Can spacious performance cruising multihulls be built in large volumes at competitive prices? Excess thinks so and demonstrates just that with the Excess 14
Excess 14 review: competitively priced performance catamaran
We’re sailing the Excess 14 upwind in 12-14 knots of true wind, with boat speed hovering between 7.4 and 8.0 knots. The helm feels positive and responsive, the boat tacks easily and responds readily to accurate sail trim.
Aside from the lack of heel, it’s the type of experience and real-world cruising speeds you might expect of a 50-something-foot monohull performance cruiser. Yet, this is an enormously spacious 26ft wide platform from the world’s largest boatbuilder, not a niche builder of expensive high performance designs.
Until now, anyone looking for a catamaran sailing experience that’s fun and rewarding to sail had a limited choice. Granted, yards such as Outremer and Marsaudon Composites produce fantastic boats, but they can be complex, while high tech construction and low build volumes inevitably mean hefty prices.
Groupe Beneteau identified a gap in the market into which it launched the Excess brand four years ago. How did the yard achieve good sailing qualities and performance in a high volume production boat with a commensurate price tag?
A policy to chase weight savings in every area, without creating an expensive high-tech boat, started with a Finite Element Analysis (FEA) of the entire structure by VPLP’s Vannes office, which normally deals with race boats.
Carbon reinforcement was added to highly stressed areas, such as the fully infused PET foam sandwich bulkheads, while weight was dropped from lightly stressed zones including hull skins, through using a lower density end grain balsa core. This is divided into small squares, separated by resin, so localised damage won’t allow water ingress to spread. Layup is monolithic in way of the engines and keels, while the deck is PET foam sandwich.
The weight of furniture also came under scrutiny – the galley, for instance, is 25% lighter without resorting to expensive foam cores. Light displacement is 12.8 tonnes, compared to 14-15 tonnes for other cruising catamarans this size, and is one of several factors that make a significant improvement to the way the boat sails.
VPLP also optimised keel hydrodynamics. Renowned naval architect Vincent Lauriot Prévost was convinced these could be more efficient than cruising multihulls’ typical fat, low aspect keels – and his initial modelling showed a modest 10cm increase in draught would give 15% better efficiency.
At the same time, discussions on the Excess Lab, an online forum engaging directly with sailors, showed the market will accept a catamaran with deeper draught than the industry-standard 1.2m (4ft) chosen to allow access to shallow Bahamian anchorages. So draught was increased to 1.48m, allowing chord length to be reduced by half, meaning thinner keels, even less drag and further improvements in steering response. The rudders are also 20cm deeper, so their shape is less compromised than most cruising catamarans.
Other innovations include asymmetric hulls with more curvature and volume on the outside and less on the inside, reducing drag from the interaction of the wakes between the two hulls and slamming.
Our test boat had the optional 1.76m (5ft 9in) taller Pulse Line mast and longer bowsprit, which increases upwind sail area by 12m2 and adds 14m2 to the Code 0. The boat performed well on my first sail in 8-12 knots of breeze, reaching at speeds of up to 7.3 knots under Code 0, and maintaining six knots with a true wind angle of 58°.
However, it falls off quickly if you try to point too high in appreciably less than 10 knots true wind. Turning downwind and setting an asymmetric spinnaker we maintained 7-7.5 knots at a true wind angle of 145°, increasing to 8.5 knots after heading up 30°.
Light airs performance
My second sail gave an interesting chance to try the boat in light airs. Compared to a new 47ft monohull performance cruiser, sailing gently upwind in only 6-7 knots of true breeze, we were around 5° lower, but almost matched speed. Even in such gentle conditions the helm has good feel and the boat is responsive to sail trim.
The twin aft helm stations offer numerous advantages, including a direct connection from the wheels to the rudders using Dyneema cables. There’s an excellent view of the headsail luff, but there’s a large sector where you have to peer through the saloon windows. Nevertheless, for monohull sailors this feels like a natural place from which to steer and has the additional benefit of keeping the driver in contact with others in the cockpit.
The arrangement also makes short-handed berthing easier than cats with a central helm or a flybridge. As standard, mechanical cable engine controls are fitted at the starboard helm only, but our test boat had an electronic option with controls both sides.
Standard specification includes a square top mainsail and powerful overlapping genoa. Both are ideal for cruising cats, as the centre of effort is lowered and there’s no backstay to get in the way of the head of the mainsail.
Most sail controls are led to a bank of clutches and a pair of winches at the starboard helm station. Headsail sheets are colour coded, so tacking is an easy one-person operation. Our test boat had an electric winch upgrade, including a Harken Flatwinder powered mainsheet traveller.
My final day on board was in breezier conditions touching 17-18 knots, with a steep onshore chop that led to some wave tops gently slapping underneath the bridgedeck. This short, steep sea meant speed was quickly lost if you pointed too high when sailing close hauled. However, bearing off to a true wind angle just over 50° (around 33-34° apparent) saw brisk acceleration to speeds occasionally topping 8.5 knots.
Bearing away and deploying the Code 0 saw boat speed climb up to a maximum 10.3 knots. The delivery crew taking the boat from the Atlantic coast of France to the Cannes Yachting Festival report a top speed of 16.5 knots. However, this is not intended as a high performance vessel capable of sustained speeds in the upper teens, which makes it a less intimidating, easier boat to sail.
The central section of the aft cockpit is clear of sail handling action, with the exception of the traveller on the beam aft of the long bench seat across the back of the cockpit. An extending table to port allows easy circulation of people, yet can accommodate plenty for dining. There’s also an outdoor fridge and small bench seat on the starboard side of the cockpit. Access to the water or tender is from the aft platforms of each hull.
Side decks are wide, with good handrails, but weight saving means there’s no well for a forward cockpit. Instead sunbeds and cushions at the front of the bridgedeck create an area for relaxing and socialising, while beanbags can be used on the big trampoline.
There’s also an option of a ‘sky lounge’ on one side of the hardtop for use when not under way. This is reached via a couple of steps each side of the mast. The boom sweeps low across the top of the coachroof and hardtop, making it easy to pack the mainsail away and close the lazy bag after sailing.
Stowage on deck is under the cockpit seating, plus large lockers at the front of the bridgedeck, one of which also houses the optional generator. This area has space for the windlass and chain locker, while there are big sail lockers forward in both hulls, with enough space for optional skipper’s cabins.
Under sail the boat has a sufficiently comfortable, relaxed and solid feel to make leaving the helm to wander into the saloon or galley a viable proposition, especially if an apparent wind speed alarm is set. There are no full height cabinets, so only the mullions obstruct vision, while the blind spot from the helm stations created by coachroof, genoa and Code sails are no longer a problem.
The saloon is large, with ample room for circulation, plus a navstation and big table with space to comfortably seat eight people for dining. There’s good natural ventilation, including two big hatches in the front windows, plus one outboard of the cooker, as well as wide doors aft. The lack of full-height lockers means acres of galley worktop space. There’s also generous refrigeration and easily accessed stowage, plus considerable additional volume below the floor.
Chines above the waterline boost accommodation volume in the hulls, giving more space than high octane performance cruising designs. The charter version has a full four cabin, four head, four shower layout with good space, privacy and stowage.
Owners’ versions offer an unusual, but effective, take on how to use the space at the front of the starboard hull. There’s a flexible forepeak, instead of the standard 4m-long bathroom, with excellent stowage, including space for a walk-in dressing room (or even workshop). Yet this area can be converted to two single berths when necessary, perhaps with grandchildren on board. Aft of this is a midships washroom with twin sinks alongside enclosed toilet and shower compartments.
Between this area and the large peninsula berth aft is a generous dressing table/desk area, with ample space for those who work from home. There’s substantial further stowage in multiple hanging lockers, shelves and drawers.
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It’s often said the benefits of owning a multihull come at the cost of compromising factors that bring joy to boat ownership. Excess has done a good job with this design which is a step forward compared to its first two models, the 12 and 15, which were hampered by being based on Lagoon hulls. Of course, there are more spacious and better finished boats of this size, as well as some with considerably better performance. Closest rivals are perhaps the Nautitech 44 Open and Neel 47 trimaran. Both are two tonnes lighter, faster and arguably nicer to sail, but they have appreciably less accommodation and the former is more expensive. The Excess Lab is also an example of the brand’s determination to try different things and pursue a different line, including how key interactions with the boating public are handled. It’ll be interesting to see what’s next.