The Catana Group has carved out a niche as one of France’s leading builders of performance cruising catamarans. Last year the company unveiled an entirely new line of cats under the Bali banner, including the 43-foot-6-inch Bali 4.3 Loft, which made its American debut at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, in October, and was a nominee for the 2016 Boat of the Year awards.
“They deserve kudos for innovative thinking,” said BOTY judge Alvah Simon. “They’re trying to break down a lot of established parameters and paradigms in catamaran design, and in doing so have introduced several very, very interesting ideas.”
Especially in terms of form and function, the Bali 4.3 — with an emphasis on an open floor plan, the maximum utility of onboard space and plenty of related creature comforts — is a significant departure from its Catana siblings, which certainly provide cozy accommodations but are also serious sailing machines. Relatively speaking, a Catana is about getting there; the Bali is about being there. I mean, sure, a Harley-Davidson will get you to all of the United States’ wondrous national parks. But once you’ve arrived, what you want for a base camp is a loaded RV.
That’s where this new yacht comes in, because when it comes to kicking back, the 4.3 Loft is locked and loaded.
This is evident in the central feature of the Bali, the rather elaborate drop-down transom and lifting overhead door that converts the deck layout from a compartmentalized cockpit and main saloon into loft mode, which entails a wide-open indoor/outdoor patio and porch with a straight-line galley all the way forward.
But designer Olivier Poncin, in collaboration with architect Xavier Fay and interior decorator Couëdel Yacht Design, didn’t stop there. Forward of that unusually located galley, the big front picture window also opens, further obscuring the delineation of inside and outside spaces; in fair weather, it allows a coursing fresh breeze throughout the boat. And the builders still weren’t finished, as the area all the way forward, between the hulls and right up to the bows — where you’d find the trampolines on traditional cats — has been decked over and furnished with cushions and settees. For a sailboat, it gives new meaning to the term “sun deck.”
Accomplishing all this presented two challenges to the designers and builders. First, they needed to generate lots of electricity to run the various motors (a pair is required for the movable overhead door and transom), appliances (don’t forget the dishwasher and optional washing machine and air conditioning), windlass and such. At the same time, they had to be ultrasensitive to saving weight in all that structure, as all those disparate and wondrous goodies also rack up displacement, and nobody wants a heavy, sluggish cat.
The Bali 4.3 addresses the power requirements in multiple ways: a quartet of 100-watt solar panels embedded in the hardtop; a choice of 4-, 7.5- or 11-kilowatt generators; a bank of five house batteries and two starter batteries for the standard 40-horsepower Nanni diesels (50-horsepower engines are also available); and an extra pair of optional alternators (our test boat had the standard 50-amp alternator plus another 120-amp add-on). As for saving weight, the build is light and stiff thanks to the closed-mold, resin-infused, foam-core sandwich construction.
Unfortunately, on the day of our sea trials, the breeze barely ruffled the waters and we didn’t get the opportunity to put the boat through a proper test. But our judges were still unanimous on one point: They’d never seen anything quite like the Bali 4.3.
Herb McCormick is Cruising World’s executive editor.