Peter Hrones, founder and managing director of Windcraft Australia, toured Europe’s yacht-building factories in the late 1990s, looking for a range of boats he could distribute Down Under. Peter’s criteria were demanding: boat quality and strength; the manufacturer’s vision for the future; suitability for Australian conditions; boat speed and ease of sail handling. Michael Schmidt, already well-known in German racing circles for his success as an Admiral’s Cup skipper and founder and managing director of Hanse Yachts, convinced Peter Hrones that the Hanse brand was the right one.
Hanse’s design company, Judel/Vrolijk, which also penned the America’s Cup holder Alinghi, has a clear understanding that Hanse yachts must perform well, but be easy to handle foremost. The key component is a high aspect-ratio, 9/10 rig, with a self-tacking, furling headsail.
Windcraft introduced the Hanse brand Down Under at the Sydney International Boat Show in August 2000 and has sold 175 Hanses to Australian customers since that year. Windcraft planned to deliver the 50th Hanse 400 by Christmas.
The successful 400 was given a substantial update this year, with more cabin hatches and a new stern layout that has greatly increased cockpit floor space. The aft coamings have been slimmed down, but the reduction in bin storage space is compensated by cockpit floor hatches. As well, buyers can choose a single-wheel steering station or twin wheels. We sailed both variants to bring this test.
DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION
The new 400 retains the Hanse construction method of vinylester resin sandwich layup for hull and deck, with foam used below the waterline and balsa above. Epoxy construction is optional, for around a 10 per cent saving in hull weight, says WIndcraft, and greatly improved resistance to osmosis.
The standard keel draws 2.05m and is an iron/lead bulb design, but there’s a T-profile, shallow-draft, 1.65m option. Fraunhofer-Institut research has helped Hanse’s engineers blend keel and chainplate metal and laminates together in the optimum way. Metal reaction has also been carefully considered in the aluminium components of the rudder. Glued and drilled connections, not welded, are employed because of the weakening effect of the welding process. Steering is rod drag link and is very easily accessed.
Hanse’s aluminium masts are deck-stepped, with highly polished compression posts. Mast sections are curved, with tapered tops, to allow easy tuning via the diagonals and adjustable backstays. Hanse 400s have two-spreader rigs with wire standing rigging and jib furlers. The backstay on the 400 terminates at a block above the boom and is tensioned via a vee-shaped lower stay with block and tackle.
Although the standard rig is designed around a self-tacking headsail, the chainplates are set inboard so that the optional genoa tracks are well-positioned for narrow sheeting angles. The telescopic vang doubles as a boom stay and is given enough power to make it a key component in sail trimming.
Trademark Hanse features are dominated by a self-tacking jib. The jib clew is fitted with a curved ‘crow’s foot’ board that serves a triple purpose: spreading sheet loads through the sail, allowing the clew to sheet close to the traveller car and permitting the sheet attachment point to be varied to suit wind conditions and the boat’s course. An example of the latter function is that the sheeting point on the board can be lowered, to allow the head of the sail to twist off and spill unwanted power.
The jib sheeting looks convoluted, but it works well. On the 400 the sheet ties to the clew board, runs through a self-tacking car block and up to a sheave in the mast, just below the first spreader. The sheet runs over the mast sheave, down inside the stick to a deck turning block and aft to a sheet/halyard winch.
By taking the sheet up the mast, the angle into the sheave is narrow, regardless of the car position on the track, so sheet friction and sheave loading are limited.
On larger Hanses, the sheet is double blocked between the car and the clew, to reduce sheet loads.
The mainsheet system also contributes to the Hanse’s ease of handling. On the 400 there is no mainsheet traveller, just a pair of port and starboard blocks on the coach house roof. The mainsheet runs from an eye on the boom, down to the portside block, up to a boom block, down to the starboard-side block, back up to a second boom block, down to a turning block at the base of the mast and aft through a jammer to the cabin-top winch.
The boom is fitted with a voluminous sail bag and lazy jacks. Nice touches are a stainless steel hawse pipe to shield the mast electrical conduit from damage, and the companionway storm board that stows neatly in the gap between the sliding hatch and the cabin roof.
High freeboard and a generous beam provide plenty of volume below decks, so the Hanse 400 could easily be mistaken for a larger boat. Clever design touches at the ends of the boat increase headroom in these two critical areas: a tallish forward section of the coach house contributes to vee-berth headroom; and a shallow starboard cockpit locker improves headroom in the aft double cabin.
The 400 interior plan is split into three sections. Forward of the main bulkhead the cabin can be arranged with an island double bed and two large wardrobes; a double vee-berth with single wardrobe and office desk; or a double vee-berth with single wardrobe and en suite head. Our Pittwater test boat had a single head, while the Port Stephens boat had twins.
The saloon plan is based around a large head/shower, an L-shaped galley and a starboard dinette, with a choice of a full lounge to port or two corner lounges, separated by a table that can double as a chart area. Two aft cabins are arranged asymmetrically and can be specified as a large double bunk to starboard with either a storage area to port, or a smaller double bunk.
The galley features a 120lt fridge with front and top openings, a two-burner gimballed LPG stove with oven, and twin sinks with infill lids that extend bench space. Cupboards are a mixture of solid front and frosted glass, creating an apartment-like atmosphere. The test boat was finished in ‘mahogany style’, vertical woodwork, but paler American cherry is optional. Interior floors were finished in standard cherry, but buyers can choose teak, dark cherry or maple finishes. Floor cutouts lift up for access to plumbing, wiring and through-hull fittings, using Hanse’s clever suction-cup-lift method.
We split this evaluation over two Hanse 400s: one in Sydney’s Pittwater that was fitted with a standard single wheel and the other at Port Stephens that had the twin-wheel option. Both boats were tested using white sails only and worked two-up or singlehanded through all manoeuvres, to check ease of short-handed sailing.
Our first sail was done in perfect test conditions: varying winds that oscillated through 90? and with speeds between 5kts and 23kts. The Hanse 400 steered easily out of its Pittwater berth, with very little engine noise and vibration. Yanmar seems to be doing everything right with its yacht auxiliaries.
The optional autopilot kept a steady course as two of us hoisted the main out of its bag: one ‘jumping’ the halyard at the mast and the other tailing it at the cabin-top winch. The fully-battened main went up smoothly, with little effort and we didn’t have snagging troubles between the batten ends and the lazy jacks. Mainsheet trim came on quickly by hand, with winch handle power needed only for final tensioning.
Unrolling the jib was easy and, once the sheet was tensioned for windward sailing, needed no further attention. Tacking was a doddle: a call of “tacking!” followed by wheel action and the boat settled on its new course. The manoeuvre went unnoticed by the crew, unless the new mainsail position blocked the warming morning sun! A high-set boom, cabin-top sheeting and the self-tacker up front meant no-one had to do anything: no mainsheet dodging, no jib trimming, no winching, and no tailing.
Gybing needed some sheet work, but one crew could easily handle both sails, hauling in and releasing the main, while the jib looked after itself. There’s no chance of anyone in the cockpit being caught during a gybe by the mainsheet or the boom.
As the wind freshened we played around with the mainsheet, backstay, outhaul, halyard tension and vang, finding all the controls easy to use. The main responded well to fiddling and the test boat was fitted with genoa tracks and cars, making it easy to rig a temporary sheet if we needed to change the jib sheet attachment point on the clew board. The Hanse 400 has two slab reef points, with blocks at the tack cringles and one-line action, to ease the process.
Steering the Hanse in moderate breezes showed up its mainsail dominance and it took a few minutes to get used to catching the boat before big puffs rounded it up. Once in the ‘Hanse groove’ I found the 400 very easy to sail. Club racing with a sensitive mainsheet-hand on board has proved to be very rewarding for a few Hanse owners we know.
The only tricky bit was a long stretch to put a hand on the relatively small wheel from either gunwale seat, but the optional large-diameter wheel would have made the job easier. Even better is the twin-wheel option.
TWICE AS NICE
Our second test sail coincided with the Hanse Down Under Port Stephens Sail Away Weekend. This owners’ boat was fitted with dual wheels and an optional cockpit pedestal table. Because the yacht was berthed stern-to, we immediately appreciated the ease of access through the gap between the wheels. Clambering aboard the single-wheel boat had been much trickier. However, the transom step on both boats is smooth-finished gelcoat that really should be anti-slip. We noticed another slick surface on the Hanse 400, at the leading edge of the coach house.
As with the single-wheel boat, the twin-wheel version has duplicate instrument panels on port and starboard coamings. The positioning is ideal for gunwale steering and means the pedestals on the twin-wheel version don’t need to be fitted with bulky binnacles. The optional chartplotter is mounted on the single-wheel binnacle and on the twin-wheel model is fitted to the aft end of the cockpit table. If there’s an easier-to-use cockpit table than Hanse’s double-drop-side design we’ve yet to see it and the translucent surfaces are easy to clean. However, it does intrude on cockpit space.
At Port Stephens, we were aboard Carol and Mike’s Mica for a sail from Peppers Resort out to Broughton Island and return. While at the island, we dropped the pick and checked out the boat for ease of playing on the water’s edge.
Dropping anchor was a safe, simple operation, thanks to a powered windlass, well aligned bowroller and a cavernous chain locker that is large enough to stand in. Incidentally, the chain locker makes an ideal place to stow fenders: up to six medium-sized ones can fit.
The aft cockpit deck on both 400 versions has flush-lidded lockers with drains that are ideal places to stow water toys, bait or fish, so there’s no need to carry wet items into the cabin.
Lack of morning breeze meant the outbound eight miles or so were done motorsailing with the mainsail up, but the post-lunch return journey was done in a light to moderate nor’easter: port-gybe, relaxed cruising. We chucked in a final gybe outside the Port Stephens entrance, just because we could, then motorsailed over the sandbank as the sun sank ahead of us. A tough day out.
The Hanse 400’s popularity will only be enhanced by the introduction of this latest version, with its broader cockpit floor and single or twin steering wheel options. The rest is up to you and, with the self-tacker, your invisible crew.
Specifications- Hanse 400
PRICE AS TESTED
$387,538 (single-wheel version)
Epoxy hull ($17,538); Cruise Pack (anchor winch, anchor kit, hot cockpit shower, interior blinds, extra batteries, stereo, stainless steel gas bottles with local compliance); Navigation Pack (Simrad wind instruments, Simrad full-function graphic display IS 20, ICOM VHF, Simrad AP 24 Autopilot); Simrad chartplotter; Simrad AIS transponder; rail gates on both sides; electric halyard winch; Lewmar 46 ASTs in lieu of 40 ASTs; three-blade folding prop; second aft cabin bed; and upgraded upholstery
$319,000 (Epoxy hull $336,538)
Material: Vinylester sandwich hull and deck (Epoxy hull optional)
Length overall: 12.10m
Hull length: 11.99m
Waterline length: 10.80m
Draft: 2.05m (1.65m optional)
Berths: Two doubles (three berths optional)
Headsail: 36.20m² (self tacking)
Make/model: Yanmar 3JH4
Rated kW/HP: 29.40/40
Prop: Fixed two-blade (folding three-blade optional)
Bayview Anchorage Marina,
Waterfront Office 2,
1714 Pittwater Road,
Bayview, NSW, 2104
Phone: (02) 9979 1709
Fax: (02) 9979 2027