, 10 inches long, and 4 feet, 3 inches wide at the foot.

 

PERFORMANCE

Given the fact that one of the stated design objectives of the 342 was to enliven the sailing performance, it was with no small sense of anticipation that we motored out into the Connecticut River last fall. At 2500 rpm, the yacht slid along nicely at an even 6 knots and was maneuverable, turning easily within a boat length. The sound level of the Volvo engine, which is situated in a well-insulated compartment, was not intrusive, registering 72 decibels in the cockpit, 77 in the galley, and 74 in the main saloon.

As luck would have it, though, the breeze on the river was fitful, and there was a fair bit of current running. However, in about 6-8 knots of wind, the boat made a very respectable 4.8-5.2 knots hard on the wind. Cracked off to a beam reach, at a wind angle of 120 degrees with 8 knots of sustained pressure, it made 4.5 knots. When the breeze came on to about 10 knots, we registered 6.2 knots close-hauled. The boat tacked through about 100 degrees and was quite easy to handle alone, thanks to the self-tacking jib.

The test boat was fitted with a suit of Elvstrom Sobstad "offshore performance" Dacron sails. The mainsail was set off an in-mast Seldén furler with vertical battens that provided the sail with a bit more roach than many furling mains, though the leech was somewhat scalloped and not ideal. It’s worth noting that, while proponents of furling mains subscribe to the notion that they’re more manageable than standard mains, it took two people, working in conjunction—one to man the furling line, the other to maintain tension on the outhaul—to strike the main on the 342.

Quibbling aside, the boat had a very light, easy helm; seemed stiff, balanced, and seakindly in the moderate conditions. It offers excellent visibility when peering forward beneath the dodger when seated behind the wheel, and while steering outboard from a perch on the cockpit coaming. There’s no reason to doubt the boat would be a solid performer in better wind.

CONCLUSIONS

It used to be that sailors looking for high quality and offshore potential in a new boat in the mid-30-foot range had plenty of options from which to choose. In the last decade or so, that’s no longer been the case. Even sailors new to the sport, it seems, prefer boats upward of 40 feet, and the builders, of course, who wish to maximize their margins on every unit sold, are more than happy to oblige them. The big production builders still offer 35-footers, but for the most part, these are inshore racer/cruisers built and marketed around a specific price point, not as a vessel with long-range capability.

The 342, then, is an anomaly in today’s marketplace. Well-built, with a good press of sail, and equipped with first-class systems and hardware, it’s a boat that will take its owners, depending on their skills and aspirations, as far as they want to go. The 342 is not necessarily an inexpensive boat when compared to other contemporary 34-footers, but we expect the resale value of this yacht, particularly given its strong debut in the international marketplace, to remain high. It still costs a lot less than 40-footers of similar quality. While, naturally, it won’t exhibit the same turn of speed as a boat with a longer waterline, the 342 is a quick and nimble performer given its size and accommodations.

For a couple or young family with extended-cruising plans, the Hallberg-Rassy 342 would be a legitimate option. And, given that it will cost less to buy, maintain, and berth compared to bigger boats, it might even be an excellent one.

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