Choosing a Boat...
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
I’m going to wing it
2012 and as you may have read elsewhere my first spark of an idea came about after seeing a beautiful Sunreef 58 or 62… (they’re almost the same). It had the most luxurious interior ever and looked like you could sail the world in comfort easily. Now I had previously learnt to fly and whilst drooling over this cat I watched the America’s Cup and learnt about Wing-sails! With a wing-sail it seemed possible that you simply “drove” the catamaran to its destination and the computer worked out which way the sail needed to point in order to get you going in the right direction. What was more, boats have something called an Autopilot, this meant I could effectively tell the boat where I wanted it to take me and sit back and drink cocktails until we arrived… all on Gods Free Air! Fantastic! I thought, so I emailed Sunreef to see if they offered their 58 with a wing-sail, they responded by saying that whilst they have not yet made a catamaran with one, if I am interested then it is something they could look into. Fabulous! All is good with the world...
I then started looking at how I was going to get around whilst ashore and found a UK company who were trying out an idea called a Quadski. It was a cross between a Jet-ski and a Quadbike, meaning in my dream world I could lower it off the back of the Sunreef, Jetski ashore like some modern day James Bond and simply drive up the beach and onto roads destined for some lively intelligent conversations with beautiful people in stunning places… what a perfect life! (he says laughing heartily like a man who knows everything..)Now in 2012 I was too young to retire.. I just didn’t have the money and thought I would use this time to learn about sailing and about boats. The first lesson was whether a Sunreef 58 would be able to cope with the 600+Kgs that a Quadski weighs. I asked in some forums and virtually everybody said that it was a heck of a lot of weight on a boat. (cracks were appearing in my dream) Not only that, but the wing-sail idea might not be as easy as I’d first thought. It turned out that nobody really did them and to pay a company to do it would in effect cost far more than my budget would ever stretch to. Darn it! The oh so perfect plan was now in a coffin and the final nail was the trip to Gibraltar. It was here where proper sailors told me I should think about weight, handling, mooring and all other suchlike ideas I’d never considered. Now as I mentioned in the Gibraltar blog, here I met someone who pointed me in the direction of an Antares 44i; so my curiosity led me to read Ted Clement's blog very carefully. From this I devised a list of “must haves” in a catamaran and started my search all over again.
Our List of Must Haves
Manageable by a Couple – For the most part to us that meant most of the lines back to a central or at least no more than two points. But it also meant that catamarans with Sunreef 58
Size Matters! – We are not sailors, we know how to sail but are not very good at it. So sticking to the old mantle of “Pick a boat just about big enough for you” we decided anything over 50ft would be too big to handle. It also meant that it would fail the first Must have. In the same vein we also could not find any catamaran under 42ft that we felt would be roomy enough for us to live on for a long time. So we ended up with “Must be between 42 and 50feet long”. Aeroyacht, Balance (the Balance 451 & O Yacht’s Class 4 just felt too small), Outremer 51/5X, Neel 51, Broadblue, Bali 5.4, Gemini, Privilege 585.
Condition Matters – Our financial situation meant that after reading much about new vs second hand, we decided we’d get a better boat for less if we went nearly new. Now nearly new meant us finding a boat that was not too old either. I am no mechanic and know little if nothing about how to fix boat things – so a boat over say 6 years old would have to be something pretty special for us to consider. Things after that age would, we thought, be just a little too old for us. Also any new niggles on a nearly new boat had would probably have been found and ironed out by the owner, we’d effectively sit in the sweet spot! J So.. Cats before 2014 and after 2018 would be Gone! This date range was effectively a price range. There were of course a number of cats we discounted purely on price and they included the oh so fabulous McConaghy MC50, a jewel of a boat that will remain outside my affordability scale forever. Shame. Also however is the Discovery 50, a UK made catamaran that is just too pricey.
Liveability – I know this means something completely different to each of us. To us this meant cabins that looked like bedrooms as opposed to a large coffin, it meant the furniture in the cat must not look like its been dragged out of an IKEA catalogue. Some MDF furniture to us at least looked cheap, there were of course exceptions to the rule and we didn’t think we were being too picky, but I must admit that this led us to preferring a wood look (even it is wasn’t). This meant that lots of small Lagoon models fell by the wayside. It also meant that the FP Saba 50 fell off the list. We just couldn’t get over how the furniture looked cheap – I also couldn’t get over how it was that my knees wwere up against the wall when I sat on the WC of a 50foot cat! Finally, I do want to write a little about a very nice boat we actually went all the way to Australia just to see. The Freeflow 46. I talk about this boat a lot in our blog because it had oh so many good points we loved. Protected helm, Sailed beautifully, Daggerboards, Galley Up… the list goes on. It sadly fell off our list though because it just didn’t have quite enough cabin space for us L Freeflow 46, Small Lagoons, FP Saba50
Galley Up! – Pook felt sick a lot and felt worse when down below and decided if she was going to cook it had to be Galley Up. This together with the ensuite set-up in the Antares was the final killer. Antares 44i
Protected Helm – To us, Ted was absolutely right when he said that the boat must protect you and look after you. Pook is from Thailand and despite her coming from a very hot country, she hates sitting in the sun. So wherever we sat must protect us from the sun AND the rain. This knocked LOADS of boats off our shortlist as many seemed to have helms on the outside. Others had helms up top on the fly bridge and whilst this looked like a nice place to be it was actually quite exposed, difficult to get down to the lines to park in a marina and more critically to us, it seemed to push the boom up high. When we sailed we often had to mess about with the sails in the boom to zip it up or to tie away the bag so it sailed better. We really couldn’t work out how we could do this easily with it being 6ft off the ground. Catana, Nautitech, Lagoon 50
It must SAIL well – This encompassed a huge range of thoughts regarding
Weight (this put us partly off Leopards)
Hull shape & Size (this meant we were in two minds over daggerboards)
Sail size/mast height – Some boats seemed to be designed to go under the bridges in the ICW.. but this was a fraction of our intended journey.
Bridgedeck clearance - We decided that the killer would be bridgedeck clearance as we had been on a catamaran when it slammed and it didn’t sound good.
Visibility – Some boats were discounted because we just felt we were too short to sail them! We wanted to be able to see the four corners of the catamaran in order to park the thing in a marina. Leopard 48,
Nice stuff we favoured –
Shaft drives were a definite plus. I had read so many times people having problems with saildrives and I wanted to avoid them if I could.
Strong Mast setup - We liked a nice strong double diamond mast
Steps – Of equal heights for easier walking round
Good hand holds and places to strap onto the boat.
Foot stops to stop you slipping under the rails
Rails ideally 30” high to stop you falling over.
Trampolines level with the deck, tough and free of trip hazards.
Anchors we could reach from the deck. We were less keen on the anchor being too far back as it meant it might more easily catch on the hulls and make cleaning it and replacing it more difficult.
Stuff we couldn’t decide about –
Skegged Rudders - Ted Clements said they were critical to vessel reliability, and I think they would make breaking them that much harder. However we were unsure as to how the boat would steer with a large skeg in the way.
Porthole Size - Another thing we couldn’t decide upon was how big the windows should be. I had heard stories of large windows being popped out by heavy seas and water pouring in. But against this we liked them as it made the cabins bright and airy.
Daggerboards/Centreboards – we liked the idea that these would help us sail to windward but we didn’t like that it seemed to take away so much space in the hulls. The McConaghy centreboard seemed a perfect solution but sadly this boat was out of our league financially.
So what is our shortlist?So the $64000 question is what stayed in our shortlist? Well we have really struggled to separate the following. Each to us has both good and bad points but none do so badly on anything to warrant coming off the list entirely.
Helia 44 Maestro – We just can’t seem to permanently scrub this little boat off our list. We preferred it to Lagoon as Lagoon and Leopard seemed more a bit “cheaper”… plus with the Leopard we also struggled with the weight and the fact you couldn’t see all corners of the cat without being 6feet tall. The FP Soana didn’t knock it off its perch as we couldn’t justify the extra £100,000 for an extra 18 inches that didn’t seem to add a lot. It’s not our top boat as we think we can do better for the money but we keep it in, in case our financial situation changes. As a 44ft boat it isn’t too slow according to the stats.
Knysna 500SE –
Light - At 31,700lbs fully laden its light (the fully laden Lagoon 50 is nearly 50,000lbs and the Leopard 50 is 47,000lbs) meaning it should be slick in the water.
Interior – A little dated but classy
Short mast means it will go under all but a few bridges in the ICW. It also means it travels along with 400sq feet less sail than all the other 50ft cats here.
Short mast affects performance
Strange extending boom to lift the dinghy from fixed davits.
Probably the most dated design.
Privilege 515 or Series 5
Spacious – some have massive owners cabin up front.
Probably as quick as the Knysna due to the huge sail area.
Superb davit system
Hold their price just a little too well, meaning getting one in the age range we are after is, well, very difficult.
38,674lbs full laden– heavy!
St Francis 50
The quickest boat of my short list due to a large sail area and only 34,000lbs fully laden
Not many around meaning they hold their price.
Cabin layout is always in charter mode – no owners cabin.
Lines lead back to two locations.
Xquisite X5/Dean 5000
Lots of electronics to support maintenance
Looks modern and classy inside, although some die-hards don’t like the exterior styling.
Great use of space inside.
Poor performance – almost definitely the slowest of the group despite the biggest sail area.
Poor residual value.
Lots of large porthole windows.
No doubt almost every buyer of a boat has gone through this process and I’m sure it’s as difficult for them as us. Everything is a compromise, I once explained in a forum
1. You can have FAST & COMFORTABLE cat but it won’t be Cheap!
2. You can have CHEAP & FAST cat but it won’t be Comfortable (luxurious)!
3. You can have CHEAP & COMFORTABLE cat but it won’t be Fast.
… and so here we are. We have the Helia as the best of the rest but three main contenders. If I could afford it, I’d buy a Privilege. If I could find one in new spec and layout, I’d buy the St Francis. If I sailed on one and felt it was quick enough, I’d buy an Xquisite X5/Dean 5000. But I think I’ll end up with a Knysna 500SE.