Let’s face it—as much as we love the shiny topsides and new-boat smell of a brand-new catamaran, not everybody is ready to pay the premium such demands. You can save a lot of money by finding a well-equipped older boat in good condition. The classic catamarans mentioned here fall into a popular size bracket, and their high production numbers are a witness to their design, construction quality and popularity. These are great alternatives for those who don’t mind a bit of tinkering and taking charge of upgrades and repairs.
This boat is a true American classic. Not many multihulls are being built in the United States these days—in fact, I can only think of one, the Gemini 105. However, the Manta catamaran was built in Florida from the late 1990s to the late 2000s and was originally designed by talented French naval architect Eric Lerouge. The Manta is unmistakably recognizable from a distance with her trademark high bows and a massively curved integrated forward crossbeam. Unlike conventional aluminum crossbeams, which support the tension of the forestay, the Manta’s is fixed. Generally, pinned, aluminum crossbeams allow a slight bit of movement, which in turn helps absorb the huge twisting forces of the bows. Therefore, beware of stress cracks in the bow area of the Manta.
Otherwise, these boats make great offshore cruising catamarans, with plenty of room and a good sail-area-to-displacement (SA/D) ratio. They were also refined several times during their production run. Most, for example, came with stub keels, but I have seen some versions with daggerboards. Many owners also upgraded the aft cockpit area and transoms by adding gigantic stainless pushpit-contraptions, which can hold anything from solar panels, dinghies, wind vanes and, yes, even a herb garden. If you are thinking about buying a boat with one of these structures, make sure it is not too heavy, as it could affect the sailing characteristics of the boat. As a testament to the boat’s quality, it has a dedicated following and its own owner’s association.
LOA 39ft 8in, beam 21ft, draft 3ft 8in, displacement 13,500lb (light ship). Price guide: $200,000-$320,000
Built in northern Brazil, the Dolphin Ocema 42 is one of the few catamarans on this list, next to the Outremer 45, equipped with daggerboards. As such, she will be able to point higher on the wind, has a reduced wetted surface when running and can pull into shallower anchorages. Beware, however, that lifting up her daggerboards will leave the rudders exposed. Also, the daggerboard can compromise hull integrity in the event of a grounding, and the trunk takes up valuable interior space. In creating the Dolphin, designer Philipe Pouvreau strove mightily to balance the demands of performance and cruising comfort in a relatively compact package. To this effect, the boat was constructed with a foam core to reduce weight wherever possible. Close to 30 Dolphins were built in Brazil before the 2008 global financial crisis, after which about a dozen were built at various custom yards. Buyers should, therefore, be aware of any deviations from the production boats, such as transom additions or modifications to the structure. Nonetheless, many Dolphins have performed successful circumnavigations and have proven to be safe and comfortable cruising platforms.
LOA 41ft 3in, beam 23ft, draft 3ft 3in/6ft 6in, displacement 24,255lb (loaded). Price guide: $220,000-$350,000
The Privilege 435 is a heavy-displacement, long-distance cruiser that follows in the tradition of the French multihull builders of the northwestern Bay of Biscay “Gold Coast” around La Rochelle. Many large producers, including Lagoon, Fountaine Pajot and Nautitech, are located in this area, sharing a vast pool of suppliers and subcontractors. Privilege Catamarans has been around for close to 30 years, and in that time the yard has gone through the usual ups and downs. (Although it appears to be thriving again since its takeover by Hanse group.) In terms of build quality, the Privilege 435 stands out from other cats in this article by virtue of its luxurious and opulent construction and finish. However, this fact also results in an additional displacement. That said, cruisers looking for a well-built, high-end catamaran will not go wrong with a well-maintained used Privilege 435. The boat can be found as an owner version or with four cabins and four head/showers. She is also well proportioned and has a low-slung superstructure for low wind resistance. Beware, though, that while this is pleasing to the eye, sailors who frequent the tropics may have problems with the amount of sun coming in through the large windows and the resulting heat buildup in the saloon. While many other cats in this article, for example, have “eyebrow” overhangs to block the sun, the Privilege 435 only has internal (and optional external) window shades to fight heat buildup. Another area to be aware of is bridgedeck clearance, which is on the low side. Still, keep the boat light, and you will have a great cruiser. Not surprisingly, the high quality of the boat is reflected in the asking prices, which are typically a little higher than for a 43-footer.
LOA 43ft 1in, beam 23ft 2in, draft 4ft 5in, displacement 18,300lb (light ship). Price guide: $300,000-$350,000
Fountaine Pajot Belize 43
If you had to name the most popular catamaran on this list, it probably would be the Belize 43. More than 200 of these popular Joubert/Nivelt designs were built up until the mid-2000s and many still roam the globe. The Belize is a well-proportioned catamaran and can be found with a “Maestro” layout featuring a full-length owner suite to starboard, or with four cabins and two heads. Design and ergonomics are clever, with the curvaceous layout of the saloon dominated by a spacious wraparound dinette and integrated nav area. Some might find it annoying that the nav table faces backward, but this is a small price to pay for the practicality of its seat, which serves as part of the dinette. The décor is “space age,” with rounded angles covered with wood accents and surfaces. Tall crew might also find headroom a bit challenging in the galley, although the chef has a perfect view of the outside world through Fountaine Pajot’s trademark wraparound windows. The flat decks are easy to walk on, but some traditionalists might balk at the round hatches, which only have one hinge. In my days as a Fountaine Pajot dealer, there were many complaints about leaking emergency hatches. It is an easy fix, but should be noted. One of the things I like best about the boat is the fact it was one of the last models to be built in foam and not balsa. This greatly reduces the chances of wet core. Bottom line: the Belize 43 is one of my favorites. You can also get good deals on older charter boats.
LOA 43ft, beam 23ft, draft 4ft 3in, displacement 15,400lb (light ship). Price guide: $180,000-$260,000
The Nautitech 44 will go down in history as one of the first sub-50ft catamarans with an integrated hardtop bimini. Today nearly every catamaran manufacturer designs its cockpit biminis flush with the roof of the saloon, but in its day the Nautitech was a trendsetter. Beyond that, the boat came in two versions, with owners having a choice between single-wheel steering against the bulkhead or twin wheels farther aft. The latter arrangement is preferred for sailors who want a better sailing sensation and a better view of the sails. It also has the added benefit of opening up the cockpit to the saloon without the hole in the roof required for a helm position. Even in heavy rain, the saloon door can be left open without the fear of water ingress. Belowdecks, there were several layouts available, including one with four double and two single cabins for the charter market. What also stands out with Nautitech catamarans is the fact that, like their current models, the nearly 15-year-old Nautitech 44s are built with moisture-resistant closed cell foam. Especially on a used boat that comes with no warranty, this is a manufacturing detail that should give buyers extra piece of mind. Nautitech’s DNA of slimmer-than-average hulls also translates into more speed with the small sacrifice in payload and volume. In sum: the Nautitech 44 is the perfect catamaran for a live-aboard couple that also welcomes occasional guests.
LOA 44ft 2in, beam 22ft 4in, draft 3ft 11in, displacement 19,780lb (light ship). Price guide: $240,000-$360,000
If your main consideration is maximizing volume in a cruising cat, the Lagoon 440 should by default be at the top of your list. For this same reason, this cat has proven to be one of the most successful charter and cruising multihulls of all time. The boat can be found in two configurations. Some might prefer the large flybridge version, others the bulkhead steering layout. Lagoon catamarans has made the square superstructure, or “pillbox,” look a trademark of their entire range. Squaring off the saloon’s leading edge also offers a functional advantage in that it allows you to move the interior accommodations forward by several feet. On the downside, some may find the aesthetics challenging, and certainly, the aerodynamics are affected. The Lagoon 440 is also no lightweight. In fact, it is the heaviest of mid-40ft catamarans on this list. Also, be aware that the high boom position on the flybridge version will cut down on sailing performance and make access to the sail bag difficult for shorter sailors. On the plus side, the boats’ interiors have a nice feel and are very well laid out, with all that volume permitting a four-cabin version with no fewer than four separate en-suite heads. If you have a large family, this layout would be a great choice. Many hundreds of the 440 have been built, and if you search brokerage sites you will undoubtedly find several pages of pre-owned boats on the market. There is literally a model for every budget and location, with prices all over the place, depending on equipment, usage and age.
LOA 44ft 8in, beam 25ft 3in, draft 4ft 3in, displacement 26,791lb. Price guide: $240,000-$520,000
Robertson & Caine’s Leopard 45 is a stoutly built South African multihull that first appeared in the later ‘90s. Most examples were built for the Moorings and Sunsail charter companies, which means that four-cabin versions, rather than three-cabin owner versions, dominate the pre-owned market. The original design team maximized the interior accommodations by extending the cabintop and giving the boat an angular and sharper look. The saloon layout is open-plan and cruisers will find the large galley a perfect place to prepare meals. As with most South African builds, the hulls are clean without notable hull-to-deck joints or chines. This makes them slippery and easy on the eyes. Most Leopard 45s have a gigantic trademark rear arch. It is built in composite and serves as aft support for the cockpit bimini. The sailplan is typical for a mid-40s catamaran, with a sturdy fractional rig. Clever louvers on the leading edge of the deckhouse block direct sun and also serve as roof-access steps. Some cruisers will love the open cockpit, which makes circulation easy with no barrier to the aft platform. Cruisers with small kids or pets might have to find a way to block that area off. Also, watch for a low bridgedeck clearance, which can create a lot of wave-pounding, though keeping the boat light will help. Engine access is from the outside, which is the preferred way. The bimini is a nice feature and perfectly protects the helmsman at the bulkhead steering position.
LOA 45ft, beam 24ft 3in, draft 4ft 6in, displacement 22,000lb (light ship). Price guide: $180,000-$280,000
The Voyage 44 ruled the 1990s. Fueled by an unprecedented upswing in the Caribbean charter industry, the South African builder supplied the popular model to holidaymakers and private clients alike. I would guess that for every 10 multihulls the company built, seven went into charter.
This is, of course, good news for bargain-hunters. Of all the cats listed, the Voyage represents possibly the greatest bang for the buck, a rugged design that combines quality construction with acceptable sailing performance. (Back in the day, the yard was proud of the fact that many models were delivered on their own bottom from the notoriously boisterous waters off South Africa to the Caribbean.) Most of the options that will come up in your search will be two- or even three-owner boats that have been subjected to much tinkering and may include any number of different modifications. This can be a good thing, as owners usually upgrade their equipment and systems as time goes by.
Note that if there is one thing that sets the Voyage 44 apart, it is the boat’s ultra-wide beam. Of course, this has its practical sides, in the form of more space and stability. However, the bottom of the low bridgedeck is also one of the most exposed in the industry, so buyers should be aware of this downside.
LOA 43ft 8in, beam 24ft 9in, draft 3ft 8in, displacement 20,240lb. Price guide: $180,000-$330,000
I’ve always liked the Outremer 45, perhaps because she was the vessel aboard which I first crossed the Atlantic. Not only that, but over the years this Gerard Danson design has become a true classic. Unlike most of the multihulls in this article, the Outremer was built in a semi-production manufacturing mode, as opposed to being truly mass-produced. As a result, although all major parts were molded and built in an infusion process, the interior components were laminated directly to the hull, thus forming a very stiff structure. Be warned, the interior of the Outremer 45 isn’t large—possibly the catamaran with the smallest volume for her given length—and she is not cheap. However, this is where the negatives stop, as everything else about the Outremer 45 is a dream, for she is the perfect sailor’s boat. Very responsive to the helm, she has a high bridgedeck clearance and well-proportioned bows. Weight distribution has also been carefully balanced to reduce pitching and assure a seakindly motion. Early examples have the optional soft canvas bimini stretched over a stainless framework, while later units could be ordered with optional composite panels overhead. Unfortunately, the canvas becomes waterlogged in the briefest rain squalls, so I would advise changing to the composite. The Outremer 45 could be ordered as an owner version, a Club version with extra berths in the owner’s hull, or in a four-cabin layout. If you can get over the fact that she is not a stellar example of price for volume, she might be the perfect boat.
LOA 45ft, beam 23ft, draft 2ft 7in/7ft 3in, displacement 15,400lb (light ship). Price guide: $320,000-$560,000
Prouts have completed more ocean crossing in the 20th century than any other multihull. Between 1945 and the legendary British company’s demise in 2002, more than 2,500 units were built. Introduced in the mid-1990s, the Prout 45 followed the 50ft Quasar. Typical of British catamarans designs of the time, she had an innovative interior, with a saloon that stopped short of the forward bulkhead, thereby creating the necessary space for a small stateroom in the center of the boat. The galley was also usually in one of the hulls with the overhead space open to the main bridgedeck. Because this airy layout used every available cubic inch of space, it proved to be extremely popular, with owner and four-cabin versions available. Another trademark of the Prouts is the almost nonexistent bridgedeck clearance due to a “nacelle” that runs fore and aft along the entire main deck, adding interior volume and headroom as well as buoyancy. Unfortunately, it also adds drag, so sailors who care for speed and a quiet ride may want to look elsewhere. Yet another unusual aspect of the Prout line is a stout rig placed well aft. The advantages of this location include smaller, more manageable sails and easy access to critical running rigging. Note that older Prouts do not have fully battened sails, because of this mast-aft configuration. Ultimately, while it’s true the Prout 45 has its idiosyncrasies, that also makes it one of the most charming designs on this list.
LOA 45ft, beam 21ft, draft 3ft 6in, displacement 22,597lb (loaded). Price guide: $160,000-$320,000
At the end of the day, whether the boat you want is a bargain-hunter’s special, like an ex-charter cat with four cabins and four heads, or a fully loaded owner version ready to circumnavigate, there is a boat for every budget. My advice is look beyond the layout and equipment and consider the basics, like sound construction, a properly dimensioned bridgedeck and a good sailplan. You will be entrusting your life to an object whose history you do not necessarily know. Use common sense as well as your instincts, and you will make the right choice.
Gregor Tarjan is founder and owner of Aeroyacht Ltd. USA, a New York based multihull dealership; he is also the author of Catamarans: The Complete Guide for Cruising Sailors
MHS Summer 2019