This Belgian-built sloop offers style and comfortas well as a nice turn of speedin an 'unsinkable' package, but its high freeboard and low lifelines give us pause.
Unlike the bastions of this industry that were founded by sailors interested in manufacturing boats, Etap, the parent company of Etap Yatching, was formed in 1948 by Achilles Daelmann, who initially operated out of a small shed. At the outset, Daelmann earned his living by manually rewinding electrical motors, eventually venturing into the manufacture of light fittings, which is still the company's primary business.
The firm eventually entered the boatbuilding industry for the purpose of experimenting with the uses of fiberglass, which was then an untested, newly emerging material. The first Etap offered to the public was a 22-foot, trailerable sloop designed as an affordable, safe daysailer for families entering the sailing world. With surprising insight, Etap promoted her as speedy and lightweight, and safe, since blocks of foam were inserted between the hull and inner liner, which allowed the boat to be categorized as unsinkable. After producing 1,800 of that model, the company followed with a 28-footer in 1977, and 20-footer in 1980. The Etap product line now includes eight models ranging in size from 21 to 39 feet. With more than 6,000 boats built to date, the company's boatbuilding division—100 workers strong—now produces 200 boats per year.
Still a family operation, the company is managed by a group of engineers who hire architects to convert their concepts into working drawings. The Etap 37s was designed by Mortain and Mavrikios, a European firm that has created several other models for Etap, as well as Dufour, Feeling and Locwind.
"The target was a fast, safe, comfortable cruiser for sailors seeking quality, safety and performance," according to Dane Somers of Sail La Vie, the U.S. importer. "It will especially appeal to sailors who are committed to making extended passages."
The hull presents a relatively low profile, especially since she is considered a pilothouse sloop. With a nearly plumb bow and flat sheer that leads to a reverse stern over which towers a high-aspect rig, the Etap 37s carries her beam well aft. In many cases "pilothouse" equates to an unsightly box sitting atop the deck; not so with this vessel, which sports three broad plexiglass ports on the front of the cabin. The boat's underbody complements that by way of a rounded section with little chine and plenty of volume below the waterline, both of which contribute to headroom and storage capacity down below.
On paper, she ranks as a performance cruiser; her D/L is 161 and the SA/D 17.61 with a 100-percent foretriangle, placing her in the fast-to-moderate classification. Based on our test sail, we estimate she will sail to those numbers.
We give the company two gold stars for the manner in which the traveler system has been designed, but we also award one demerit for not making available on this model the innovative steering system that they do offer on their 32-footer.
It's no secret that we prefer end-boom mainsail sheeting because it produces better mainsail shape. It's also no secret that most manufacturers now place the mainsail traveler atop the cabin so that it won't interfere with crew comfort, and makes it easier and safer to move about the cockpit.
In this case, the manufacturer offers end-boom sheeting as well as a fine-tune on the mainsheet that significantly reduces the muscle power necessary to trim the sail, and a solid vang, as standard equipment.
Etap also has designed a novel system that solves the traveler-in-the-cockpit problem: the traveler on the 37s can be removed by releasing two pins; it's a one-minute exercise, whereafter you can secure the mainsheet tackle to a padeye in the cockpit sole. The traveler is then stowed out of the way in a lazarette. The result: the ability to trim the sail properly and a cockpit free of clutter, since the cockpit table also is portable. In most conditions, the combination of mainsheet and vang will offset the reduced flexibility when the traveler is stowed. Additionally, padeyes located on the toerails on both sides of the cockpit allow the boom and mainsheet to be secured out of the cockpit when at the dock—the boating equivalent of wide open spaces. It's a wonder it took decades for designers to perfect and produce this sensible arrangement.
The yang of the cockpit is a 40-inch-diameter wheel that, like most, interferes with movement since it diminishes the space between the wheel and cockpit seats. Because the benefit of a large wheel is that it eases steering, and tillers on boats this size have proven to be unmarketable in the U.S., it is a mystery that more companies aren't installing pivoting wheels (like Beneteau), or folding models like that recently introduced by Lewmar.
This is where the tiller installed on the Etap 32 and 34—a marvel of creativity—would come in handy (see photo and explanation on pg. 26). To the company's credit, the emergency tiller on the 37 is secured close at hand under the helm seat, rather than buried in the recesses of a lazarette.
In Europe, where boats are often tied stern-to ("Med style"), cockpit access commonly takes place via boarding steps on the stern, as is the case with this boat. Swimmers use a stern-hung stainless steel boarding ladder that is standard equipment. However, in most marinas, the boat's 48-inch freeboard may necessitate the purchase of a step that will ease loading stores when docked beam-to.
Once aboard, we found that the 16" (wide) by 14" (high) cockpit seats (with backrests sloping outboard) provide good support when heeled, though beyond 15°, when sitting to leeward, they are less comfortable. The seats are finished with solid teak recessed into the framework, a good idea since it eases housekeeping. The helm seat swings up to ease access to the stern. The propane locker is located in the transom aft of the helm seat, a plus when loading a full bottle from a dinghy.
Cockpit storage reflects the boat's bluewater pedigree: the starboard lazarette is 36" deep and 42" wide, large enough to store a six-person life raft, seemingly a redundancy in an unsinkable yacht. An aluminum frame built into the lazarette houses hatchboards, an excellent idea since they invariably seem to end up under settees or berth cushions. The port lazarette has storage in a 21" wide, 33" long, 14" deep area that is adequate for dock gear and miscellaneous spare lines.
Two other aspects enhance onboard safety: the high toerail and an aggressive TBS non-skid pattern that allowed our deck shoes to grip firmly when the deck was covered with dew.
The toerail on board the Etap 37s is constructed of long sections of extruded, brushed aluminum elevated two inches above the deck; making it high enough to keep the crew aboard while still allowing water to flow underneath and overboard. Cleats are built into these sections, which we think is a nice consolidation of function. Brushed aluminum grabrails on the cabintop are located where they are most needed, and 24" wide decks amidships (more than most boats this size), proved to be a real plus on the day we sailed the boat. The one drawback of all this, however, is that the upper lifelines are only 22" off the deck—five inches shorter than we prefer for optimum safety.
The mast is a Selden 9/10th rigfitted with double spreaders. It's stepped on deck because the company believes that method produces a watertight seal without compromising on strength, since a stout compression post is laid on the keel. Deck-stepped masts have pluses and minuses, but are becoming more common on larger boats since chainplates are commonly glassed into the hull. Etap leads all wire cables through a stainless steel tube in the mast to protect connections from weathering. Standing rigging is stainless steel wire; and the backstay is tensioned mechanically with a winch handle.
Our test boat was equipped with an in-boom mainsail furler that operated smoothly; the Elvström mainsail carries two full battens in the top sections, and two partial battens farther down that produced good sail shape, especially compared to battenless furling mainsails. Like most furling mainsails, however, this one suffers a loss of some power as a byproduct of its small roach. The sail is built with three reef points, and the boat was commissioned with a continuous reef line running through blocks at each reefing eye.
Halyard and sail controls are led aft so they're close at hand and operate easily. Sheet stoppers port and starboard of the companionway are Antal Grip 10, through which halyards are led to Lewmar 40 self-tailing winches.
Headsail track is located inboard at the base of the cabin, with sheets led to Lewmar 44 self-tailing winches that were large enough for easily handling the 135-percent genoa, which carries 427 square feet of Dacron.
Though the configuration of spaces belowdecks is typical of the genre, we found several attributes that stand out when compared to competitive models. For instance, the on-watch crew can sit atop the companionway step and have an fairly clear, 360-degree view through ports on both sides of the cabin, and the large Plexiglas ports on the front of the cabin. The solid cherry and cherry veneer wood surfaces below enhance the feeling of spaciousness, and handrails port and starboard in the saloon are an absolute necessity for an offshore passagemaker.
Standing headroom in the main salon is 6' 6", sloping down to 5' 11" at the forward bulkhead. The saloon measures 11' 6" on the centerline, with 86" of clearance between port and starboard settee backs. Settees are 6' 7" long, and fitted with leeboards as standard equipment. Storage areas are beneath the settees, and outboard on the hull, which is lined with cabinets.
Perhaps the most clever—and sensible—design feature is splitting the galley into two sections, rather than constructing the typical L-shape. On the Etap 37, the Eno two-burner stove and a 24" x 28" counter over the refrigerator are located along the hull to port. A recessed cutout in the cabinetry provides space for a microwave; storage is offered in three drawers aft of the stove, and below the stove, where pots and pans will live.
Particularly interesting is an island at the foot of the companionway measuring 18" x 38" that is finished with a Corian countertop and two 12" diameter x 8" deep stainless steel sinks surrounded by wooden fiddles. The arrangement adds form to function since one end of the island houses storage and space for a waste basket, as well as providing access to plumbing manifolds. In this configuration crew can move fore and aft on either side of the island, which also serves as a support for the cook when heeled. This arrangement actually adds counter space, since the area between the countertop to port and the island may be spanned by dropping in a custom 17" x 20" cutting board. It's a nice, novel arrangement, but we'd have to spend some time living with it before rendering a final opinion.
The dining table is a drop-leaf affair on the centerline that produces a 42" long x 40" wide surface, seating for four, and a cubby for wine bottles.
The nav station is located aft of the starboard settee, and fitted with a 24" x 30" chart table, large enough for a folded chart, and 25" x 18" seat for the navigator. Four drawers reside below the chart table. The electric panel has adequate space for VHF radio, chartplotter and repeaters, as well as a storage area outboard. On balance, it is more functional than nav stations we see on similarly sized boats designed for coastal cruising. And located under the navigator's seat are a 70 AH starting battery and a 108 AH 'house' battery, both standard equipment—off the centerline, but handy.
A single head large enough for average-sized adults is a sensible arrangement on a 37-footer intended for bluewater passages. Located aft of the nav station, it is equipped with typical appliances, as well as an area designated for hanging wet gear near an opening hatch. Though a holding tank is an option on European boats, it is standard equipment on U.S. models. The builder located the tank aft of the head, which frees space to add a large closet in the head designated for the storage of tool boxes; the location of the tank also minimizes odors in the head and saloon.
The owner’s quarters are aft to port in a stateroom with 6' 5" of headroom, allowing the skipper to stand and dress comfortably, and space to bed down on a double berth measuring 6' 7" on the center and 5' 6" at the head., with lots of room for feet. Access to the steering quadrant is via a panel at the end of the cabin.
The forward cabin is smallish— just large enough for two adults—but it's a sensible compromise because it increases space in the saloon, where most time will be spent anyway. Crew will bed down forward in a V-berth measuring 80" on centerline, and 59" at the head. The area below the V-berth is filled with foam and a water tank; fuel tankage is located amidships aft of the engine.
On balance, spaces down below combine a level of creativity while attaining the goal of producing comfortable living areas and adequate storage areas, plus water and fuel for the cruiser.
The most unique aspect of the company’s construction methods is that it results in boats that are certified by the French Marine Marchande (merchant marine) as being "unsinkable." The process involves production of a hull and liner bonded to the hull that stiffens the boat and provides the base for furniture and other attachments, a fairly standard method. However, in this case, the space between the hull, liner, as well as other voids, is large enough that it can be injected with closed-cell foam to form blocks of flotation.
The process involves spraying the outer skin of the hull with an osmosis-resistant, ISO-NPG gelcoat, followed by two layers of a 35-percent fiberglass roving and 65-percent resin blend that is hand-rolled to eliminate voids. Additional layers of woven roving are added to reinforce the bow, keel, and chainplate areas. Once the outer hull is constructed, the main bulkhead is installed, after which wiring runs and spare runs are installed in conduit. The liner, which is constructed in two pieces, is then sprayed with a two- part polyurethane closed-cell foam, and bonded to the hull. Additional foam is then injected into shaped cavities in the hull, all of which have exit holes through which excess foam can flow without adding pressure to the bond between hull and liner. Flotation, however, is not installed in the bottom to increase righting ability in the event of a capsize.
"The outer hull is as strong as a conventional boat," Somers says, so, except as a home for the foam, the liner functions like those on most production boats.
Similarly, closed-cell polyurethane foam is laminated in the deck, along with plywood stiffeners. Hardware is attached to aluminum plates bedded in the deck areas, a solid method when executed properly.
The hull is bonded to the deck with resins and mechanically fastened with rivets and through-bolted on 4" centers, then covered by a rubrail. The close attachment points produce a leak-resistant seam.
To receive French certification, the boat was required to pass four tests: a) when flooded, freeboard was not less than 3 percent of its overall length, so the water level was at the height of a settee cushion and the cook could work in the galley; b:) the flooded yacht floated in a near horizontal position; c:) the flooded yacht and a crew of eight righted itself from 90 degrees of heel; d:) the flooded yacht is capable of being sailed.
The company has added one more wrinkle to the purchase decision: the standard fin keel is a cast iron section with a draft of 6' 5". However, a tandem keel similar to that seen on some America's Cup yachts is an option. In effect, two short keels are mounted to the hull and a wing-bulb is connected to each. The result is an improvement in performance produced by maximizing lift when sailing upwind, and a shallower draft. Priced at $1,604, the option isn't cheap, but it will improve weather performance while reducing draft, and that's a real plus. The downside is that it's more prone to snagging something, and cast iron appendages require assiduous maintenance to avoid corrosion.
With Somers at the helm, we tested the boat on Lake Michigan on an early spring day in winds ranging from 3 to 12 knots. We initially sailed with the mainsail only and found that she will go to weather at 3.75 knots in 8 knots of wind. The Selden-Elvström combination produced better sail shape than we are accustomed to seeing with furling mainsails.
With a full main and 135-percent jib, the boatspeed immediately increased to a steady 6.75 knots, the helm so well balanced we abandoned it while sailing hard on the wind into gentle, two foot rollers. Then, with the wind dying in advance of an approaching thunderstorm, we ghosted at 3.5. to 4 knots in 5 knots of wind. Though not nimble, she does not stick to the water in those conditions. However, one caveat: we sailed the boat when she was dry, so a potential owner should consider the effect on performance of full tanks and stores.
A practical option for the offshore sailor will be an inner forestay onto which can be hanked a non overlapping jib. In heavy winds and seas the smaller sail will produce a more comfortable ride, avoid beating a genoa to death or the need to change the sail on the furler.
At the end of the test, as we approached the marina we experienced several 50 to 60 knot gusts that caused her to heel to 40 degrees, despite having doused the sails. The Etap 37's high freeboard adds windage while preventing the rail from dipping below the surface.
These gusts allowed us to test her performance while motoring with the Volvo 2030, three-cylinder diesel, with 28 rated horsepower at 3,600 rpm. She passed with flying colors. The boat maneuvered smartly in the marina under propulsion provided by a Volvo Saildrive with fixed, two-blade prop. One final unique feature among the mechanical aspects of this boat is an electric fan blower in the engine compartment that operates automatically when the engine is running; this is common on powerboats, yet we rarely see them on sailboats.
Priced at $199,900 FOB an East Coast port of entry, the Etap 37 occupies a spot at the high end of the market when measured against most production boats of similar size. However, she is priced competitively compared to quality boats designed for offshore passages. Buyers will pay a premium for her unsinkability.
Somers explained that "this construction method adds 20 to 30 percent" to the cost of construction, which raises a question about a) the necessity of an unsinkable boat, or b) the veracity of CE category A. The CE certification (required of all recreational boats sold in the European Union) does not hold offshore cruisers to an unsinkable standard, or require construction methods as stringent as a Lloyd's certification. Most sailors are aware of the risk of going to sea, but assume that a liferaft affords a great degree of protection in the event of a holing. Ultimately, then, a prospective owner may be forced to weigh the risks of an offshore catastrophe with the additional cost of an unsinkable craft. As with any monohull, if the keel falls off it will turtle, though this boat will be more buoyant than a conventionally constructed sailboat.
Ignoring that issue, this is a well-conceived boat that performs well over a broad range of wind speeds. It is also well-equipped, and user-friendly. The designers added some innovations that will improve performance and comfort (like the tandem keel and traveler arrangement), and features like the galley island that make sense.
The boat is targeted to experienced sailors with a bent for extended offshore passages. We think it's a better candidate for that kind of buyer than the casual weekend sailor, or beginner. But even the experienced sailor will need a footstool to clamber aboard.
Contact - Etap Yachts, Sail La Vie, 207/865-1855; www.etapyachting.com.