In the quest to determine the Best Cruising Multihull Over 50 Feet, it soon became apparent that the contenders were nicely split between two sets of quite similar vessels. On one hand, you had two evenly matched 50-footers: the Lagoon 50 and the Leopard 50. On the other was a pair of 50-foot-plus vessels, each of which crested the million-dollar price tag: the Catana 53 and the fleet’s lone trimaran, the Neel 51.

The two "Ls" are produced by a couple of the world's biggest catamaran builders, France's Lagoon and South Africa's Robertson and Caine. Both produce hundreds of cats each year, many of them bound for the world's largest charter fleets (the Leopard is also available in a dedicated charter version that's marketed as the Moorings 5000, while Lagoon says a solid 40 percent of its new 50's production run will be charter boats). Finding much to like about all four boats, and recognizing they were all conceived with different purposes in mind, the judging team decided to consider the Lagoon 50 and the Leopard 50 in a separate category: Best Charter Boat.

That left the big cat and the big tri, dedicated long-range cruisers that Tim Murphy said squared up against each other very well. “I think the Neel and the Catana are very fair competitors against each other,” he said. “They’re not billed as 20-plus-knot thoroughbred racing multihulls, but they’re very quick. They’re promising 10 or 12 knots, but day after day. I think they’ll both achieve that. They both do a lot of really good things where their sail plans can be set up for knocking out those ocean miles. They’re really miles-per-day boats, where you’re going to see those 240-mile daily runs I think pretty regularly.”

So there we have the ­similarities, and they are clearly impressive ones. What about the differences?

Neel 51
The fleet’s lone trimaran, the Neel 51, presents a striking profile.Jon Whittle

Well, perhaps obviously, trimarans and catamarans are inherently different, a point Alvah Simon made when discussing the Neel 51. “The builder had charts showing righting moments, stability curves and polar diagrams, and I like that because you can believe science, you can believe data,” he said. But Simon also remarked that above and beyond the impressive figures, there’s a tactile difference between a cat and a tri, one you can feel: “This is a good boat. It’s a good ­concept, and it makes for light, fast multihull sailing, with easier motion, easier speed and easier sailing too.”

Leopard 50
The Leopard 50 is also marketed as the Moorings 5000.Jon Whittle

There was a lot to like about the Catana 53 as well, and Murphy sang its praises. “Catanas are built to be cruising boats for liveaboard sailors who want to sail fast and have fun,” he said. “The construction of the boats isn’t at the leading edge of technology, but they use technology well. It’s Divinycell core, vinylester and E-glass through most of the boat, but then they use carbon at structural points along the way. They’ve got good placements of crash bulkheads. I think it’s a nice use of technology without being extreme.

Lagoon 50
The Lagoon 50’s flybridge offers terrific views.Jon Whittle

“We had a whole lot of fun sailing this boat,” he ­continued. “We saw 10 knots with the screacher up, and it was pretty sweet. Visibility from the helm, a topic we’ve been ­visiting with all the multihulls, was excellent. There were some nice things about the way the ­mainsail was set up, with double triangulated blocks and tackles on soft shackles that can be moved outboard so you basically end up with a really beautiful vang built right into it. I can just imagine doing lots of ocean miles that would be really lovely.”

In the end, it was little things that tilted the scales. For instance, said Ed Sherman, the Catana was “very quiet with the engines running. With 3,000 rpm we were under 70 db in the main saloon.” For the Catana 53, that relative silence was golden, and a reason it’s 2019’s Best Cruising Multihull Over 50 Feet.

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2019 Boats of the Year

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