September 2022 Yacht Reviews
Words by Kevin Green. Photography by Kevin Green and Multihull Solutions
Build Quality
DESIGNER Marc Lombard
CONSTRUCTION Vinylester, vacuum moulded
LOA 13.1M
BEAM 7.49M
ENGINE Volvo Penta Saildrive 50hp
Mast & Rigging Aluminium and SS
Sail Area 103 SqM
ACCOMMODATION three cabins

The NEEL 43 is the latest evolution of this French builder’s trimaran range and the first of the brand to reach these shores, so two good reasons to go for a sail.

Trimarans rule the oceans when it comes to offshore speed records, but in the cruising world they are much less distinguished. In the past they were often epitomised by older, more eccentric designs that perhaps required the more eccentric sailor.
This image is one that Eric Bruneel has been steadily changing with the yard he established in 2010. The La Rochelle yard builds the NEEL 47, 51, 65 and now the 43. For 2023, a new 52 has been announced, to replace the 51 model. A few years ago, I visited the yard on the wild Bay of Biscay. My guide for the day was, of course, Eric, so I got a good insight into what he was aiming for with these boats.


“When we start looking at smaller yachts the amount of gear that some cruising people wish to have aboard becomes a bigger issue relative to total displacement. As with any multihull, weight aboard is a critical part of the equation, but we believe we have found a good ability to carry this weight and still have our owners enjoy great performance,” he told me.
Fast-forward to March 2022, and hull number eight has been imported into Australia by dealer Multihull Solutions, which also services New Zealand, so I was keen for a sail. South-east Queensland’s Moreton Bay obliged with some lovely weather.

Consider a trimaran
For those considering a trimaran, there are pros and cons, like anything in life. At the extreme end, such as 105-foot Sodebo3 I boarded with iconic skipper Thomas Coville after its launch in Brittany, they represent some of the world’s fastest sailing yachts. And the reasons this vessel will do 50 knots are some of the same reasons discerning sailors might consider a performance cruiser like the NEEL 43. After all, they share design traits that minimise the wetted surface and amas that add stability without too much drag. Also, 80% of the weight is in the hull, a skeg-keel aids windward ability, and with a large single rudder, it feels like you’re steering a monohull. The centralised weight also allows trimarans to operate in a wider range of wind strengths than catamarans – trimarans typically heel to about 10-20o (the NEEL 43 heels about 8o), but with a 25-foot beam, stability is immense.

Banque images NEEL 43

You can expect cruising speeds of around 10 knots, allowing impressive 200 nautical-mile days. Of course, these figures are impacted by adverse swells, always the problem for trimarans, because swells can break against the ama beams to create drag.
Another downside is handling in close confines, even with a bow thruster, as fitted on our review boat. Also, with a beam of 25 feet, marina fees can be an issue. Inside, the accommodation can be quirky, as I found on the earlier Joubert/Nivelt/Muratet NEEL 45. It had lots of bulkheads, but they are much reduced on the Marc Lombard-designed 47, while his open-plan NEEL 43 completely avoids this problem.

Cruise faster
Knowing what you want helps when going shopping, so the Neel 43 is the one to choose if you’re seeking performance cruising with a meaningful helming experience. That’s why Aussie YouTube stars La Vagabonde have swapped their catamaran for a trimaran. They wanted to progress to faster cruising, yet with multihull-level liveability. This allows them, for example, to avoid the mid-Atlantic low-pressure systems by racing away from them.
NEEL boss Bruneel is also a racer, in fact a former OSTAR winner (on his 55 foot Trilogic trimaran) and the NEEL yard has produced race boats like that MOD 70, so they are very aware of weight efficiencies, reflected in the modest 9,000kg displacement of the NEEL 43. It is several tons lighter than catamaran competitors such as the Fountaine Pajot Astrea 42 (12,700kg) or the Lagoon 42 (12,100kg). Simply put, Bruneel liked crossing oceans but didn’t want to spend too much time actually doing it!

First impressions
Walking along the dock with Multihull Solutions’ NEEL Trimarans specialist Andrew de Bruin, my first impression of the NEEL 43 was more of the same as the 47. However, stepping into the cockpit via the wide ama steps reveals a very different wide, open-plan layout. It’s clear NEEL has incorporated much of the earlier 47’s ideas, especially in terms of usable space, but those wanting catamaran-style openness in the cockpit could be disappointed.
On the other hand, if you appreciate seaworthiness, the cockpit layout is pleasing. There’s a spacious L-shaped dining area and a double bench facing aft, but without acres of catamaran-style open space that can be hazardous offshore. Integrating with the saloon, this space which Bruneel dubs the ‘Cockloon’ is fully shaded by a hardtop bimini and can seat 10 guests around the inside-outside tables.

Sturdy double sliding doors seal off the saloon and deep scuppers shed water. The sharp edges of the doorway bulkhead and the low edge of the bimini caught my head, so I’d rubber-clad them. There’s also a transom-based wet bar and grill, which keeps the fumes out of the boat. The boom, topping lift and electric winch are used as a davit to swing the dinghy safely across the hull. Adjoining the cockpit, three steps up, is the single helm station to starboard, also accessed from the deck.

Topside berths
At first glance the saloon is most unusual. Three double berths are in view as I step inside. Off to port behind a low bulkhead is a three-quarter double bed with curtain for privacy; forward in the hull is another; and to starboard behind perspex is the main double bunk. Adjoining its bulkhead is the longitudinal galley with the bathroom beside the outside doors, ideally placed for cockpit guests. Sleeping in the bow or side bunks on a passage is not ideal since the boat’s motion is accentuated. But this is a multihull, so it should be more bearable than a mono. That said, a trimaran’s motion is more similar to a monohull’s motion than a cat’s in a seaway, which is why tris often appeal to monohull sailors.
Storage is another quirky affair, with the French approach of letting you fill the gaps with moveable luggage rather than fitted cabinetry.

What this layout creates is a really liveable saloon space, with L-shaped dinette handily placed opposite the highly functional galley fully equipped with gas hob and oven, along with a double sink, fridge and overhead cupboards. Just add some fiddles, perhaps.
Also functional is the navigation station in the forward port quarter, allowing steering by autopilot, should you choose to. The nearby compression post for the mast makes a good handhold.
Not so good is the single small opening window forward. Adding an opening hatch on another window would create better airflow, but there’s good natural light from the tall windows all round and a small opening skylight.

Flexible sail planThe NEEL 43 has a versatile sail plan, making it ideal for the varied conditions of bluewater voyaging. Our review boat came with the upgraded taller carbon spars and Dyform wire shrouds – pricey, but they enhance light air performance and reduce weight aloft.
This rig also allowed three reefs in the fully-battened Incidences Dacron mainsail. A large foretriangle allows for a large genoa and there’s good separation on the fibreglass bowsprit for the asymmetric, which is deployed via a sock.
Protected by a canvas bimini, the single starboard helm station affords clear vision across the hulls. Behind the 800mm steering wheel a stainless-steel-framed double seat provides support and handholds – a good idea for an elevated steering position. The console controls included a Maxpower bow thruster (a wise option), B&G electronics with autopilot near at hand, and the throttle for the 50hp saildrive with its folding propeller outboard.
Sail controls are really well laid out, with all lines having short, straight runs from the mast base directly to a wide bank of jammers and two winches, the second electric for halyard hoists. A captive Antal winch controls the topping lift, which doubles as a davit for the dinghy. Neat.

A simple thimble arrangement (instead of a track) runs the genoa sheets and overhead, a canvas bimini shields you but can be unzipped to view the mainsail through clear plastic. Easily accessible from the flybridge sunpad, twin sheets running on transom-mounted blocks for good leverage on the boom control the mainsail, plus there are lazyjacks to gather the sailcloth.
Moving around the NEEL 43 is easy, thanks to flat decks and support from the saloon roof. At the bows nets either side of the hull minimise weight and drag while also providing a sunken seating position. Vertical bulkheads around the saloon, visible from the bow, create volume and an outside lip offers shade. Anchoring is taken care of by a substantial vertical windlass which runs to the anchor beneath the bowsprit. Two large lockers also provide general storage.

Deep central hull
The NEEL 43’s three hulls are moulded in one process, which increases structural rigidity and reduces costs. Construction is high-quality isophthalic polyester and vinylester resin infusion moulded on closed-cell PET foam core with quadriaxial fibreglass skin reinforced with carbon fibre. The rectangular skeg is solid GRP to protect the saildrive leg.

The deep hull allows generous internal volume, which means the engine room is spacious with near-standing headroom. A hatch beside the galley provides ladder access to the stainless-steel tankage (fuel tank on one side, water central and hot water nearby), with electrics forward, including three 12V AGM gel batteries (360-amp-hour). The 500l water tank positioned low and central in the hull is good for stability. Systems include quality Victron gear. Also good is the placement for the optional Fischer Panda generator in the central forward part of the engine room and all electrics are elevated against water incursion. Further aft is the 50hp Volvo saildrive, surrounded by free space so it is easy to service or repair.

Sailing on Moreton Bay
Sheltered shoal waters are perfect for multihulls, which is why Queensland is home to most of Australia’s fleet. Consequently, the NEEL 43 felt at home as I steered her under power from Manly marina at a smooth 6.5 knots with the engine spinning at 2,200rpm. After turning to windward the mainsail was quickly hoisted with the press of a button, guided via the lazyjacks to the masthead. Turning the wheel brought us off the wind and the genoa was then unfurled – a one-person job if you are so inclined.

Helm feel was apparent right away as the taut line linkages moved the high-aspect rudder – when the pressure grew, I felt it on the stainless wheel. Unlike with some large cats, I felt no inclination to click the autopilot and watch the islands pass. Instead, I was encouraged to see how high the 43 could point as the growing hiss of water along the hull shouted encouragement.
To windward, the ama rose steadily, angling to perhaps 10o and reducing the wetted area. The NEEL 43 surged to windward at nearly 45o making a speedy 5.8 knots despite the fickle 10-knot breeze. Tacking through 100o was also a speedy affair, with only the genoa sheets to trim. This kind of light air performance will sell this boat to many tropical sailors.
Sailing to windward also had its rewards: the run home. For that, we hoisted the asymmetric in its sock before I ran off at about 70o to put Manly on our triple bows. At this true wind angle, we sped up to seven knots without spilling the glass of water that sat beside the helm. Gybing was equally well done once the clew had been walked around the forestay and the deck-level winches deployed to sheet it.
In my notes I wrote the phrase “sailors’ boat” and never could truer words be written about the NEEL 43.


Ryck 280

At first glance the boat appears to be a large centre console, although hidden beneath the console and forward area is a sizeable overnight cabin.