To describe the shared living area aboard the Bali 5.4 catamaran —a tilt-and-lift door between cockpit and saloon all but eliminates the distinction between indoors and out—a builder’s representative said that the open space created by the lack of interior bulkheads means the boat will be enjoyed “no matter the weather.”
I was, in fact, able to test that theory a few days after the close of the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, when our Boat of the Year judges and I returned to the Bali for sea trials in monsoon-like conditions. After a thorough dousing (but very enjoyable trick at the wheel) atop the flybridge, I headed below, where, covered by the Bimini, all was as dry as a bone. And yes, the surroundings were indeed enjoyable. The ride was smooth and comfy, like a big old American Buick on a cobblestone street, but with Euro styling and bunks to sleep in.
At 55 feet LOA, the 5.4 is Bali’s flagship. The boats are built in France by the Catana Group, which also produces performance-oriented Catana catamarans. The Bali brand was launched in 2014 both to serve the charter market and for private owners as well. Catana CEO Olivier Poncin is responsible for the concept, and naval architect Xavier Fay, the engineering.
Built using essentially the same production methods as the Catanas (if not the same exotic Kevlar and carbon fibers), the Balis’ fiberglass hulls, decks, and Biminis are infused and foam-cored. The Balis do without the daggerboards that are trademarks of their sportier cousins; instead, short keels on either hull prevent leeway and provide protection in case of a beaching.
Because of its size, a number of options are offered on the 5.4. An owner can have four, five or six en suite guest cabins; forepeak accommodations for captain and mate are also available. The six-cabin boat we sailed carries a price tag of right around $1.2 million.
I liked the layout of the guest cabins. The aft ones are entered through their own companionways in the cockpit. I found them both to be a bit tight sizewise, but then again, you’re going to be in them only to sleep. Stairs forward in the saloon lead to the midship and forward cabins. Besides hatches overhead, each cabin has a port in the hull, and the double berths are laid out athwartships, so everyone gets a view of the great outdoors.
With the potential for 12 charter guests, plus crew, the 5.4 offers numerous places to congregate. Let’s start at the bow, and take a little walking tour. A feature introduced on this model is a forward door in the saloon that opens onto the foredeck and its forward cockpit and table. Rather than trampoline netting between the bows, the Balis have fiberglass from hull to hull, with lots of cushions for sitting, napping and sunning.
Strolling aft, stairs on either side of the cabin lead to the flybridge, where the helm and sail controls are located to starboard under a soft top. Winches are close at hand for taming the two mainsheets led to blocks set aft on either side of the Bimini, the single self-tacking jib sheet and the sheets for the screecher that’s set and flown on a sprit. The large expanse to port and behind the wheel awaits those along for ride, with a pair of tables surrounded by seats, a sink and fridge, and a large cushioned area aft for lounging.
In the cockpit below, there is yet more space to congregate before heading back into the saloon, where a long table with a bench and folding chairs occupies two-thirds of the port side; a well-stocked U-shaped galley is tucked in up forward. Opposite is a nav station/control center, more seating aft, and a home-style fridge and freezer in between. As I said, there are lots of places to congregate.
To be honest, though, it was the Bali’s sailing performance that got my attention. As I mentioned, the breeze was snarly—in the mid to high teens, with gusts above that. We started out with a reef in the main and the self-tacking jib, and saw speeds in 6.3-knot range. Yes, we were probably undercanvased, but still, the helm was lively and I was able to feather up and still maintain a decent pace with the wind closer to 35 to 40 degrees apparent—not always a productive point of sail for a big cruising cat. Later, reaching with the screecher flying, the speedo jumped to 8 knots, and I saw a 9 in one or two of the puffs.
In my notes, I had one other thing underlined: party. Yes, the Bali is well-suited for that too.
Mark Pillsbury is CW’s editor.