Catamarans have been around long enough that their sheer size and the vast expanses of living quarters they provide should no longer surprise us the way they once did. Yet still they do, especially when a builder incorporates a design wrinkle that adds yet more living and working space.
Lagoon Catamarans introduced the concept of the flying bridge to its line of cruising catamarans on the Lagoon 440, and the new Lagoon 500 exploits it to the full–in this case, on a platform that’s designed for luxury ocean cruising in either a private-ownership or a charter context. The flying bridge is a dramatic solution to the old problems of where to put the steering station and whether it’s best protected behind the bridgedeck saloon or exposed on the quarter, on the port side, on the starboard side, or on both sides. Every location has its boosters, but the flybridge trumps much of the debate, although it does add another factor to the appearance equation: Sun protection over the flybridge adds another visual layer and requires the boom, and the entire mainsail, to be elevated farther to clear it. Perhaps that was sufficient reason why the Lagoon 500 we saw during the 2006 Boat of the Year (BOTY) testing had no bimini over the flybridge, just a spray dodger over the steering station. According to Nick Harvey, director of Lagoon America, a bimini with windshield is provided standard.
Being at the helm so high above sea level takes a little getting used to. Still, there can be no doubt the elevation is a great help in negotiating tricky entrances in clear waters. A guaranteed plus is having the helm on centerline. You don’t have the parallax error inherent in steering from an off-center station: You know the boat really is going where you’re pointing it.
With the boat’s control station removed, complete with the sailhandling equipment, the traditional cockpit isn’t the cockpit any more but purely a lounging and dining area, and it’s well sheltered beneath a solid roof. Its communication with the bridge is via three deck hatches; the only vestige of sailboat gear is one end of the mainsheet, led to a winch so it can be dumped from below if a gust comes up. “There’s no possibility for the sheets and halyards to become entangled in the feet of owners or guests relaxing in the cockpit,” says Harvey.
Those so inclined can sit with the skipper aloft, enjoying the scenery and watching for sea life from an advantageous vantage point, something that isn’t easy to do on many cats on which the bridgedeck saloon blocks much of the view from the cockpit. Others looking for a quiet place to chat, read, or simply bask will find it in a sunken seating area forward of the house.
Numbers can be deceiving. The Lagoon 500 may be “only” 51 feet long, but it’s a catamaran: The sails are big, and the gear is beefy and heavily loaded. If the prospective crew doesn’t include a couple of young, athletic types, the electric winches aren’t really an option, a sentiment shared by Harvey, who says, “The Lagoon 500 is equivalent to a 75-foot monohull in every aspect, from sail plan to living space belowdecks.” For that reason, he insists that all his dealers recommend the electric option for the primary winches as well as the mainsheet/traveler winch, all of which were installed on the test boat.
With sheets eased, the Lagoon 500 behaved as though 20 knots of wet wind were nothing, zooming along at 10 knots and over, steady as a ferryboat, and giving a preview of how it would devour the passages that lie between the Caribbean’s Windward Islands. It was also a little disconcerting, because from the elevated bridge, it was impossible to see rapidly approaching hazards behind the jib. A simple remedy is to post a crewmember in one of the bow-pulpit seats to enjoy a fine ride while keeping the necessary lookout. “To the issue of seeing hazardous objects,” points out Harvey, “the genoa is equipped with a clear window to allow the helmsman to see through.”
On the wind, the boat is a little less agile, which is more a function of the type in general than it is of this boat in particular. The 500 has fixed keels and not daggerboards, so it won’t cling terribly close to the wind, and the rapid loss of momentum when you turn two hulls into the wind means tacking lacks the drama it creates on a fin-keeled monohull. We did notice that the big cat handled the chop very well. Lagoon’s designers, Marc Van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot Prévost, have been studying the interaction between waves and the hulls and bridgedeck of cruising catamarans. The Lagoon 500 embodies the results of their research in the gull-wing configuration that fairs the hulls into a nacelle molded under the centerline of the bridgedeck.
To get an idea of what it’s supposed to do, I peered through the escape hatch in the aft stateroom. Given the underlying wave train, the wind waves, and the bow waves off each hull, there was a lot going on, but whenever it appeared that a wave was big enough to slam into the bridgedeck, the center of the gull wing deflected it with a gentler impact. I don’t know what the motion would be like in a sloppy ocean seaway, but on Chesapeake Bay in a moderate northeast blow, it was very comfortable.
Pushed by a pair of 75-horsepower Yanmars with saildrives, the Lagoon was among the quieter third of the boats we tested in CW’s 2006 BOTY contest. At 2,800 rpm, she made 8.3 knots and generated 75 decibels of noise in the main saloon; at 3,400 rpm, she made 9.1 knots and 78 decibels. The boat also comes powered by a pair of 55-horsepower Volvos.
If the word “lagoon” conjures an image of cool tranquility, it’s manifested inside the bridgedeck saloon. The absence of angular “speed” shapes might have something to do with it. Lagoon has stuck to its rectangular, vertical windows, now firmly established as a brand identifier, because when compared with windows on a slope, they allow less direct sunlight, and therefore heat, to enter the boat. They also allow full headroom around the perimeter of the saloon, and the style permits mounting grabrails on the exterior at a height someone walking on the side decks can easily reach.
From the interior, the windows give the saloon a sedate feeling; they’re not trying to make it look as though the boat’s going 35 knots. Coupled with the simply styled yet nicely made furniture, which includes a handsome expandable table, they create a relaxing atmosphere. On a boat yet to receive its owner’s impress, it was a little clinical perhaps, but the basic decor of dark mahogany bulkheads and trim set off by white gelcoat surfaces lends itself to many interpretations. Someone who knows how to work with fabrics and seaworthy decorations could make it cozy, charming, or showy at will.
The galley is “up” but set down a step to bring the cook’s head near to the same level as seated company, which also provides him or her with a view outside without stooping. It’s not a large space, but it’s backed up by an adjacent pantry area in the port hull that provides extra work surfaces and storage.
To starboard of the galley is the nav station and a duplicate set of engine controls so the boat can be driven from inside, something it might be very nice to do on a dreary, wet, windless day when steering from the flybridge would be better for the complexion than for the spirits. These controls need protection–it’s too easy for curious fingers, whether of BOTY personnel or children, to render the helmsman above impotent. But, Harvey points out, “The engine controls are quite high, out of reach of a child. The Raymarine joystick won’t engage until you depress the button at the top. Before that, moving the joystick from side to side won’t have any impact on the steering.”
Lagoon offers three interior layouts in the 500. In all three, the port hull houses a forward stateroom and an aft stateroom, each with a private head, and the pantry. The starboard hull gets rearranged. In the “charter version,” it mirrors the port hull except that a small crew cabin occupies the space opposite the pantry. The “owner’s version with skipper”–the version I sailed–keeps the forward cabin and devotes the rest of the hull to a larger stateroom, and the “owner’s version” gives the owner the entire hull.
Lagoon has long experience both in eliminating the railroad-coach effect that’s common to the interiors of all catamarans and at using the available width efficiently. An ergonomic bonus resulting from the gull-wing hull form is a gentle pitch to the stairways leading down to the hulls. Also, because the extra width along the upper inboard sides of the hulls is at eye level, it adds to the sense of spaciousness. Further, it creates more stowage space in the cabins and permits easier access to the athwartships berths in the forward cabins.
In the sheer volume of the interior, the Lagoon 500 echoes Harvey’s comments about the boat’s size in relation to monohulls. “This boat is right on the edge,” he says, referring to the demarcation between a boat that might be handled by an experienced owner and family and one that’s more likely to be put in the charge of a professional crew of a skipper and cook/mate. I have to agree with him. As a young, ambitious skipper, I’d have enjoyed the challenge of maintaining such a vessel, with all its high-end equipment and its auxiliary systems, just for the chance to sail it to the islands. Now that I’m silver around the temples, I’d prefer to hire that skipper and his mate to take care of the boat, so I could simply call from the office and say, “Pick me up in Fort de France a week from Sunday.”
Harvey says the Lagoon 500’s twin hulls were designed to carry a significant payload, so that loading the boat up with cruising toys, gear, fuel, and water (254 gallons of each) shouldn’t have much effect on performance beyond softening the motion somewhat.
To operate all the boat’s appliances when under way or at anchor, a generator, too, is essential. It’s housed in a large machinery space in the bridgedeck forward of the mast, accessed through the sunning cockpit, along with the propane storage locker and other auxiliary equipment. The Lagoon satisfies European standards for an oceangoing yacht, but here’s a case in which it runs afoul of U.S. standards. According to the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC), propane should be in its own self-draining, self-ventilating locker constructed so that nothing else can be stored in it. ABYC’s reasoning: In the event of a leak, escaping gas, which is heavier than air, ought to disperse without entering any enclosed area, especially one containing such an ignition source as a generator.
Says Harvey: “The propane bottles are stored in a ventilated, sealed, and waterproof locker. A ventilation drain runs directly from this propane locker out to under the bridgedeck. This locker happens to be in another larger compartment, but the bottles themselves aren’t loose in that compartment. In the event of a leak, the gas wouldn’t be able to escape the actual propane locker and would be drained outside the boat.”
Standards conflicts aside, the systems are carefully installed and generally easy to service. The main electrical panel is a good example: It’s on the aft bulkhead in the saloon, and the back of the aft-facing seat in the cockpit hinges up, supported on gas springs, to provide generous access to its inner workings.
The engine compartments are separate from the accommodations and entered via hatches in the deck at the top of the transom steps, an arrangement that in still waters offers excellent access.
The Lagoon 500 is truly a crossroads vessel. Someone moving up in size is going to have to think about crew, which is why Lagoon provides for that eventuality in all its layouts. A sailor tempted to go to power might choose it as a transition boat, gaining space, comfort, and the flybridge view without yet having to give up the sails. And then there’s the lure of the charter business, which the builder has also anticipated. In sum, the Lagoon 500 offers a sea of possibilities.
Jeremy McGeary is a Cruising World contributing editor. For his take on the growing cruising-catamaran scene, see the upcoming July issue.
LOA 51′ 0″ (15.54 m.)
LWL 49′ 0″ (14.93 m.)
Beam 28′ 0″ (8.53 m.)
Draft 4′ 7″ (1.40 m.)
Sail Area (100%) 1,193 sq. ft. (110.82 sq. m.)
Displacement (light) 38,808 lb. (17,603 kg.)
Water 254 gal. (960 l.)
Fuel 254 gal. (960 l.)
Mast Height 78′ 0″ (23.77 m.)
Engines 2 x Volvo 55-hp. diesel saildrive
Designer Marc Van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot Prévost
Price (base) $700,000