The trend toward cruising multihulls continues unabated, and perhaps has even come full circle. The popularity of boats with more than one hull, especially catamarans, is more evident with each passing year in charter fleets, on boat-show docks, and in far-flung anchorages the world over. The multihull genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no evidence it will ever return. That reality was once again underlined in the 2023 Boat of the Year trials, where the Cruising Multihull class, with five legitimate contenders, was certainly among the strongest categories. Particularly notable this year was the dominance of French builders, which makes sense because the country has been the leading proponent of production-built multihulls from the beginning. It’s fitting that one of those pioneering firms topped the field for 2023: Well done, Fountaine Pajot.
Winner: Fountaine Pajot, Fountaine Pajot Tanna 47
This category was stacked with previous winners. In fact, every builder in the class had earned a BOTY victory in earlier editions of the event. But in both the dockside inspections and under sail, the Fountaine Pajot Tanna 47 rang a bell for our panelists.
“I believe this is my favorite Fountaine Pajot model of all time,” judge Herb McCormick says. “The size and dimensions are ideal: It’s a big cat but not overwhelming. A big reason is the helm station, with dedicated pods for driving, and the sailhandling. And, holy cow, it really sailed well.”
Judge Mark Pillsbury also appreciates the smart deck layout, as well as the corresponding systems: “With plenty of solar panels, a watermaker and more-than-ample refrigeration space, the Tanna 47 was set up really well for cruising and living aboard. On a beam reach in 13 knots of breeze, we scooted along at 7 to 8 knots, and I liked the setup of the helm, with the wheel being separated slightly from the winches. The boat was easy to sail solo, but there was room for the crew to jump in and help when they wanted to.”
Finalist: Balance Catamarans, Balance 442
The lone South African cat entry for 2023, the Balance 442 continued the excellence we’ve come to expect from the builder, and is a worthy successor to the company’s 482, which was named Best Performance Catamaran for 2022.
Pillsbury offers this summation: “Many of today’s popular catamarans are built to appeal to a wide audience composed of private owners and charter companies. Phil Berman and the team at Balance take a different approach, by building boats for experienced owners who plan to live aboard and go places. That translates into seakindliness, solid sailing performance, and comfortable accommodations that will keep a crew rested and ready at anchor or underway. Personal favorites: the visibility from the raised helm station, and the farm-kitchen-style deep sink and dish-drying racks in the galley. Nice touches.”
Finalist: Groupe Beneteau, Lagoon 55
This rangy cat will find plenty of happy sailors in private ownership and on charter vacations. Judge Ed Sherman says that the performance under power jumped out: “A record-setter for its motoring capabilities this year at 8.9 knots at 2,000 rpm and 9.4 knots at 2,500 rpm. Quiet too. In both cases, our decibel tests came in at less than 70.”
The sailing characteristics impress Pillsbury: “The Lagoon 55 is a big boat, probably close to the limit of what can be handled by a family or crew of friends off on a charter vacation. But the designers and builder have done a good job of setting up a helm station on the flybridge that’s workable for a shorthanded crew. All lines lead to winches near the wheel, and an autopilot and bow thruster provide extra hands when it comes time to maneuver. With multiple interior layouts, the 55 can be configured to fit the needs of a wide variety of owners.”
Finalist: Nautitech Catamarans, Nautitech 44 Open
With its twin wheels situated aft and outboard, the peppy Nautitech 44 Open is thrilling to drive, with its quickness and performance. “I always say that you need daggerboards to have truly great sailing on a cat, but this sweet 44-footer, with its fixed keels, certainly disproved that opinion,” McCormick says. “It really zipped along and was a blast to steer.”
Pillsbury is of the same mind: “After our sail aboard the Nautitech, I jotted down ‘sporty’ in my notes. The helm seats, set outboard and aft on each of the cat’s hulls, kept me connected with the water rushing by, and a versatile sail plan that includes a self-tacking jib, screecher and spinnaker gave us options to keep boatspeeds in the high single digits—and higher in the puffs—on all points of sail.”
Finalist: Neel Trimarans, Neel 43
The three-hull outlier in our category of mostly cats, the Neel 43 presents a real alternative for those who want the speeds and space that a multihull can deliver. “This boat is truly different,” Sherman says. “It’s slippery through the water, either sailing or under engine power. System access in the center hull is wonderful and well done too. With a single 50 hp Volvo Penta saildrive, we measured 8.2 knots at only 2,200 rpm and 8.4 knots at 2,700 rpm.”
Pillsbury enjoyed the entire Neel experience, and says: “Neel’s creator, Eric Bruneel, described the boat as a fast cruiser, and by that he meant an owner on passage could expect to sail in the 9- to 10-knot range, routinely enjoying 200-plus-mile days. After my turn on the wheel, I sneaked inside to check out the view from the owner’s cabin, nestled atop the starboard hull. I could have stayed all afternoon.”