BIRTH OF A CAT
Four industry leaders discuss what goes into bringing a new catamaran to market, from design concept to launch day.
WHEN IT COMES TO CONCEIVING NEW CATAMARAN DESIGNS, IT’S IMPERATIVE TO UNDERSTAND THE MARKET YOU’RE
AIMING AT AND THE DESIGN PURPOSE YOU’RE TRYING TO ACHIEVE. IN THIS WIDE-RANGING DISCUSSION WITH A
QUARTET OF INDUSTRY LEADERS, IT’S ABUNDANTLY CLEAR THAT THERE ARE AT LEAST FOUR WAYS TO SKIN A CAT.
omfort. Performance. Ease-of-use. Good ergonomic flow. Ask several creators of new cruising catamarans what the original design concept was, and you’ll likely hear some repetition of the same short list of familiar themes. Yet when you look at the boats themselves, the results could hardly be more different. With that puzzle in mind, we identified four standout cats from this year’s fleet of new models, including three Boat of the Year winners, and we closely interviewed their creators to find out how each project moved from the germ of an idea through prototype to model launch — and how they arrived at such different boats.
CTHE CATS AND THEIR CREATORS
The four cruising catamarans in our group come from three continents.
The U.s.-built Maine Cat 38 is conceived, designed, manufactured and sold by one man: Dick Vermeulen. Since 1993, working with a dozen craftsmen in midcoast Maine, Vermeulen has launched 130 boats, including 63 Maine Cat 30s and 24 MC 41s, as well as a 47-foot power cat and a 22-foot Dick Newick design. Today Maine Cat has the capacity to build five, maybe six, MC 38s per year.
“We’re really a craft shop here, one at a time. But there’s one thing about the boat that comes down the line here,” says Vermeulen, a mechanical engineer who grew up sailing competitively in New Jersey. “It has to be the fastest cruising cat out there, or I’ve failed at everything I’ve done.”
The French-built Lagoon 42 comes from the world’s most prolific catamaran builder. Part of Groupe Beneteau, whose Boat Division will turn over roughly $960 million annually, Lagoon’s roughly 1,200 employees are on track to launch 350 boats, in models ranging from 38 to 77 feet, this year. Since its first boat in 1987, Lagoon has built some 4,200 cruising cats. We spoke with Lagoon America director Fred Signat, a 20-year veteran of the company who came up through the design department before managing sales regions in Europe, the Indian Ocean, and North America.
“Roughly the life of one model is five years,” says Signat. “It’s very close to the car business now, and so every year we’re working on model changes. But if a boat is a success, we’re not in a rush to replace that model.” The Lagoon 42 won Best Full-size Multihull Under 50 Feet in last year’s BOTY contest.
Franck Bauguil manages yacht sales for Travelopia, which until recently was known as TUI Marine. In case that name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s the parent company of The Moorings, Sunsail and Leopard Catamarans — a marine leisure business that employs 77,000 people and manages 1,800 charter boats at 80 bases around the world. Travelopia is also the sole client of South Africa-based Robertson and Caine, a company that employs 1,400 people building catamarans from 40 to 58 feet. Bauguil provides the design brief for all new models to the builder and to Alex Simonis, the naval architect.
“What’s unique about us,” Bauguil says, “is that Robertson and Caine doesn’t have 50 or 100 dealers in front of it. It has one, and I’m the contact person.” Collating feedback from several departments within Travelopia (sales, charter operations, after-sales
and others), Bauguil knows exactly how many boats of each model to build in a given year — 211 boats in 2017 — and how many of those will go into private ownership or charter. And because 60 percent of the boats will go into charter programs managed by Travelopia, Bauguil knows his company carries the responsibility to service the boats for at least the first five years. It’s an incentive to create boats that are easy to maintain, a benefit that extends to private owners as well. The Leopard 45 (Moorings 4500, Sunsail 454) won Best Charter Boat in the most recent BOTY contest.
Phil Berman, president of the Multihull Company, based in Philadelphia, has been pursuing the sweet spot in performance cruising catamarans for his entire career. After winning Hobie Cat World Championships in 1979 and 1980, and founding a yacht brokerage specializing in catamarans, he understands both what it takes to make a fast catamaran and what the market is looking for. In the early 2000s, Berman imported the sporty Dolphin line of catamarans from Brazil; in 2011, he founded Balance Catamarans. Among other projects, he conceived the Balance 526, designed by Anton du Toit and built by Nexus Yachts in South Africa. The boat was a home run in the eyes of the BOTY judges, winning the top prize in 2017, Import Boat of the Year.
“I felt the opportunity in the market arose because all of the big builders are really very skewed toward low performance and high volume,” Berman contends. “Each succeeding generation of cats is getting slower.” The 526 was born to counter that trend. “She’s a wind-speed boat in light airs,” he said, meaning the boat will sail as quick as the breeze in 10 knots or less. Berman and Nexus Yachts plan to deliver five or six new boats per year.
THE GERM OF AN IDEA
We asked each cat creator what inspires a new model. Here, in their own words, are their responses.
Dick Vermeulen (Maine Cat 38): Everybody has to take a look at the intended use, and that was my starting place for the 38. The Maine Cat 41 was the big “had-everything, liveaboard monster boat.” It had the ability to carry all that weight. It had the genset. It had the air conditioning. It had the watermaker. It had 365 pounds of toys on board, not counting the dinghy and the engine. The Maine Cat 30 is a real plain-jane, inexpensive, gosailing type of boat, and I really enjoyed it. And obviously, our customers do too. When a used one comes on the market, it doesn’t last for a couple of days, and it’s sold again.
So that was the starting place for the 38. Who’s going to sail this boat? And how? If they’re into all the junk, then they don’t want my boat. Again, it has to be the quickest cruising cat going, so to get to that point, you’ve got to get rid of junk. The owners who are going to buy this boat, yeah, they’re interested in the comfort. And the stability. And the ambiance. And the spaces. And the visibility. And all this great stuff. But what do they really want to do? They want to pass the guy next to them. And that’s what I want to do. My end goal is to have the most efficient piece of machinery on the water.
And then you’ve got to figure out who’s going to be on the boat, and how they’re going to handle the boat. I’ve got a lot of guys who want to be able to go out there
on a Sunday afternoon by themselves. And if they have a 40-some-odd-foot beast, they’re not going out. But to have a Maine Cat 30, they’ll go out. And I’ve made the 38 as simple to sail, if not simpler, as the 30. I’ve got to have a boat that I can handle myself.
Fred Signat (Lagoon 42): Several years ago, we wanted something new. Frankly, the Lagoon image — our competitors were talking about Lagoons as caravans, so we wanted to renew this image. We asked the journalists to apply the technical solutions they used on the racing boats to the Lagoons. They came up with plenty of ideas that we accepted and many that we didn’t. And the main idea was the new rig (moved aft, beginning with the 2015 Lagoon 39 and 52). On the Lagoon 380, the rig was 37 percent aft; on the 42 it’s 53 percent aft. That really reduced the pitching, one of the key points addressed by the journalists. The philosophy was to have an easy boat to handle, so we have the self-tacking jib. The Lagoon philosophy: easy to use. Comfort. Safety. And performance, even if it’s not a racing boat.
At Lagoon, we have two scenarios. On the new Lagoon 42, we had the Lagoon 420 and 421 before. We built 170 of those, and we wanted to renew the model. For a replacement like that, we get feedback from customers and our dealers and after-sales services. We look at our competition and what’s new on the market. We look at trends, such as fabric. Let’s say 20 percent of these boats go into charter, so we get feedback from charter companies.
With a project like the Lagoon Seventy 7 (U.S. launch was at the Miami boat show in February 2017), we had no model to replace, so the process was very different. The first time we talked with dealers about the Seventy 7 was roughly three and a half years earlier. We had feedback from the Lagoon 620 owners and from people looking at custom boats at CNB (Lagoon’s sister company at Groupe Beneteau), so we mixed those
feedbacks, and that’s why it took us so long to develop the project. It’s a big boat!
Franck Bauguil (Leopard 45): Right now, we have Project 2020, which lines up a development plan for the next three years. The next two models that we’ll develop are pretty much set in stone. But when you start looking at Model Three down the development pipeline, that can change. The time from the first product brief to a boat in the water for a test sail is 18 months. We plan not only the production per year but also the overall number. For the 45-footer, we’re going to have 46 units per year. Over the life cycle of the product, which is five to six years, we’re looking at 200 units. That’s going to affect the price, because obviously, you have an initial investment and then you spread out your capital over the number of boats. So the more you do, technically the lower the price. In the brief, we already have a target price for the boat equipped: charterready, or owner-ready.
We define performance in our design brief. I don’t know if the other guys do that, but we do. We define dimension. We define accommodations. But only in the broad sense: four cabins, four heads, en suite. We want the design team to start working on the boat, giving them direction, but not to be too restrictive either.
And we can define some innovations in the brief. When we did the brief of the 44-footer (the 2011 Import Boat of the Year), we had a forward cockpit. That was the first forward cockpit we did, including access to the forward cockpit from inside. That was in the brief. And that’s ambitious. We’re the most open boat you can find. So the brief for last year’s 45 had the same ratio of open access to the cockpit from that bulkhead. In that case, we said to Alex Simonis, the naval architect, “You’ve got to do it. See you in two weeks.” He may come back and say it’s impossible. But it hasn’t happened yet. His job is to make it happen. By that point, we may have done some other feasibility studies where we want to do something but we know it’s too ambitious so it’s not going to happen.
Phil Berman (Balance 526): Since the formation of my company, the Multihull Company, about 15 years ago, I’ve sold about 500 used catamarans. So all I do is go to surveys and sail all of these boats. I see them repaired, and I see them broken. And the best part for me is that when the boats are sold, I get to know exactly what the people thought about their boat. Until they’re sold, everybody’s lying about them online because they want to hold their resale value. I’ve seen all the mistakes.
During a sea trial of a 56-foot catamaran off Palm Beach, Florida, several years ago, in 17 knots of wind, I couldn’t get the boat to go more than 7 knots. I thought, We’ve really lost the balance in the catamaran scene. Too many of the boats are designed for charter, and the people who are looking for higher performance, a more pleasurable sailing boat, are kind of left in the lurch. On one hand, some of the boats are too extreme; all they’re about is performance or racing. And on the other, they’re too “charter” — too big inside, too slow. So what we sought to do here with this company was seek a balance between comfort on the one hand and performance on the other. And to produce yachts that are simple to maintain, easy to operate and that bring real sailing pleasure to people.
So what I wanted to design was the most objection-free performance cat possible. We designed the Balance 526 to really kind of cruise along easily between 9 and 12 knots.
WHAT IT’S NOT
A crucial step in defining anything is to clarify what it’s not. We asked each cat creator what they knew their boat was not going to do or include.
Dick Vermeulen (Maine Cat 38): This boat is not going to have to sleep 12 people. It has to sleep five people. And it doesn’t need two heads. It needs one head. We can put a Porta Potti over in the other hull so they’ve got privacy over there. But they don’t need two showers. They don’t need two holding tanks. They don’t need all that garbage. You can’t have the genset. Because the design of the boat is so open, if you can sleep on the bridgedeck, if you can sleep on the trampolines, if you can sleep in a hammock hung underneath the hardtop, maybe we don’t need air conditioning. Maybe we don’t
need to be in a cabin with a door on it, with no ventilation. The design of the interior of this boat says, well, I’m just not going to do AC, so you can get rid of a lot of junk. Simple: That’s the design criteria.
Phil Berman (Balance 526): I wouldn’t ever recommend this boat for bareboat charter. It’s just too performance oriented. This is all E-glass with carbon reinforcements and epoxy resins. Composite bulkheads, liberal use of carbon all over the place — this is a much more sophisticated boat than your typical charter boat.
Fred Signat (Lagoon 42): We didn’t choose daggerboards, because that’s really not in the Lagoon philosophy. Comfort means volume in the cabins. The galley today is really the key point. That’s why we didn’t use the daggerboards. We wanted to keep the volume inside.
Franck Bauguil (Leopard 45): There’s a limit to how far you can push volume. Lagoons have gigantic beds. If we want a gigantic bed and a big cockpit, it’s not going to happen. This is where we know what we have. For us it’s crystal clear: We’re going to favor the common areas, where you spend most of your time. We’re going to have the biggest cockpit in the business, but we’re not going to offer a huge bed, because you can’t have both.
I’m always trying to understand with numbers how our customers are utilizing this boat. For example, we found out that on our Moorings 4800 four-cabin boat, only half the time do we have eight people on it. So I’m asking: How many people are on the boat? Where do they sleep? I have some data, but I’m missing some, because if I have a six-pass (six-passenger charter), it could be three couples, or it could be a big family with teenagers and kids. And teenagers and kids are not going to use cabins in the same way. So now we’re drilling further, with crew lists and the ages of our customers. That’s going to be for our next project to figure out the number of cabins and configurations of cabins.
COMFORT AND PERFORMANCE
Skinny catamaran hulls are uncommonly sensitive to the weight that goes into the boat, and too much wetted surface profoundly hinders a cat’s boat speed. Does that mean comfort and performance are a zero-sum choice? We asked each creator how they work through this puzzle.
Franck Bauguil (Leopard 45): We try to do a boat that is a compromise between space and performance. Clearly, we try to offer the comfort people are looking for on cats, but without killing the performance. We keep the hulls very narrow (below the waterline). The volume is above the waterline with the step (chine).
Phil Berman (Balance 526): I met naval architect Anton du Toit, and I liked the way he did his hulls. I liked his general philosophy of hulls that don’t have any protrusions or chines. These hulls, if you look at them, there’s no funny stuff coming out of them. There’s no bumps. There’s no trickery. There’s just pure-form hulls. And that was really important to me, hydrodynamically. All these little tricks that they do to make the boat feel bigger down below, all that does is create hydrodynamic disturbance in the boat. You want the boat to be just a straight hull like a Tornado catamaran. So I asked Anton, if we want this boat to tool along without difficulty at 10 to 12 knots, what’s the hull-fineness ratio have to be? How wide can we go? How wide can we make the berths in the aft end of the boat — without bumping it out or creating chines to make the hulls wider than they should be?
It became clear that the aft berth to port would have to be slightly narrower and smaller than the berths athwartships because, if we widened the hull just another 6 inches back there, we wouldn’t have achieved the hull-fineness ratio required to do the speeds we wanted to do. I kind of knew from the beginning that we would have our master berth athwartships over the bridge because that’s what Peter Johnstone did in the Gunboats. I think that’s just what you have to do if you really want to have beds from which you can get off on either side — and really good headroom.
I wanted the bridgedeck clearance to be around 3 feet off the water but loaded. When this boat’s empty, it’s probably 3 feet 3 inches. To go any higher, you really start
getting into too much windage on the sides of the hulls, and you start adding weight to the boat. And that windage hurts you upwind significantly. It really blows you back. It also makes it harder to dock the boat, because you’re getting blown around. We had like 2-foot-7-inch clearance on the Dolphin 460 that we did in Brazil, and that boat was great. In some really, really bad conditions you’re going to get an occasional slap or pound. You’re not going to get away from that. But remember, the sharper the bows and the smaller the bow wave, the less clearance you need. The higher performance the boat, the less bridgedeck clearance you need. Because the bows are so sharp, it’s not creating a bow wave. And a lot of the slapping occurs from the big waves when the boat is rocking. The bow waves meet right about the saloon door, and you’ll hear it: boom, boom, boom, boom. But all things being equal, I know for a 50-footer, 3 feet is the balanced choice.
Fred Signat (Lagoon 42): We learn from the past. The Lagoon 420 has a very long bridgedeck, with a very small net. The comfort was great because it had lots of volume. But clearly the boat was sailing like a dog. For the Lagoon 42, we reduced the bridgedeck ratio (Loa-to-bridgedeck length) to 1.52-to-1.
Dick Vermeulen (Maine Cat 38): I made a decision very early on that this boat was going to have a chine, or what I’d call a knuckle. It was going to have a really skinny waterline and a really nice knuckle, and then we’d belly it out because I thought it looked really cool. It’s about 12 inches off the waterline. It is probably the best thing we’ve ever drawn. It’s unbelievable, because what it does underneath the boat in the bridgedeck area is it curves all that water. When you’re in an 8-foot wave, obviously, game’s over. But if you’re in the normal 3 to 4 feet and you’re cutting through a wave and doing 12 or 13 knots, you don’t hear anything. The boat’s silent. And that’s because it’s not allowing that water that would normally be jumping up and hitting the underside of the bridgedeck. It turns it right away. It also makes spray out of everything down there, so you are perhaps inducing some drag. But you’re also making the boat really, really quiet.
FROM ABSTRACT DESIGN TO PHYSICAL STRUCTURE
It’s one thing to use hightech, three-dimensional computer-aided design software to render boats and their components, but there’s no substitute for creating fullscale structures in space to test those designs. We asked each cat creator what they learn in the building stage that the
designs couldn’t entirely reveal.
Phil Berman (Balance 526): In the design drawings, we generally marked out the area for our helm station. And we did tons and tons of drawings for sight lines and stuff. You want to be able to sit and see out over the water at all times, and always be in the light. We knew when we got to that point, it had to be mocked up, so I visited the factory in South Africa. It was really important for me to sit around the chairs and see the sight lines. And headroom is important. Frankly, I think the only real mistake you see in the Balance 45 (a Roger Hill design built in China) is that the boat didn’t have 6-foot6 -inch headroom. This boat’s headroom is 6-foot-9.
Fred Signat (Lagoon 42): We work with VPLP Design for naval architects and Nauta Yachts Design for the interiors. They know that we have some industrial points we have to follow. For example, we have some wood rail shapes that we want to reuse, and we have some composite constraints — the way you design it and design the mold — that we cannot avoid. So that’s an impact on some shapes. For every model, we have a project manager in-house who’s the link between the naval architects and our designers. Once we pass the files to the designers and say go, they work in parallel. They’re talking to each other. Even when the architects are still working on the hull shape, we can start plumbing and electricity very early. Once we have the final hull shape, it’s quite easy to modify the plumbing to make sure it follows the hull.
We still do some full-scale mock-ups to evaluate the volume of the galley. Or to make sure we have enough room in the heads. Even though we have lots of experience, it’s very easy to make mistakes. Most of the time it’s in plywood, just to have an idea of volume. But we don’t go into details of finishing.
For the Lagoon 42 and the last several projects, we produced hull number one and hull number two. Number one was at the Dusseldorf show; hull two was at the Miami show. And then we stopped the line. We sailed the boats, tested the boats. Then after we do the reverse engineering and feedback, the idea is to really start the production line. We start to deliver the boats three to five months after that.
Dick Vermeulen (Maine Cat 38): For this project, we came across thermoforming. Hodgdon Yacht Services had done it in one of its designs. Lyman-morse had done it. We found a company in Rhode Island that did these infrared ovens, and JP Mouligné at Gurit showed us some stuff this thing could do. We get Corecell sheets up to 165 degrees, and it’s infrared, so it’s heated completely through the material. Then you place the Corecell in the mold, and you press it down. You let it cool for about a minute and a half, take your hands off, and it doesn’t change shape. The core starts as flat sheets, not 1-inch cubes with scrim like Divinycell, so there are no kerfs to fill with resin. When we built the first 38 hull — no deck on it yet, but three bulkheads in it, 6 feet wide at the beam, probably another 6 feet in depth — it weighed 426 pounds. I could lift the thing out of the cradles. It blew us away. It was the biggest revelation we’ve ever had in construction. We infuse all the way through the entire boat with vinylester resins. It takes us a hell of a lot longer to build boats, but it’s just bomber. I just saved 50 pounds. I was ecstatic. If I can make it strong and I can make it light, I’ve got the world by the tail.
Franck Bauguil (Leopard 45): Mock-ups are fantastic. We don’t involve a big design committee by that stage. Just John Robertson and me. It’s a very family-type organization. It’s a bit old-school, but you know how particular we are about helm stations. We make sure everything flows: distribution, movement. That’s not a coincidence. Yeah, CAD is great, and virtual tours and 3D. You can probably do 90 percent on the CAD. But I’ll tell you, on the mock-up, we change stuff. We make sure all the maneuvers are going to flow, all the sheets and halyards, the foot switch. I have to know that I can singlehand this boat. The helm station is crucial. Everything is mocked up, down to: Can I take a shower without getting everything wet? If I open that electrical panel, how long is that going to take? Can I reach the bottom of the fridge? Can I access my steering? I don’t even write these things in the design brief, because it’s understood. We have to turn the boats around quickly (in charter operation). And if anything breaks, we have to replace it right away.
VIVE LA DIFFERENCE! There you have it. One builder unabashedly offers the greatest volume in a given length. One builder seeks a compromise in trading private space for public areas to gather in. One builder willingly trades away the gadgets of homestyle comforts for lightness and speed. And one builder aims to balance the difference.
Every one of those design criteria we cited at the top — comfort, performance, ease-of-use, good ergonomic flow — is a worthy goal for cat creators to strive for. In the meantime, we can thank Neptune for the risk-takers who wake up every day and mix these ingredients to their own tastes and share the results with all of us — especially those lucky sailors who get to take them sailing.
Tim Murphy is a Cruising World editor-at-large and a longtime Boat of the Year judge.
The Lagoon 42 (left) is a product of Groupe Beneteau, one of the world’s most prolific builders of cruising sailboats. The owners suite is an open, spacious cabin (above left), while the nav station boasts commanding views of the surroundings (above right).
The builders (clockwise from top left): Dick Vermeulen of Maine Cat, Franck Bauguil of Travelopia, Phil Berman of Balance Catamarans and Fred Signat of Lagoon are all veteran marine-industry players specializing in catamarans.
The Maine Cat 38 aims to be one of the quickest cats around (top). It also boasts a wideopen cockpit (above left) but has plenty of creature comforts down below (above right).
Built in South Africa by Robertson and Caine, the Leopard 45 will see service as a charter boat and in private ownership (top). The saloon leads to a forward cockpit (above left), and the staterooms are comfy and sumptuous (above right).
Laminators lay up other “parts” of the boat, such as hull and deck features and furniture, in female molds, by hand.
When it comes to fabricating deck parts, balsa core is laid in and bonded in place with polyester.
Birth of a cat: At Robertson and Caine, it all begins with rolls of fiberglass and barrels of polyester resin.
Robertson and Caine turns out roughly 200 cats per year, both power and sail, in sizes ranging from 40 to 58 feet.
Many of the boat’s systems are assembled in modules off the boat, then installed before the deck is joined to the hull.
The coach roof is fabricated separately and installed once all systems and furniture are in place.
The clean lines of the Anton du Toit-designed Balance 526 translate to slippery hulls that will easily knock off double-digit boat speeds under sail (top). The lightweight construction features vacuum-bagged epoxy reinforced with carbon (far left). Because the hulls are so fine, the designer opted for raised, athwartship forward berths (left).