Wildling is the name of our sailing catamaran. She is a 59′ Outremer 5X built at the Outremer factory in La Grande-Motte, France.
After spending the past 4 years sailing a Catana 471 catamaran, we’ve really come to learn what we value most and what things our previous boat did well and not so well. So given the opportunity to have a blank sheet of paper for our next boat, we had to decide on the important features that our new boat would need.
For me, the most important things are performance, security, and reliability. I really enjoy sailing, and sailing fast is a passion for me. I like to push the boat and know that it can handle the conditions safely and comfortably. I learned the hard way that at sea, complexity is the enemy. Systems that are too complicated will fail and always at the worst times, so keeping everything as simple as possible is really important.
Robin is not too concerned about performance, but she does want the boat to be comfortable and safe. She really enjoys cruising and entertaining, and loves being at anchor in exotic locations. She wants plenty of space, good storage, a practical layout, and of course some luxury and conveniences.
So we had to go in search of a boat that would meet both our criteria.
Boats are like cars, in that it’s just as hard to find a really comfortable sports car, as it is to find a high performance RV, and the catamaran market has evolved to a point where almost all the production boats today are focused on the charter market, i.e. they’re more in RV mode. The charter market is focused on people that want to fly in to an exotic location, hang out and entertain their friends on board in comfort while they visit a few islands and then fly home. High performance sailing is not required, and in fact adding more performance is a negative because it increases the likelihood of something breaking.
The Lagoon in the picture is an example of the catamarans aimed at the charter market. They are designed around accommodation, roominess and entertaining at anchor. They are also heavy and slow. We like the comfort, but don’t like the poor performance.
Fortunately there are still a small number of production builders that are focused on performance. The one we like best is Outremer, located in the south of France. Their philosophy is: “To design and build catamarans that are seaworthy, fast and simple”
The 5X is an amazing design accomplishment for Outremer. It is comfortable, can be sailed by two people, is safe in extreme offshore conditions and very fast. So fast in fact that it will sail at almost the same speed as the wind. For example, if it’s blowing 9 knots, the 5X can sail at 8-1/2 knots. If it’s blowing 20-25 knots, it can do 18 to 20 knots. This is more than double the speed of typical production catamarans.
The key to this level of performance is hull design and weight. They have made the hulls longer, but kept the living areas a similar size as you would find on a 52 or 55 foot boat. This makes it lighter, narrower, more streamlined, and able to carry more sail area, and so develop more power from the wind. To give a sense of the weight differences, the 52 foot Lagoon in the picture above weighs 26,000 kg (57,000 lbs). The 5X weighs 13,500 kg – about half the weight and has roughly 1/3 more sail area.
It also turns out that interesting things happen when a catamaran approaches 60 feet in length. The sea motion becomes much less, giving a smoother ride, which is faster and more comfortable. By keeping weight out of the ends of the boat and having a carbon fiber mast with Kevlar rigging, instead of aluminum and stainless steel, the boat doesn’t pitch as much, so it’s smoother, more comfortable and once again, faster.
The other significant design difference between a performance, offshore catamaran and a charter oriented catamaran is the helm position. The 5X has dual helms at the forward area of the cockpit at deck level. These provide good visibility and shelter in rough seas and rain, and allow the helm person to keep in contact with the folks inside.
The Lagoon has a flybridge design for the cockpit which is elevated above the deck. It’s cool for tooling around in nice weather, but I would never want to be up there in the middle of the night, with 12 foot seas, 30 knots of wind, rain and breaking waves!
The 5X is definitely fast, and safe for offshore passages, so I’m pretty excited! But what about Robin? Let’s take a look at the interior of the 5X and see how it compares to the luxury accommodation of the Lagoon.
The interior fitout on the Lagoons is really nice. At anchor, it’s hard to beat. The large vertical windows give excellent visibility, and protect from the sun. The downside, (aside from a disconcerting IKEA feel) is all the angles, obstructions, sharp edges and corners.
If you go sailing offshore, I promise you will never look at the interior of a boat the same way again. At sea it gets rough. We’ve sailed in 4 to 5 meter (12 to 15 foot) seas, a number of times, and trust me, everything is moving! You can not walk two steps without holding on. When you’re worn out from being on night watch for 6 hours, and your crew is too seasick to take the next watch, you don’t want to be trying to dodge all of those sharp edges, poles and obstacles.
We really liked the interior layout of our Catana 471, and the 5X is very similar. The differences are definitely improvements that come from Outremer working closely with their owners over the years. They have kept all of the essential design elements that we like, and added some new ones that we can’t wait to try out!
So while the 5X doesn’t have all the vacation condo bells and whistles of the Lagoon, it does an excellent job of providing comfort, safety and not a small amount of luxury at sea. I think we can check the box for Robin!