The Bavaria Cruiser 33 looked like a formula for success. David Harding tests the family cruiser
To some of us who have sailed a good number of Bavarias over the years, it has been a long time coming: the day when, on returning from a test of a new model, we could say, ‘that really wasn’t bad’.
That’s not damning with faint praise: It’s a reflection of the fact that Bavarias have evolved to the point where many of the criticisms levelled at the marque have been addressed.
At least, that’s the case with the Bavaria Cruiser 33 (as opposed to the old 33 – which, like this one, followed an earlier 32).
The giant German boatbuilder has produced an ‘entry-level’ (to the range) cruising yacht that, unlike some earlier Bavarias I’ve sailed, comes across as a competent all-rounder.
Few weaknesses presented themselves during the course of a day’s testing: she sails respectably swiftly, handles well on the whole, has a functional deck layout and cockpit and, in Bavaria tradition, boasts a cavernous interior.
These are the principal elements that a lot of people look for in a family cruiser.
Combine them with a typically competitive Bavaria price – from around £78,500 in basic form, delivered and commissioned in the UK – and you have a recipe for popular appeal.
Any boat needs to be assessed in the context of its price and intended purpose, so we must remember that this is no semi-bespoke yacht built in small numbers by enthusiasts with salt in their veins and lovingly hand-finished by time-served shipwrights.
It’s a product of boatbuilding Bavaria style, where mechanisation rules supreme and every stage of the production process is timed to the nearest minute; where, when possible, common components are used across the range for the benefits of bulk-purchasing, even if they might not be exactly the size that would otherwise be chosen.
For all these slick production techniques, Bavarias have tended to look a cut above some of their similarly-priced competitors below decks because they don’t rely heavily on interior mouldings.
Many builders use mouldings inside the hull, principally to save production time.
The trouble is that the result can be a plasticky finish, wasted space and restricted access to the outer hull, so it’s notable that Bavaria has achieved super-fast fit-out by the alternative approach of producing and fitting the joinery modules in the blink of an eye.
Last time I was at the factory I watched a sizeable chunk of tree being fed into one end of a very big machine and the components of several galleys, chart tables, lockers and bunks emerging at the other, where they were assembled by an army of workers wielding staple-guns.
In those days, the gaps in and around the joinery – and there were plenty of them – were often filled by highly visible beads of sealant.
Then things started to get better, the improvement in the finish of the Bavaria 37 leading me to speculate that alternative employment must have been found for at least one team of gap-fillers.
If the finish of the Bavaria Cruiser 33 is anything to go by, the others might have had to become trained in a different discipline too.
Inevitably, this highly-automated assembly doesn’t produce the sort of joinery that would make you want to sit down below and admire it, as on some hand-finished yachts, but it’s a good deal easier on the eye than it once was.
The listening project
The Bavaria Cruiser 33 is not a totally new boat: she’s a reincarnation of the 32.
This is one of the few occasions when Bavaria has based a new model on an existing one rather than starting from scratch, and it’s easy to see why.
Inherently there was nothing wrong with the 32 – the first Bavaria, along with the 50, to come from the drawing board of Bruce Farr.
Moving away from long-standing design partners J&J to such a high-profile designer of race boats was a significant step for the company.
The 32’s performance was in a different league to that of her predecessors, the finish had improved and everything looked to be coming together.
Despite this promise, however, the 32 was let down by a number of things that didn’t quite work.
Most obvious were the tiny, pillbox-style windows that you couldn’t look at without expecting a row of machine-gun barrels to appear at any moment.
They were no better from the inside, where the lighter, brighter ambience that Bavaria had introduced a few years earlier was displaced by a gloomy half-light.
Headroom was barely 1.83m (6ft) despite the high topsides, roll-over height in the aft cabin was restrictive, fiddles were poor – and so it went on.
It was a good boat with missed opportunities.
Apart from the windows, the major criticism above deck was the cockpit.
On a boat with wheel steering, the seating is normally cut away in a ‘T’ shape at the aft end to allow people to walk around the wheel. On the 32, the seats ran straight all the way aft.
That meant you had to clamber over them to get past the wheel and, apparently, that didn’t go down well.
Accordingly, the Bavaria Cruiser 33 now features a T-shape cockpit together with shorter coamings and, abaft them, a wide, flat seat for the helm.
Addressing other issues, the slits in the coachroof have been replaced by larger windows, a hatch has been added over the saloon, provision has been incorporated for a bow thruster, headroom has increased to 1.88m (6ft 2in) and a good number of further tweaks are in evidence both above and below decks.
By all accounts, Bavaria listened to owners and potential buyers of the 32.
Less obvious tweaks to the Bavaria Cruiser 33 include a keel that has been breathed upon and moved forward about 20cm (8in).
Fresh and frisky
I sailed the 33‘s predecessor, the 32, twice: first in precious little breeze, and again in 20-25 knots.
After earlier Bavaria cruisers it was a revelation. This time, for the Bavaria Cruiser 33, we had more breeze again, seeing a maximum of 35 knots true.
It was also one of the most gusty and shifty north-westerlies the Solent knows how to deliver, dropping to a mere 10-12 knots in the lulls and swinging through up to 30° at a time.
Since it was offshore and diagonally with the tide, the water was relatively flat.
The boat set off under full sail as I was taking the photos, spinning out (broaching) a few times while broad-reaching away from the mainland shore.
Then, not surprisingly, she became totally over-powered upon hardening up. It was time to drop in the first of the two reefs.
In such wildly fluctuating conditions, any boat is going to be under-powered in the lulls and over-powered in the gusts.
The Bavaria Cruiser 33 coped pretty well, all things considered, though she carried more weather helm than I remember from the 32.
Moving the keel forward might account for that, unless the rig’s centre of effort has shifted forward in compensation.
When, inevitably, the wheel loaded up and the rudder lost grip, she spun up into the wind but could be brought back on course without too much drama.
Having the 6:1 mainsheet anchored to the cockpit table makes it so much easier for the crew to operate than when it’s forward of the companionway and led to a coachroof winch, as on Bavarias of old.
Even the helm can reach it from behind the wheel with a bit of a stretch, so broaches can sometimes be prevented even if the crew is off-station.
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Performance-wise, the combination of the tide and the inconsistent wind made it impossible to gauge speed and tacking angle with any accuracy.
What’s safe to say is that the Bavaria Cruiser 33 is no slouch.
The designer’s polar diagram (performance prediction) shows about 5.5 knots at just under 40° to the true wind in 25 knots, picking up to 6.3 knots at 50°, 8.1 knots at 90° and a peak of 8.4 knots at 110° under plain sail or 9.5 knots at 135° under spinnaker.
That’s with the standard fin that gives a draught of 1.95m (6ft 5in). Saving 0.45m (1ft 6in) with the shallow fin will mean living with reduced windward performance: the figures show around 5.25 knots just inside 40°.
That’s without taking into account the greater leeway, especially in a chop when the greater bite of a deeper keel is more noticeable.
Interestingly, although Bavaria used to offer a choice of deep or shallow fins, in the past the shallow version tended to be standard with the deep alternative on the extras list.
That has now changed: it’s deep unless you specify otherwise.
Since the shallow keel on the Bavaria Cruiser 33 costs extra, this shift of emphasis might have a bearing on what people choose.
Downwind, the drag of a two-bladed fixed prop didn’t stop the boat from stretching her legs when conditions allowed her to be kept on track.
As upwind, the performance is good in that she doesn’t hang around.
Just don’t expect the lightness, precision and responsiveness from a high-volume cruising yacht that you’d experience from one in which the emphasis is tilted more towards the sailing.
Every boat is a compromise.
Bavaria Cruiser 33: on deck
Keen to keep hardware to a minimum, Bavaria fitted deck organisers, clutches and a winch only on the port side of the coachroof on our test boat.
Now, however, the yard has followed the lead of the UK dealer and included the same hardware to starboard as well.
That enables more lines – including, crucially, the genoa halyard – to be led aft.
In the modern style, the hatches are flush-fitting; aesthetically more pleasing than those that sit proud, perhaps, but providing nothing to brace the feet against on a deck that’s bouncing around at 30° from the horizontal.
Since the hatch garage is also accommodated within the profile of the coachroof, the feet are deprived of another bracing point that can usually be counted upon. Flush isn’t all good.
Given the lack of protrusions on deck, it’s fortunate that the non-slip pattern seemed more effective than on the 32.
Either it was better or I was wearing different boots.
Above foot level, the lower shrouds need to be watched when you’re moving along the deck: the combination of a wide shroud-base and relatively low spreaders means that they cut inboard across the deck at quite an angle.
The head:rigging relationship has similarly problematical potential further aft on a boat with a broad stern and a split backstay, but the backstay’s high split-point – roughly level with the upper spreaders –minimises the chances of unwelcome interaction.
Among the first jobs of owners planning to sail in any breeze should be to increase the purchase on the backstay’s tackle: 4:1 is insufficient.
Elsewhere, hardware is generally good, though you wouldn’t want the primary winches – Lewmar 30 self-tailers – to be any smaller.
Cleats are sensibly chunky all round, so there’s room to secure both forward and aft springs to the spring cleats (on the extras list) without difficulty.
Like the 32, the Bavaria Cruiser 33 has a transom that hinges down to form a bathing-cum-boarding platform.
It’s a practical solution, keeping marina-length to a minimum while providing a platform bigger than you’d otherwise find on a 33-footer.
A slot-in boarding ladder that lives in the full-depth port cockpit locker completes the bathing facilities, together with the transom shower.
Ergonomically, the redesigned cockpit works well. If, like me, you would prefer a bigger wheel so you can helm from further outboard, it wouldn’t be possible to walk around it: that’s your choice.
Accommodation on the Bavaria Cruiser 33
As mentioned earlier, much has improved below decks from earlier Bavarias.
Descending the companionway, you find steps that are sensibly dished and fitted with non-slip treads, while handholds either side give you something to hang on to.
Larger windows make an enormous difference to the light.
There’s even an opening port set into the aft end of the starboard window above the galley.
In terms of layout it’s very much in the conventional modern style.
Space in the heads has been given preference over the navigation area, which is in the form of a small, aft-facing table at the end of the port settee berth.
It’s easy to see the logic because the heads compartment, complete with shower and hanging space for wet gear, is impressive.
Good-size leaves on the table would allow a crew of six to sit around it and eat a meal.
A couple of drawers – all wood, no plastic – use the space in the table abaft the bottle stowage in the middle.
Looking under the berths and cabin sole shows that the cored hull is ramped down to a single skin in way of the seacocks, as it should be.
Frames appear chunky and the sole-boards, albeit with unsealed end-grain, are a close fit.
Reaching the front of the 18hp Volvo D1-20 saildrive engine – upgraded to the 27hp D1-30 on our test boat – is simply a matter of hinging up the companionway steps on their gas strut.
The installation is neat and generally accessible, with plenty of insulation.
Why is the Bavaria Cruiser 33 faster than the Bavaria 33?
We have looked at how the Bavaria Cruiser 33 has evolved from the 32, though most of the changes relate to aesthetics and on-board practicality.
To see how the designs have really developed over the past decade, we need to compare the Bavaria Cruiser 33 with an earlier-generation model – so let’s pick the previous 33, built between 2005 and 2008.
Interestingly, looking at the basic numbers shows less difference than you might expect.
The old 33’s hull is 0.5m (1ft 8in) longer overall but only 15cm (6in) longer on the waterline because of the greater overhangs.
More similar are the beam – 3.48m (11ft 5in) on the old and 3.56m (11ft 8in) on the Bavaria Cruiser 33 – and the displacement, respectively 5,390kg (11,882lb) and 5,200kg (11,464lb).
This makes the Bavaria Cruiser 33 slightly heavier and beamier for her length – not features you would necessarily associate with the better performance that Bavaria have been aiming for with the new designs.
Draught figures are almost identical: the shallow-fin versions of both draw 1.5m (5ft) give or take an inch, and the deep fins 1.95m (6ft 5in).
The question, then, is where are the performance-enhancing differences on the new Bavaria Cruiser 33?
Principally they’re in the keel and the area we’ll look at first – the rig. It might seem surprising that the normally- quoted sail area for the old 33–64sqm(689sqft)–is greater than that of the Bavaria Cruiser 33, which carries 51sq m (549sq ft).
This is because the ‘main and genoa’ figure on the old model includes the large overlapping headsail – a necessity when the mast, which is shorter in relation to the boat’s length, is so far forward and the mainsail relatively small.
The mast was thus positioned partly so the mainsheet could be taken to a point forward of the companionway.
That limited the boom’s length, whereas the boom on the Bavaria Cruiser 33 extends further aft: think of the relative purchases of mainsheets from the middle and the end of the boom.
With a skinny foretriangle and a relatively small mainsail on a shorter rig, the old 33 needed to get its sail area from somewhere; hence the larger headsail.
The part of a headsail that overlaps the mainsail works less efficiently than the non-overlapping part, so there’s a greater power-to-area ratio with a smaller overlap and a bigger mainsail.
As for the foils (keel and rudder), both are of higher aspect ratio on the Bavaria Cruiser 33 generating more lift in relation to the drag.
Numbers in the specification can give you a lot of useful information for making comparisons, but you need to look beyond them to get a fuller picture.
Bavaria made significant strides with the introduction of the 32. Several smaller but nevertheless important steps have now been taken with the Bavaria Cruiser 33. This boat was not designed to excite the senses of sailing purists: she’s about function and efficiency, being reasonably quick, roomy, and less expensive than many. She’s competing in a popular section of the market and, I’m sure, will be just what many coastal cruising families are looking for.