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Multihulls: The rise of a new generation of mega multihulls

16 September 2021• Written by Sam Fortescue

SUPERYACHT DIRECTORY

Sail Yacht

PILAR ROSSI

Alukraft ·  64.34 m ·  1989
Sail Yacht

HEMISPHERE

Pendennis ·  44.2 m ·  2011

As BOAT International's 2021 Life Under Sail event approaches, we examine how a slew of multihull concepts combined with the success of yards such as Sunreef Yachts show a rising popularity in two and three-hulled superyachts.

Jaws dropped at first, and it wasn’t long before the lawsuits began to pile up too. When a two-hulled Stars & Stripes hit the waters of San Diego Bay for the 1988 America’s Cup, it marked the dawn of the age of the multihull. Not a single outright world speed sailing record in a monohull still stands – the vast racing trimarans at which the French seem to excel have swept them all away. And don’t even bother trying to find a small sailing monohull to charter in the Caribbean…

“We are at a point where all the technologies needed are now available"
Courtesy of McConaghy Boats

But even as the ubiquitous Lagoon catamaran brand goes from strength to strength, and the sub-24-metre sector reports double-digit growth year after year, big multihulls are conspicuous by their absence.  Where are the luxury two-hulled superyachts from the likes of Royal Huisman, Oceanco or Vitters?  Where are the owners queuing up to access the speed, total stability and vast volumes multihulls offer? Yes, there are concepts and designs aplenty, but precious few have ever made their way off the drawing board into production.

“Many [larger] multihulls built so far have been fairly crude in terms of style, look and construction,” says yacht designer Malcolm McKeon. And he’s right. There’s racing driver Nelson Piquet’s odd-looking Pilar Rossi, a 39-metre motor yacht refitted in 2007 to add two masts and an extra 25 metres, courtesy of twin outrigger hulls welded onto the quarter.

"This wasn’t possible ten years ago”
Courtesy of B. Stichelbaut / JFA

And take a look at Douce France, the 42-metre aluminium catamaran built in 1998 and known as the “gentle giant”. Inside, she has undoubted style and comfort – double beds in the cabins and a leather-and-hardwood saloon that has real swagger. She was drawn by VPLP, recognised to be one of the top names in multihull design. And yet, from across the anchorage or on the dock, she resembles an outlandishly overgrown Lagoon with low work-boat style coachroof windows, limited hull lights and acres of bare white deck. She’s not the sort of yacht that brings a Midas gleam to your eye and the thought that, one day, you too would want to own such a vessel.

Exhibit C is Hemisphere, a more recent incarnation of the genre. Launched in 2011 at Pendennis in Falmouth, she too is signed VPLP. But what a difference a decade makes! This 44-metre is instantly more recognisable as a modern, luxury yacht. She sports a towering sloop rig, rather than the schooner rig of Douce France, and a more complex, sexy series of hull lines that promise speed and comfort. She is actually broader in the beam, but doesn’t look it because of a much more roomy superstructure. She draws just 3.1 metres.

Courtesy Nemesis Yachts

“Her owners had a clear vision of what they wanted and were driven by their passion for the ocean and diving,” says Toby Allies, joint-managing director at Pendennis. “The stability that comes with a catamaran platform is far more comfortable for preparing the water-sports equipment; the space on board allows for vast storage so that everything can be stowed out of sight, leaving a clean uncluttered deck while preserving accessibility to the diving gear. The double transom provides a spacious terrace on the water’s edge with the port hull aft dedicated to diving. And the shallow draught enables the cat to approach atolls and lagoons that are beyond the range of most yachts.”

Sunreef launched its 64m 210 Power Trimaran in 2018
Courtesy of Sunreef

“Her owners had a clear vision of what they wanted and were driven by their passion for the ocean and diving,” says Toby Allies, joint-managing director at Pendennis. “The stability that comes with a catamaran platform is far more comfortable for preparing the water-sports equipment; the space on board allows for vast storage so that everything can be stowed out of sight, leaving a clean uncluttered deck while preserving accessibility to the diving gear. The double transom provides a spacious terrace on the water’s edge with the port hull aft dedicated to diving. And the shallow draught enables the cat to approach atolls and lagoons that are beyond the range of most yachts.”

121m cargo ship Canopée will be fitted with Oceanwings sail panels
Courtesy of Realnum / VPLP Zephyer & Boree Jifmar

However, the build of this boat precipitated the bankruptcy in 2008 of Derecktor, the 60-year-old American yard initially commissioned to build her. A lengthy legal dispute essentially boiled down to cost and time overruns, and the project was shipped to Falmouth to be finished. Perhaps it is hardly surprising, then, that we haven’t seen many big new sailing multihulls. The following year, French semi-custom yard JFA Yachts launched 33-metre carbon cat Mousetrap, but that VPLP project was begun before Hemisphere was finished. A 30-metre Long Island 100 catamaran has also been put on hold after hull moulding, pending a client to take the project on.

The true picture, as ever, is not quite so simple. Bruno Belmont, who has been instrumental as a designer in the rise and rise of Lagoon catamarans, says there has been plenty of interest in big cats - it just hasn’t translated into any builds. “To my knowledge, there have been more than 20 projects nearly ready to go, where the designers have been fully paid, but they never went ahead,” he reveals. “But either the boatyard wasn’t ready or the owner decided it was too scary.”

The hydrogen-powered 33.5m Corellian 110 concept

Lagoon brand director Thomas Gailly agrees. “A lot of people are dreaming of these moving islands,” he says. “They’re ready to pay the money necessary to see it but they’re scared of finding a yard for it.” Lagoon’s answer is the semi-custom Seventy 7, which has seen 30 hulls built with a price tag of £3.8 million.

One of those to flirt with two hulls was the Canadian founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté. He had VPLP draw a 70-metre for him before the board of Cirque reportedly quashed the project for fear of the financial risk. Until very recently he owned the more conventional 54-metre monohull called Tiara.

But there has been a lot more noise around multihull superyachts in the last few years. Some stunning boats have been drawn by big names, ranging from the fully-costed-out, engineering-ready projects to the pie-in-the-sky Sunday-afternoon-doodle variety. Just take a look at the striking Nemesis One, for instance: 101 metres of jet-black foiling superyachtery. Measuring an eye-watering 46 metres in the beam, it would use America’s Cup technology to ride up out of the water at speeds of 50 knots. With foils and a wing sail, even Nemesis CEO Richard Ruthenberg admits the speed will be “excessive”.

On board Lagoon's 23m Seventy7
Courtesy of Nicolas Claris

He is talking to potential buyers now, but says the market for such a yacht is very small. Despite its vast dimensions, he believes the boat could be ready to launch from his Dubai build partner within 36 months. “We are at a point where all the technologies needed are now available,” he says. “The software we developed that will control the flight and non-flight navigation needs to process several millions of values per second, simultaneously from all different sensors. This wasn’t possible 10 years ago.”

Sailing yacht designer Malcolm McKeon has got further than most with his work on the sleek BlackCat line of 30- to 50-metre catamarans, as well as his collaboration with Sunreef on a 46-metre luxury cat. “We’re getting a lot of enquiries because of the BlackCat and the Sunreef,” he says. “I initially wasn’t too keen on it because multihulls didn’t have a great image in terms of aesthetics and acceptability, but they offer so much space and comfort. I’m certainly sold on them. The interest is huge, and growing massively.”

The benefits are hard to argue with. That broad beam creates acres of outdoor relaxing space, as well as huge interior volumes. The limitations of the tighter, narrower hulls and that sense of “descending” into the cabins disappears above a length of around 40 metres. Catamarans also have low draught and are naturally stable, because the windward hull acts as ballast. “When you’re on a similarly sized monohull, the heel angle is quite scary,” says McKeon. “The multihull limit is typically about five degrees.”

Burgess' futuristic Hemisphere
Courtesy of Burgess

In his view, it is misconceptions that are holding back the market for big multihulls. And chief among these is that they are more expensive than monohulls. If your only yardstick is the overall length of the boat, then that is certainly true. But he says that, at 499 gross tonnes, a 50-metre BlackCat offers the same volume as a 60-metre monohull, so that is what you should compare against.

“If you compare volume, it’s not a huge difference in price,” he says. “There are pluses and minuses. For a given volume, with a cat you get more surface area, so that’s a cost increase – more composite, more paint fairing. In terms of internal areas, you have a massive saloon and smaller cabins. The rig is heavier and the winches bigger for the increased righting moment. On a comparable monohull, you have a lifting keel, which is more expensive. There are two engine rooms on a multihull, but on a big mono you generally have two engines.”

With smaller boats, the contrast is even starker. Mario Pedol, CEO and co-founder of Nauta Yachts, talks about the new 27-metre SWCAT90 he penned for Southern Wind. “For having the same deck area as the SWCAT90 in a monohull you would have to build a 35-metre yacht, and to have the equivalent interior surfaces you would need a 40-metre monohull.”

JFA Yachts has built several catamarans around the 30-metre mark, and believes that their large beam is as much an attraction as a deterrent. “Such boats are not so easy to get berths when coming into harbours,” says Gaël Douguet, sales manager at the company. “We can imagine that a catamaran has to spend more time at anchor than a monohull. Hopefully their stability makes them fit for stays at anchor.”  He also points to the heavy righting moments of a cat, where the wide base of the rig means that you need exceedingly hefty cables. “Such large catamarans are very powerful so they should be used with care by reducing sail area quickly. A large catamaran needs a good crew,” he adds.

42m Douce France is an early example of a large multihull
Courtesy Exmar Yachts

In the right hands, a very large catamaran poses no more risk than a very large monohull. But, increasingly unlikely as it is, just the possibility of capsize may have played a role in tempering interest in big multihulls. Perhaps this is where the huge growth of cats in the small-boat sector can allay fears. Olivier Racoupeau, whose biggest catamaran to date is the 34-metre JinLong 110, says that the market needs to be educated. “For a very long period, yacht brokers were really reluctant [to advocate multihulls] because they had the feeling it wasn’t a big yacht – that it was difficult to charter and sell. Now they’ve understood it is easy to charter, and that the cost of charter relative to the cost of build is really positive.”

Southern Wind’s SWCAT90 is a sign that catamarans are finally breaking through into the middle-ground market. The boat offers strong performance, with its curved dagger boards and T-rudders, but exceptional accommodation as well. There’s a 45-square-metre saloon, four guest cabins and deck space totalling 207 square metres over two cockpits and a flybridge.

Poland’s Sunreef has been chipping away for years at the 15- to 20-metre resistance point of small-cat owners by resolutely pushing up standards of finish, design – and price. By creating a brand of mini superyachts, the semi-custom builder is making inroads into new territory with a 30-metre and a 39-metre sailing concept. The high-profile purchase of Great White, a Sunreef 80 by tennis star Rafael Nadal didn’t hurt, either.

Douce France's lush interiors
Courtesy Exmar Yachts

“Customer habits don’t change overnight,” admits Sunreef founder and president Francis Lapp. “For a long time, catamarans were either associated with sports or pictured as medium-quality recreational boats. It took a lot of time and effort for us to market catamarans as luxury yachts.” The effort appears to be paying off, however, as the yard is building a 49-metre powercat and is in discussions over some even bigger projects on the power side.

Perhaps there is less resistance to multihulls without sails. Visionary owner Anto Marden has cruised futuristic 42.5-metre trimaran Adastra all over the globe. “She is super eco [she can cross the Atlantic twice without refuelling] and super seaworthy,” he enthuses. “We depart marinas routinely in the middle of the night into the teeth of giant seas with total confidence, when the big, white-boat brigade would not think of it!” He describes the boat as a “massive head turner”, but admits that it gets a bit much in yachting hotspots where, “it’s like living in a goldfish bowl”.

Sunreef is also marketing an ambitious 64-metre power trimaran, whose structure offers some unique layouts as well as low fuel consumption. “Asymmetric hulls designed to build motor catamarans are more efficient than motor monohulls,” says Pedol. “Their maximum beam compared with their LOA is inferior to a sailing catamaran, and in comparison with monohulls they have better navigation efficiency, better stability and, most of all, a substantially reduced fuel consumption.”

In the right hands, a very large catamaran poses no more risk than a very large monohull
Courtesy of Black Cat

Combining elements of both sailing and power yachts, Marc van Peteghem of VPLP has developed an intriguing 86-metre concept. The Komorebi is really a stabilised trimaran, capable of motoring very efficiently or using twin wing sails to harness the wind. Van Peteghem says she would be capable of  15 knots in 20 knots of wind, with at least 30 per cent fuel savings in hybrid mode. His Oceanwings wingsails are soft and can be reefed or furled.

“When we start to talk about the wingsail, people are really listening,” he says. “We don’t have any enquiries from people without an eco dimension today. Those people have children, and the power and the money to be examples, to carry the wind of change, to carry the technology, and I’m sure this will happen.”

“When we start to talk about the wingsail, people are really listening”

He admits that owners are reluctant to be guinea pigs, but he hopes that will change in 18 months’ time when the first Oceanwings appear on the 121-metre Canopée cargo ship that will deliver Ariane rocket parts to French Guiana. “I think people will look and say: ‘OK, I can take this technology on my boat. If it has been approved for commercial use, these people are not playing!’”

So, multihull designs are there and interest appears to be growing. The missing piece of the jigsaw is the facilities required to build them. Their huge beams mean that traditional yacht building sheds can’t be used. Vitters says its maximum build width is 15 metres and it appears to have no plans to change that. Oceanco and Lürssen are similar, and, with full order books already, there is little incentive to invest.

“There are not many large multihulls in the world - simply due to the facility size required in order to build them,” says Mark Evans of composite wizards McConaghy, who will build the BlackCat range near Hong Kong, alongside its line of sleek, fast MC Cats up to 35 metres in length. “I also believe that there would have been an element of risk or doubt in an owner’s mind in the past, in the ability for a monohull shipyard to build such a large and complex multihull.”

Fortunately, most commentators believe that this is easily overcome by turning to commercial yards or specialists in lower-cost countries. “We will see in the next two or three years, [multihulls] arriving in the sheds, but only a few shipyards have the capability to do that,” says French designer Olivier Racoupeau. “We will see builds in a commercial shipyard because it’s difficult to do such a project in a classic shed.”

So, forget the America’s Cup, those small charter Lagoons and the behemoths of the last decade. Coming to an ocean near you soon is a new breed of large multihull, one that offers all the nuances and comforts of a superyacht. “Some people are looking for new concepts – something different and fresh,” says Racoupeau. “I think it’s a new generation of yacht owners.”

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