Panama to Australia on one tank of fuel? Yes you can. Built for adventure, 48 metre catamaran Magnet has economy, power and space for all kinds of fun. BOAT takes a look inside...
Michael Vogelsang, the captain of Magnet, has seen a thing or two in his career and is not easily impressed. But when he got a first glimpse of his new charge at the Metal Shark yard in Franklin, Louisiana, at the end of a crisp and sunny winter day, he was blown away. “We flew into Lafayette, took a nice car ride and got in at dusk into Franklin; [Magnet] was silhouetted by the sun, and I just kind of went, Wow!” he recalls. It’s easy to see why. During a rare stint at a dock in Miami Beach, as the crew prepare for a trip to the Bahamas, I go to look at the catamaran I have chased for a couple of years after hearing various rumours of its construction. A catamaran of this magnitude, coming out of a shipyard in rural Louisiana known for its speedy, reliable navy craft – this I had to see. And Magnet does not disappoint.
The spaces on board are unrivalled for a sub-50-metre yacht, with its beam of 11.8 metres, 3.6 metres clearance over the water thanks to a deep tunnel between two narrow hulls with near-vertical entry, a hydraulic platform to haul the 5.4 metres Novurania RIB tender, three decks with high ceilings, large windows and an open layout, plus a sundeck. It can – and has – welcomed up to 120 guests for a dockside party.
Magnet, Metal Shark’s first M48, results from the vision of the boat’s owner, George Wallner, an experienced and hands-on yachtsman who does not like to spend time in marinas if he can avoid it. What he had in mind was a modern New York loft with the capability of an extreme explorer – one that could go slow and steady over long distances and outrun bad weather.
On that latter count, it did not take long for the boat to be put to the test. In the dog days of summer 2020, as two storms built over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and threatened the Louisiana coast, he made up his mind that the time was up.
“I called the yard and I said, ‘Finished or not, we need to take the boat,’” he says. “We got everything ready and just took off and went to Corpus Christi [in Texas]. It was not a delivery, it was more like an escape,” he says with his dry sense of humour. From Texas, it was a straight shot across the gulf to Key West, with a stop in the Tortugas for a dive, and up to Miami, a 1,000-plus-nautical-mile shakedown cruise, with sprints at 20 knots.
It was only Magnet’s first brush with tropical weather during an active hurricane season. Three months later, Magnet had to outrun a storm that tracked dangerously close to Miami’s shores. “We went to Cape Canaveral, 120 miles up the coast; it got rough, that gave us our first taste of how a catamaran handles rough seas,” Volgelsang says.
“You see these stools?” asks the owner, pointing to a row of six black seats with backrests perched on stainless-steel feet in the boat’s huge open salon. “We were out in the Bahamas for a month and prior to that when we went to Cape Canaveral, these things never got tied down, they never fell over. We had seas that were bending the stanchions.”
The motion he observes is quite different from his other boat, a 28.6 metre Lyman Morse. “A catamaran does not roll like a monohull, it’s about half as much of a roll but the movement is more abrupt; it has a different kind of motion, and it takes some getting used to,” the owner says. To compensate for the motion in different directions, the boat has a stabilising system by Naiad. “We have Active Ride Control, it’s these big trim tabs that oppose the pitching and, to some extent, the rolling. The other thing is there is not much flare in these bows. The idea with this boat is that you go through the wave, you don’t try to climb on it because if you climb on it you are going to fall off it, especially at speed – and this is a fast boat. We cruise at 20 knots day in and day out, and I am talking in two and a half metre waves.”
Although he built Magnet with a Pacific cruise in mind, it works out well in the Bahamas too, where he likes to dive right off the big boat. “We like to hang out. Many of the good dive spots are rolly anchorages in a monohull, but [now] where we dive we can stay out for the night; we don’t have to move to a bay and hide. And we travel on bad-weather days. When the wind is blowing is when we travel, so we don’t waste a good-weather day for travelling. That’s a game changer,” he says. So is the boat’s speed.
“I have a lot of friends who are not adventurous with their boats because they have to spend a day sailing [to their destination] or need an airport,” he says. No such worry with Magnet. She is fast, with a top speed of 27 to 28 knots, and is a model of efficiency at lower speeds. At 9.5 knots, the engines and generators go through 12 gallons of fuel, about 14 gallons at 10 knots and about 17 at 11 knots, meaning with the capacity to carry 29,000 gallons and twin MTU 16V 2000 M96Ls, she’s got a lot of range. “We can go from Panama to Australia, no problem,” Wallner says.
A lot of that, of course, is down to the naval architecture and construction. Built in welded aluminium, Magnet is strong but relatively light, at least compared to a displacement yacht in steel and aluminum.
The shipyard has a competent in-house engineering team but works with outside companies as well and tapped a naval architecture firm with a proven track record in fast catamarans. “We hired well-known catamaran designer Incat Crowther to handle the naval architecture. While the hull was new for the project, it drew from other similar Incat-designed craft,” says Chris Allard, co-owner and CEO of Metal Shark, which delivered Magnet, its first private vessel of this magnitude, in August 2020.
Established in 1986 as Gravois Aluminum Boats, the yard switched to the more evocative Metal Shark name in 2004. It has since built multiple recreational fishing boats and “a fair amount of yacht tenders.” Its core business is delivering boats to the US Coast Guard, the US Navy and other military clients around the world – and, Allard says, “everything from foil-assist catamaran fishing boats to high-speed catamaran passenger ferries, including 22-passenger vessels for the NYC Ferry system.”
This is precisely what attracted the owner, who knew Allard – a naval architect by training – well, and has enjoyed chatting with him about boats over the years. “I wanted a very strong hull and Metal Shark builds for the military and they really know how to weld,” he says.
He had a very good idea of what his goals were. Because he intends to spend a lot of time on board, he wanted what usually goes with this type of ambition – space and good views.
Wallner, who has owned boats for many years, starting with a 13 metre Buddy Davis, has built two with the American yard Lyman Morse. He still owns his 28.6 metre Electra. “Great boat,” he says, “but if you want to spend time on board, a cabin still is a cabin, and I wanted a bedroom. And instead of a saloon, I wanted a living room. And I wanted this,” he says, extending his arm toward the large panes of glass surrounding the space on all sides. “You can see where you are going. And the doors open fully and all the windows open. Instead of hiding in an air-conditioned space, you are in an open environment.”
How much glass is on board? “Literally tons. Many tons,” Allard says. “The front windows are more than 1.5in thick and weigh nearly 1,000 pounds each – we only broke one.” Diamond Sea Glaze of Vancouver, Canada, provided the tempered safety glass. Also from Canada is young designer Ryan Wynott, who has worked closely with Metal Shark for several years and helped translate sketches made on paper napkins into reality. “It’s pretty mind-blowing as an object, even before it moves,” he says.
“The owner had a vision and significantly formed ideas but gave the designers and the yard latitude to take that vision and build on it,” Allard says. “We spent almost two years, working collaboratively, in design before going forward with the build. It was truly an amazing experience.”
“The superstructure boasts strong similarities to other Metal Shark products, with chiseled and angular lines that are part of our signature rugged appearance,” he continues. The boat is faired and painted (a grey Awlgrip) with a nice finish on the superstructure. The hull sides are purposefully left a bit rougher. Teakdecking Systems installed synthetic decks, so you can step on board with shoes on and no one will faint. The owner wants the boat to be handled by few crew (currently it’s the captain plus three) and that’s part of the rationale for all choices made on board.
Inside, the owner did not want anything overtly luxurious. That fresh air flowing through the open doors and windows does not play nice with delicate fabrics and finishes.
The shipyard worked with American outfitter Westhoff Interiors to deliver a modern, easy-to-maintain interior that’s ready for anything – no marble, no carpets (except for a few small rugs), no parquet flooring nor wood veneer, few frills. With a glass-enclosed staircase leading to the bridge deck and the two VIP suites and low-profile furniture, the eye wanders freely through a large open space and settles on the scenery. The dining table on the main deck says a lot about Magnet. Its glass top reveals working gears that allow it to expand or retract according to need. It’s a perfect choice for a boat filled with glass and built for a man who will not only take the wheel of the yacht but knows how to replace faulty electrical parts.
Wallner, an electrical engineer and inventor, has well-informed opinions about software and the accessibility of components. His company Atlantitech built a lot of the boat’s electrical parts, and he has designed the control system that manages the boat. Fully equipped (including a sonar, FLIR cameras and bow thruster), Magnet is self-sufficient and able to tackle long passages, just like her owner wanted. Long-term plans include exploration in the Pacific. As for Metal Shark, the shipyard has enjoyed this project well enough that it has developed a whole line based on the M48 concept, knowing that out there in the world, more people are looking for a platform for adventure.
This feature was first published in the September 2021 issue of BOAT International US.