Amels have all these unique differences that make you think, “That’s interesting – I haven’t seen that before.” Even in their marketing, they have a unique flair with words. They use “gently” and the interrogative instead of declarative. This cultured voice blends perfectly with what Amel yachts represent. But is Amel just trying to be different for different sake or are these touches really superior? At first they clearly have a French flair that lures you in. Do the features hold under scrutiny?
In 1965, Henri Amel opened Amel Shipyards in La Rochelle, France. He was known as le Cap’tain and had a unique style which is the continuing foundation of Amel’s excellence. His real name was not Amel, but after fighting in WWII in Africa, he declared that the person he once was did not exist anymore and so took the name Amel. He was a forerunner of fiberglass, bluewater sailboats producing 36 Kirk, 41 Euros, 52 Meltem designs. This moved onto the 41 Sharki and 46 Maramu in the late 1970’s and 53 Mango in the 80’s. In the late 1980’s, Amel moved to a 46 Santorin and the subject of this review the 53 Super Maramu, an evolution of the 53 Mango design. In April of 2005, le Cap’tain passed away four days shy of his 92nd birthday. These days the Amel 54 is their only production model. They are building hull 1 of a 64 Amel in 2010. The company is 100% employee owned and has produced more 50-foot ocean cruising boats than any other manufacturer.
The Super Maramu has a soft raked bow coupled with a straight sheer that declines steadily from stem to a sugar scoop stern. The hull is of moderate beam at 3.5 length to beam ratio. The cabintrunk runs from the foredeck to far aft. A plastic overlay over the portholes gives the cabin trunk a one-piece look and sexy French style. The sidedecks are faux teak – a distinctive feature. The hard dodger is an easy way to pick out Amels. Just below the sheer is a thick red rubber rubrail bolted to the hull through a stainless striker strip. These ketches have a tall two spreader main mast and smaller mizzen. Underneath, Henri Amel was one of the first to combine a fin keel and full skeg hung rudder. The keel bottom is flat and wide enough for her to stand on. But, of course you should block up like usual. Some notable differences to the older Mango 53 are a lower profile cabintrunk and the sugar scoop stern aft. The Mangos had a counter stern.
I like how Amel does their hull and deck joint. The hull is solid fiberglass of bi-axial cloth layers including the skeg and stub keel. The deck is cored with Balsatek. To join these, they place the deck on the hull while the hull is still in the mold. Then, Amel fiberglasses the hull from the outside and inside to the deck. This procedure eliminates the need for a traditional hull-deck joint. It is one of the features that makes you wonder. In this case, the procedure really adds value here and makes sense. The end result are traditional bulwark style gunwales without any mechanical fasteners or 5200. An Amel is really one piece.
As I perfectionist I never like when builders use iron instead of lead and especially with an external keel. Amel uses mostly high quality techniques, but the only reason for using lower quality cast iron instead of lead is to reduce cost. Lead is superior in every way. Lead gets the VCG lower, absorbs collisions better, and is more resistant to corrosion. The only thing I can say and pretty persuasively is that this trade-off makes an Amel more reasonably priced than an Oyster or Hallberg Rassy. The chainplates mount outboard, tuck under the external rubrail, and bolt through the hull. Amel brags that you can pick her up by her chainplates. Amels come with a retractable bow-thruster in the foc’sle.
What To Look For
“Either you buy in 100% or don’t go near Amels,” says one owner. More than any other, Amels are a cult-like group. In France, they have an unquestionable reputation especially for support. The factory really stands behind their product. For instance, the Lexan in the hard dodger on one owner’s 15 year old Amel 53 was crazed and scratched from years of sun and abuse. The owner emailed the factory and asked what they would recommend to replace the glass. The next day Amel emailed that it was part A-45 and would arrive in three days to his address. Sure enough, three days later the Lexan piece arrived. The owned unscrewed the old one, screwed in the new one, and cocked the edges. It was an absolutely perfect fit.
A valid criticism of Amel is the lack of options. When purchasing his new 53 Maramu, one prospect mentioned his wife did not like the upholstery. The Amel agent replied, “Monsieur, you have three options. One, you can purchase a new Amel with the upholstery you see here. Two, you purchase an aftermarket Amel that has a different upholstery. Three, you can purchase a new Amel and hire someone to reupholster her according to what your wife likes.” The options are limited and include the inverter wattage, two engine models, and various other miscellaneous items.
Up forward, two hatches to the chainlocker are port and starboard with hinges from the bulwarks and dog latches. The windlass is horizontal between the hatches. The decks have that awful faux teak, and I really think Amel has lost their taste here. While the faux teak is functional and sensible, I feel like it cheapens the yachts. More logically, the faux teak can develop annoying voids and is not entirely maintenance free. Then again, the fake teak is definitely more cost effective and maintenance free than real teak – not to mention more ecologically responsible. The human race can’t keep plundering out natural resources.
With the chainplates outboard and genoa tracks along the top of the bulwarks, the side decks are easy to walk along. The main has mid boom sheeting with a traveler in front of the hard dodger. Portside of the cockpit is a deck hatch. Aft of the cockpit is an end boom traveler for the mizzen mast. There is oddly no push pit but instead a setup of various holes, a pole, and rope. You can insert the pole in two stern deck holes and another on the first step of the swim platform. This moves the orientation of the stern railing. Two lazarettes port starboard aft finish the deck storage.
Notably, the Super Maramu has relatively little obvious ventilation except three hatches. The Mango had four hatches forward while the Super Maramu has only two. There are not any dorades. The key to ventilation is opening all the hatches and closing the companionway. This allows air to flow though the interior. But, you must close the companionway for it to work. To facilitate air flow, an optional fresh air system draws from the cockpit and blows through the interior.
The cockpit has low head room with the hard dodger setup. The helm is a molded chair with the wheel mounted on the companionway wall. The helm has a raised footrest and is nice and comfortable. Clearly, an experienced eye fine tuned the ergonomics. The companionway hatch is offset to starboard. The port and starboard benches are long enough to lay down on and have the right kind of corners for cruising. Port side is a locker under the seating. Centerline aft is the mizzen mast with cockpit lockers port starboard. Two portholes help lighten up the interior starboard side and aft to starboard. Access to the engine room is under the cockpit sole.
A one-piece companionway door slides downward for interior access. I really like this guillotine style hatch instead of the normal slats. Every manufacturer should have entryways like Amel. The interior is fantastic African mahogany with teak covered plywood soles in the galley and saloon. The staterooms and walk through are carpet. The headliner is cream vinyl. You feel like you entered a French nobleman’s boat during the renaissance. The frilly upholstery and dainty details contrast deeply with what you usually see.
Forward most, the V-berth is more accurately U-shaped. A hatch and two portholes give some light and ventilation. The stateroom has a two piece door that latches shut. Outside is a head to port with en-suite shower. These all close off by the first submarine bulkhead. Amels are famous for these watertight submarine style bulkheads. I think you can classify this as one of the features that does not make sense. While on a submarine, such a bulkhead is useful, on a pleasure yacht it seems silly. At a recent Annapolis Sailboat show, Amel had a demonstration where they flooded the forward compartment and then went for a sail on Chesapeake Bay. With her nose 10 degrees point down, she still sailed safely to port. At the very least, the submarine bulkheads do illustrate a positive and under appreciated mentality. Amels are engineered to be seaworthy vessels with safety foremost, an ideology that many manufacturers either do not understand or disregard in their blind search for the all might dollar.
Amidships, the saloon has a quaint French love seat starboard. To port, a U-shaped dinette fits a good group of guests. The galley is port side the starboard offset companionway and is a long U-shaped galley with front loading refrigeration. The tiled counter top has high fiddles a sometimes forgotten detail. The navigation station is opposite forward of the step down to walk through aft. Aft most is another watertight bulkhead and access to the master stateroom and head. The master head has an en-suite shower again. The berth is low, large and U-shaped.
Engine and Underway
Another unique feature of the Super Maramu and Amels in general is the engine access through the cockpit sole. The hatch is watertight and opens easily with hydraulic lifts. I think this goes as another superior feature on Amels. The access and room is excellent. You can step down into the room and maintain the Volvo engine and Onan generator with ease. A particular problem and worry with this approach is leaking through the sole. Amel takes particular care to seal and prevent this possibility. On the Mango 53, this aft cockpit sole was raised to help. Here the sole is flush.
The Super Maramu is on the light side of the D/L ratio at 222. Performance cruisers usually range from 220 to 280. The Super Maramu has a double spreader rig for the main instead of the single you will find on Mangos. One owner writes about the Amel Super Maramu’s pointing ability and performance to weather, “The shrouds are fastened to the sides of the boat so the Genoa angle can not be brought in to point very high, But 30-35 degrees is a max. You also have a hundred horsepower engine and enough fuel to motor from New York to Bermuda. Getting off a lee shore is not a problem.”
Amels have unique features and a cult-ish following including the long running and popular 53 Super Maramu. Some of the unique features make significant sense like the hull-deck join and engine access while others like the watertight bulkheads are interesting. Finally, features like the faux teak decks and cast iron ballast do not add value for me but do keep the prices on these yachts comparatively low without any serious trade-offs. Two used Amels in Fort Lauderdale are asking $350,000 and $450,000. Fort Lauderdale happens to be Amel’s US headquarters, and a resource for more information is Joel Potter, the exclusive US agent for the Americas.