Special delivery: Sign up for the free Cruising World email newsletter. Subscribe to Cruising World magazine for $29 for 1 year and receive 3 bonus digital issues.
Monohull sailors can sometimes become bemused when thinking about catamarans. Attributes such as size, performance and cost are all relative. Consider, for instance, the Isla 40, the newest model from French builder Fountaine Pajot.
At a little more than 39 feet length overall and with just under 22 feet of beam, the Isla takes up a fair share of watery real estate—about 850 square feet. That’s roughly the size of many urban apartments, and considerably more than the footprint of a similar-length monohull. Still, the builder calls this model a “gateway” boat, and it’s the smallest in the Fountaine Pajot sail range. With cruising cats, trying to go much smaller would mean that the hulls, to perform adequately, would not be beamy enough to fit a double berth. Besides that, they’d struggle to float all the hardware, gear and toys most cruisers want to bring to sea.
As for the ride, a 40-foot monohull beating upwind in 15 knots of breeze might seem sporty as it heels over and the spray flies. A 40-foot cat? Not so much. Oh, the boat might squirm around a little in the chop, but drinks won’t be tipping over—one of the reasons catamarans are so popular these days.
And then there’s price. The catamaran is going to cost more just about every time, thanks to two engines, additional air-conditioning units, and more fiberglass, resin, furniture and so forth. Then again, you get that aforementioned living space. And the Isla, at $411,000, was the least expensive cat that CW Boat of the Year judges took for a sail this past fall in Annapolis.
Me? I thought the Isla had a Goldilocks charm that would appeal to all sailors: big enough to sail just about anywhere, yet small enough to be handled by a couple or family, and just about right for an owner relying on charter income to help pay the bills.
Designed by Berret-Racoupeau Yacht Design in collaboration with the yard’s in-house team, the Isla shares the look and feel of its larger siblings. And, like them, it sails well. Closehauled in about 12 knots of breeze—not a cat’s favorite point of sail—the GPS showed us going 6.5 to 7 knots. Cracked off to a reach, I saw a few 8s on the screen in puffs. That’s not bad for a well-appointed cruising cat, and it shows the benefits of rigging the boat with a flat-top mainsail and overlapping genoa.
The boat was easy to handle too. The helm station is to starboard and raised so that the helmsman can see over the cabin top and Bimini. Three winches and several line clutches are within easy reach of the wheel, making all sail-control lines readably accessible, including those for the traveler, which spans the rear of the Bimini. There’s access to the helm from the cockpit and side deck, and a set of steps leads from there up to the Bimini, where the boom is mounted low enough to provide good access to the sail pouch when the time comes to zip up things.
Fountaine Pajot offers the Isla with a few different living arrangements. The boat we visited was a Maestro, with the owner’s quarters taking up the starboard hull. There was a berth aft, a desk and head compartment amidships, and a shower forward with a washer/dryer in the forepeak. In the port hull, double-berth cabins filled either end, with separate head/shower compartments between them. There is also a four-stateroom layout, popular with charterers, called the Quatuor. A skipper’s cabin in the forepeak is also offered.
On deck, the cockpit has a table adjacent to the galley, located just inside the saloon door to port, and multiple lounge areas to kick back and enjoy the ride. Inside and opposite the galley is a digital nav station with a multifunction display mounted at eye level, with a dedicated space for a laptop below. Forward to port, a table can be raised for dining or lowered for cocktails.
Put it all together, and you have a cat that’s fun to sail and comfortable to live aboard. Sounds just right, no?
|SAIL AREA||1,023 sq. ft.|
Mark Pillsbury is a CW editor-at-large.