Since launching their first boat, the Euros, back in 1966 the French builders were led by the company’s founder Henri Tonet, (better known as Henri Amel), with his seemingly simple objective – to create the best cruising yacht for a couple to sail to deliver “maximum pleasure for minimum effort.”
While other yards may lay claim to a similar goal, it has been Amel’s dogged determination to keep things simple that has contributed to the French company’s sustained success.
For starters, it has never produced more than two models at any one time. “In our firm, we don’t change models every year, but we keep perfecting the ones we make,” Henri is quoted as saying.
But restricting its new launches to one a decade for the first 34 years was a strategy at odds with others in the business. Surely anyone looking to buy a boat they call home rather than a weekend plaything would want to express themselves and put their mark on it?This is where Amel has been so clever because, while this is broadly true, the flip side of swapping life ashore for that of living the dream afloat is that many people are nervous about such a big step, no matter how boldly they started out.
To be shown a detailed standard specification where all the key thinking has been done goes a long way to calming any post-purchase, pre-delivery anxiety.
The new style Amel involves more than just good looks. Modern lines, a plumb bow and wide aft sections make for a powerful boat. Her jib leads on the coachroof are a subtle indication of the new focus on performance. Photo: Rick Tomlinson
As an example, the list of options for its latest and largest Amel doesn’t even make two pages of A4. For most, the decisions that are required will need so little debate that the entire boat could be specified over a lunchtime pint at the pub.
So, when it comes to writing a boat test for the new Amel 60, there’s a temptation to start with the long list of standard equipment and build a story around that. Yet to start there would be to do little justice to a new model that marks the second chapter in a big step forward for this company.
Let’s be honest. For all their attributes, Amels have rarely been the prettiest of boats nor, I would argue, the most contemporary. But the Amel 60 changes all that. This new Berret-Racoupeau design doesn’t just look modern, she is clearly on trend, starting with her hull shape.
The Amel 60 is a Berret-Racoupeau design. Photo: Rick Tomlinson
Plumb bows are all the rage, as are fixed bowsprits. So too are lines that open out into beamy, powerful sections aft that then benefit from twin rudders. And given that when these shapes are combined with the correct buoyancy distribution they can deliver a quicker hull form with few vices, it’s an obvious choice for cruising designs to adopt the secondary benefits that come with this fuller form.
Increased volume, both for the accommodation and the deck lockers, are among the key advantages. Twin rudders reduce drag when heeled and provide a more balanced, surefooted feel when under way, but they also provide a level of redundancy should one of them get damaged. Plus, for those who spend more time in areas like the Mediterranean, the shallower rudders help with mooring stern-to.
The Amel 60 has all of these advantages and, with its dark, rectangular hull portlights and tinted wraparound windscreen, it takes on the looks of the modern cruising generation.
With a layout designed to be as versatile as possible, the Amel 60 can be operated by two, easily sleeps six and has the capacity for eight people in total
The smaller Amel 50 was the first to break the mould and set the new style when launched in 2017. A brave new look along with its quality of build and fit out was recognised straight away and it shot up the charts winning European Yacht of the Year in 2018. The company has since built just short of 50 boats. Apart from looks, one of the biggest departures from the original style was the move from ketch to sloop rig.
Previously, ketch rigs were incorporated to divide the sail plan into manageable chunks and make sail handling easier. Yet that was in an era where sail handling systems were not as efficient and reliable as they are today. Plus, with the modern trend for aft swept spreaders and full-width chainplate bases, taller rigs can be more secure and dispense with the need for running backstays.
Higher aspect ratio sail plans are more efficient as a result and are also easier to manage thanks to improvements in sail furling technology. Add twin independent fixed backstays into the equation and you have an extremely well supported mast.
In short, times have changed and Amel has responded. But the 60 takes the concept even further by making a bold statement with a carbon mast fitted as standard. Interestingly, it’s the sail plan that provides some of the bigger decisions when it comes to ticking boxes on the options list.
Among the key choices is the option to have a self-tacking cutter rig. The test boat had this and it worked well, particularly as the staysail has decent proportions and is mounted sufficiently far forward to make it a good sail on its own in a breeze. Unfortunately we didn’t have such conditions for the test, but even though a staysail adds just short of €20,000 to the bill, for me it’s an obvious box to tick.
Another is the option for a free-flying, furling Code 0, which will nudge the bill up by another €18,000. But again this is money well spent in my mind to provide an extra gear for light airs upwind sailing (which we did get to experience), along with better performance in stronger breezes downwind.
Fixed bowsprit and electric furlers are standard,
the second windlass an option. Photo: Jérôme Ricoul
The move to sloop configuration has also freed up deck space as well and simplified the overall layout. The most obvious area is on the after deck which is now a wide, open space, perfect for sunbathing or stowing a dinghy on deck if you don’t want the optional davits.
Keeping the side decks clutter free has always been one of the key features of an Amel and nothing has changed aboard the 60, which has to be one of the easiest and most secure decks to move about on that you’ll find in this size and style. The solid rails running around the entire deck, higher than most conventional guardwires, are another common and popular feature of the marque.
Solid deck rails add to the sense of security on board. Photo: Jérôme Ricoul
Security, both real and perceived, is an important feature of an Amel and nowhere is this more obvious than in the centre cockpit. This deep and largely enclosed area is more pilothouse than cockpit, albeit with a sliding solid sunroof that helps to open things up in the right conditions. Yet given how enclosed this area is, the all round visibility is generally very good.
When it comes to handling the boat alone under sail, it is pretty easy thanks to the well-sorted panel for the sail control systems. Indeed, although it is possible to wind everything by hand, you’d consider yourself pretty unlucky if you had to break out a winch handle.
But while I was impressed with the layout, comfort and security, a particular reservation I have with this configuration is the ability to drive electric sheet winches that are behind you. The ease with which you could activate a winch without seeing a hand placed on it or the accidental development of an override is worrying.
Amel has stuck to its offset, forward helm station from which the entire boat can be managed with guest seating behind. Photo: Ilago
The answer would seem to be to be diligent about never operating a winch without looking aft, but then this does raise issues about looking ahead too. Having said that, what did get my vote in this department was the mainsheet winch mounted to starboard of the companionway hatch and within easy reach of the helmsman.
A far smaller issue was the angular and rather sharp feel to the grab handles mounted in the guest area of the cockpit. Stylish perhaps, but not a great feel.
But a big plus, especially for those with plenty of sea miles and real world experience, is the engine room access. Lifting the cockpit floor with the help of the permanently fitted gas struts provides access to the business end of the boat in seconds. It is, quite simply, the best engine access you can imagine.
And with such a large opening the engine room cools down quickly and provides plenty of light, air and space when you’re down there.