Two rugged aluminium 40-footers from competing french yards make an interesting comparison. François Tregouet tests the Allures 40.9 and Ovni 400
Back in the mid-2000s the niche market for aluminium centreboarders was disrupted by the arrival of a new upstart, Allures Yachting. Until then, the undisputed market leader was French company Alubat, builders of Ovni at Les Sables d’Olonne.
Last autumn Alubat launched the Ovni 400, a substantial evolution of its original concept, which we went to test sail in Les Sables. Then, just a few days later, it was the turn of competitor Allures to reveal its new 40.9. The opportunity to carry out a comparison of these two ocean cruising prospects was too timely and tempting to ignore.
The original Ovni concept dates back to the 1970s. With their shoal draught and raw, chined aluminium hulls, Ovnis have captured the imagination of serious ocean sailors over the past four decades. More than 1,500 Ovnis have been built, and fulfilled thousands of sailors’ bluewater cruising dreams. Jimmy Cornell famously completed a five-year circumnavigation aboard his Aventura III, an Ovni 43.
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In 2003 engineers Stéphan Constance and Xavier Desmarest created Allures Yachting, with the ambition of revitalising the aluminium centreboarder concept. Starting with a 39.5 the Cherbourg-en-Cotentin-based yard quickly extended its range to 45ft, then a 50-footer.
But after the economic crisis of 2008, demand shrank and this specialised market was challenged by an ever-increasing number of competitors. Alubat began to appear unreactive. It was even close to disappearing in 2014, when it was taken over by a consortium of shareholders that loved the brand.
The Ovni 450 was launched, a refinement of the 445 aimed to innovate without alienating existing customers. Now, however, comes the Ovni 400, marking a real breakthrough.
With this new design it is quicker to list what hasn’t changed: its 100% aluminium construction, centreboard keel and suitability for long-distance cruising are the main elements which remain the same.
At first glance, the shape of the hull is the biggest difference. The freeboard is almost vertical; the first curve is close to the waterline and its considerable beam extends almost all the way to the transom.
It has a rounded, slightly inverted bow, extended by a solid aluminium bowsprit. The bow section finishes one third of the way back, and sports a muscly volume visibly influenced by the box rule hulls of the Mini, Class 40 and IMOCA classes.
This is combined with a short coachroof and vertical windows, and a clear and uncluttered foredeck that takes little water over the deck. The boat is secure to manoeuvre around on, with wide panels of non-slip and a longitudinal foot brace that runs centrally down the foredeck. Once at anchor, the foredeck area can become a double-bed sunbathing area.
The form and function of the boat almost makes you think of a catamaran – a connection that the Ovni 400’s architects, Alain Mortain and Yanis Mavrikios, are at no pains to deny.
All sail handling can be done from the cockpit, and canvas is hoisted or unfurled from the shelter of the huge companionway canopy. This rests against a solid arch, made of aluminium, which also supports the double mainsheet. When seated at the forward end of the cockpit benches, or on the coaming, you have a particularly well-sheltered watchkeeping station.
At the stern, the twin wheels offer flexible helming: each wheel can be used sitting or standing facing forward, or sitting on the coaming to fix your eyes on the gennaker luff.
The twin rudders respond rapidly, and the genoa sheet winches, which are centred within easy reach, allow the helmsman to fine tune the sails without disturbing the crew. They can sit comfortably installed, well wedged-in, at the solid teak and lacquered aluminium cockpit table.
It takes time to learn how best to sail this modern hull. There is power, for sure, but also plenty of wetted surface area, so you have to find the right angles of wind and heel to optimise performance in light airs and breezier conditions. Under engine (a 50hp Volvo saildrive) the Ovni reaches 6 knots at 2,200rpm.
But it is the Ovni’s comfort, ergonomics and stowage that impress most. The yard’s great experience and customer feedback all show their hand here.
Among the most striking points we liked were the large, rectangular bed in the forward cabin, and panoramic coachroof windows, which give a 180° view from the sliding companionway door. The light joiner work and décor give an uncluttered, modern look.
Practical touches include refrigerator drawers in the galley, which can be opened when the yacht is heeled; a large, and easy to clean moulded heads compartment in the starboard aft cabin; and a proper machinery room – a must for any bluewater sailor – that is accessible from the interior or the cockpit.
A few details from the first boat need attention, such as protection for the throttle and perhaps fitting the arch slightly further aft.
However, this is a serious candidate for bluewater voyaging. And with serious voyaging in mind, the buyer of the hull in build during our visit to the yard is having his boat equipped with a rigid doghouse to protect crew from any heavy weather.
Allures unveiled its latest model at last season’s La Rochelle Boat Show. Anyone familiar with the Allures 39.9 might recognise the deck layout and lines, but many changes have been made here.
Although the interior layout remains more or less the same, the leap in quality initiated by its designer Isabelle Racoupeau – wife of the yacht’s naval architect Olivier Racoupeau – has changed things substantially. The Allures 40.9’s warm joinery and the attention given to the finishing details makes its predecessor seem dowdy by comparison.
From the stainless steel fiddles at the navstation to the leather-covered reading lights and the white Corian inserts in the saloon table, there is an overall feel of luxury.
Wireless light switches are within easy reach and no longer hidden in the ceiling. It’s these type of small details that give an overall impression of stylishness whilst remaining seamanlike.
The large roof hatches and five hull windows on each side generate plenty of light. The hull windows are aligned horizontally, so they enhance both the exterior aesthetics and the view from inside.
At sea, the slightly raised chart table and the U-shaped galley positioned close to the companionway allow the off-watch to keep an eye on the outside while staying warm and dry.
The saloon occupies the entire width of the hull, and the saloon table hides the centreboard well. There are a large number of stowage spaces on three levels on each side: under the seats; behind the backrests and under the side decks.
Fitted on this boat was good quality insulation foam (optional), which limits temperature changes and avoids any risk of condensation on the inside of the aluminium hull. The deck is of composite construction.
This use of an alloy/composite combination is something that has been well mastered in superyacht builds as well as in aeronautical construction. The saving in production time for the shipyard is obvious, as the interior can be built while the hull is open and without passing the furniture through the companionway hatch. It is not only an economic advantage; the use of a mould also allows the development of different deck shapes, a high level of finish, and better insulation.
As for the aluminium hull, owners love the fact that the lack of paintwork means there is one fewer item of regular maintenance to worry about, and anyone who craves colour can still have the design of their choice with the now-standard vinyl hull wrap.
On our test sail we had between 15 and 18 knots of wind, and the Allures 40.9 seemed so easy. At 40° off the apparent wind, we were making 7 knots, and between 8 and 9 knots once we bore off to 115°.
I had another opportunity to sail this boat last year in over 25 knots of wind, and my impression then was equally good.
In quite rough seas the boat hardly took any water over the deck and was sailing at more than 9 knots downwind in spite of having only a jib and mainsail. The only boats overtaking us that day were coastal or ocean racing yachts.
With over 20 knots of wind to get back to Cherbourg, we sailed dead downwind, sails goosewinged as if we were in the tradewinds – albeit not so warm. We’d have liked to hoist a gennaker on the solid bowsprit, to lengthen her stride.
But on this point of sail, and with a swell starting to build, you get the best of the smooth movement that centreboarders provide, and it’s a behaviour that always pleasantly surprises anyone not familiar with this configuration.
The same is true of harbour manoeuvres, especially when going astern. Guided by the twin rudders, and helped by the bow thruster, the Allures 40.9 smoothly slipped into its berth like a hand into a glove, despite a strong crosswind.
Head to head verdict
Both the Alubat and Allures yards clearly have a technical mastery of their builds. To be convinced of this, you only have to look at the electrical installations. The very high level of quality on both builds dispels any fears about the risk of electrolysis.
The metalwork on both boats is beyond reproach, stowage space is abundant, there are well-placed handrails everywhere and the capacity of the tanks gives all the self-sufficiency you could require. The specifications (below), indicate how evenly matched they are in some areas. So, which one would you choose?
The Allures and Ovni, close though they may appear to be, actually have very clearly differentiated personalities, and it is on this basis that owners will most likely make their choice.
The large and powerful Ovni will seduce those seeking to conquer muscular seas. The sleeker Allures will win the hearts of those who like to travel light. With the Ovni it is possible to customise the (aluminium) deck layout, while the Allures offers the versatility of a glassfibre deck construction.
Both Alubat and Allures deserve praise for the fact that the competition between them has pushed each company to innovate and improve their designs.
Centreboarder + Aluminium = Instability + Electrolysis?
Thousands of aluminium centreboarders have been cruising the world over the last 50 years. But myths die hard. A centreboarder is surely less stable than a keelboat? That’s simply not true. The standards for stability are the same for both. The downside is that the ballast on the centreboarder is higher up, so it requires more ballast to achieve the same righting moment.
A boat of the same length and sail area will be a few hundred kilos heavier – a disadvantage in light airs. On the other hand, the stability is very similar with the centreboard up, so you’re able to sail downwind in very little water or in rough seas.
The layman may also be worried about electrolysis in aluminium yachts. To dispel this biggest myth: the weak alloy of a lost penny dropped in the bilge won’t work its way through the 10-15mm of solid aluminium hull.
Ultimately, the electrical installations by shipyards such as Allures and Alubat are first class. Current leakage testers are a standard fit, warning of any deterioration, but also of possible problems if additional equipment is installed during the long life of the boat.
Allures 40.9 specification
LOA: 12.65m / 41ft 6in
Beam: 4.15m / 13ft 7in
Draught: 1.06–2.75 m / 3ft 6in–9ft
Displacement (lightship): 10,900kg / 24,030lb
Upwind sail area: 82.5m² / 883ft²
Water capacity: 330lt / 73gal
Fuel capacity: 400lt / 88gal
Starting price: €313,000 (ex. VAT)
Price as tested: €374,029
Design: Berret Racoupeau Yacht Design
Ovni 400 specification
LOA: 12.90m / 42ft 4in
Beam (max): 4.35m / 14ft 3in
Draught: 0.98–2.88 m / 3ft 3in–9ft 5in
Displacement (lightship): 11,200kg / 24,692lb
Upwind sail area: 85m² / 915ft²
Water capacity: 400lt / 88gal
Fuel capacity: 540lt / 119gal
Starting price: €309,000 (ex. VAT)
Price as tested: €420,045
Design: Mortain & Mavrikios
First published in the October 2020 issue of Yachting World.