With four boats that shared many common characteristics, the Best Cruising Catamaran Under 50 Feet class was one of 2019's most competitive. The quartet of yachts — the Bali 4.1, Fountaine Pajot Astréa 42, Lagoon 40 and Seawind 1260 — all came in at under 42 feet and recorded fairly similar displacement/length ratios. Other than the Seawind, in varying percentages each model was destined for duty in the bareboat charter trade. They were all very versatile yachts.

With a spacious layout incorporating a “garage door” that, when opened, transforms the entire living area into a seamless, inviting ­wide-open floor plan, the Bali 4.1 is an ideal platform for living aboard and ­entertaining. “I thought that space was fantastic, and I was shocked at how well it sailed,” said Alvah Simon. But safety expert Simon also felt the anchoring system was inadequate for full-time cruising, and the yacht did not advance in the competition.

Bali 4.1
The wide-open floor plan on the Bali 4.1 is a ­serious party platform, but its sailing prowess was a ­surprise.Jon Whittle

The Lagoon 40 scored high marks from the judges in the dockside inspections, and with a price tag of $400,000, it cost significantly less (anywhere from $60,000 to over $200,000) than its competitors. With solid systems installs and top-shelf equipment, and plenty of aesthetic improvements over previous Lagoons, that ­represented real value. But out on the water, where opinions are often swayed, the remaining two cats advanced with the judges.

Lagoon 40
The Lagoon 40 scored high marks during dockside inspections.Jon Whittle

As the deliberations ­continued, the two-boat battle was on.

The Fountaine Pajot Astréa 42 is a boat that does a lot of things well, which reflects the dual purposes it will address: a boat that will be put in charter in some instances, and serve as a dedicated cruising boat in others. The judges spent a lot of time discussing helm stations; like many contemporary cats, the Astréa 42 employs a wheel to starboard that’s raised from the cockpit.

“On the Astréa, we have a kind of modified bulkhead helm station that’s split into two, so you’re sitting behind a wheel with engine controls on one level, then you step around a pedestal, and there’s a walkway through to all the sail controls,” said Tim Murphy, who found the arrangement well-reasoned and efficient. It separates the two functions — driving and sailhandling — but keeps them in close proximity, even for a solo sailor. Everyone agreed it was a smart solution, coupled with a good layout and solid performance.

Fountaine Pajot
The latest offering from Fountaine Pajot does a lot of things well.Jon Whittle

So, the question became: Did the Astréa meet its stated purpose, for private ownership and for chartering, as well as the Seawind 1260 addressed its design brief, as a dedicated liveaboard cruiser without charter aspirations?

It was a question that elicited spirited remarks from all the judges.

“Look at those stainless-steel welds on the seawind 1260. they’re just mind- boggling.”

“Let me start with the Fountaine Pajot,” said Ed Sherman. “They did a lot of things really right. In terms of systems and wire labeling, all the workmanship was top-notch. I thought the glued-in keel concept was excellent. It made a lot of sense to me.

“But the one thing about the Seawind that I loved was the dual helms, as opposed to the Astréa’s single wheel,” he added. “It’s the whole visibility thing that we see on many cats, where the helmsman’s view is compromised on one tack or the other. That wasn’t an issue on the Seawind. And the builder is doing a great job. You look at the stainless steel and the polished welds everywhere on the boat; it’s just mind-boggling.”

“These are both good boats,” said Simon. “But I think, given their respective missions, that the Seawind did a better job as a true cruising boat than the Astréa did as a dual cruising/charter boat. Maybe barring places like the Northwest Passage and Cape Horn, to me the Seawind 1260 is a boat that can take people pretty much anywhere in the world. I think it’s the clear winner as the Best Cruising Catamaran Under 50 Feet.” So did his mates.

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