While the Pacific Northwest is indisputably among the world’s finest cruising areas, we’re half a world away from the real epicentre of cruising yacht development: Europe, and more specifically Brittany on the west coast of France. Enduring French fascination with ocean adventure racing has fostered corresponding enthusiasm for recreational sailing in seriously fast, yet seaworthy boats. The yards discussed here operate on a much smaller scale than the name brand, mass manufacturers, however, as niche builders, each has established an excellent reputation for leading edge boats that can literally “do it all.”

The trickle down phenomenon is alive and well on the European sailing scene; and smaller enterprises such as Pogo Structures and Marée Haute—the two builders discussed here—are typically among the first to bring developments from the racing sector to the cruising sphere. Of course the big manufacturers are always paying close attention, so when an innovation proves its worth in limited production, there’s a good chance it will eventually find much wider application. As a result, cutting-edge designs like the Pogo 36 and Django 9.80 are of particular interest—not simply in their own right—but as harbingers of things to come.

Pogo 36

Chantier Naval Structures and its Pogo marque are most often associated with the Mini Transat—an insanely demanding, solo race from Brittany to the Americas with a single pit stop in the Canaries. Class Mini 6.5 metre boats are just 21 feet long, but a whopping 10 feet wide at the transom with the sail area of a 35-footer.

For the 20th Anniversary edition of the Mini Transat, Pogo series-built minis once again comprise about 2/3rds of the fleet. Since the late 1980s, Chantier Naval Structures has turned out hundreds of Minis while simultaneously moving up to become a dominant force in larger ocean racing classes—notably the Open 40s. In the last decade, continuing success building single/shorthanded racing machines, lead the company to introduce a separate line of high performance cruising models sharing many of the attributes of the Pogo racers.

Structures’ current cruising series starts at 30 feet and extends up to 50-footers. The Pogo 10.50, immediate predecessor to the new Pogo 36, sold 76 units over a three-year period—clear evidence that there’s growing demand for yachts of this ilk.

Essentially, the Pogo 36 is a slightly longer, wider and more powerful evolution of the 10.50 with an even fuller bow, prominent hard chines (instead of rounded bilges) and the mast positioned even further aft—almost exactly half way from bow to stern. Again, the design is the work of Finot/Cocq, an office that’s been at the forefront of single/shorthanded racing developments since the early days of the sport.

With a light displacement of only 3.6 tons (7,920 lbs) for a displacement-to-length ratio of 78, the Pogo 36 is all about planing performance. Indeed, based on what its 30 and 35-foot predecessors can evidently do, the new 36 will be planing effortlessly in winds of 10 knots when the angles are right.

Of course, when it comes to cruising (or solo racing) the other side of the performance coin is manageability. Here too, the Pogo 36 should excel, thanks to an evolved hull form and rig geometry that ensures rock solid tracking with the autopilot engaged. Not surprisingly, with a beam of nearly four metres at the transom, twin rudders are a critical part of the controllability formula.

The deck layout with all controls and winches atop the cabin, is also optimized for single-handing, and the huge foretriangle allows a range of efficient headsails to be set from furlers.

Two keel options are available: a conventional deep draft T-bulb, and an even deeper swing keel equipped with a hydraulic lifting ram that reduces draft to 1.1 metres for shallow harbours. By deploying stabilizing struts, which attach to the chainplates, the Pogo 36 can be safely beached. And thanks to a relief valve in the hydraulics, the swing keel version is more likely to “walk away” from a bad grounding than the equivalent boat with a high aspect, fixed keel—definitely a valuable benefit for the serious cruiser.

The hydraulic swing keel has become such a popular choice among sailors buying from boutique yards like Chantier Naval Structures and Marée Haute, that Jeanneau—one of the world’s largest production builders—has now made it an option on their Sun Odyssey 349.

Another interesting feature of the Pogo 36 are the in-turned cabin windows, which provide forward visibility when the crew’s below. The resulting multi-faceted look is reminiscent of a stealth fighter jet, and will definitely stand out from the crowd.

Construction is 100 percent vacuum-infused foam sandwich with buyers given a choice between polyester resin or vinylester (at extra cost). A no-backstay, carbon rig is standard; as is a square-topped main. Compared to the average production cruiser, we’re looking at monster sail power (SA/D=32) balanced by impressive stability.

Below decks the Pogo 36 offers a wide-open living space with up to three double berth cabins, complete but compact galley and enclosed head. For stowage, there’s ample interior volume, but limited locker space (due in part to the many foam-filled areas which render the yacht unsinkable). Woodwork is minimal, but the many large windows will make for a bright, cheerful cabin. And despite a reduced emphasis on creature comforts, very few of the several hundred existing Pogo cruisers have been showing up on the used boat market; so I’m guessing that owners are, by and large, a contented lot.

The Pogo 36 will likely start at about 135,000 Euros—quite costly compared to the mass market boats, but there should be no shortage of buyers once the first boat splashes in spring, 2016.

Django 9.80

In terms of output, Marée Haute is perhaps 1/10th the size of Chantier Naval Structures, yet this yard also enjoys something that borders on a cult following. Again, the model line originated with successful Class Mini 6.50 racers, which in the case of Marée Haute, gave rise to a spirited pocket cruiser, the Django 6.70. It has since been followed by the Django 7.70 and 12.70 with the new 9.80 now poised to join the fold.

All current Marée Haute models (including their Mini 6.50 series raceboats) are designed by Pierre Roland, who interestingly enough, also penned Pogo’s first generation Mini back in the 1990s. Roland is a vastly experienced singlehander with five Mini Transats to his credit, as well as much professional success in the larger ocean racing classes. There can be little doubt, that even the smaller models in the Django line will make safe, easily-handled voyaging boats.

There is also little doubt that the new Django 9.80 will—like it’s stablemates—be extremely fast. Its numbers, while slightly less extreme than the Pogo 36’s, are still “off the map” when compared to a typical mass produced 32-footer. Marée Haute also favours a fully-cored, infusion build with major bulkheads laid up in lightweight foam sandwich, then hand-laminated into place. There are no cosmetic interior liners adding extra weight, and the fully-cored shell helps ensure a dry, relatively cozy interior. Naturally, when the interior surfaces are established without the aid of female molds, a higher level of craftsmanship is pretty much essential. However, judging from interior photos of the Django 7.70, the workers at Marée Haute are fully up to the task.

Compared to the offwind oriented Pogo 36, Pierre Rolland’s design for the Django 9.80 appears to aim for all-around performance. Rig and keel are proportionally further forward, while a deeper, more rounded canoe body means a little less form stability, but also less wetted surface. Nevertheless, with a D/L of 94 and a very generous rig, the 9.80 certainly makes the grade as a formidable planing machine.

In addition to a deep fixed keel and an even deeper swing keel option, the Django 9.80 can be ordered with twin keels. These are a pair of high-aspect T-bulb keels positioned side-by-side and canted outboard. The arrangement allows the two keels to be anchored securely to the boat’s substructure without compromising the valuable strip of standing headroom along the midline.  Even more importantly, it enables the boat to dry out in a stable stance when moored in shallow tidal waters. This is probably the main reason why the majority of Django buyers have, to date, favoured the twin keel option. Marée Haute claims that their advanced twin keels have only minimal impact on boat speed, and actually make for a more comfortable ride in rough seas.

When it comes to onboard luxuries, the standard Django 9.80 is much like the Pogo, still fairly basic. Twelve-foot beam from amidships to transom means there’s plenty of volume available, but the drive for low weight means that much of this space must necessarily remain empty. That said, there’s a sizeable, L-shaped galley with sink, stove and cold box, enclosed head, a couple decent hanging lockers and two double berth cabins as standard.  An optional arrangement turns a large storage/technical space on the starboard side into a third double berth.

Even when fitted with an aluminum mast instead of more costly carbon, the Django 9.80, like the Pogo 36, won’t compete on price with similar-sized cruisers from the mass manufacturers. On the other hand, the exceptional blend of ultra-high performance, easy handling, and offshore capability won’t be easily matched by anything currently produced by the high volume yards. At the time of writing, a fixed keel Django 9.80 with three sails, basic electronics and factory commissioning was being offered at an introductory price of 126,665 Euros. No question, a tempting vehicle for a European cruising holiday.