TOUGH CAT
Yachting World|February 2021
GARCIA YACHTS CONCEIVED THIS NEW GENRE 52FT ALUMINIUM CATAMARAN AS A DISRUPTIVE GAME-CHANGER. DOES IT LIVE UP TO THE PROMISE?
Rupert Holmes

Tested by RUPERT HOLMES

Where we tested: Cherbourg, France.

Conditions: wind south-east to south-west 7-19 knots, flat water.

Model: three cabin/two heads version with options including carbon mast, twin helm stations, Hydranet sails, 1,080W solar, and electric winches.

In recent years there have been two clear trends in serious long-term cruising yachts. Firstly catamarans have become mainstream, to the extent that professional racing sailors talk of ‘buying a catamaran’ for cruising with their families – a monohull doesn’t even enter the equation.

This trend can also be seen in ARC entries, where multihulls are increasingly common. In 2020 they accounted for 28% of the total fleet and a much higher proportion of new boats and more recent designs.

The second trend is the rapidly growing popularity of rugged metal expedition yachts. Aluminium is favoured for this as it offers good strength and stiffness without a weight penalty, especially for yachts over a critical size. That’s why many top-end racing yachts were built of aluminium before composites dominated that scene.

It was, therefore, surely only a matter of time before someone married these two concepts to create an aluminium expedition catamaran.

Cherbourg-based Garcia Yachts has been building metal boats for almost 50 years, including Jean Luc Van Den Heede’s 36.15 MET, in which he scored a podium finish in the inaugural Vendée Globe Race in 1989.

Equally Garcia needs no introduction as a front-runner in the development of expedition yachts, thanks to the success of the Exploration 45 that was developed with ARC founder Jimmy Cornell eight years ago. What’s less well known is that the Explocat 52 is by no means Garcia’s first aluminium catamaran. A pair of 43-footers 15 years ago were followed by the SC48, one of which consistently posted some of the fastest passage times in the 2017/18 World ARC.

As part of the Grand Large Yachting group Garcia was also able to draw on considerable expertise from Outremer and Gunboat for its latest model, while naval architecture is by Pierre Delion, who also drew the SC48. The Explocat 52 is therefore the product of a highly knowledgeable development team and has already attracted plenty of attention, including nomination for the 2021 European Yacht of the Year awards.

The core concept for the Explocat 52 is a robust, safe long-range yacht that offers good passage making speeds.

A high level of comfort, both at sea – even in inclement weather – and in harbour was also a key requirement, and the boat had to be capable of being handled by a couple.

GO ANYWHERE?

While a key marketing message for Garcia’s monohulls is ‘Nowhere you can’t go’, the company accepts this won’t apply as literally to the Explocat 52, even though the boat’s impressive speed potential will enable routing around a lot of bad weather. The problem is, unlike being knocked down in a monohull, capsizing a multihull is always catastrophic. There are parts of the world, especially at high latitudes in the southern hemisphere, or out of season in the north, where it could be impossible to route around potentially dangerous weather.

Nevertheless, the boat is intended to stretch the boundaries that are sensible for exploring the globe with a catamaran, allowing owners to sail a lot further north and south than might be prudent with existing designs.

Rugged construction is also a benefit when venturing off the beaten track in tropical waters. If anything goes wrong while exploring a poorly-charted lagoon, for instance, a fibreglass boat may be in grave danger. Many foam sandwich hulls have surprisingly thin outer skins, which can make the structure vulnerable to abrasion, whether from coral or a concrete quay.

By contrast, the thinnest plating of the Explocat 52 is 5mm, which increases through 8, 10 and 12mm thicknesses, before reaching an enormously reassuring 14mm at the bottom of the hulls. The boat has framing of up to 14mm and is structurally engineered to eliminate flexing between the hulls. A substantial keel with a long chord length is welded to the bottom of the hulls. They are marginally deeper than the rudders, which offers some protection, as well as providing a firm base on which to dry out on a beach.

‘The boat is impressively quiet when under way’

At the same time the key elements that have made Garcia’s Exploration monohulls so successful are incorporated. These include fore and aft watertight bulkheads and upstands for through-hull fittings that enable all seacocks to be above the waterline.

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