Over the last few years, Europe’s largest yacht builders have grown increasingly proactive when it comes to enticing newcomers into the sailing fold; and looking forward, this strategy may well be the key to long-term success and even survival as competition from other recreational sectors continues to escalate, and a large cadre of veteran sailors switch over to power (or worse, age out of boating entirely).
All this, of course, is the rationale behind the growing number of “high value” starter yachts including the Bavaria Easy 9.7—subject of this report—as well as Beneteau’s enduringly popular Oceanis 31 and Hanse’s new 315.
As one of the world’s three largest volume yacht builders (along with the Beneteau and Hanse groups), Bavaria Yachts is known for efficient production systems that result in plenty of bang for the buck. Bavaria’s gigantic plant is remote from the coast in a rural area (where land costs are modest), and their labour-to-revenue ratios are said to be under 10 percent—quite possibly the lowest in the industry. The company also builds to order, so inventory costs can be minimized. These efficiencies add up to good value for customers across the entire product line, but when applied to a “no frills” entry boat, their impact is particularly impressive.
Design and Construction The Easy 9.7 is, at heart, the same yacht as Bavaria’s Cruiser 33, minus the drop-down swim grid, a couple of windows and the more elaborate interior furnishings. Critically, the slick Bruce Farr-designed hull and highly efficient appendages remain unchanged, ensuring that the Easy 9.7 will rank among the quickest and best-handling production cruisers in the 10-metre size class. And although Bavaria cites the same light displacement figure of 11,440 pounds for both the Cruiser 33 and the Easy 9.7, the latter is clearly the lighter sailboat. This was evident even at dockside, where the Easy 9.7 floats visibly high with bow knuckle barely kissing the surface and the transom lip well clear of the water. It was also quite apparent under sail, as I’ll discuss later.
Basic construction—the fibreglass bits and assembly procedures—is identical for both the Cruiser 33 and Easy 9.7. Hulls are hand-laid using vinyl-ester resin for the outer osmotic barrier layers and Kevlar reinforcements in the forward collision zone. Foam-cored construction is featured above the waterline and for most horizontal areas in the deck. But wherever hardware will be mounted, aluminum inserts are substituted for foam, ensuring crush resistance and superior load distribution (so the caulking is less likely to fail and start leaking when the boat is sailed hard).
It’s good to see foam sandwich construction used so extensively in a “budget boat” like the Easy 9.7 because the advantages—reduced weight, extra structural stiffness, and insulation—come at added cost in materials and build time. All the same, about a centimetre of closed-cell foam makes for a noticeably warmer, dryer and quieter boat—especially helpful for damp climates such as northern Europe and the Pacific Northwest.
The hull-to-deck joint on the Easy 9.7 (and other Bavaria models) is based on a broad, in-turned hull flange which underlies the outer portion of the deck mounting. A polysulfide adhesive/ sealant provides the primary bond, backed up by stainless screws and bolts. The assembly is capped off by a raised aluminum toe rail which also wraps around the edge of the sheer to better guard against impact damage.
The standard keel is an L-shaped, semi-bulb design drawing 1.95 metres while a shallower 1.50 metre version is optional. The Jeffa steering system quadrant, cables, shaft, bearings, and rudder is built in Denmark, and arrives at the Bavaria plant as an integrated unit. Not only does this speed up the building process, but it ensures a well-balanced, low friction system that requires minimal adjustment.
Cockpit, Deck and Rig Omitting the 33’s hinged transom grid has, if anything, improved the looks of the Easy 9.7 because it keeps the wide stern from appearing quite so broad and prominent. Of course, at times the drop-down grid will be missed; it’s great for swimming and when raised, its flat upper surface makes an excellent helm seat. On the other hand, the considerable weight of the lift gate surely won’t be missed, particularly at the far end of the hull where it tends to exacerbate pitching.
Progressing forward, the single wheel is mounted on a substantial molded pedestal which supports the back end of a narrow teak cockpit table. The front of this table is attached to a sturdy stainless steel “horse” which doubles as a mounting point for the mainsheet tackle.
The Easy 9.7 cockpit seats are comfortably contoured and planked with teak, providing a pleasing touch of woodwork where it will be seen and touched most often. The flat-topped coamings are a little too wide to step over easily when moving to the side decks, but their considerable volume provides valuable headroom in the port-side aft cabin.
Like most of its contemporaries, the Easy 9.7 has a 9/10 fractional rig with long, aft-swept spreaders and outboard chainplates to establish large shroud angles. This rig geometry eliminates the need for running backstays, while keeping mast compression low. The masthead backstay features an eight-part tackle—an important tool for de-powering the rig, especially in the absence of an adjustable mainsheet traveller.
Systems The compact 19 horsepower Volvo Penta sail drive sits low in a spacious compartment beneath the companionway steps with easy access from the front, as well as both sides. Factory sound damping consists of foil-covered foam covering the majority of the compartment’s interior with gaskets to air-seal the front lid. Cruising at 6.4 knots (2,600 rpm), I measured 75 dBA at the centre of the saloon; better than average for a light displacement sailboat equipped with a small, three cylinder diesel. Full throttle yielded 7.2 knots at 3,200 rpm and just a marginal noise increase to 76 dBA.
Even the smaller Volvo Penta sailboat diesels are equipped with a potent 115-amp alternator that should make short work of recharging two Group 27 AGM house batteries (as seen in the test boat, equipped with the “Easy Living package”). While this package is an option, it pretty much qualifies as a no-brainer because for less than $11,000, it upgrades what would otherwise be just an outsized daysailer into a very respectable cruising boat. System additions include pressurized hot/cold water for showers bath and cockpit, a 12V refrigerator, shore power with charger, two-burner propane cooking top, and a holding tank, pumped for either pump out or gravity draining. Moreover, the same Easy Living package brings a second halyard winch, the cockpit table and saloon-style companionway doors instead of drop boards and last but not least, privacy doors for the two sleeping cabins.
Naturally there are other options available, and most buyers will likely rank some of these as necessities. An electric anchor windlass and at least basic navigational electronics would certainly fall in this category, and midship cleats for spring lines are—oddly enough—a stand-alone option.
Interior Without Bavaria’s trademark bank of wooden cabinets beneath the side decks, the saloon of the Easy 9.7 feels positively cavernous. Stowage suffers, of course, but there’s still a fair bit thanks to open-topped bins along the cabin sides, accessible spaces behind the settee backrests and beneath the settee cushions, as well as simple storage modules for the fore and aft cabins.
All woodwork has a mahogany style, hard laminate finish which looks nice (if slightly industrial) and offers undeniable practicality. Indeed, after 10 or 15 years, this durable finish may well look better than varnished veneer unless the latter has been skillfully refinished. Thanks to generous side windows, a couple overhead hatches, and lots of white surfaces, the below deck spaces in the Easy 9.7 should be bright and inviting, even on those dull northwest days.
The galley area on the Easy is notably different from that of the Cruiser 33. Neither qualifies as large, but the latter offers a gimbled stove with oven, top-loading refrigerated cold box, plus the aforementioned outboard cabinets. By contrast, the Easy’s galley is more rudimentary with mostly open stowage, fixed cooktop and outboard sink (mounted high enough to drain while heeled).
The Easy 9.7 boasts the same generous heads as the 33, but if anything, its laminate furnishings should be more resistant to splashes and damp. Both boats offer a neat little alcove for wet gear storage, although oddly enough, the Easy’s lacks any sort of hanging bar or clothes hooks.
Both cabins provide generous sleeping area for two as well as full standing headroom for dressing—often not the case in boats under 10 metres LOA. Better all-weather ventilation would, of course, be an asset, but few production cruisers—even some costing many times more than this Easy—manage to score well in this regard.
Under Sail Sparkling performance was my expectation from this lighter variant of the Cruiser 33, and the Easy 9.7 definitely delivered. In a building southeast breeze outside Comox Harbour, we averaged between 5.4 and 5.9 knots working to windward while true wind speed climbed from nine knots to about 14. Putting a reef in the main may not have maximized performance, but it kept the boat quite flat, and made it easily manageable in gusts.
Leading the mainsheet to the front of the cockpit table is an offbeat, but workable arrangement; better in my opinion than double ended “German” sheeting for a boat of this size. The 106 percent jib is easy to manage, even single handed, and the adjustable backstay definitely helps to flatten the main while simultaneously boosting headstay tension.
Shaking out the reef and bearing off for speed, our average pace climbed into the mid sixes with occasional bursts over seven. No question, with the addition of a code zero or A-chute, the Easy 9.7 will be a blast to sail. The helm remained light and pleasant, even when pressing a bit, but if I owned the boat, I would definitely fit a simple, removable seat (even just a glorified plank) to span the open space behind the helm. Perhaps another item for the Easy’s option list?
In Closing The Easy 9.7 won’t appeal to buyers seeking all the bells and whistles, however, for those who will be satisfied by a relatively simple boat with “good bones” and excellent sailing qualities, it’s certainly well worth a look. At the current ready-to-sail price of $139,000, commissioned in Vancouver and equipped with the Easy Living pack, you’ll get new boat reliability (plus warranty) at a price that’s likely better than most similar-sized used boats less than 10 years old. For sailors on a budget who are more interested in sailing than upgrading and boat maintenance, this might be just the ticket.