Contest Yachts has created a hull with the unique option of two different decks and layouts. We tested the first aft helm Contest 49CS over two lively days
Ahead of testing the Contest 49CS we has some miserable weather, certainly not the sort of conditions you’d ordinarily choose to go out in. It had been blowing 30 knots for the past 30 hours straight that we’d been aboard and despite the protection the small fishing port on the Dutch island of Texel offered, there was still enough swell bouncing around inside its walls to make the warps groan as we pitched up and down against the old musselling barge alongside. No, were time not an issue – were you cruising proper – you’d choose to stay warm and dry, read a book in the decidedly welcoming interior, enjoy some more coffee and local cuisine.
But as I donned all of the foul weather kit I could in preparation for our second day of sailing in these conditions, there was a certain pleasure in the task, a knowledge that this craft would take in its stride what was lurking outside the harbour’s confines. Once we were spat out of that tight entrance channel, there’d be no hiding, but also little need to – because, I knew now, there was still sailing enjoyment to be had. I’d built up a rapport with this Contest 49CS, a level of confidence only a well built yacht can provide.
That said, this new model does bring with it some fundamental questions – not least, whether you might choose this or its twin sister, the Contest 50CS.
The new 50ft premium bluewater cruiser market is brimming with top choices, including the proven Amel 50, Hallberg-Rassy 50 and the new Oyster 495. These all tend to share a layout formula: a deep centre cockpit to protect the crew and the typical large aft master suite this can help buy space for.
What if your desires and demands were different, however? Many cruising sailors today aren’t looking to spend long periods on the ocean and prefer layouts that suit their anchorages/destinations, while many also spend long periods aboard in the hospitable Mediterranean before going further afield.
What if you place a higher value on helm sensation, deck relaxation space, a proper swim platform, a garage to house a practical dinghy? Or perhaps you want more space or comfort for your guests or children? To find designs with layouts focussed more on these elements you’d typically have to look towards performance oriented yachts such as the Solaris 50 we featured last month, or those from Swan or X-Yachts.
When developing a new 50ft bluewater cruiser Contest Yachts factored such questions in and decided on offering the hull in two completely different layouts: the more conventional centre cockpit/aft master 50CS and the first aft cockpit/twin aft cabin style boat in this market, the Contest 49CS. And by developing a full hybrid option at this size, it offers clients more choice still.
“The idea is that we bring something new and attract a different market with this,” says Arjen Conijn, CEO of this third generation family run yard, who joined us for a sail. “The main interior option is the choice of a completely different layout!”
Contest built over 50 of the original Contest 50 since it launched in 2002, but it has not been produced for some years by the Medemblik yard. This current Judel/Vrolijk-designed interpretation has a modern hull shape, designed to perform in all conditions, with long waterlines, high topsides, beam carried right aft and plenty of glass. It’s a voluminous package, which has helped the yard to create these two opposing layouts.
It’s a unique choice, which will come down to the type of sailing owners want to do. At the time of our trial, Contest had sold eight Contest 50CSs and four Contest 49CSs. The owner of this first Contest 49CS, for example, sails with his two children and wanted them to have similar sized cabins they wouldn’t squabble over! To gain these spacious aft doubles or twins you do have to be prepared to give up some space in the master cabin – a forward owner’s suite never feels as plush as an aft, full beam version at this size.
November in the North Sea can be pretty bleak. The yard had a small window for shooting press images (which they managed in a few hours of sun), before we were given the exclusive opportunity to spend a couple of days and nights aboard.
I’ve never known such consistent conditions: 25-30 knots of grey, all day, all night, and all the next day! So our introduction was a lively one as we exited the naval port of Den Helder, and began deep reaching, as the wind ripped against the tide to form a testing 1.5m-2m sea. We kept full white sails for as long as possible to give the photographer some full sail shots as we ploughed down the channel towards the island of Texel, averaging 9-10 knots with 13 knot surfs.
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The Contest 49CS quickly proved itself. The single rudder offers plenty of grip, while steering from the aft helms provides a relatively direct sensation.
And for a yacht with a generous underbody, it was still playful enough to enjoy the surf. More fun came when we turned around into the wind, sharp waves and, by this stage, rain.
Despite the thoroughly unwelcoming conditions, I already had an entrenched confidence in the yacht. Perhaps it’s because I know how it’s built and to what standard (more on that later). But it also proved dependable to handle and relatively easy to control.
Reefing the main and genoa and adjusting the genoa cars could all be done from the cockpit and helm area. Having crew to keep lines under control during tacks and furls in strong wind obviously helps. The mainsheet plinth works well, providing a bracing position between pedestals from which to keep keen control of the powerful sheet. A hydraulic backstay and vang also aid mainsail trim.
One of the biggest takeaways was how quiet the Contest remained below decks during these trials, with no movement or creaking. The curved companionway steps and solid handrails are mounted where you need them most to help make it safe to move around.
We averaged 8.5 knots punching into the waves with a double reefed main and genoa, something we were to repeat the following day during a long beat at 30° to the apparent wind. It tacked tightly, with a nice steady motion and in good control. And despite this not presenting the prettiest of sail shapes, it felt balanced enough on the helm.
However, a concern was that with this in-mast 3Di mainsail, we were at maximum reef with two reefs in. Personally I’d want deeper reef points or a third reef and potentially some sort of staysail or storm jib option to keep the sailplan balanced when things get really fruity.
But that’s an owner decision, which involves many factors when commissioning the rig and sails including, in this case, the handling simplicity of in-mast furling versus the performance of vertical battens and how much of the inner mast profile these and the mandrel take up.
The test boat had a relatively standard deck layout, with electric winches for main and genoa within reach of the twin helmstations, plus an extra set of optional multipurpose/spinnaker winches on the coaming step. The optional electric genoa furler also proved a wise choice during our trials.
There are no designed-in options for tidying up the sheets, but halyard tails are at least kept at the mast base with this in-mast mainsail set up.
Viewed from the side, this is a large yacht, with high topsides (I could only just reach the bottom of the boom standing on tiptoes). That equates to headroom Dutch folk will marvel at below decks and helps keep dry decks in waves, but brings downsides such as boarding and windage. Adding a coveline might help aesthetically break up the freeboard.
The helms are outboard and high enough for good sightlines, particularly with the low sprayhood design. This seems a good compromise, in that most adults will need to duck to get below it, but it still protects the forward end of the cockpit without overly hindering views or aesthetics.
The steering felt relatively direct. Despite the aft helms and short connections needed, Contest uses Jefa’s tube and rod system, with independent linkage on each wheel to the quadrant to provide redundancy and allow autopilots to mount on each side.
The extension of the cockpit coaming aft gives some protection and creates a practical perch for the helmsman, while the huge, beam wide deck area aft is free for lounging (with additional beanbags) with direct access to the swim platform. The quarters are well designed, with lifting seats to access cleats and fairleads, and deep, handy lockers with line hangers for warps and hoses.
A garage below the main aft deck houses a 2.8m RIB mounted athwartships. Fenders can stow in the dinghy itself as there is big central access for use when under way. Elsewhere the sail locker in the bows is plenty roomy enough for the Helix gennaker on Corazon.
On arriving at midnight for the first of two nights aboard, we descended into a particularly welcoming semi-raised saloon. It’s a smart, contemporary and appealing interior, which shouts modern elegance and design, backed up by a superior quality of finish. Equally, following a day of inclement weather sailing, it felt atmospheric and inviting to recuperate in the well insulated and heated accommodation.
Wetzels & Brown, Contest’s long term design partners, did the styling. “Gill [Brown] treats everything as a superyacht, always adding light and comfort,” thinks Arjen Conijn. He explained how the main bulkhead might conventionally use horizontal lines to enhance the beam, whereas the Contest 49CS has plenty of beam already, so vertical lines were chosen. Brown wanted a gentle, rounded corner look to the wood, “so we needed to find a way to bend it!” The ribbed natural oak used on the main bulkhead, which curves towards the forward cabin, is a beautifully executed centrepiece.
Generous hull portlights and coachroof windows provide ample natural light. The saloon ports are at different heights to the cabin ports, which makes sense to get the correct horizon lines when seated, even if it does look a little odd from outside. The saloon, with its thick cushions, is a comfortable adaptable area. Pouf stools are used to convert the port side sofa into a chaise or daybed, or they can slide over to join the table, which also lowers and doubles over.
One of the yacht’s trumps is the accessibility of usable stowage. Contest uses sprung hinges to make it quick and easy to access the spaces below the saloon seating, for example. Then, moving forward from the saloon you’ll find a favourite feature: a proper large hanging locker, which has been cleverly camouflaged into the ribbed joinerwork. The full height of this allows for two rails, so you can hang wet and dry gear separately and there is a heater outlet in the base.
The owner of the test boat had chosen an enlarged chart table at the expense of a shower stall in the smaller aft heads. Owners of this type of yacht will arguably want a desk of this size anyway, so it’s a pity to have to choose between the two. And as it is, you still only get a stool with this larger desk, not a proper chair with a seat back. But it’s on the same level as the saloon, so there are views through the hull ports, and it’s within communication of the cockpit.
A large carbon panel houses instruments and has excellent access to the wiring behind; there’s an alcove for pilot books, while the power points and battery switches are beneath the table’s large lifting lid. While you can monitor everything on the C-Zone touch screen, there is redundancy built in to manually control all the important systems, with a fuse for each.
At the forward end of the galley, where it can be accessed from the saloon too, is a smart slide-out cupboard designed for a Nespresso machine and its capsules.
Moving aft, the passageway galley is high and deep, in a layout which proved useful for working at heel, with the large sink and counter mounted inboard.
However, there’s only a narrow hatch to the cockpit, no hull port, and worksurface space is a little compact, particularly the inboard draining area. The bin is also on the small side, but there is good raised and undercounter stowage.
Arguably the biggest gain of this layout comes in the (identical) aft cabins, especially the amount of beam and headroom here. These have separated twin berths in each cabin, yet the outboard bed can slide across to transform either cabin to a double. There’s good stowage and still lofty headroom (around 7ft) back here (enough to make me wonder if so much freeboard is really needed).
Although I said it may slightly lack the wow factor of an aft master, the forward owner’s suite is still a supremely comfortable cabin. There is enough beam to have steps up each side of the large double berth and the headboard forward, so you can recline looking up through the double hatches at the rig, or through those XL portlights.
The details are classy, from the lighting and switches, to the blinds, magazine racks and fabric on the hull lining. Yet practical features also remain, such as a variety of stowage options, manual fans and leecloths to divide the mattress and contain those on it. The ensuite has an excellent shower stall, which includes the option for a washer dryer in the outboard locker. A towel rail is not a standard fit, however, and a shower tray or alcove for soaps/shampoos would help.
Engineering and construction
A three-quarters height door opposite the aft heads provides the main engine room access, and once inside there’s standing headroom aft around the saildrive. This is mounted on hefty shock absorbers, while the genset is installed further forward under the companionway steps.
The Contest 49CS and Contest 50CS are also offered with an electric hybrid drive, developed with Torqeedo to use its electric shaft drive with BMW batteries and a 20kW genset. For a bluewater cruiser builder, Contest is comparatively early in offering a full hybrid option. Equally, Estec composite decking is standard fit as opposed to teak, as is induction cooking with 460Ah of 24V batteries, and the option to upgrade to 600Ah and from gel to lithium.
This battery bank, along with 700lt fuel and water tanks, is mounted under the saloon. The sole boards all lift on suckers, below which the marine ply floor is mounted on an aluminium grid.
Fuel filters for the main engine were positioned below the navstation stool, and although the enlarged chart table was an optional choice on this boat, it meant access was tricky including the need to remove the stool. For future builds, Contest is moving the filters to below the galley sink, behind the bin.
The Contest 49CS has a one-shot vacuum-infused sandwich hull and deck with a foam core. The hull is kept in the mould while stiffeners and keel grid are added, to maintain a perfect shape when it comes out, Conijn explains, therefore the deck is not needed to create stiffness. This also allows the yard to assemble a lot of the bigger parts outside of the boat.
Contest has worked with Lloyd’s Register for the last five decades, to deliver all its yachts with a hull construction certificate. This involves approvals from design stage all the way through build, including ongoing inspections of materials and methods and the signing off of keel and rudder connections etc. It’s an impressively rigorous and reassuring process. Take forward grounding precautions for example: “Lloyd’s Register requires impact resistance to three times the boat’s displacement at the lowest tip of the keel,” says Conijn.
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Stepping off the boat following our trials, it struck me that Corazon, Spanish for heart, courage or spirit, feels like a pretty apt name for this 49CS. Although its layout is more typically associated with Med-style yachts, it’s a dependable medium displacement design and build which is both enjoyable and reassuring to sail. It’s the culmination of some tasty ingredients: Dutch build quality and a family-run, can-do approach, with contemporary styling and the reassurance of Lloyds approval. Would I choose one? If I had teenage or adult children or friends I cruised with frequently, then this layout makes sense. And I like it from a helming and more direct steering perspective. But Contest has made the bold call to take both this and the first 50CS (centre cockpit) version to the Düsseldorf boat show. So I think I may just have to compare them side by side before making that decision – it’s a tough contest indeed.