Rupert Holmes picks the best multihulls for cruising focussing on the most popular and interesting mid-size multihulls from 37-43ft
Few of us can have failed to see the rapid growth of interest in multihulls and this formerly niche sector is now a mainstream part of the new boat market.
Much of the appeal is obvious and is unchanged from the reasons for the popularity of Prout and other catamarans in the 1970s and 1980s, including spacious single-level living spaces offering great views. Today’s boats are also characterised by expansive outdoor seating and entertaining areas. These areas benefit from the near-universal adoption of the same fabric technology that enables motor yachts to leave cockpit cushions outside in all weathers.
The full forward cockpit featured on a number of heavier and larger designs may appear to be a gimmick at first sight, yet they are practical in a number of ways. Firstly, a separate area can be ideal when sailing with larger complements of people on board – teenagers for instance may value a separate area. Other popular attributes include the amount of stowage on deck – ideal for those who want to carry a lot of watersports equipment.
In addition to decent cockpit lockers, you can expect to find a pair of deep lockers at the front of the bridge deck, plus further stowage in the bows. On boats above 42ft these areas are often large enough for conversion to single cabins, although it’s worth remembering that putting too much weight forward
will compromise performance and the motion of the boat at sea.
Easy handling both under sail and power is an equally important theme. Twin engines make a cat easy to spin in its own length and handling in reverse is as easy as going ahead. This set-up also offers a degree of redundancy – if one engine fails you will often be able to reach port using the other one.
In some cases the nav station in the bridge deck saloon is an ideal place from which to con the boat while on watch in inclement conditions, making these boats as good as a conventional motor sailor in this respect, but with the potential for much better sailing performance. However, some designs lack the all-round visibility to make this feasible.
The International Multihull Show, which takes place in April at La Grande Motte, France, is a must for anyone serious about buying a new or recent boat. Although the show has a compact feel, it’s the only place in the world where dozens of multihulls of the same size can be compared side by side.
The impact of COVID
The British brokers I met at the show were universal about their experience of the UK market, which has changed considerably post Covid.
Their biggest client base for multihulls are now owners with plans for long-distance cruising. The increase in people working from home is also attracting a younger clientele than typical boat buyers, which is helping boost demand to unprecedented levels.
‘We’re seeing a big change in the way people are buying boats and what they’re looking for,’ Graham Laver of Ancasta, Lagoon’s UK agent, told me. ‘Most are not weekend sailors and don’t need a permanent berth – they have a lot more time on their hands.’
A scarcity of suitable berths in parts of the UK is therefore not a hindrance on this part of the market.
The major catamaran builders largely disregarded boats under 40ft for many years; however, there are welcome signs this attitude is changing. The Excess 11, unveiled at the 2020 Düsseldorf boat show, is a 37-footer by a new Groupe Beneteau brand that’s aimed at a younger audience than typical buyers of this value. It’s Excess’ first all-new design – the earlier 12 and 15 were based on the bottom third of Lagoon hulls, although almost everything above the waterline was new.
As with the two older models, there are helm stations aft in each hull, with wheels positioned right above the rudder stocks to produce the most direct feel possible.
The boat also has excellent visibility from the helm and is noticeably better in this respect than most cruising catamarans. Interior accommodation includes a well-proportioned bridge deck, with very generous headroom. There’s space for a decent galley, a full-size internal saloon area and a forward-facing navigation station.
On the downside, it lacks space for the ease of circulation of people seen on some larger boats and will therefore have more of an ‘excuse me’ factor when sailing with a full complement of crew.
Sensibly no attempt has been made to create peninsula beds in the aft cabins, so despite the boat’s relatively modest size both double beds measure a massive 2m by 2m. The huge stowage volumes under the bunks are easily accessed thanks to hinged top panels supported by gas struts, which enables far more of this space to be reached easily than the typical single drawer in the bunk front.
On the three-cabin design the starboard hull is given over to the owner’s suite, which includes a good desk/dressing table area and lots of extra stowage. Perhaps surprisingly, this doesn’t have the feel of living in a narrow tunnel – it’s a wide rectangular area that offers more comfort and practicality than many larger yachts.
Excess is also engaging directly with its client base via the Excess Lab. The online element of this discusses key issues that impact design choices, allowing the boating public to present its views in a way that helps inform development of new models. Recent topics include the balance between draught and windward performance, self-tacking jibs vs genoas, and refrigeration.
Excess 11 specifications
Price: €310,660 ex VAT
LOA: 11.42m / 37ft 5in
Hull length: 11.33m / 37ft 2in
Beam: 6.59m / 21ft 7in
Draught: 1.15m / 3ft 9in
Displacement: 9,000kg / 19,800lb
The chances are that if you’ve sailed multihulls of around 40-44ft at least one of them may have been a Lagoon. More than 800 Lagoon 42s have now been delivered, with the model proving equally popular with private and charter owners. It offers lots of space, even by multihull standards, in three- or four-cabin layouts.
Large platforms aft make boarding from a pontoon, quay or tender easy, while the big cockpit has multiple seating areas and plenty of space for easy circulation of people. There’s also a neat lifting system for the dinghy. The boat is sailed from a raised helm position on the port side, which has direct access to the winches. The two-person helm seat is configured to work well both when seated and when standing.
While this ease of sail handling is a key attraction for owners of most cruising- oriented multihulls, a downside of some raised helm stations is they can feel very removed from other people on board.
This can make others on board feel like passengers who are not fully involved in the sailing. Unlike a number of boats of this size, there’s no forward cockpit, but there is foredeck space for sunbeds that forms a separate area for socialising.
Interior bridge deck accommodation includes a decent galley to starboard, plus a generous forward saloon. This has a great view forward and to the sides, although vision is obstructed on both quarters, which limits the usefulness of the forward chart table as a place from which to con the boat when on watch in bad weather.
Even by the today’s standard of catamaran, accommodation in the hulls is very generous. The boat at La Grande Motte had the classic four-cabin, four-bathroom charter layout. Both aft cabins rival those of the owner’s cabin of many 50ft monohulls thanks to big peninsula beds and plentiful stowage. These are also airy and very well lit spaces, with an overhead hatch, big hull window and wide stern window.
Lagoon 42 specifications
Price: €426,600 ex VAT
LOA: 12.80m / 42ft 0in
Beam: 7.7m / 25ft 3in
Draught: 1.25m / 4ft 1in
Displacement: 12,100kg / 26,700lb
The Neel range of trimarans is one of the most eye-catching of modern multihulls. The basic philosophy is hugely appealing – use performance trimaran hull shapes to create a platform for a spacious cruiser, while keeping the boat as simple as possible. Weight is also minimised, but in a practical way that doesn’t resort to eye- wateringly expensive high tech solutions.
I sailed one of the first 43s from La Rochelle last summer and found it a surprisingly rewarding boat to sail, with a feel on the helm akin to that of a monohull, yet it was significantly faster. On a reach in 14 knots of true wind we made a very relaxed 10 knots of boat speed reaching under only mainsail and jib. When the breeze picked up to 16-17 knots we were hitting a consistent, but relaxed, 11.5 knots at a true wind angle of 115º with an asymmetric spinnaker set.
Heel angles are greater than for a catamaran, as lifting the windward ama out of the water is an enormous help in reducing wetted surface area. However, monohull sailors will find the heel very modest and once it reaches 12-14º the boat is rock steady, even in gusts.
The amas of the 43 are too small for accommodation, so this boat has a largely open-plan layout, although the owner’s cabin is in a separate area to starboard on the bridge deck. There’s also a double berth to port that would make an ideal den area for kids, plus a further small double cabin forward at a lower level in the main hull.
A key feature of all Neels is a separate engine room and technical area below the saloon in the main hull, which is ideal for maintenance and fault-finding.
These are often thought to be expensive boats, yet the 43 is priced at a similar level to many other multihulls of this size. It’s perhaps no surprise they are leaving the factory at the rate of one a fortnight.
Neel 43 specifications
Price: €359,000 ex VAT
LOA: 12.9m / 42ft 4in
Beam: 7.4m / 24ft 3in
Draught: 1.5m / 4ft 11in
Displacement: 9,000kg / 19,800lb
Nautitech open 40
This innovative boat set new standards when it was first launched and was a key influence in establishing the DNA of the open concept, with a big indoor/outdoor area aft under a hard top, combined with a smaller saloon forward. The effect is to create a huge outdoor living space that provides shelter from the elements – whether intense sun or rain.
Today’s version still has the original hull shape, marrying this with an updated and restyled deck, plus improved interior design. Twin aft helm stations that provide excellent visibility by multihull standards are also an important element. They also enable easy contact with the rest of the crew while you’re steering and there’s little barrier to stop them pitching in to help with deck work. This is therefore a sailors’ boat, with relatively narrow, easily driven hulls, high bridge deck clearance and deep rudders, even though it has fixed keels and not daggerboards.
Of course the nature of this boat means there’s less space for fully enclosed bridge deck accommodation. Nevertheless, it has a decent galley and in cold weather you can retreat into a cosy forward saloon, which has space for four to six people, plus an optional full-size drop-down dining table that makes a huge day bed. With an almost unobstructed 360° view, this also makes a good spot from which to con the boat in poor weather.
There’s a spacious and bright owner’s cabin in the port hull with a large double bed plus a dressing table/desk area. The starboard hull has a large double cabin aft and smaller one forward, which share a well appointed mid-ships toilet and shower. On some boats fitted out for long-term cruising the forward starboard cabin has been configured as office and/or workshop space.
Other boats in the range include a new 44 Open, which is based on similar principles, but has space for an impressively large galley and more volume in the hulls.
It also has numerous small improvements, including moving the mainsheet traveller from the hard top to the aft beam, which gives more precise sail control.
Nautitech open 40 specifications
Price: £404,795 ex VAT (sail away price)
LOA: 11.98m / 39ft 4in
Beam: 6.91m / 22ft 8in
Draught: 1.35m / 4ft 5 in
Displacement: 8,500kg / 18,700lb
Marsaudon composites orc 42
A criticism often levelled at catamarans is that they lack feel on the helm and therefore aren’t fun to sail, but that’s not universally true. Lightweight boats with easily drivenhull shapes can be both quick and rewarding, with little of the noisy turbulence at the transoms and lack of pointing ability that can be associated with overweight models with grand accommodation and inefficient shallow keels.
This is the smallest in a range of three performance catamarans and was originally named the TS42. All three boats have direct tiller steering, combined with comfortable helm seats. They provide a great view of the sail trim, though the coachroof partially obstructs the view to leeward.
Despite offering 20-knot performance and the ability to cross the Atlantic in only 10 days, these boats also have lots of interior space. The 42, for instance, has a big bridge deck saloon, with a surprising large galley, plus an excellent forward-facing navigation station. When the weather dictates, this area is enclosed from the outer cockpit by canvas screens, thereby avoiding the need for heavy sliding doors. Equally, there are no moulded headlinings, though the deckhead can be faired to create a high-gloss finish that doesn’t add weight.
Both aft cabins have big double berths, while further forward the layout is flexible – owners can choose from additional double or Pullman style bunks, extra stowage, or extra-large heads and shower areas.
On the downside, these boats are built in small numbers on a semi-custom basis and lightweight construction, decent sails and quality deck gear are all expensive.
Marsaudon composites orc 42 specifications
Price: €520,000 ex VAT
LOA: 13.05m / 42ft 9in
Beam: 7.42m / 24ft 4in
Draught: (fixed keel version) 1.5m / 4ft 11in
Displacement: 6,400kg / 14,100lb
Fountaine-Pajot ISLA 40
Although launched last year, this model started life as the Lucia in 2016. However, it benefits from updates including a revised helm station that increases stowage – a move welcomed by many potential buyers looking at a boat for long-term cruising.
It’s raised up on the starboard side, with the wheel next to the halyard and sheet winches, making sail handling a simple matter when on watch alone. Steps up from the helm station give access to the hardtop for handling the mainsail, but there’s no option on this model for sunbeds up there.
There’s a large cockpit aft under the hardtop, with a substantial table on the port side. The foredeck has provision for sunbeds, but not a full forward cockpit. Stowage on deck is more restricted than on Fountaine-Pajot’s larger Astrea 42, but still far exceeds what’s available on most monohulls and includes two big bridge deck lockers, plus further space in the bows of each hull.
Bridgedeck accommodation includes a surprisingly large internal saloon, although this is achieved at the expense of a separate navigation station. The example at the show was a four-cabin, four head boat, but without separate shower stalls. Even so, to achieve this on a 40-footer is an impressive feat.
Both aft cabins have large peninsula beds, although floor space and stowage are reduced in size to give space for the two heads in each hull. Forward cabins have a double bed that tapers significantly at its forward end, but these are still far larger than the triangular forecabin vee berth of many monohulls.
Fountaine-Pajot ISLA 40 specifications
LOA: 11.93m / 39ft 2in
Beam: 6.63m / 21ft 7in
Draught: 1.21m / 4ft 0in
Displacement: 9,500kg / 20,900lb
This 2020 design is another model that’s extremely popular in charter fleets. However, they are also sought after by private buyers and the numbers in the
hands of individual owners will of course swell dramatically when they are sold on from charter operators.
As soon as you step on board this cat, it feels like a big boat for its size, with plenty of options for easy circulation of people. There’s arguably more separation between interior and exterior spaces than on many catamarans.
However, the Leopard 42 has a feature that few others offer in this size range. A full height door in the front of the saloon gives direct access to the large forward cockpit, which opens up the accommodation in a different way to most. This is also a semi-flybridge model, with an additional seating area on the hardtop that’s intended for use in port and at anchor.
A huge and very well appointed galley takes up almost half the saloon area and there’s further space under the floor to stow a considerable amount of
dry supplies. There’s also a very good forward-facing navigation station/desk, although the internal seating area is relatively small.
The models that feature a three-cabin layout have a very impressive owner’s suite, which includes a large desk/dressing table, plenty of generous stowage and expansive floor space.
The other hull houses two double cabins, each with its own en suite and separate shower stalls. However, the downside of this arrangement is that there’s less scope to provide generous easily accessed stowage in these cabins.
Leopard 42 specifications
LOA: 12.67m / 41ft 7in
Beam: 7.04m / 23ft 1in
Draught: 1.4m / 4ft 7in
Displacement: 12,467kg / 27,485lb
Builder: leopard catamarans.co.uk
This French yard set a standard by which all multihulls have subsequently been judged when it launched the Bali 4.3 Loft. It blends indoor and outdoor areas into a single vast space that can be closed off with the garage door-style aft bulkhead.
Since then the format has been greatly refined and the 4.2 offers impressively spacious layouts in both charter and owners’ formats. There’s also a full-size door to a spacious forward cockpit, with sunbeds extending the entire length of the solid foredeck.
Bali 4.2 specifications
Price: €424,780 ex VAT
LOA: 12.84m / 42ft 1in
Beam: 7.07m / 23ft 2in
Draught: 1.22m / 4ft 0in
Light displacement: 11,400kg / 23,100lb
This 20-year-old French-run but Tunisian-based company is one of the few that has actively addressed the market for smaller catamarans. The 37 is a semi-flybridge design with a big aft cockpit. It was launched a few years ago and is aimed at cruisers who want a spacious boat in a relatively compact package.
Nevertheless a key design criteria was an ability to sail at 7 knots in only 10 knots of true wind. The spacious accommodation includes lots of stowage, which includes a small walk-in wardrobe in the owner’s suite on three-cabin boats.
Aventura 37 specifications
Price: €237,500 ex VAT
LOA: 10.9m / 35ft 9in
Beam: 5.94m / 19ft 6in
Draught: 1.2m / 4ft 0in
Displacement: 7,900kg / 17,400lb
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