An old saying holds that if two boats sail nearby one another, you have a race. That proved true in spades last fall when Jean-François Fountaine spotted just a stone’s throw away a rival—with a slightly longer waterline—to his new Helia 44.
Battle on! Our leisurely test sail immediately turned serious as the builder set to work on the bank of winches that sit separate from and just forward of the flybridge helm station, trimming the jib here, tweaking the traveler there. At first, we held even with the other cat, then pulled away. In 12 knots of breeze, our upwind speed over the ground registered in the high 6s, with occasional spurts of 7 knots and better. Sitting at the wheel, with excellent visibility all around—even forward to port, often a blind spot on these big catamarans—I concluded that the Hélia was a fine addition to the Fountaine Pajot range of comfortable and seaworthy voyaging multihulls.
The Hélia 44, designed by naval architects Berret Racoupeau and the FP design office, replaces the Orana 44 in the FP lineup. Besides the Hélia’s potential for a good turn of speed, creature comforts abound. The cockpit—the prime socializing area on any cat—incorporates a dining area to port that can easily seat six to eight. To starboard, you can enjoy the shade of the bimini on a cushioned, sculpted daybed.
One feature I really liked about the deck layout is the access to the raised helm station from either the cockpit or the side deck. I also think the cushioned lounging area built into the bimini to port of the flybridge will be a popular spot with sunbathing crew.
| |Broad hulls that flare out above the waterline allow for lots of living space in the cabins below. Click here for more images. |
The interior layout is available in either a four-cabin charter configuration or an owners version with a spacious suite occupying the entire starboard hull. Cat’s-eye ports in the hulls stream lots of light into the cabins, and large windows in the cabin house keep the saloon bright and offer excellent all-around visibility. The interior woodwork is a cherry-tinted Alpi, and the sole is walnut colored. The sharp-edged contemporary styling of the furniture looks luxurious, but I did have a concern about the pointed corners I found everywhere, feeling that they’d leave a welt if you encountered them in a seaway.
Hulls are vacuum-bagged solid fiberglass and resin below the waterline, and a balsa-cored sandwich above. The deck is infused, which saves considerable weight and adds greatly to the stiffness of the structure.
Powered by a pair of 40-horse Volvo diesels with saildrives, the boat motored comfortably at 7.5 knots at cruising rpm and nearly 9 knots wide open. With four solar panels built into the bimini aft of the traveler and all LED lighting, recharging time should be minimized.
The Hélia felt solid under foot and nimble under way. And pacing ourselves against a worthy competitor, the boat put a smile on the builder’s face and, for that matter, on mine as well.
This article first appeared as "New Cats on the Prowl" in the June 2013 issue of Cruising World.