Back to the future

If you’ve been following this blog, you are no doubt getting the picture that I’m passionate about combining the feelings of sailing fast in a boat that responds well, with the comfort and safety of exploring remote anchorages and long distance cruising. As I’ve come to find out, this is not at all easy to achieve, and finding a boat that can serve both purposes is in fact a tall order.

I’ve met a lot of sailors, racers and cruisers over the years, and we all seem to fall in different places on the < speed – sensation – safety – comfort > spectrum.

There are those that are perfectly happy tooling around in a catamaran loaded up with all the comforts of home. For them, the need to sail fast, or even spend a lot of time worrying about sail trim, is not that important. They realize that cruising boats spend 95% of their time at anchor, so worrying too much about features that optimize the other 5%, doesn’t make much sense.

Built for comfort

Built for comfort

There are the racing folks that focus on performance, with cruising a secondary consideration. They are looking for light weight, lots of sail area and narrow hulls. This leads to a great sailing boat, that is cramped to live in and has to be watched closely so the high powered rig doesn’t break or flip the boat over.

Built for speed

Built for speed

There are others that consider cruising catamarans as a charter holiday contrivance, that at best, don’t sail very well, and at worst, don’t behave anything like a real sailboat should! These folks are committed to the traditional sailing sensations and classic beauty of a cruising monohull. They find the claims made by catamaran owners that they can sail all day without spilling wine from a glass left on the salon table, to be irrelevant, especially if that comes at the expense of needing to start the engines in order to push the bows through a tack!

Classic!

Classic beauty!

Over the years, the range of boat models available on the commercial market have organized themselves more or less into one of these three camps, with the vast majority of catamarans falling into the 95% at anchor / charter market segment. For a long time, I just accepted this segmentation of boats and boaters as being a logical manifestation of the physical realities of boat design and function. It made sense, and most of the people out sailing, myself included, seemed to be happy with the available options, and willing to live with the associated compromises. That’s life right?

But what if we could enjoy the sensations of really sailing, and even sailing fast, in a boat that is also comfortable and safe to live in? During our voyage from Australia to Singapore, I was introduced to a boat that I have come to view as the game changer, that for the first time was able to successfully marry the two seemingly incompatible aspects of boat design (performance and comfort). That boat is the Aikane 56, and it has been fascinating to learn how much an influence this boat, that was designed and built in the early 2000s, has had on the latest generation of performance cruising catamarans.

Aikane 56 - ahead of it's time!

Aikane 56 – November 2000, and well ahead of it’s time!

The Aikane 56, is a beautiful boat. She is light and fast, yet very comfortable, with plenty of room for full time cruising. She can sail faster than the true wind speed and is perfect for entertaining at anchor. We spent 3 months buddy boating (cruising together) with Eric and Tamara aboard their Aikane 56, Sea Child and I came to firmly appreciate what an exceptional boat she is.

When it came time to sell our Catana 471, and look toward our next boat, I was sure I wanted an Aikane 56, but the problem is there were only 3 of them ever made back in the early 2000s, and finding a used one that was fitted out the way we wanted was pretty much impossible, so we continued the search for a boat that was similar to the Aikane.

The interesting intersection of fate here, is that while Xavier Desmarest, the now owner and President of Outremer Yachting was pursuing his long time career as a monohull builder, he was introduced to the Aikane 56 by a colleague and friend, and for the first time he realized the possibility of building catamarans that could be comfortable, safe and also sail really well!

Xavier

Xavier Desmarest – President of Outremer Yachting and “catamaran renaissance man”

Like many in the classic boat-building industry, Xavier was witnessing the increasing trend towards catamarans, but was also lamenting the fact that the current crop of catamarans were not the kind of boats he wanted to sail, much less build and sell. When he found the Aikane, he began to develop a vision for a catamaran of the future. His move over to run Outremer began with the concept of updating the existing range of boats that were well proven, safe, and high performance, but tended to be a bit cramped and sparse in terms of comfort, and bring them closer to the configuration of the Aikane 56.

Since purchasing the molds for the Aikane proved to be too complicated, he did the next best thing, and went to VPLP, the architects that designed the Aikane to see if they would be willing to design him a new boat, that would fulfill his vision. Marc Van Peteghem agreed and the result is the Outremer 5X!

Take a look at these two pictures, the Aikane 56 above, and the Outremer 5X below. See if you can spot the signature VPLP lines of the two boats.

Aikane 56 from the mast top

Aikane 56 from the mast top

top-of-mast2

5X from the mast top

Xavier had a lot of doubters when he started down this path. Because there are no other series production builders making catamarans like the 5X, the trade media all wondered if it would be a success. Were there enough sailors that wanted to buy a catamaran that deviated so markedly from the industry standard? After releasing the 5X, the boat has won the European boat of the year and US Boat of the year awards and they have had a steady stream of orders. He is also using the design concepts from the 5X to renew the other models in the Outremer line, the Outremer 51 and the new Outremer 45.

I love it when people with a vision have the courage and fortitude to go against the trends and show us new possibilities, and sometimes even, remind us of possibilities we had forgotten. It seems that with the new model lineup from Outremer and Xavier’s guidance, it’s a case of “if you build, it they will come!”

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