After three decades of building light, fast, powerful catamarans, Catana now appears insistent on bringing as much intensity to relaxation as it has to performance sailing. At Strictly Sail Miami last winter, the company debuted the 44-foot Bali 4.5, the first of its new line of cruising and charter cats to make it to North America. The lineup also includes two smaller models, the 43-foot Bali 4.3 and the 40-foot Bali 4.0.
Gone were the daggerboards, razor-sharp bows and beefed-up sail plan one is accustomed to seeing from the French yard. In their place I found an American home-style double-door fridge with icemaker, robust load-carrying hulls, and cushions. Lots and lots of cushions — on the benches surrounding the shaded cockpit dining table that seats six; on the settee opposite, under the stairs up to the flybridge; covering the U-shaped lounge area that spans the front of the wide, window-lined cabin house; and piled high with pillows on the sun deck, a solid fiberglass nacelle that replaces the trampoline found between the bows of most cats.
To be concise, the new Bali is a laid-back cruising machine, one easily imagined in some tropical port. It’s in a trade-winds anchorage, after all, that you’d most appreciate the breeze when the large glass center window in the front of the saloon is lowered with the flip of a switch, and when the rear sliding doors to the aft cockpit are opened wide to let the air flow through. “Open Space,” the marketing brochure promises — and that’s what Catana’s Olivier Poncin, naval architect Xavier Faÿ, interior designer Hervé Couëdel and the Catana design team have delivered.
The boat in Miami was configured for charter, with four cabins and four heads. I found the companionways in the two hulls to be a little tight, but once below, the accommodations — double berths, hanging lockers, and private heads and showers — looked quite comfortable. Other configurations include a two-cabin, two-bath layout, and three cabins with either two or three heads.
An owner can also choose from two helm arrangements. The flybridge option, which was on the boat we sailed, puts the wheel above the bimini and amidships, in front of a bench seat big enough for four. You reach it via stairs to either side. In this setup, the boom is located fairly high off the water so there’s enough headroom for a standing crewmember. There’s also a bulkhead helm option. This puts the wheel to starboard in front of a seat for two that can be accessed from either the cockpit or the side deck. With this option, the boom sits lower, which helps reduce the center of effort.
Electrical power to keep the guests happy should not be a problem on the Bali. In addition to a Cummins Onan genset and high-capacity alternator affixed to one of the two 50-horsepower Kubota diesel engines, four 80-watt solar panels are mounted on the bimini. Victron digital switching is used to control the electrical system.
The Balis are built in the Catana yard by the same craftsmen who construct their sportier cousins, and the fit and finish reflect that. The fiberglass hulls, deck and bimini are foam-cored and vinylester-infused. Underway, not a squeak was to be heard.
Motoring, our cruising speed was just over 6 knots; we gained a couple more knots with the throttles open wide and the engines turning at 3,200 rpm. Under sail, the visibility forward from the flybridge was excellent. In about 15 knots of wind, we trucked right along closehauled at a little better than 6 knots. Sailing a broader angle, the speedo dipped under 5. If it were my boat, I’d definitely put the sprit to good use with a furlable downwind sail, and I’d investigate the optional square-topped main, too.
They say money can’t buy happiness, but for $650,000, the Bali 4.5 certainly comes with its fair share of comforts, and those, I’d be willing to bet, would leave you with a grin on your face as the miles ticked away.
To contact Bali Catamarans in the U.S., call 804-815-5054; bali-catamarans.com.
Mark Pillsbury is CW’s editor.