Or, from Bali Catamarans to Leopard, Fountaine Pajot and Lagoon, discovering Nautitech, Catana and Outremer on the way.
Nothing beats the feeling of spending a day sailing on a monohull. But for an extended live aboard adventure, we rapidly came to the realization that what we were looking for was a catamaran.
What became even clearer in the months that followed is that generically speaking, the catamaran that we thought that we wanted was not the one that we needed. It was even less the one that some very motivated sales people were trying to sell us with their objectives in mind rather than ours.
As a side note, we were never in the market for a used catamaran. We wanted to avoid the potential immediate maintenance that comes with an older catamaran, and as I like to say, I want a brand-new toilet. We also never considered putting our sailboat in a charter operation. Our goal is to live aboard most of the time for an extended adventure and go to remote places with limited services. A new catamaran equipped for maximum autonomy seemed like the best choice for us.
My first boat show was Miami in February. In my pre-Miami internet research, I was drawn towards Bali Catamaran, and had also explored Fountaine Pajot, Leopard and Lagoon. I had stumbled across performance and higher end catamarans (Catana, Outremer, Antares, Balance and Xquisite), without digging into details. I thought I wanted a boat in the 45-50 feet range (13-15 meters).
Lagoon being close to the entrance, that is where I went first. I disliked the wedding cake look from the very first look at them and this impression has never changed over time even after forcing myself to do more analysis and multiple boat visits in the months that followed. Technical arguments (especially the weight and potential lack of performance in light air) would eventually complete the elimination process. The only aspect where Lagoon was leading in my comparative spreadsheet was price.
Then I visited a Fountaine Pajot Saona 47 and realized that 45-50 feet was way too much boat for a minimalist couple with occasional guests. But then… I was told a 42-foot equivalent of the Saona was coming and that it would be launched at the multihull show in La Grande Motte, France in April. This became a real option, especially as FP’s interiors were the most appealing.
Visiting Bali catamarans next, I started to understand that most cruising catamarans are designed to pack as many people as possible on a smallish boat for a short vacation. Abundant cushions everywhere the eye can see and a massive power-hungry fridge like what you would normally expect in your house may not be what we needed for extended cruising even if it looked nice in the brochure… The front salon window that lowers completely is still an incredibly appealing feature, though. The helm station of the Bali with no direct access to the cockpit and potentially no direct communication with my co-skipper became another reason to eliminate Bali. Any vessel that potentially involves walking around the outside edge of the boat alone at night in heavy seas to get to the helm or back had to be excluded de facto.
I also rejected Leopard because you could feel in the design that the main mission of these boats is clearly charter, but I must say that they are well built, obviously blue water capable and well thought out… Too much plastic for me but designed to survive intensive use. Looking at my spreadsheet, Leopards are the heaviest boats in the list. Therefore, in theory they are not the most agile in light air (at least not with the sails up).
I glanced at performance catamarans… Catana (nice, but newer designs are reserved for boats 53’ and up at this point) and Outremer (don’t like the interior one bit). I also gave a side look at boats that I thought we were interested in that now became on the “too big” list, namely Balance catamarans and the (very) strange but interesting Xquisite yacht. Although with more research under my belt, I am now looking at performance catamarans with more interest, I do know for sure that they are not what we are looking for at this early point in our sailing career.
After a long day at the Miami boat show, my mind was completely overwhelmed. When I was just about to leave, I saw a Nautitech Open 40 and decided to wait for a visit. I had never heard of them. They had never showed up in my internet searches. I was still convinced 40 feet (12 m) was not enough at this point. But it was love at first sight…
Isabelle was with me at La Grande Motte in April. We had a fantastic week, perfect weather, and days of visiting the multihull show intertwined with day trips and good wine in Provence. Nothing beats La Grande Motte if you are looking for a catamaran. There is more choice and more accessibility to boats than at any other major show. We spent hours on some boats and made multiple long visits, something that could not be done in Miami or Annapolis. And although we kept an open mind and visited all the likely candidates, the newly launched Fountaine Pajot Astrea 42 and the Nautitech Open 40 were the only real options from that point on. We were smitten by the Astrea 42 and all the vibe around it. As per Fountaine Pajot’s tradition, the model was officially named on the first morning of the show. But we were still very interested in the Open 40. I am a very Cartesian person (an engineer…), and I spent the next few months researching all possible aspects. The result was an impressive spreadsheet that confirmed our potential choices:
- 40-42 feet was the sweet spot in the spirit of having a boat that is just enough for our program, but no bigger. Maintenance time and operating costs tend to grow exponentially with size.
- The only boats in this range that fit our objectives and that we liked were the Astrea and the Open 40. The other likable options seemed too ambitious in what they were trying to cramp into a small platform.
- We still wanted a respectable level of performance. On paper, Astrea and Open 40 were the two lightest catamarans in our list with the most rewarding sailing ratios (remember, engineer here).
- We eventually started to look very differently at some of the bells and whistles that initially looked really nice in a showroom. The third toilet which means more maintenance and less storage space; the walk around bed that comes with a large bulky hull (maybe having a wall to lean on in bed with a slimmer hull is actually preferable on a boat that crosses an ocean); the heavy generator; the maintenance prone air conditioning; the beautiful (but heavy) teak floors… Some options that we liked or took for granted initially were potentially not ideal for our program.
So, we really liked the Astrea, and we almost went for it. But in October, just before going to the Annapolis boat show, the only major obstacle against Nautitech was lifted. Bavaria Yachts, owner of Nautitech, came out of bankruptcy protection. Although Nautitech remained very successful throughout the difficult corporate period, it made our decision much easier.
And lastly… Availability. The recent devastating hurricanes, combined with a very healthy economy, is creating increased demand for catamarans that reached a peak in 2018. The Astrea, following its recent launch, was at that point a victim of its own success with availability more than a year away. At Nautitech, a production slot was still available for summer 2019 which made it much more appealing for our program, as we wanted to take delivery in France and start from there. The infamous Bay of Biscay is not where we wanted to be in the winter with a brand-new catamaran and limited experience.
Every catamaran design is a compromise between comfort, performance and affordability. As you move towards one, you move away from the other two. As we were getting closer to a decision, our position in this triangle moved slightly away from comfort, and somewhat towards performance. Although I would never have thought the Nautitech Open 40 would be our choice after visiting Miami in February, it became a finalist at La Grande Motte and the only logical choice after Annapolis. We signed a final contract at the Paris Nautic Show in December.
I will review some technical elements as well as our choice of options and post factory installations in a later post. Specifically, the exposed location of the helms on the Nautitech was a point of debate up to the very last minute. We eventually decided that sailing was an outside sport.
Through this whole exercise, as we were dealing with the well-oiled marketing machines of the main catamaran builders, we felt a quiet confidence at Nautitech. The knowledgeable and professional people from the factory played an important role in our decision. So did our broker, Neomarine, less pushy and more attentive than most. I am pretty sure that enjoying champagne at the Paris Nautic Show with the president of the company and having a long and fascinating discussion on the future of Nautitech would not have happened with the larger commercial builders.
Nautitech is a boat that can do some charter but is made for owners; a sort of hybrid between the floating condominiums (Bali, Fountaine Pajot, Leopard and Lagoon) and the performance catamarans (Outremer, Catana). Ultimately, it is alone in its category, in between these two worlds and that is why we chose it.
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