Disruptive, innovative, and contemporary in style and technology, this electrified HH44 takes fast multihull cruising to a new level, says Toby Hodges

Product Overview


HH44 review: Taking fast multihull cruising to another level

Price as reviewed:

£753,254.00 (OC base price ex VAT)

A fast, fun catamaran that is safe and comfortable may once have been a pipe dream, but is now perhaps the biggest growth market in yachting. However, creating a performance catamaran at or below 45ft is no easy task. It’s an elusive sweet spot because many buyers think they want what the 50ft+ catamarans offer but in a more manageable and, crucially, affordable package.

Meanwhile from the designers’ and yards’ point of view, that’s not so easily achieved – in particular the challenge of keeping a boat light enough to perform, yet offer all the amenities expected of multihull living.

Then try building something on which you can still turn a profit? That focusses the mind. It could be argued that those meeting this challenge most creatively and effectively at the moment are HH, led by experienced boatbuilder Paul Hakes, and in particular his son James – the 44’s lead designer. They describe this new baby of their range as ‘groundbreaking’.

The HH44 seemingly combines all the latest thinking around performance and technology while also adding a liberal sprinkling of fresh ideas, including being the first production catamaran to feature parallel hybrid propulsion. And all this while still being capable of ocean cruising.

Can such a feature-rich fast cat work harmoniously at this size though? I was keen to find out. A quick first sail during European Yacht of the Year trials in the autumn provided a taster and I hope a lengthier test will follow to draw more conclusions. But it was enough to get an idea of what works, what doesn’t, and get a feel for why this model has sold in such extraordinary numbers (over 30 off the plans alone).

Fresh thinking: unlike earlier Morrelli & Melvin HHs, the 44 has been conceived and designed fully in-house by James Hakes

A speed date

First impressions are of a very modern looking fast cat, more like a 50-footer perhaps that’s been squeezed a little, with length lost out of the ends. So there’s noticeably high freeboard and good bridgedeck clearance (over 3ft). The sporty look is set off by razor sharp bows and an attractive coachroof line, which extends right back to cover the aft helms. Next up you notice the powerful carbon rig, while even from the dock you can appreciate the formidable amount of natural light being encouraged in through the massive amounts of glazing in the coachroof and hull portlights.

The choice to go with aft helms triggered other design decisions, including keeping the boom (and centre of effort) low, and allowing HH to use the whole roof for a solar array. This resulted in a market leading 4.2kW of panels as standard.

Go to step aboard and you instantly appreciate some of the innovative features. For starters, with the boat moored side-on, you can actually step aboard via a gate in the aft bulwark, rather than having to perform some sort of gymnastic hurdle onto the transom steps, as you do on most high freeboard catamarans today.

Furling headsails set on a carbon longeron. All lines are led to the cockpit. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/imacis.fr/EYOTY

This leads us on to one of my next favourite features: the folding transoms. Rather than the typical open transom steps that any clumsy crewmember, inquisitive child or pet can fall down and out of, the HH has lowering platforms which serve as a bathing platform, protect those aboard from falling out and, crucially, prevent a following sea from pooping the cockpit. And when you are helming from that far aft, this will be of real comfort.

Washboards are a popular option for many offshore cruising cats, but typically look like an afterthought and are used sparingly, where this is integrated into the design in a seamless fashion. Operation is also pretty neat: a line is led forward through the bulwarks to aside the helms, allowing a powered winch to be used. These lifting platforms also add extra usable space when folded down. The downside is they make the transoms look a bit high and, well, sawn off.

Smooth moves

We pulled away from the dock – in silence. The HH44 was designed from scratch to incorporate parallel hybrid propulsion. Not only do these ‘EcoDrives’ offer silent, fume-free motoring, but they can also hydrogenerate while sailing – more on that later.

Huge forward facing opening windows provide formidable through-flow ventilation to the interior. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/imacis.fr/EYOTY

The test boat was the more popular and expensive Sports Cruising (SC) model, which is built in carbon epoxy and features C-shape carbon daggerboards, a Marstrom carbon mast and these EcoDrives as standard – 80% of orders have been for this, while an Ocean Cruising (OC) model is also offered with a gelcoat finish, aluminium mast and fixed keels.

Swing pedestals are used each side to allow the helmsman to steer either with an outboard view or from a more protected position beneath the bimini looking through the coachroof windows. This is an increasingly common practical feature on today’s catamarans and one fitted on the first HH66 a decade ago. It also allows you to free up some space when needed. Equally the fold down helm seats each side can be kept out of the way unless needed and while these do offer a nice perch, they are a little low for maintaining clear sightlines.

Once the sails go up you can quickly see why HH has incorporated such features as there is a lot going on in these aft quarters. You find yourself regularly swinging the helm over to get it out the way to work the winches. And yet there are still blind spots from the helms with pedestals canted – a drawback of having low helms right in the quarters.

Easy side boarding access. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/imacis.fr/EYOTY

Sailing upwind with the Doyle square-top main and Solent set, we had a long beat into 11-15 knots true wind, making 7.5-8.5 knots against an awkward swell at 40° the apparent wind. Lining up against other yachts around us proved these were not far off performance monohull speeds and angles.

While beating into an ugly, sharp 2.5m swell is not what most owners might choose, it’s something all need to do at times and proved helpful to get a feel for the HH’s manners. It resulted in a predictably awkward twisting motion aboard, however the fine bows did cut through the swell well, keeping speed up, and the high freeboard kept the deck dry. It was also noticeably direct on the wheel and responsive to sail trim (this despite the traveller being locked in a central position after the line driver developed a problem earlier in the week).

We bore away and set a top-down gennaker, increasing average speed to 8.5-10+ knots depending on the swell angle. Again these are respectable figures considering a breeze of only around 11 knots apparent. The polars suggest double figures should be easy to maintain when reaching in anything above 12-14 knots true. I felt a clear difference in small wind increment gains. This is a stiff yacht, which reacts quickly to puffs – you really feel that extra couple of knots as the boat accelerates – while Cyclops Marine sensors help you monitor the loads in the rigging, which is reassuring.

In terms of operation the HH has been set up to be completely controlled from the helms. The upgraded, powered winches on the test boat can be remotely operated with foot controls, which is particularly helpful for short-handed work and adjusting the 5m-long daggerboards.

sporty, compact nerve centres leave good cockpit space. Single panel sliding doors, aft windows swing open and there is no mullion between them. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/imacis.fr/EYOTY

Moving forward the decks are a lot cleaner, thanks to all running rigging led through line tunnels underdeck (even jib sheets). Toerails and high stanchions give a good feeling of security, while comfortable, grippy Eva foam decking comes as standard all over the deck. Foam decking has been used a lot on race boats in recent years and offers an appealing solution for cruising boats as it’s so comfortable under foot, easy to clean and doesn’t get hot like teak or teak alternatives. A question mark perhaps remains over its longevity and durability.

See the light

Such is the extent of the glazing and natural light encouraged into the HH44, it’s almost as if there is no inside/outside divide. Granted, there is a particularly glossy white decor on this first model, which helps emphasise that brightness (many other colour and trim combinations are offered), but the real key lies in the size of the coachroof windows.

The SC model has carbon epoxy infused hulls with E-glass decks and foam-cored furniture, essentially a highly stiff construction technique which also allows for the two huge tempered glass opening windows. As well as an overhead and two central hatches, these massive Lewmar windows provide phenomenal ventilation at anchor.

Over 2m headroom in the particularly bright and well ventilated saloon and galley. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/imacis.fr/EYOTY

The bridgedeck layout is ideal to benefit from all this natural light and ventilation too, with its large forward-facing navstation and saloon, and a galley which seamlessly links to the cockpit.
In the hulls it’s a three cabin layout only, but there are some choices in the forward starboard cabin, which can be a compact double, a Pullman or a utility cabin. It’s here where you see the prime payoff of having a performance cat, with ultra fine bows and large daggerboard casings stealing precious volume.

Parallel hybrid power

The aft berths lift on struts to reveal the engine bays below. At first these look like conventional 30hp Beta marine diesels, before you notice the water-cooled electric motors bolted on their aft ends. These act as electric drives, high powered alternators and hydrogenerators.

This EcoDrive system was designed to provide the key benefits of an electric boat, without sacrificing the backup of diesel engines. So essentially, they “piggyback on reliable normal diesel engines”, says Paul Hakes. The diesels can become two DC generators, putting 10kW into the battery bank while motoring, or the props can spin to charge while sailing.

Plenty of light and headroom plus inviting doubles aft, but volume is lost forward with the fine bows. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/imacis.fr/EYOTY

The crew used only the electric propulsion to get the HH44 in and out of Port Ginesta multiple times per day that week. The 10kW electric motors can provide 1.5 hours propulsion at max thrust without charge – at which stage you can run a diesel. So effectively you end up having four engines, HH reasons.

The 840Ah lithium ion battery bank is large enough to run AC overnight without running an engine. High load items are on 48V while 12V systems use a DC to DC converter.

When you consider the high level of competition, such as the Balance 442, the Outremer 45 and the new Seawind 1370, the HH44 is the highest end in terms of cost and exotic build. The SC is the only one in its class to have carbon fibre hulls as standard, including carbon rig, bowsprit, daggerboards, and rudders, while the electric drives, 4.2kW of solar and 48V battery bank etc all come as standard too. I also like how HH’s price list labels every extra with its weight; so if you want full aircon in the boat, for example (a strange choice with this much ventilation), it’s a whopping 200kg extra.

43.2kWh of lithium ion 48V house batteries can be charged by solar, the diesel motor and hydrogeneration under sail. Photo: Ludovic Fruchaud/imacis.fr/EYOTY

James Hakes tells me they wanted to design the 44 in-house for multiple reasons: “It has so many new details not attempted before, and we needed very tight control over the design to execute them correctly.”

HH has “a lot of firepower to throw at design issues to rapidly iterate dozens of ideas” and needed to design it to be easy to build.

While HH’s production so far has been in Xiamen, China, the popularity of the HH44s and new HH52s is such that a new manufacturing facility is now running in Cebu, Philippines, which will help increase capacity to around 30 HH44s a year. This is also not a bad place for trial/shakedown sails or to start multihull cruising!

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The HH44 certainly packs in the attractions. A fast and sporty carbon cat with efficient daggerboards that’s reactive and fun to sail, with a bright modern interior. It boasts the most sail power and highest performance ratio in its class, so cruisers will need to handle this hull-flying capable cat with care. There’s as much light and ventilation as you could wish for, renewable energy, silent power yet with the reassurance of diesel back up, all topped with a generous serving of clever ideas on deck and in the cockpit. However, you pay for all this... It may have the benefit of being a more manageable size but it’s still a 50ft+ cat in price. As mentioned, though, what comes as standard is seriously impressive. While I have enjoyed sailing other aft cockpit cats before, I did find the helms on the HH44 a bit crowded and with blind spots – but I’ll reserve full judgement on that for a longer trial please! So while HH’s new baby is not perfect, it is quite brilliant. And after all, who would buy such a boat for marina hopping? This is for long passages, tradewind sailing and tropical anchorages, where it’s sure to turn heads. Mark this as your must view or sail cat for 2024.


LOA:15.15m / 49ft 8in
LWL:13.28m / 43ft 7in
Beam:7.15m / 23ft 6in
Draught:1.10m-3.00m / 3ft 7in-9ft 10in
Displacement:9,390kg 20,701lb
Engines:2x beta 30 + 2x 10kW hybrid drives
Base price SC:US$1,325,000 ex VAT
Builder :www.hhcatamarans.com