British brand Discovery is one of the few monohull yards to build catamarans. Could the Bluewater 50 be one for monohull purists?
Discovery 50 review: This British bluewater catamaran could win over monohull purists
Many of us who dream of long-term cruising want to do it in comfort, preferably in a quality build from a respected brand. With monohulls, we’d be spoilt for choice in the 50-60ft range with yachts from quality yards such as Oyster, Hallberg-Rassy, Contest and Amel to choose from.
But what if we want the extra space and versatility that a multihull offers? The multihull market has burgeoned in the last decade, but the traditional yards typically don’t build catamarans. In fact, surprisingly few specialise in high-end cruising multihulls.
John and Caroline Charnley, the founders of Discovery Yachts, realised this over a decade ago when they commissioned Bill Dixon to design a 50ft catamaran for short-handed bluewater voyaging. It was, in fact, the same concept on which they’d built their successful monohull business.
While the Charnleys were cruising the oceans in their new catamaran, Discovery changed hands and management teams a couple of times. Its models have recently been revitalised, and that includes the Bluewater 50. We went to Lymington to trial the latest boat, built for Werner Schnaebele, who recently became the 100% shareholder of the reformed Discovery Shipyard.
Schnaebele is also, you will note from the pictures, fanatical about dogs. His company, Binti Marine Holdings, owner of Discovery, is named after one of his two Ridgebacks. His wish to have dog motifs on sails and joinery gave the Marchwood yard the chance to showcase the skills for which its craftsmen are known.
Schnaebele and his friends were on board during our trials as they were in the process of a handover. He is relatively new to sailing and has specified his boat with multiple options, including two gensets, a dive compressor and a top spec thermal camera. His plan is to cruise in the Mediterranean and Baltic with friends.
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What’s the rush?
Choosing a multihull is often a head over heart decision. A racing sailor might be drawn to performance designs, perhaps picturing themselves tiller-steering at double digit speeds from a bucket seat. But on such yachts scrupulous weight management is a must, so there is a hefty price to be paid for composite construction and they often lack creature comforts.
See the pocket-sprung mattresses, electric heads, fridges, freezers and wine stowage in the capacious Bluewater 50, and you start to question how much you really need fast-paced fun.
Many sailors have little multihull experience and can be somewhat nervy when sailing a catamaran. But the Bluewater 50 is much more approachable to traditional monohull sailors. Its relatively low freeboard, for instance, the in-mast furling and familiar twin headsail rig, as well as the standard finish and joiner work, is familiar to anyone used to top end monohulls.
It’s even built in a traditional way, in hand-laid glassfibre, with solid laminate for the hulls, sandwich decks and bulkheads bonded to both. You quickly find yourself thinking this catamaran is not too different from the norm after all.
When it launched ten years ago, the Bluewater 50 looked rather dated. And although recent changes have significantly improved its layout and styling, it’s still more retro than in vogue.
Perhaps that’s no bad thing, however. Buyers will place a much higher value on the practicalities, such as the high bridgedeck clearance, the wide side decks, and visibility from the helm. It’s no surprise to learn that all buyers so far have been former monohull owners.
The main layout difference with the previous model is that Discovery has done away with the original forward master cabin. Previously, it spanned the full beam, but lacked headroom.
The new version has a more conventional three- or four-cabin layout with cabins at either end of the hulls. Natural light and ventilation has also been improved significantly.
Any similarities with a monohull stop abruptly when it comes to handling and hands-on feel. A 26ft wide 20-tonne vessel can seem daunting when you are leaving a dock or a marina berth, especially if there is a crosswind. However, a benefit of catamarans is their twin engines spaced well apart, which allow you to spin the boat in its own length. Thrusters are also an option on the Discovery.
Once out into the fresh breeze funnelling down the western Solent, I noticed more similarities with a monohull. The in-mast furling system controlling the mainsail and the choice of genoa or self-tacking jib on furlers (powered if desired), would make setting sail a doddle if short-handed.
What struck me most during our test was the consistent, comfortable motion of the Bluewater 50. That will also appeal to traditional cruisers. Even when the boat was over-canvassed,it behaved well and, had we wanted to, reefing would have been a simple push-button affair.
Despite an ugly wind-against-tide chop we experienced no pitching or slamming; the Discovery would get up speed and ride through the waves. It felt similar to a displacement monohull, except that wine bottles were left standing upright on the galley countertop and the tea was brewed from a non-gimballed stove.
A comfortable pace
The price for all that comfort is lack of speed. You might assume a catamaran would be swifter, but I doubt you’d be crossing oceans any faster on the Bluewater 50 than on a similar-sized monohull.
Powered-up, with the blue Code sail and full main set in 20-23 knots of true wind, we averaged 8.5 knots, albeit deep reaching, and being careful not to overload the sail. And when the wind increased a little more and that Code sail was furled away, we enjoyed some fetching and beating under full main and jib, averaging 7 to 7.5 knots.
These may not be the speeds the polars suggest, but the test boat was laden with optional extras – not, though, the Williams Jet tender that has been ordered and will be stowed on davits.
Sails were chosen on the basis of performance, longevity and, crucially for this boat, the need to be painted! Peter Sanders, who runs the 45-year-old Sanders loft in Lymington, selected Dyneema cloth encapsulated with Mylar and laminated with a polyester taffeta.
“The result is a very rugged, low-stretch laminate that will easily fit inside the mast chamber,” he explains. Carbon was used in the top third of the vertical mainsail battens for a larger roach and, by offsetting the radar on the mast, the jib could be built with a larger roach too. This produces a nice slot between the sails when beating.
The test boat was fitted with optional hydraulic steering which, unfortunately, is the part most monohull sailors would struggle to accept. It felt positively alien. Even a heavy centre-cockpit monohull with a lengthy steering connection will give some helm sensation as the yacht powers up and heels. Not so here.
I was concerned by the disconnect I felt between the wheel and rudder response. If you can’t feel the rudder respond, you typically over-compensate, which can be unnerving. It may be that the Bluewater 50 will be sailed on autopilot much of the time and Discovery does offer alternative drives.
I did not like the mainsheet set-up either. The traveller is on the aft beam, which allows for a long boom, but makes the sail awkward to trim from beneath a hard bimini, despite hatches above for sighting the main.
The option of a reversible mainsheet winch, which can be remotely operated, makes some sense. However, I think a yacht designed for short-handed voyaging should have the mainsheet within reach of the helm.
Comfort and shelter
The sightlines on board are very well considered – from helm to galley, to cockpits and navstation, communication is easy. Those in the aft cockpit are separated from the sailing systems yet connected with the helmsman.
The cockpit offers complete protection beneath a hard roof, and the sides can be closed off with canopies – ideal in cold conditions. Six people can sit around the table and there is space for another three on the sofa to starboard – with plenty of stowage beneath the seating. There are sunbed seats each side of the aft cockpit. I had misgivings about the large drop down from these to the aft deck, and I would add another guardrail or two across the transoms.
If the aft cockpit is where you can seek shelter in comfort, the spacious foredeck area suits relaxing in the sun. It’s easy to imagine sundowners in this compact but deep cockpit – or in the optional hot tub, an indulgent Discovery hallmark.
There is plenty of stowage space below this cockpit, while the huge sail lockers in each forepeak will swallow any sails, fenders and most toys. That said, the Bluewater 50 has relatively fine bows, so it would be prudent not to overload the forward ends.
The main deck living area now has almost all-round views. It will feel particularly large and bright to anyone familiar with the original Bluewater 50 layout, which had a forward owner’s cabin, forward galley and much smaller windows. There is scope for customisation in the layout here, and particularly with the joiner work and décor.
Catamarans rarely heel, but the motion can still be awkward. This Discovery is clearly designed by sailors to go to sea and I liked the large, practical U-shape galley, the secure, forward-facing navstation and the curved and fiddled furniture.
The galley has plenty of fiddled Corian worktop space and deep stowage areas. There are options to increase the already generous cold stowage by adding fridges or freezers in the hulls. Portholes in the forward-facing coachroof windows not only provide good ventilation but enable crew to pass food and drink to the forward cockpit.
The dedicated navstation provides the best seat in the house. The compact chart table area has unhindered forward views, a hatch above to sight the mainsail and is still within communication of the helm station. The test boat had throttle controls here too, so this would be a good station for watchkeeping.
An equivalent size and priced monohull, such as a Discovery 58, typically offers a large master suite and two guest cabins, whereas the Bluewater 50 not only gives more space to these guest cabins but also has the option of a fourth cabin (a third guest cabin).
I’d be tempted to opt for the layout that gives one complete hull to owner’s accommodation, with a larger shower, heads, desk and stowage areas. However in the four-cabin test boat, the owner’s suite aft still seemed generous.
The forward cabins have plenty of volume, notably inboard, where there is enough space for an extra raised bunk or locker allocation. Large hatches in these cabins provide ventilation and the option for an easy exit onto the foredeck, and there is an impressive amount of natural light from the vertical portlights and large triangular coachroof windows.
Discovery’s new ownership
Werner Schnaebele made his fortune developing a software integration tool for large companies. He was one of the 401 crowdfunders who invested over £2.2m in the Discovery Yachts Group, before he went on to buy the business.
“From the beginning it was a passion decision not an economic one!” Schnaebele tells me with a smile, before continuing to explain that he’s now in it for the long run.
“The workers and craftsmen are really skilled – and you have to give these people the time to do their work right.”
He thinks the previous management made some mistakes, which included presenting yachts at shows which did not do the skill levels of the yard justice. Hence Schnaebele is delighted to see Discovery back to its high level of finish quality.
The German dog lover won’t get involved in the day to day running of the business – that’s now in the very experienced hands of its sole director, John Burnie. The company is now all under the Discovery Shipyard name, which is owned by Binti Marine Holdings.
Look at some of the latest designs on the market and you would be forgiven for thinking new multihulls are all about speed. Yet I can safely say, if I ever manage to achieve my dream of tradewinds voyaging around the globe, I will not be in any hurry! If you had a budget of £1.5m and were looking at a reliable, popular choice for long-distance short-handed cruising you might consider yachts such as the Discovery 58, Oyster 565 or Hallberg-Rassy 57. For the same money the Bluewater 50 will give you considerably more space. If the boom in 40ft to 60ft production multihulls we’ve seen in the ARC is anything to go by, don’t be surprised if you see more and more sailors making such decisions with their heads, opting for space, rather than their hearts, and being seduced by aesthetics and helming sensation. For those who wish a catamaran to be as similar as possible to the pedigree cruising monohulls they know and love, this Bluewater 50 provides a logical transition.