Saints Alive

Cruising World - - Contents - By Herb Mccormick

The St. Fran­cis 50 MK II is an evo­lu­tion of a proven de­sign.



n South Africa, where some of the world’s top cruis­ing cata­ma­rans are made, boat­builder Dun­can Lethbridge is noth­ing less than a leg­end. Lethbridge’s com­pany, St. Fran­cis Marine, be­gan build­ing cats in 1989, and many be­lieve it was his in­au­gu­ral 43-footer that opened the door for cata­ma­ran char­ter­ing in the Caribbean and the sub­se­quent in­ter­na­tional boom in twin­hulled cruis­ing boats that fol­lowed (see cruis­ing­world .com/ar­ti­san-cats). Later, in 2006, Lethbridge staked his claim as one of the planet’s best cat pro­duc­ers when his St. Fran­cis 50 took top hon­ors as the Best Cruis­ing Cata­ma­ran in CW’S an­nual Boat of the Year con­test. Now, a decade later, the com­pany has resur­faced in the States with last fall’s in­tro­duc­tion of an evo­lu­tion­ary de­sign, the St. Fran­cis 50 MK II.

The tweaks have been sub­tle but, taken as a whole, sig­nif­i­cant. Per­haps the big­gest change is the way the boat is put to­gether: Thanks to resin­in­fused mold­ing, Core­cell foam core and the ju­di­cious use of car­bon fiber in high-load ar­eas, the MK II is both lighter and stiffer than its pre­de­ces­sor. There are more win­dows, and larger ones at that. LEDS, pul­pit seats, a Harken Battcar main­sail sys­tem, pad­dle­board lock­ers, a stan­dard gen­naker, Var­i­fold fold­ing props and 57-horse­power diesels

Iwith saildrives are all new fea­tures. Plus there have been up­grades and re­fine­ments to the board­ing lad­der, the slid­ing door sep­a­rat­ing the cock­pit and saloon, and the very nifty boom ex­ten­sion — ba­si­cally a crane built into the spar — that’s em­ployed to raise and stash a hard-bot­tomed RIB.

Com­pared to the av­er­age French de­sign, the func­tional cock­pit of the MK II is much more com­pact but still spa­cious enough for loung­ing and ma­neu­vers. There is a large aft deck com­posed of teak and fiber­glass. The steer­ing sta­tion is to star­board be­neath the hard dodger that cov­ers the cock­pit. Vis­i­bil­ity be­hind the open­ing win­dow is ex­cel­lent, and by low­er­ing drop-down cur­tains the en­tire space can be en­closed.

The side decks are wide and ac­ces­si­ble. There’s a solid bridgedeck for­ward of the coachroof, with in­cor­po­rated stor­age lock­ers, and a solid plank be­tween the tram­po­lines to the for­ward cross­beam, un­der which is a re­tractable alu­minum bowsprit for the gen­naker. The alu­minum mast and solid vang are from Spar­craft. A nice set of molded-in steps pro­vide ac­cess to the top of the coachroof. Two big so­lar pan­els are mounted on top of the hard dodger.

In the main saloon, a U-shaped gal­ley to port fea­tures a three-burner stove and oven, and front-load­ing draw­ers for the fridge and freezer. A nice slid­ing win­dow pro­vides ac­cess to the cock­pit for pass­ing through meals or drinks. The nav sta­tion and in­stru­ment panel are for­ward of the gal­ley, op­pos­ing a din­ing ta­ble with a wrap­around set­tee to star­board. A cool touch is the flat-screen TV that faces the set­tee and slides for­ward to pro­vide ac­cess to the in­stru­ments mounted at the helm sta­tion. There are four state­rooms in the hulls, and truly im­pres­sive heads and shower stalls. The high-gloss wood­work is beau­ti­ful, and the fin­ish in­side the lock­ers and the hulls is im­pec­ca­ble. The ac­cess to the en­gines, un­der the aft dou­ble berths, is ab­so­lutely un­real.

We sailed the St. Fran­cis 50 MK II on a mod­er­ate fall day on Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, with breezes top­ping off at around 8 knots. The eas­ily driven hulls were im­pres­sive, and boat speeds were ba­si­cally iden­ti­cal to the wind speed; Lethbridge said that was the case right up to 10 knots. Clearly, this is a per­for­mance cat that’s a joy to sail. Un­der power, the boat reg­is­tered a solid 9 knots at 2,600 rpm, the sort of pace that would get you home in a hurry when the wind fal­tered.

With an out­put of just four boats per year, St. Fran­cis Marine is a small shop known for its high qual­ity, not high pro­duc­tion. That makes each unit a lit­tle more spe­cial. If you’re in the mar­ket for a cat that isn’t ex­actly main­stream but is ca­pa­ble of cir­cling the globe, here’s one you should take a look at.

Herb Mccormick is CW’S ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor.

For more photos and model spec­i­fi­ca­tions, go to cruis­ing­ stfran­cis50.

St. Fran­cis Marine only builds a hand­ful of boats each year, but high qual­ity is a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor of them all.

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