Eleuthra 60: Master of Arts and Sciences
The same instincts that make a winning sailor make a winning boatbuilder, says Eric Bruneel--a man who knows a thing or two about both
A few days after the boat show, I joined Bruneel and a couple of others for an overnighter on Biscayne Bay. The conditions were moderate to windy, ideal for some well-paced fun on a big cat. Bruneel left the helm to others yet remained tacitly in charge, even as he trimmed sails or fixed a batten. For me, operating the Eleuthera from the helm station to starboard of the saloon's aft bulkhead was a treat because of the 360-degree visibility and the lack of clutter. The big cat answered her rudders willingly, a trait that's promoted by the hulls' rockered shape and by short keels. The raked windshield offered protection from wind and spray yet didn't hinder communication with the foredeck. Inside the saloon, the forward-facing nav station to port can be equipped with a remote for the autopilot.
Under main and engine, we headed for the outer Cape Florida Channel, where the depth would give us room to maneuver. As soon as the dangerous shoals lay astern and we bore off on a broad reach, Bruneel suggested the screecher. It was blowing in the low 20s, and he thought that might be a good call to wake everyone up. With the two Yanmar 100-horsepower diesels shut down, Bruneel--working with Philippe Guillemin and Stephane Williamson, partners in Willmar USA, one of four U.S. importers of Fountaine Pajot catamarans--unleashed the 1,300-square-foot headsail. Within seconds, it caught the breeze and sent the 40,000-pound vessel driving across the waves, which grew longer as the sea deepened to indigo. A two-speed electric Harken winch on the cabintop eased the maneuver as we steered to 110-degrees apparent and sheeted her in.
Throughout our sail the saloon was quiet, and the objects on the table--glass, pencil, notepad, camera--resembled a still-life painting by Giorgio Morandi that freezes time and space. No squeaking, creaking, or pounding disturbed the serenity, but a glance out the portlights showed the silhouette of Miami's towering skyline gliding past a few miles to the west. It was a perfect deceit. The Eleuthera, christened with the Greek word for freedom and in homage to the island that now lay tantalizingly close, just a day's sail to the east, disguised the rate of progress with her tranquility.
As my mates took turns goosing the boat and celebrated as the speedo reached double digits, I volunteered for the catbird seat forward, hoping for a lukewarm shower from the bow wave. Alas, I was disappointed. More than six feet of freeboard put me out of Poseidon's reach. Watching smaller craft in the vicinity buck and bounce, their occupants clad in foul-weather gear and holding fast, reminded me how size impacts the ride.
In all fairness, the boat was closer to light-ship displacement than the 3 tons of kit and topped-off tanks of full-on cruising trim. As such, she flew across the waves. The Eleuthera is entertaining and safe because her layout and wide decks provide a solid platform on which to work. She could be sailed by two, although this might get sporty when the breeze is up. I found three to be ideal because it adds a pair of hands and cuts down on the number of trips from one side to the other.
Meanwhile, Bruneel--peering at the patches of the early sunlight and reading the water to windward--was planning our next move. "Let's jibe and catch some waves," he said. While he and Guillemin dealt with the screecher, Williamson worked the mainsheet. The battens flopped over, and the Eleuthera gathered steam as we headed up and sheeted her home. A set of large waves lifted her sterns, and a quarter turn on the wheel sent her off on a sleigh ride. The numbers on the speedo clicked past 14.5 knots; Bruneel, who isn't a loquacious man, acknowledged them with a nod and a smile.
Near dusk, we threaded our way into Biscayne Channel, past Stiltsville's rickety huts and around a lot of thin water. We were greeted by dolphins that crossed our bows and by jumping stingrays that managed a few feet of air travel before landing with a splat.
When the hook rattled down into 15 feet of water near Cape Florida a few minutes later, it was time to finally enjoy Eleuthera's inside/outside living arrangements that incorporate saloon and cockpit.
Just behind the bar of the U-shaped galley, there's room to prepare food for a large, merry gathering. A four-burner Nardi stove and oven with ventilation hood, a double stainless-steel sink, a bar fridge, and room for a dishwasher echo the entertainment possibilities on this spacious cat. The test boat had a stainless-steel CLD freezer/fridge at the bottom of the steps of the starboard hull. The saloon table seats five on the settee, while the cockpit table clearly met its design brief to accommodate eight to 10 al fresco diners.
Fountaine Pajot produces the Eleuthera in five layout versions, three for owners, two for charter. Our boat featured the so-called Orchestra arrangement, with one owner's stateroom and three guest cabins. In the owner's cabin, the queen-size island berth with a Bultex foam mattress on wooden slats made me forget the comforts of home. Workaholics will be happy to learn that a laptop fits nicely on the cabin's desk, with 110-volt power outlet nearby. The foldout vanity mirror is built into that same desk.
Conversation with Eric Bruneel inevitably turns to boatbuilding. He built his first boat at the age of 20 and crossed the Atlantic with it a year later. The difference in scale between that project and the Eleuthera could hardly be more impressive. In fact, last winter I visited Fountaine Pajot's factory in Aigrefeuille, near La Rochelle, and saw for myself the Eleuthera's staggering dimensions, even in the earliest stages of construction. The reason for this is that both hulls and the bridgedeck are built as one piece, using vacuum bagging and resin infusion.
"We use isophthalic and ortophthalic resins and multidirectional cloth, which is laid down and secured by a special glue before it's vacuum-bagged and infused with resin," Bruneel said.