It was perhaps fitting that Fountaine-Pajot and Lagoon Catamarans—two longtime pillars in the production catamaran community—came head-to-head for the title of best cruising cat over 50 feet for 2024. Talk about symmetry: Both boats measure in at about 51 feet. A nearly exact price point of just around $1.6 million. Each is produced by one of the pioneering French multihull builders that’s been at the game for decades. In some ways, this matchup was not unlike a heavyweight boxing bout between Ali and Frazier, or a good old-fashioned feud like the Hatfields and McCoys. It was a duel that the judges relished and dreaded because the competition would undoubtedly be close—but there could be only one champ.
Winner: Fountaine-Pajot Aura 51
During deliberations, judge Mark Pillsbury summarized the overall layout of the Aura 51, a viewpoint shared by his fellow panelists: “A length overall of 51 feet is enough space to give designers options when it comes to how a cruising cat is laid out, and Fountaine-Pajot takes advantage of this by offering a variety of layouts, with up to six cabins in charter mode. The boat we sailed in Annapolis had what they term a ‘double Maestro layout,’ i.e., a master cabin aft in each hull, with guest quarters forward. It would be a boat that two owners might share, sailing separately or together occasionally. I really liked their decision to locate the helm station on the Aura partway between the cockpit and the flybridge, which they called the sky lounge. That way, the skipper stays in contact with guests below and above, and has good visibility astern when docking. I also like the separation between the steering seat and the three winches on the cabin top. Shorthanded, the autopilot can be engaged when the skipper steps forward to trim sails, and with crew, the trimmer has room to work and the skipper room to steer. We had light wind the day we sailed, only about 5 to 8 knots, and the Aura made 4 knots closehauled—a good run for a big, well-stocked cruising cat.
Judge Herb McCormick weighed in: “I really thought that this category was a toss-up. Both boats will be sold to private owners and will also be set up for the charter trade. At the end of the day, what leaned me toward the Aura was that helmsman’s arrangement, centered between the cockpit and the top deck. I loved that big flybridge on the Lagoon, which will be a great space especially on charter, but this is the best ‘cruising’ cat, not best ‘charter’ cat, and that one feature I believe is better-suited to real cruising.”
Runner-up: Lagoon Catamarans 51
The French boatbuilding industry is to be applauded for its forward-thinking approach to sustainable building practices and exploring next-generation powering and propulsion systems. Judge Tim Murphy focused in on Lagoon’s approach: “This is largest Lagoon fully intended for owner-operators. Beginning with 55, the next size up in the range, a professional captain is expected to be involved. Lagoon produces 275 boats per year. From this year’s Boat of the Year fleet, Lagoon is at the forefront of carbon-positive materials: 35 percent biomaterial in the polyester resin (compared with 14 percent last year), with hemp fibers employed instead of glass in some of the smaller molded parts. The production plant is certified ISO 9001, 40001, 50001, which is notable for the commitment to sustainable manufacturing.”
Unlike McCormick, judge Mark Pillsbury liked the Lagoon’s helm station just fine. He said: “The 51 is a big boat, but the layout of the helm station on the flybridge makes the boat simple to operate with a shorthanded crew. All sail controls are led to three winches on the cabin top, and there is a Harken electric sidewinder winch adjacent to the wheel to control the traveler. And for a large cruising cat, I thought that the 51 sailed well. The steering was very smooth. In 8 to 12 knots of breeze, we saw boatspeeds in the high 6s and 7s depending on our point of sail. The view from the helm was tremendous.”