Toby Hodges takes a look at all the nominees and the winner of the best catamaran category in the much-anticipated European Yacht of the Year Awards
There are many categories in the European Yacht of the Year awards, from the best luxury yachts and performance yachts to the best yachts for families and event a best specialist yacht category. But with multihulls rapidly increasing in popularity, the best catamaran category was possibly the most hotly anticipated.
The European Yacht of the Year awards are selected by a broad panel of expert judges from across the globe. These are people who spend their professional lives sailing and comparing yachts, so you can be certain that the yachts which stand out in this field are truly the best catamaran options on the market for those looking to set out on more than one hull.
What started out as two separate best catamaran categories – Family and Performance – merged into one once the jury appreciated the boundaries are quite blurred and that some of these catamarans belong in both camps.
All seven of these 40- to 50-footers merit close scrutiny for anyone after space and cruising comfort. The decision lies with how much you tweak the performance:comfort ratio.
Best catamaran winner – Nautitech 44
If the very best catamaran delivers the ideal comfort to performance compromise, here’s a catamaran that seems to strike the perfect balance.
For those who cite a lack of visibility and protection as reasons not to choose this aft helm route, try sailing this first – direct steering brings so much more helming pleasure that you get the enjoyable feeling and communication more associated with a monohull. The attention to keeping weight low and central, vacuum infused vinylester build and a low coachroof and boom all aid this performance. The fine entry Lombard-designed hulls allowed us to properly point upwind at 8 knots (in 13), but it was the hands-on steering sensation that really stayed with me.
While there’s no real inside/outside boundary – the saloon bridges both – the Chedal-Anglay interior design works well. It is not as voluminous as some, but is certainly enough to be smugly comfortable at anchor, finished to a good quality, with walnut Alpi trim as standard. The layout option for a ‘smart room’ office/laundry/bunk room or stowage cabin is indeed really smart.
Out of all the multihulls nominated or sailed last year, this cat impressed me the most under sail. It’s the ideal size to go distance sailing, with good performance, low draught and space for family and friends. It had me dreaming.
I was drawn to the Balance 482, thanks to the combination of good looking modern design, high average speeds and, chiefly, the profusion of clever thinking and practical ideas that it brings. The South African build uses a foam core with E-glass laminate and cored furniture for a light weight of 11.3 tonnes, but also with the ability to take a generous payload.
An electric furler option combined with screecher sail helps offer effortless handling and fun sailing, although the 482 prefers a breeze in the double figures. Smart options such as load cells on the rigging, a bowsprit camera to monitor the anchor chain, plus engine room and mast cams all help for maintaining vigilance. Other features we like include the solar panels properly installed on raised brackets, raincatchers built into the coachroof, and how all sheets and lines are led to the helm station. But the prize solution is the VersaHelm, which allows you to swing the wheel inboard, close off the helm station, and stand watch and steer from a fully protected position.
Catana Ocean Class
The Catana Ocean Class is a bulky model which is geared more towards creature comforts than the higher performance of its predecessors. That said, it uses carbon in the structure and roof, foam cored furniture, the tanks are mounted low in the hulls and it has daggerboards and fine entry bows. The weight savings help it offer a massive 5.5 tonne cruising payload, plus there’s capacious stowage and large tank, refrigeration and laundry capacity.
Positioned between Lagoon and Outremer, the Catana echoes a bit of its sister brand Bali’s concept with its internal cockpit-cum-saloon layout while providing good ventilation via large sliding doors and opening windows. We liked how it’s easy to handle solo from one helm station, including the electric remote control of the boards, plus the layout of the galley and navstation.
Those chasing speed and helming pleasure should perhaps look to the C-Cat 48, as it’s as close to helming a fast monohull as a cruising cat is likely to get and one of the rare times we enjoyed sailing upwind in light breezes on a multihull! This is largely thanks to a lightweight, stiff build – the Comar yard has managed to save 1.7 tonnes over the first boat (9.5 tonnes light) and increased the draught of the curved daggerboards to 2.95m.
A carbon roof and rig comes as standard, as well as an epoxy hull, full carbon deck, bulkheads and compression beam. It is a little quirky with comparatively small volumes, but this François Perus design will outperform most other performance cats and monohulls of a similar length.
The Excess 14 shares that direct sensation you get from aft helms and some of the performance of the C-Cat, but in a more balanced, voluminous layout for cruising. The Excess 14 benefits from the research of VPLP’s Vannes racing office, where attention was focused on weight reduction, with savings particularly in furniture, on improved stiffness (PET foam cored sandwich for main structural bulkheads), and the efficiency of deeper fixed keels.
The result is telling on the water, as it should be for any best catamaran contender, where you can log easy miles: we clocked late 7s upwind, reached in the late 8s and regularly averaged 9 knots with gennaker in 12-15 knots. Clear glass windows give acceptable visibility from the helms through the coachroof and the comparatively minimalist interior. In short it offers a good mix of volume, reasonable performance and enjoyable sailing – see our full review last month.
Sailing performance was another key facet in the battle of the big cats from the big cat yards, Lagoon and Fountaine Pajot. Both models offer luxurious amounts of space for home from home comfort, as watersports bases for long term cruising.
The decision to push the mast to the front of the coachroof to allow for a larger genoa than its recent preference for self-tacking jibs has paid off on the Lagoon 51. It helped us sail efficiently into the waves (albeit not pointing too high) before clocking double figures reaching with the code sail in 15 knots.
The Lagoon’s large flybridge with dual access is a USP at this size that will be a hit or miss deal breaker for many. The 51 offers unrivalled accommodation volume in three, four or six cabins, and relaxation zones, and good circulation through these big spaces. Once again the jury applauds Lagoon for thoroughly testing the prototype model during a six month tour. Over 100 have already sold.
We saw in our December issue how the experienced owners of the Fountaine Pajot test boat choose to live and work full time aboard their Aura 51. It’s a design that promotes space, enough to take friends, family and crucially for them, all the toys to enjoy at anchor. Its capability of averaging 8-10 knots also appeals, although the single side helm and hydraulic steering result in scant connection to the sailing in light winds (the same applies to the Lagoon).
The fact the yard already offers this in a hybrid version and has an electric and hydrogen model in the pipeline could sway some, but the decision between the FP and the Lagoon will likely come down to preference between a central flybridge or offset bulkhead helm together with interior design and layout.
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