A boat that dares to do things differently, the GT325 blends elements of the old and the new to remarkable effect. David Harding reports
There seems to be a consensus that all new cruising yachts look the same, but I would defy anyone to say that about the GT325. That’s because she is different – very different, in all sorts of ways.
Like most modern cruisers, the GT325 has a broad stern. If you only saw her stern-on, you might imagine she was at least 36ft (11m) long. In fact she’s just 31ft 3in (9.53m) on deck, making her one
of the few tough, sporty cruisers in this size range.
The broad stern is balanced – properly balanced, in hydrodynamic terms – by an unusually broad bow for a cruising yacht. Stopping short of being even a semi-scow shape, it nonetheless incorporates scow-bow thinking, being a fuller version of the flying bow seen on many of Stephen Jones’ earlier designs, going back to his half-tonners.
For all her performance pedigree, the GT325 is very much a cruising yacht. She just happens to incorporate up-to-the-minute thinking that makes her unusually fast for a cruiser of her length – and especially of her weight – and unusually roomy too. Combining space with pace has always been a challenge when designing cruising yachts, and the GT325 was conceived and designed to offer both in abundance.
Somehow she also manages to combine a high-volume hull with surprisingly attractive lines. That’s no easy trick to pull off. She looks modern without being remotely trendy.
So what exactly is the GT325, and where does she come from? Well, regular readers will recall that we introduced her in YM last year when hull No.1 was being built. She’s the first new boat from the re-born GT Yachts, whose GT 35 I tested back in 2014.
Her pedigree dates back to the Starlight 35 and 39, which I knew from their birth having been working in the sales office at Sadler International when Stephen Jones produced the drawings for what was initially known as the Starlight 38.
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Fast-forward 14 years to the launch of the Sadler 290 in 2003, and we find a new, smaller boat that embodied the Starlight philosophy: a fast, capable cruiser with a lead keel – or keels in this case because most 290s were twin-keelers. Mounted on moulded stubs to ensure an exceptionally low centre of gravity, they allowed the 290 to carry plenty of sail for good performance in light airs, and they also made sure that she had the power to perform in a blow.
The next reincarnation of the Starlights, again designed by Stephen Jones, was the GT 35 in 2014. GT Yachts was formed by Conrad Cockburn, a naval architect and chartered engineer who fully appreciated the potential of the Sadler/Starlight approach and, with Jones, brought it right up to date. A superb finish and a large splash of luxury were added to the 35 for good measure. I was not surprised to find that she performed exactly as her pedigree suggested.
Evolution in action
So obvious were the attributes of the GT 35 that plans were drawn up for more boats in the range, including a smaller version that would be an evolution of the Sadler 290. Sadly, the logistics involved in out-sourcing production didn’t stack up and GT Yachts had to put everything on hold. Then, last year, the company found a new investor and set up its own production facility at Mercury Yacht Harbour. A new yacht was announced too, in the form of the GT325. The moulds for the 35 still exist, but a smaller model was chosen to re-launch the GT brand because it’s almost as big down below within a significantly shorter hull.
Essential requirements of the GT325 – apart from speed, power, stiffness, space and easy handling – were that it would have a deep, sheltered and fully enclosed cockpit, a choice of fin or twin keels, a choice of wheel or tiller steering (because people who appreciate a boat like this might appreciate the benefits of a tiller), plenty of deck-stowage and a master forward cabin that few, if any, sailing yachts of similar length could match.
It also had to be tough and properly engineered. For example, bulkheads are located with structural bonding and then glassed directly to the deck and to the vacuum-infused hull. Vinylester resin is used throughout the hull laminate. The keel stub (or stubs) are integral to the hull moulding and incorporate fibres that run as continuous laminates from one side of the hull to the other. Substantial frames and carbon-reinforced stringers are also laminated into the hull and through the stubs, which incorporate sufficient radius where they join the hull to avoid structural compromises caused by sharp angles.
You can feel the solidity of the GT325 when you step aboard. Her rock-like steadiness is partly because of her 12,500lb (5,650kg) displacement. If that sounds heavy for a 31-footer – and she’s no lightweight – bear in mind that she has a waterline of nearly 30ft (9.50m) and 570 sq ft (53m2) of sail with the standard mainsail and self-tacking headsail. In-mast reefing on the test boat inevitably reduced both the area and efficiency of the mainsail, but was chosen on the basis that it will be a popular option. Sails are by Sanders in Lymington.
Balancing the smaller main was the overlapping headsail, which gives 43ft (4m2) more area than the self-tacker at the expense of a wider sheeting angle – the tracks are on the inboard side of the decks because the design and shape of the coachroof doesn’t allow them to be mounted on the top. This hardly seemed to hold her back upwind in brisk conditions. You could always rig up inhaulers if you wanted to.
As with the Sadler 290, twin keels are expected to be the most popular option on the GT. Weighing 1.2 tonnes each and bolted to the bottom of the moulded stubs, they give a ballast ratio of over 42% and keep the weight as low as possible. You simply couldn’t make a boat like this work in the same way with iron keels. You also have the reassurance of knowing that, if you hit something hard, lead has that little bit of give.
Paper and practice
It was hard not to approach the test of the GT325 with high expectations. Given that we wanted to let the boat show what she could do in a decent breeze, we waited until we were reasonably confident of getting one. Fortunately we did: it started at around 12 knots gusting to 18, picked up to 18 gusting 24 and later died to 9 gusting 12, so we had a good range of conditions. A north-easterly in the central Solent meant mostly flat water and very shifty winds.
Comfortably carrying full sail with well over 20 knots of wind across the deck, the GT showed that she’s a powerful performer, though of course de-powering is easier in flat water. We suspected
that most cruising sailors might not push quite so hard and, in any event, Stephen (Jones, who joined us), suggested we would be quicker with a couple of rolls in the main as the wind continued to build.
While the helm remained light, and keeping the boat on her feet was no great challenge, we were inevitably sailing along an increasingly fine line. Life became easier with less area in the main and we were faster too: our speed picked up from mid-5s to high-5s. When the breeze dropped later on, we still maintained 4.7 knots upwind with just 10-12 knots over the deck.
With a twin-keeler, it’s worth bearing in mind that the grip from the keels increases as the boat heels. The rudder’s grip diminishes at the same time, moving the centre of lateral resistance (CLR) forward and leading to more weather helm. The relative positions of the CLR and centre of effort (CE) will have been taken into account at the design stage, so all you need to do is to remember that, with twin keels, reefing the mainsail before the headsail is often the best solution.
We had to push the boat hard to provoke her into rounding up. That’s largely because of the balanced hull form, the full bow sections countering the effects of the broad stern. This is where the balance of the hull, rig and foils all come together, in this case creating a boat that’s crisp, light and responsive to sail. And she’s no slouch: cracking off a few degrees took our speed up to 7.5 knots. Upwind, despite the wide headsail sheeting angle, we consistently tacked through around 85° on the compass.
Unlike the Starlights and the Sadler 290, but in common with the GT 35, the GT325 has a rudder blade from Jefa. It was nicely balanced and loaded up gently yet progressively as we neared the limits, giving plenty of warning before letting go. By contrast, the blade on the 290 is firmer, with a limpet-like grip. The rudder was working in undisturbed water, thanks to the feathering propeller. It would be sacrilege to have a fixed prop on a boat like this.
Control of the rudder is via a 48in (1,200mm) wheel. Although it’s big enough to allow a comfortable perch outboard and a good view forward, I would choose a tiller. A drag-link, as on the Rustler 33 (another of Stephen’s designs) would move the tiller abaft the rudder-head. That way, the forward end of the tiller would be only just forward of where the pedestal is with the wheel steering.
On a boat that’s designed as a coastal cruiser, where you’re going to be hand-steering much of the time, why not treat yourself to the versatility and direct responsiveness of a tiller? So many boats these days no longer give you the choice.
Forward of the helm, there’s a comfortable perch on the outboard side of the cockpit coamings from where you can lean back against the guardwires. Should you prefer to sit inboard, you will find an unusually well-protected cockpit. The seats are fairly low with high backrests that are nicely angled. You also have a low fixed windscreen, à la Hallberg-Rassy.
It’s unusual in the cockpit of a broad-sterned boat these days to be able to brace your legs across to the opposite seats. You can do that here because the cockpit is a moderate width, making it secure and allowing the side decks to run all the way to the stern.
Primary winches for the overlapping headsail (upgraded on our test boat to Andersen 40s) are on the coamings, next to the Andersen 34s for the German mainsheet system. The traveller, forward of the companionway, is controlled by lines that will be led to cleats at the aft end of the windscreen. The bifurcated backstay is tensioned with a winch handle.
Moving along the deck, you find substantial bulwarks and plenty of non-slip on the coachroof. In the bow is an enormous deck locker (or bosun’s locker, as GT like to call it) for fenders, downwind sails and whatever else you choose.
GT325 below decks
As on the GT 35, the light oak finish is impressive. Equally impressive is the amount of space. The galley, to port by the companionway, is out of the way and somewhere you can wedge yourself securely. GT Yachts are particularly proud of the front-opening fridge that’s mounted athwartships so you can open the door on either tack without spilling the contents.
Also worthy of note is the enormous forecabin with its hull-side ports and space for a second heads if you want. The primary heads is to starboard abaft the saloon and forward of the double cabin (with twin bunks as an option) in the stern. Getting in and out of the aft cabin is a bit of a squeeze due to the narrow door; a compromise in the interests of achieving full-length saloon seating and a roomy heads.
Handholds and detailing are good, though the test boat was still awaiting a few finishing touches such as the odd door and some locker catches.
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The GT325 is a remarkable boat in a number of ways. We haven’t dwelled on the space below decks, but she really is vast given her hull length of just over 31ft. The layout works at sea as well as in harbour and, that apart, it’s a comfortable, bright, airy and welcoming space in which to spend time surrounded by nicely finished joinery and neat detailing. Modern boats sometimes seem to waste much of their substantial volume, so it makes a refreshing change to see the space both above decks and below used as intelligently as it has been in the GT325. Here’s a British-designed and British-built fast cruiser that’s easy and fun to sail and that undoubtedly offers more in her modest length than you will find in many boats a good deal longer.