During and in the four days immediately following the US Sailboat show in Annapolis, Maryland, the Cruising World judges inspected and sailed on 27 boats vying for recognition. Learn more about the boats in our 2022 Boat of the Year »
The sweet spot for cruising catamarans, for most multihull sailors, is right there between 40 and 50 feet: manageable by a couple, not so large that finding a place to park or dock is prohibitive, and with lots more room to spread out and bring the toys and kids than a monohull of similar length. This year’s set of nominees features industry stalwarts Leopard and Fountaine Pajot—both of which have enjoyed plenty of success in previous Boat of the Year competitions—and a pair of relative upstarts from Bali, the cruising offshoot from French builder Catana. The former are all-around cats with plenty of versatility; the latter aim to cater more toward the cruising/liveaboard part of the equation. Choices, choices! It proved to be a challenging quartet of cats for the judging panel to evaluate and sort out.
The larger sibling of the two Bali cats entered for BOTY 2022—all the Bali offerings feature an innovative “garage door” separating the saloon and cockpit, which when raised creates a seamless indoor/outdoor living space that has proven to be highly popular—was the 46-plus-foot 4.6. It’s yet another one of this year’s catamarans with the ever-popular flybridge that has become a design staple for many cat builders. Judge Tim Murphy found it a pleasure to sail. “On some of the other cats, you felt you were fighting the sail controls,” he said. “Not here. It’s laid out nicely. It has a double-ended mainsheet system with no traveler but control at both ends, so you’ve got a port and a starboard sheet, and I think that’s a fine way to control the mainsail. It’s arguably easier to jibe with that system than a standard traveler; you have good athwartships control throughout the maneuver. Bali cats are known for comfort, but this one sails well too.”
At 40 feet, the Bali Catspace—the second of two boats from the brand entered in the 2022 BOTY contest—is the smallest offering in the Bali line, but judge Murphy found the open floor plan particularly alluring: “The living experience of being able to open up the back end of these cats so you create an indoor/outdoor platform is terrific. I didn’t give it much thought until I chartered a Bali, and it was totally delightful. The sailing performance was actually fine, but it was that back porch that made the trip.”
Dream Yacht Charters has added more and more Bali cats to their fleets, and it’s easy to see why. With their vast interior space; plenty of amenities including air conditioning and multiple fridges, including ones that would not be out of place in any well-equipped household kitchen ashore; and surprisingly effective sailing prowess given their systems and accommodations, these boats are almost synonymous with the word “vacation.” Take the interior layout of the Catspace: It has four staterooms with private heads, the forward pair with berths aligned athwartships and the aft set laid out in a fore-and-aft configuration. It’s hard to imagine a better use of space for four couples or a family in 40 feet of waterline.
Yes, a 40-foot catamaran is a design challenge; it’s fairly easy to accommodate loads of features in a 50-foot multihull, but it’s quite another to include all the creature comforts and niceties in considerably less real estate. But Murphy felt that the Isla 40—another 40-footer like the Catspace, but this one from longtime cat leader Fountaine Pajot—pulled it off well. The Isla also had a tall order to fill in that it replaced a previous cat of the same size in the builder’s lineup, the highly successful Lucia 40. “The mission for this boat was described in thirds,” Murphy said. “Bareboat charter, crewed charter and private ownership. I think they’ve created a boat that accomplishes all those missions. The boat sailed well, but it was also laid out well. In fact, the owner’s cabin to starboard was superb, one of the nicest places on any boat we inspected. We toured a lot of much bigger boats that didn’t have that sort of space.”
But when all was said and done, the Bali Cats and the Isla ran into a juggernaut with the Leopard 42, which proved to be a powerhouse BOTY entrant. It’s pretty clear by now that the relationship between South African builder Robertson and Caine; their lone client, the Moorings; and naval architects Simonis and Voogd, who bring the Leopard brand to life, is strong and fruitful. And they have a wall full of BOTY award-winning plaques to prove it. It’s time to make room for another. The judges found much to like about the latest Leopard, including the offset steering station to starboard and the lounge space forward accessed via a front door in the saloon. But the Leopard sealed its victory with an awesome sea trial in which it overhauled and passed a popular new monohull that shall remain nameless. Cats can’t point? Wrong!
What put the boat over the top wasn’t just the sailing performance, which was obviously terrific, but also the tools with which to sail the boat, and its overall deck layout, all of which optimized the experience. Murphy said, “With the Leopard, you have visual eye contact from the raised helm station to starboard down into the cockpit, you’ve got a visual line of sight into the saloon, and you’ve got a pretty good visibility over the top of the cabin top everywhere. You had access to your main sheet right there where you needed it. This was one of the boats that had no traveler, but instead had a windward and leeward block on the mainsheet. I think that’s a fine system, I like the control you have. Jibing works fine and is easily controlled.”
It was one little thing in a series of them, all of which added up to a boat—the Leopard 42—that was the unanimous winner in the 2022 category of Best Cruising Catamarans (Under 50’).