Sailboat Review: Vision 444

The vision 444 catamaran is designed and built for bluewater challenges and self-reliant cruising couples.
Vision 444
The technologies that go into each Vision 444 make the boat about a lot more than its head-turning, modern styling. Walter Cooper

Several months after visiting the Vision 444 at the Annapolis Boat Show with my colleagues on the Boat of the Year judging team, three things still stick out when I think about this South African-built entry that we named Best Cruising Catamaran Under 50 Feet.

First, unlike any other production ­catamaran that I can think of, the Vision has a full-size, forward-facing navigation desk to starboard, just inside the sliding glass door that separates the cockpit and salon. The desk is a few steps removed from the raised helm station in the cockpit, and about the same distance from the owner’s stateroom below it in the after portion of the starboard hull. In other words, it’s immediately accessible from both key locations. At the desk, the skipper is surrounded by instruments and electrical switches to control the boat’s systems, and there is a clear view forward for being inside to stand watch, work out waypoints or update the log.

Second is the workshop, which has a workbench, vice, shelves, and bins for tools and gear. It’s located in the forepeak of the starboard hull, forward of the owner’s head and shower. After seeing it, all I could think was, What cruising sailor wouldn’t want one of these?

And third: The Vision is a cat that can sail. Jubilee, Hull No. 8, was picked up at the Vision yard in Knysna by her owner, David Stein, in 2022. With a hired captain aboard to help him learn about the boat, he and his daughter set out on a shakedown cruise to Mozambique before returning to South Africa. From there, Jubilee set sail for Grenada, via Saint Helena, and averaged 7.6 knots during the crossing. By the time they arrived in the Caribbean, Stein was ready to take charge. His need for hired hands was over.

In Annapolis, with some 14,000 miles under the keels, Stein was still excited to talk about his boat, and after the show, he was more than eager to take us sailing. Out on Chesapeake Bay, I found it enlightening to watch him at work getting Jubilee underway, since one of the criteria we use when judging a sailboat is how well it measures up to its design brief. In the case of the Vision 444, the boat is intended to be an efficient, safe liveaboard boat for a cruising couple or otherwise shorthanded crew.  

Vision 444 "Jubilee"
Jubilee was lovely under sail. In 10 to 12 knots of wind, our speeds were consistently in the mid-7s to over 8 knots in the puffs. Walter Cooper

To raise the main, Stein set the autopilot to head-to-wind, which freed his hands to attend to the halyard, reef lines and whatnot. For upwind sailing, the Vision has a self-tacking jib, which means coming about is as easy as turning the wheel. Stein says that in apparent wind of 16 knots or better, the boat can hold a course with an apparent-wind angle in the high 30s, which is respectfully close-winded for a roomy cat with short, fixed keels rather than daggerboards.

His go-to sail when singlehanding or on passage when varying conditions are expected is a code 55 (he carries a larger code 65 as well) that can be easily furled. Conditions for our sea trial were fairly light, around 12 knots, so after a couple of tacks, we quickly furled up the small jib and rolled out the smaller of the two reaching sails because that was the one already mounted on the continuous-line furler. Cracked off slightly to a close reach, we jogged along at 7 to 8 knots.

And of course, we encouraged Stein to set his asymmetric spinnaker, just to see how it would go. With that sail up, we managed to gain another knot or so.

Vision builds just the one model. Hulls, deck and furniture are all foam-cored and infused with vinylester resin. Furniture is tabbed and bonded in place, becoming part of the structure of the boat. 

Stein says that each hull so far is a little different, thanks to owner input and advances in technology. Hull No. 1, for instance, was built for a mobility-impaired owner, and doors were cut into the cockpit coamings to add accessibility from the dock or a tender. The idea proved useful and was incorporated into the design of subsequent models. 

Another neat feature on the Vision is having washboards that can be fitted across the stern of each hull to prevent following seas from washing aboard over the sugar-scoop transoms. A third washboard can be placed across the door to the salon.

All Visions come with a 24-volt lithium battery bank. On Jubilee, the bank is recharged by alternators of the same voltage mounted on two 40 hp Yanmar diesels, as well as by power from six 370-watt solar panels. Stein says that the boat’s original alternators were early models and installed just as 24-volt systems were becoming popular. They stopped working in December 2022, around the time he reached the Caribbean. It took three months to get replacements, but he and his guests had plenty of electricity without them, even with an electric induction cooktop (there is a propane stove too), espresso machine, countertop electric toaster ovens (Stein passed on a built-in oven in order to gain stowage), air conditioning, and a full suite of electronics. 

More-recent Visions are fitted out with 38-Nanni diesels (simple engines that are easy to work on) and eight solar panels, providing even more power, he says.

The interior layout of the Vision is straightforward enough, but even so, there are noteworthy elements. The owner has the starboard hull. Guests get the port hull, with an athwartships berth forward, and a head and shower in the forepeak. Another stateroom is aft, with a second head and shower. 

Amidships in both hulls, there are outboard lockers where wiring, hoses, through-hulls, and machinery are all neatly labeled and easy to reach. Engine access is well thought out too. On most cats, engine rooms are accessed through hatches in the cockpit sole, where they’re exposed to the elements. On the Vision, the aft berths in each hull lift up, and the engines are right there, with plenty of room to work on them without worrying about what’s happening outside. Adequate soundproofing keeps the staterooms ­relatively quiet underway when motoring.

Topsides, large cabin windows let in lots of light and provide good all-round visibility. The center two forward windows have hatches that open for ventilation. The L-shaped galley to port has deep double sinks and plenty of stowage. A dining table is forward to port, and can be lowered to make a berth that would be a handy place for off-watch crew to rest while on passage.

Gear throughout the boat was top-notch and included North Sails, B&G electronics, four electric Harken winches, a fridge, and two freezers.

During most of our Boat of the Year inspections, the judging team has to wonder how a boat will hold up with a few thousand miles under its keel, and how its systems and layout will work when owners find themselves out there on some dark, stormy evening. Not so with the Vision. Jubilee and Stein have been out there and done that, and both looked just fine. 

Mark Pillsbury is a CW editor-at-large and was a 2024 Boat of the Year judge.

One Sailor’s Jubilee

Vision 444 catamaran in the caribbean
David Stein’s Vision 444 catamaran Jubilee. Courtesy David Stein

On my first visit to David Stein’s Vision 444 catamaran at the dock during the Annapolis Boat Show this past fall, I got a kick out of a graphic on the bow with the boat’s name, Jubilee. Below it was a circle around the whimsical drawing of a bear playing some sort of crooked horn. Later, when we were out on Chesapeake Bay and sailing the boat, we hoisted the spinnaker and hauled up the snuffer, and saw the same quirky image, this time in white on the black asymmetric chute.

I had to ask the owner, “What’s up with the bear?”

Turns out, it’s a pretty good story.

Stein hails from western New York, where he had an ­insurance brokerage firm. Before buying the Vision, he’d done most of his sailing on smaller race boats, but in 2008, he took his family on their first charter vacation, aboard a 38-foot Beneteau in the Grenadines. And with that, he was hooked.

“As soon as I got home from that trip, I started building a spreadsheet on how, when my son graduated from high school, I’d be able to do this,” he said. He put down a deposit on the Vision in 2020 and took delivery of Jubilee in July 2022 at the builder’s yard in Knysna, South Africa.

Stein is a self-confessed (Grateful) Deadhead, and one day, he was listening to one of his favorite songs, “Sugaree.” Jerry Garcia sings, “Shake it up now, Sugaree/I’ll meet you at the jubilee/And if that jubilee don’t come/Baby, I’ll meet you on the run.”

Stein said he always thought a jubilee was a party, but then when he did a little research, he discovered that the word has an older biblical meaning: a person’s jubilee year, when you turn 50 or 51. At that age, if for some reason you had to lease your family land because of financial difficulties, you got your property back, or if you’d sold yourself into indentured servitude, you got your freedom.

“You were supposed to spend the entirety of your jubilee year not working, and getting good with God and the universe,” Stein said. “Therefore, I’ve got a Grateful Dead bear trumpeting a kudu shofar, which you’re supposed to do apparently to signal to everybody that you’re starting your year. My jubilee year is apparently several years long, but who’s counting?”

Stein retold the story when I spoke with him by phone in April. He was sitting aboard Jubilee at the dock at the Antigua Yacht Club, where he was tied up to repair the seawater pump on his watermaker. 

Person with a tuna that they caught
During a five-day sail to St. Thomas, Stein and his crew successfully caught four large tuna, four mahi-mahi, and three marlin. Courtesy David Stein

After Annapolis, his plan had been to sail south with the Salty Dog Rally, but instead, he took a left and headed for the Bahamas. He spent the holidays in the northern Eleuthera area with his wife and kids, and his parents came to sail with him in the Abacos.

From there, he headed south to St. Thomas. It was a five-day windward trip, but he and his crew endured the ordeal by catching four big tuna, four mahimahi and three marlin. They had so much fish, they had to pitch frozen pizza overboard to make room for it.

For passages, Stein brings friends aboard, and finds mates from the Vision owners group, which now numbers about 40 ­current and future owners. Around half have placed an order for a boat, and they’re eager to spend time aboard Jubilee while they wait for theirs.

After exploring the US and British Virgin Islands, Stein said, they had a perfect overnight sail to St. Maarten, where he caught the Heineken Regatta and the St. Barts Bucket regatta. 

Stein’s daughter will be joining him soon in Antigua to start the journey back north, where he plans to put the boat on the hard for the summer in Virginia. 

 “I feel like every day I’m doing stuff that’s physically and mentally engaging, so I haven’t gotten bored yet,” he said. “That absolutely hasn’t happened.”