For 2015, the three-boat Multihull division consisted of a trio of interesting catamarans, though in many ways they couldn’t have been more different from one another. In size and price, the Gunboat 55, the inaugural offering from the company’s new plant in Wanchese, North Carolina, was in a league of its own. At 50 feet, the SABA 50, from the popular French builder Fountaine-Pajot, was a boat that could appeal to private owners as well as charter fleets. And veteran catamaran sailor, builder and broker Phil Berman’s Balance 451, the first model from a new enterprise he’s launched in China, was a dedicated live-aboard blue-water cruiser.
Given the breadth of choices, this wasn’t a particularly easy class for the judges to sort out. “Each of these boats serves different purposes,” said judge Tim Murphy.
Of the Balance 451, Murphy continued: “Throughout his career, Phil has been gathering ideas about what makes the best sort of performance catamaran for cruisers. He used the word ‘balance’ for the name because he was looking for the balance between sailing performance and comfort aboard. He designed this boat in reaction to the mass of cats that go into the charter market but leave the real cruising sailor behind. He offers this boat with daggerboards instead of keels, though you can get both if you really want them. But the daggerboards are a statement: They should give you better balance and better performance.”
The Saba 50, designed by the design consortium of Berret-Racoupeau, is a multitiered vessel with a smart and efficient sail-handling station, abundant lounging areas (including a sensational “sun porch” on the upper deck) and several optional accommodation plans. A company rep said the first batch of orders was split “50-50” between charter operations and private ownership. “This is one of those boats where there are a lot of different spaces and I actually found myself delighted by them all [when under sail],” said Murphy. “It’s lively,” added judge Mark Schrader after a test sail in which the boat recorded better than 10 knots of speed in 14 knots of wind. “They wanted to keep weight down and performance up, yet they’ve still got a beautiful galley that could be a commercial kitchen. Fabulous!”