Even though it’s the smallest offering in Fountaine Pajot’s line of performance cruising catamarans, there’s a lot going on in the aptly named Mahé 36 Evolution, which replaces the company’s previous 36-footer while introducing a series of evolutionary changes. Fittingly, the most obvious and important ones are above deck and relate to comfort, speed, safety, and sail handling.
Last year, the entire Fountaine Pajot fleet, including the Mahé, upgraded their collective sail plans with the introduction of the square-topped mainsails prevalent aboard big racing multihulls and America’s Cup boats. It increases sail area where it provides the greatest benefit—aloft. In the case of the 36, the mainsail is stashed in a handy dedicated “stowaway” sail bag on the boom when doused or reefed.
But the biggest change to the Mahé 36 is the all-encompassing hard dodger that completely shades the cockpit and addresses several issues at once.
Incorporated into the design of the dodger is an innovative molded helmsman’s seat (with room for two) that provides the skipper with a clear view of the sails and surroundings and ready access to all sail controls. In addition to sheets and reefing lines, this includes the optional electric halyard winch and the revamped and at-hand traveler controls and clutches; the key component to mainsail trim on a cat, the wide traveler track is mounted well aft on the trailing edge of the dodger but cleverly led forward to within arm’s length of the driver.
The dual-purpose hardtop thus provides plenty of protection from the elements while at the same time offering a handy, comfortable seat—a neat trick carried out by a skilled design team.
While the hard dodger is certainly the most obvious new feature, there are lots of subtle additions as well. Topside, these include a couple of big hatches and also some lockers forward of the coachroof with enough room for an optional 4.5-kilowatt Panda generator. Down below in the galley, the fridge and oven have been repositioned, opening up a ton of storage space, and a useful island seat has been installed aft of the dining table in the central saloon. All in all, that’s a lot of evolved thinking.
"Go down to Miami and sail this 36-foot cat," the boss said, pointing to a brochure. I liked the Miami part, but too many cruising cats only live up to the comfort side of the catamaran's promise of speed and comfort to make me enthusiastic about the sailing. By the time I was finished with Fountaine Pajot's Mahé 36, I liked the cat part of the assignment, too.
The famous raceboat-design team of Joubert/Nivelt designed the part of the Mahé 36 that goes through the water while O. Flahault Design was responsible for the "look" and the interior design. This combination of talents has led to a very slick little cruiser. The hulls' waterline beam is narrow-a key factor in getting a cat through the water quickly-but above the water, the hulls flare out for increased living space and buoyancy.
Each hull is equipped with watertight bulkheads fore and aft, and construction is resin-infused fiberglass over a foam core, which makes for a strong, unsinkable structure. The 20-horsepower Volvo diesels with saildrives are located aft of the keels and rudders in their own compartments-keeping noise and fumes out of the living area. They drive the boat along at an easy 6 knots without having to goose the throttle.
There are steps in the back of each hull, with a swim ladder off the starboard one. A stainless-steel life-raft bracket is mounted off the back of the bridgedeck to port. The cockpit is large, with a table and L-shaped seats for four to port and a step up to a two-person helm seat to starboard. Directly in front of the helmsman is a pair of winches for trimming the sails.
The house is fairly high to give headroom within, and there are no attempts to streamline it; the forward windows are almost vertical for interior space and to minimize solar overheating. On deck by the mast, lockers house the anchor windlass and halyard tails. The halyards drop tidily through an aperture in the hatch and are ready when it's time to drop the sails. A big, comfortable trampoline covers the area between the hulls all the way forward to the crossbeam.
A pair of large sliding doors opens the saloon and galley to the cockpit. Inside, surrounded by light-colored, satin-finished wood, a table for six has a great all-around view and converts to a double for extra guests. Aft to port is a (fiddleless) nav table. When I unscrewed the electric panel there, I found the wiring behind to be messy, but I assume that was because the boat was somewhat rushed to make the show on time. In each hull, there's a cabin with a queen-sized berth aft and a head and shower with modern design elements (e.g., the sink is shaped like a bowl and sits atop the counter) forward. The alternative layout has three cabins, with an extra berth in place of the head in the port hull.
Off Key Biscayne, with 12 to 15 knots of wind, I got sold on this boat. Once the roachy main was hoisted on the 55-foot aluminum mast and the fractional overlapping jib was unfurled, the boat took off. I'd expected unexceptional performance, but the Mahé went to weather well and topped 9 knots on a close reach-this was on a 36-footer, remember. It handled the chop in the Gulf Stream like a much bigger boat, too. I found myself enjoying the sail in spite of my prejudices, and I was reluctant to head back into the marina at the end of the day.
With the Mahé 36, Fountaine-Pajot and its designers have created a fun, comfortable, entry-level cruising cat that's certain to lure more than a few monohull sailors into the grasp of its claws.
LOA 36’ 2” (11.0 m.)
LWL 36’ 2” (16.5 m.)
Beam 19’ 4” (3.6 m.)
Draft 1’ 1” (3.6 m.)
Sail Area 784 sq. ft. (73 sq. m.)
Displacement 11,023 lb. (5,000 kg.)
Water 70 gal. (265 l.)
Fuel 53 gal. (200 l.)
Holding (per tank) 13 gal. (50 l.)
Mast Height 55’ 00” (17 m.)
Engine Twin 20-hp. diesels