There will be times when you get caught out, when the weather doesn’t do exactly as forecast and the sea state becomes worryingly erratic. These are the sort of times when you feel the eyes of the young or less experienced members of the crew turning to you, wanting reassurance you may not be able to give. This can be the unpredictable nature of cruising.
At times like this it matters little how many sunpads you may have on deck, what size your flatscreen TV is, or which toys are lurking in the lazarette. You’d trade any of them for a comfortable and forgiving motion, safe passage on deck and a minimum of unnerving noises.
You want to be able to set the correct sail to the conditions. You may also re-evaluate what makes life comfortable: proper protection in the cockpit; a navstation where you can think and plan; somewhere to dry wet gear, make a hot brew safely, or cocoon yourself on a berth with a sturdy leecloth.
These may not be the sexy features that sell yachts at boat shows, but they could make a crucial difference to the enjoyment of an offshore passage. Rustler Yachts knows this well. It builds very elegant-looking cruising yachts, but they are designs that shun fashion for exactly this type of pragmatism.
It’s no fluke that the top three of five finishers in the retro, attritional Golden Globe Race 2018 were Rustler 36s. The Penryn, Falmouth, yard takes a belt and braces approach to its builds. Its range has spanned modest sized cruising yachts up to 44ft – until now. This new Rustler 57, by far its largest model to date, is still a yacht that its creators hope will provide that total reassurance.
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No frills introduction
First impressions are reassuring: a sweeping sheerline rising to a raked stem, a spoon bow and an elegant counter, and a deep underbody with a softly turned bilge are all traits that have stood the test of time. They help produce a reliable, kindly motion at sea, with the added bonus of lines that are exceedingly easy on the eye.
Rustler’s go-to designer, Stephen Jones, who joined us for the first day of trials, explained that he endeavoured to keep the freeboard of the Rustler 57 as low as possible – no easy task with today’s demands for internal volume. His solution lay with modern influences: a fuller bow shape, noticeable in the forward cabin, and broad beam aft which buys valuable space in the two aft guest cabins.
This yacht is refreshing in its conservative, dependable nature. At this size and price range, there’s no shortage of competition in the luxury cruiser market, but the Cornish yard is sticking to what it does best and, for that reason, the Rustler 57 stands out. Director Adrian Jones describes it as a scaled-up version of the company’s venerable 42.
“What our owners want is to not follow fashion,” he says, pointing out that the hull shape, protective skeg and single wheel are the antithesis of the offerings from most modern production yards. The rig is also unusual these days: “We stuck to our guns with parallel spreaders and a cutter rig,” says Jones.
Where this first Rustler 57 differs from the standard boat is in the rig and keel set up. The owner didn’t want the boat to draw more than 2m, nor have an air draught over 25m. Rustler’s solution was to use a long chord, lead keel case with a bronze fin centreboard that can lower to give another 1.5m draught. The carbon Seldén mast and V-boom carries a fully battened mainsail, which uses a Harken switch track to stow closer to the boom.
From the moment you step aboard the Rustler 57 via a proper boarding gate in the guardrails, walk along its secure side decks between sturdy toerail and handrails, noting features such as the Samson post and protected dorades, and settle in the deep cockpit, you feel enveloped in a luxurious safety blanket.
Before moving on to performance, it’s important to point out where the money goes. This is a hand-built boat, more than 22,000 hours of it in fact. It’s a yacht built to last.
“We use a monolithic layup with a glass stringer matrix for all of our cruising yachts, as we genuinely believe it to be stronger,” Adrian Jones explains. He maintains that, compared to sandwich construction, this copes better with deflection, is easier to repair and won’t delaminate.
The result is a medium-displacement yacht, weighing 27 tonnes – similar to the new Amel 60, and just under two tonnes more than the Oyster 565. However, as we’d soon discover, you don’t pay a real penalty for that weight as the nearly two tonnes of tankage is positioned low and central in a deep bilge, and a long waterline length helps maintain a healthy speed.
Moving through the gears
I’m a fan of cutter rigs and twin headsails on cruising yachts. It’s prudent to be able to change your arsenal of canvas easily to match conditions, and keep correct sail shape without needing to leave the cockpit.
Our first reach away from Mylor was under full mainsail and yankee, making an effortless 9-10 knots. But once out into Falmouth Bay and into gusts that brought 25 knots over the deck, we needed to adjust our sail area for comfort. Having the option to swap to the staysail, and/or drop a reef in the main via the single line reefing system, was fuss-free and no one needs to venture forward.
It was a lively first sail, fetching upwind, then broad reaching under yankee and staysail, the Rustler 57 fully powered up and topping 10 knots. The motion through the water was superb.
The Rustler 57 gets up to speed easily and keeps way on handsomely, however we experienced abnormal load on the helm during that first morning. The boat had only recently launched and was still being tuned, but even with a reef in the main it was still an effort on the wheel.
Stephen Jones was convinced there was too much belly in the mainsail. Sailing into the Helford for a pitstop lunch gave us the chance to move the outhaul and reeve clews further aft on the boom. By flattening the mainsail considerably the helm instantly felt much more balanced.
Further tweaks of the Lewmar geared steering may make the autopilot’s life easier too, but it no longer felt like we were fighting the boat. Indeed, the Rustler 57 let us know politely and with plenty of time to ease sheets if it was feeling pressed.
The rest of that afternoon and the following day was a joy in classic late summer West Country conditions, which provided an ideal mix of wind strengths. When the breeze is around 12 knots or above, the Rustler 57 consistently clocks 8.5 knots on most angles.
In the average 20-knot conditions we had on the first afternoon, we reached along at a consistent 9.5 and over, which points to delightfully easy passagemaking potential.
It’s also a relatively nimble yacht, for which I was grateful as we beat into St Mawes, navigating through a dinghy racing fleet. It can match single-figure wind speeds down to 6 knots or motor at an admirable 8.5 knots at 2,200rpm.
Some potential modifications could make the Rustler 57 easier still to sail. When the wind gets up, the long yankee sheets can be a handful as they whip about during a tack. The electric winches arguably need to work faster to tame these, but my preference would be to furl the yankee during tacks in anything over 15 knots of wind.
The hydraulic backstay and vang and electric furlers ease the task of sail trim and handling. But with running backstays, two sets of headsail sheets and the mainsheet to consider during tacks, it might prove sensible to lead the staysail sheets to a self-tacking track. It would also make sense to use the mainsheet winches to adjust the traveller from the helm, which would simply involve the addition of a turning sheave.
From the helmsman’s position, there are good sightlines through the fixed windscreen and under the foot of the high-cut yankee. I had a preference for standing behind the wheel, but it is possible to sit out on the coamings. The V-boom on the test boat seems large, which not only impacts on the yacht’s aesthetics, but can prevent you from seeing the telltales to leeward from the helm.
A focus for Rustler was the creation of a deep, protected cockpit. I can’t stress enough how this puts you at ease at sea, and you feel inside rather than on top of the yacht. If salt water does somehow reach the cockpit, a bridgedeck step abaft the companionway ensures it remains outside.
Stowage has been planned carefully on deck. Handy cuddies in the coamings also hide remote controls for the electric primaries as well as shorepower sockets. There are practical lockers beneath the helm seats for washdown gear on one side and warps the other.
The top of the rudder stock and the emergency steering connection are also beneath the helm seat, which would make it quick and easy to fit an emergency tiller. Surprisingly, however, there is no permanent provision for sheet tails – the mainsheet tail bags and halyard hooks are additions.
The bountiful lazarette, large enough for full-size bicycles on the test boat, is a watertight area as the swimming platform hinges off the sealed transom. A quarter locker houses two 13kg gas bottles and the deep sail locker forward can easily swallow a downwind sail and fenders.
The lion’s share of space on the Rustler 57 has understandably been allocated to the cockpit and saloon. Fiddles and handles guide you safely through an interior that oozes hand-built quality.
I was drawn to the proper navstation, where you can settle behind the chart table, scan the displays on the angled, raised panel, check the sea state through the hull portlight or the mainsail through the hatches, all while in communication with those in the cockpit, galley or saloon.
Layout is logical – things are where they should be. The switchboard, for instance, is divided up so the deck lights are in close reach from the companionway. The 24V systems are on one panel, 240V on another, with the breakers mounted separately below. It’s intuitive. Proper shelving for pilot books is built into the bulkhead behind the pilot seat and the grab bag is below. This is a yacht designed for passagemaking.
That said, the Rustler 57 has an impressive allocation of social space for time at rest. The galley and saloon create a colossal communal area; it’s rare to find this much saloon space below superyacht or large cat level. Eight can sit around the large table with another four on the sofa.
Ample natural light and ventilation help create a light, airy ambience. The owners of this boat chose satin-finished teak, together with traditional blue upholstery. The standard finish is in a lighter European oak.
These owners also opted for a washing machine, separate dryer, dishwasher, microwave and extra fridge freezer. So despite the intelligent layout of the galley, I actually found it a little wanting in convenient stowage space for everyday utensils. However, the yacht boasts plenty of stowage in general, including in the deep bilge.
The engine is, unusually, mounted centrally below the inboard area of the galley’s work surface for optimum weight management. “Our view is that you should be able to do daily checks but otherwise it should be as central as possible,” explains Rustler’s co-director Nick Offord. The sole boards and bin area surrounding the engine lift away to give easy access to the filters etc.
The prop shaft runs through a large Aquadrive unit and Halyard silencers, so despite the engine’s position in the heart of the interior, it was quiet underway. The space beneath the companionway is used to house the genset, and there is room for a washing machine or wet hanging above (there is also a rail in the day heads for drying gear).
The full bow buys plenty of volume in the master cabin, with beam enough to allow steps up each side of the double berth and for the headboard to mount on the forward bulkhead.
The aft cabins, meanwhile, also with ensuite heads, are where the price is paid for the elegant counter and traditional hull shape, as headroom and bilge space quickly reduces going aft. The berths are on two levels in the twin cabin – nice passage berths but they could get a little cramped for guests spending longer periods aboard.
There’s plenty of competition in this market – from British yards alone – but by sticking to what it knows and does best, Rustler has created something refreshing with its old-school approach. There are some small tweaks that could improve the sailhandling, but the feeling of security this boat provides when sailing overrides all other impressions. By making you feel both welcome and safe, the Rustler 57 encourages you to dream about voyaging further afield. With its potential for consistent passagemaking speeds and its forgiving nature at sea, the Rustler 57 would be as at home in, say, the colder waters of the Baltic as it would taking the tradewinds across the Pacific. The layout, giving generous space to the cockpit and main living area, ensures it is a very pleasant yacht to be aboard at anchor, too. Its retro lines may squeeze space out of the aft cabins, but I’d take the timeless looks any day. Choosing the Rustler 57 boils down to how much you value reassurance. For those thinking of spending long periods aboard, there are few yachts I can think of that would offer such a feeling of dependability.
LOA:17.40m (57ft 1in)
LWL:14.49m (47ft 7in)
Beam (max):5.00m (16ft 5in)
Draught:2.59m (8ft 6in)
Lift keel:2.00m-3.50m (6ft 6in-11ft 6in)
Displacement (lightship):27,200kg 59,965lb
Ballast (standard):9,343kg (20,598lb)
Sail Area:169.5m2 (1,824ft2)
Engine:Nanni N4 135hp shaft drive
Water capacity:910lt (200gal)
Fuel capacity:950lt (209gal)
Sail area/displacement ratio:19.1