During the 2015 Miami Boat Show, we had the pleasure of spending time on the Bali 4.5 with Catana's Sales Director, Cyrille Tricot. He pointed out some of the ingenious and innovative new ideas on the Bali and the reasoning behind all the new designs. After the show we delivered the Bali back to Fort Lauderdale to be outfitted for her charter obligations in the Bahamas. Sailing the Bali was a fun experience and we got to test out this latest design by Catana. Here is what we learned:
The Catana Group, led by Olivier Poncin, decided to cast a wider net to attract the cruising sailor as well as their usual high performance clientele. However, because of the high level of customization and very high-tech building materials and building processes that Catana use in their performance catamaran range, it is usually fairly expensive and out of the reach of the average sailor. So, to mark their 30th anniversary, they designed a catamaran that would not only appeal to the cruising market but would come in at a reasonable price point. The Bali 4.5 catamaran was conceived from Olivier Poncin's vision of a Catana-built cruising catamaran.
Catana smartly realized that to deliver a cruising catamaran to compete with Fountaine Pajot, Lagoon, or Leopard cruising cats, it had to change its approach to the manufacturing process. It established a production line for the Bali range in their existing state-of-the-art-factory in France and, using existing infrastructure, staff and building methods, managed to speed up manufacturing. This meant that they could build more boats, faster. However, while they needed to reduce production costs, Catana insisted that they maintain the company's core values of innovative design, technology and exceptional quality in the Bali range. The Bali 4.5 was unveiled for the first time to the sailing public in Cannes last year and this performance cruiser did not disappoint. While the Bali is less customizable than the Catana performance range, Catana still offers various options for equipment, finishes and 4 different layouts.
Poncin and designer, Xavier Fay, envisioned a catamaran with an "Open-Space" feeling throughout. To achieve this, they removed the trampolines, lengthened the forward cockpit to add a seating area and sunbathing area, added large vertical-sliding windows between the salon and forward cockpit with huge sliding doors onto the aft cockpit. This expands the living space literally from one end of the boat all the way to the other, uninterrupted on one level with great natural ventilation. People on board are completely connected at all times without ever feeling cramped in small spaces. This "Open Space" concept was the most commented-on thing about the Bali at the Miami boat show. It is really impressive and makes this 45ft cat appear so much more roomy that it's competitors.
In the pictures below one can see the open space from the "drop down deck extention" in the aft cockpit, all the way to the front cockpit and lounging area with pass-throughs at the galley and forward window.
To create this flat open platform without any obstructions, Catana created a very stiff and strong platform/bridge deck with as little flexing as possible. They achieved this by using box sections within the bridge deck. This allowed for the removal of the rear bulkhead structure, opening up the space further while the solid foredeck further contributed to the stiffness of the boat. The foredeck is not just a flat piece of decking but is actually part of the bow with box sections, which makes it very buoyant. An integrated bowsprit further strengthens the front section.
At first this solid foredeck met with skepticism from critics. They predicted that the boat might be too heavy, not buoyant enough up forward and would encourage excessive slamming like it was with the old Prouts and Catalacs. These designers dealt with excess weight by fitting trampolines in the bows. However, with modern technology and super light and strong building materials, we simply don't need trampolines to reduce weight significantly anymore. So Catana did away with the trampolines altogether, allowing for a stronger, stiffer and more buoyant platform. The bows are also slightly reversed, giving increased waterline and buoyancy as far forwards as possible.
The bottom of the forward deck has a pronounced angle (as seen in the picture below) leading upwards towards the front or cross beam. The center nacelle further adds buoyancy at the chest of the boat. This results in the tendency to climb out or rise out of the water rather than dig into the waves. The nacelle also acts as the drain box. The scuppers in the forward area are next to the windlass and drain into the drain box, from here the water is purged though scuppers at the back of the nacelle. They face to the rear on a flat surface in the trailing end of the nacelle. This design stops water from shooting back up through the scuppers in the forward cockpit when the boat bottoms out in rough seas.
The Bali is constructed with foam core that is resin infused resulting in a light strong vessel. The hull shape allows it to surf down waves easily and it has an above average bridgedeck clearance with good freeboard in the hull sections. The increased bridgedeck clearance and high freeboard (see picture below: Leopard 44 vs Bali 4.5) results in a very quiet ride with minimal slamming. If a wave does break on top of the foredeck, the scuppers will purge the water quickly and efficiently. The point of impact of the waves on the chest of the boat is central, as is usual with all cats.
The often-controversial unprotected aft helm positions of the high performance Catana models have been changed to two different options; bulkhead steering or on the flybridge. This change alone will attract many more cruisers who previously rejected Catana for this reason.
The Bali is well-thought-out as a cruising boat. It is clean, modern, functional and airy with easy to maintain surfaces. The "interactive" inside-outside living areas, all on one level, makes this 45ft catamaran feel huge. The owner's version in the port hull has a big shower and separate head, desk, sofa, island bed and plenty of storage and hanging space. The storage, lighting and ventilation throughout the cabin are more than ample. The privacy door separates the owners cabin from the rest of the boat.
The charter version feels slightly tight down below in the hulls. The two cabins, two showers stalls and two separate toilets make it a tight fit but the beds are comfortable, semi walk around and the cabin has loads of storage. See the four different configurations. All wiring, plumbing and systems are easily accessible everywhere.
The galley work surface is possibly a little small but there is a lot of storage throughout galley and the salon. The oven and microwave are at eye level, which makes cooking much safer and easier while underway. The humongous "American style" fridge/freezer seemed like overkill, being used to tiny marine fridges. I thought this to be a little obnoxious at first but after spending some time on it, I appreciated the value of having the capacity of the fridge with built-in icemaker.
The pass-through windows to both cockpits make entertainment a breeze and while messing in the kitchen, the "chef" never feels cut off from the guests. It is an awesome arrangement and I believe that because of this, the foredeck will be used far more often as the dining area than the aft deck. The salon is big and even with 6 to 8 people standing around, it did not feel particularly cramped.
The aft cockpit has a large dining table that can easily seat 6-8 people. The L-shaped bench-seat can seat 4 people with an additional 4 chairs. The bench seat is comfortable enough to serve as a watch-keepers bunk during a passage. Once the dinghy is lowered, the "gate" folds down to become a passerelle down to the water or to the dock, which extends the cockpit a further 2ft and gives it the "infiniti pool" look into the ocean.The forward deck has another large cockpit with two removable tables and large sun-loungers. When the sun awning is set up, this "marine terrace" provides a great friendly spot whether at anchor or underway. The overhang over the windows on the cabin top provides much needed shade and prevents rainwater from dripping into the saloon.
The flybridge, covered with a sun awning, is very comfortable with plenty of space for at least 4 people. It is easy to maneuver and sail the boat from this vantage point. All the lines lead back to the helm station and the instruments are easily reachable from the helm. My problem with the flybridge arrangement in this case, is that you have to leave the cockpit completely to get to the helm station. This is great for boat handling on charter, away from the rest of the party but not ideal for short-handed cruisers. In that case I would prefer the bulkhead steering position but this semi-raised helm station is small compared to the competition. The stairs going up to the helm from the cockpit, consists of just a small "step-ladder", not ideal, in my opinion. You have to be fairly agile to get around to and from this cockpit arrangement.
On the Bali 4.5, the 50hp Nanni diesel engine installation is well planned. The 50 hp motors are aft-facing which allows the sail drive to be forward of the rudder, unlike the other competitors who have the rudder forward of the propeller. Having the rudders right at the back of the hull results in superior handling and tracking characteristics. The high-output alternators and the high pressure pump for the 200 liter/hour watermaker are efficiently linked to the engine via belt drives and electric clutches. The pre-filters and control panel are accessible for easy maintenance and servicing. In addition, there are 400W of solar panels located on the bimini top.
The Bali 4.5 is fast under engine (8 knots at 2,100 rpm, 9.5 knots flat out). The engine noise level is negligible in the cabins (64Db) but is slightly louder in the saloon. This 4.5 is fitted with fixed blade propellers, but three-bladed folding props are an option, which would greatly reduce drag, yet maintain comparable performance under motor. The whole arrangement seems to be well balanced and the sail drives do not generate much vibration. The cable steering is very responsive.
The boat has two inverters:
The Onan 9KW generator is located in the forward locker to port and has very good access for service and maintenance.
Check out more Bali 4.5 Technical Specifications.
We sailed the Bali 4.5 catamaran from Miami to Fort Lauderdale after the Miami Boat Show and put her through her paces to see if she lived up to the hype. We left through the main entrance to the harbor and as is normal, there were standing waves and all sorts of sloppy seas in the cut. We motored the Bali directly into the steep waves coming through the entrance and despite the foredeck slamming down as we went over each wave, no water ended up on the foredeck. We had left all the cushions out on the foredeck and they did not even get any sea spray on them. The cat has very high freeboard and exceptional bridgedeck clearance, which makes it a very dry boat. During the three hour trip in sloppy seas, we did not notice any excessive slamming on the bridgedeck.
Handling in this confused sea was remarkable. The Bali is light and we enjoyed how responsive she was both under sail and motor. She is easy to maneuver under motor in very tight spaces and easily turned on her own keel. Sail handling was a breeze, with the winches well placed. With the mast further aft, the self-tacking jib is bigger than the competitors and makes tacking a snap with a small crew. In light wind the Bali tacked and jibed without effort and was very responsive. On the trip up to Fort Lauderdale with around 20 knots of wind and quartering seas we saw 14 knots while surfing down a wave but was sitting at a steady 9-10 knots with 15-20 knots of wind for the duration of the trip. This catamaran feels safe and comfortable in all the living areas, including the foredeck and forward cockpit under sail in very confused seas.
The Bali is solidly built, performs well and is very comfortable as a cruising catamaran. All the concerns about a solid forward deck are unfounded and the clever "Open Space" concept with the saloon's retractable door is a winner when at anchor. Undoubtedly, the Bali has some very "out of the box" ideas. These are very exciting innovations in the catamaran world and Catana is leading the way for performance cruisers.