Bali Catamarans Solid Foredeck: Great Feature or Bad Idea?

For the last five or six years we have had to listen to salespeople and various “experts” telling interested buyers that solid foredecks on cruising catamarans are dangerous, slam excessively, are unstable, and more. Some have gone so far as to publish pictures of Ford F150 trucks on the front of the boat to demonstrate how much weight a solid foredeck adds on the front of the boat – obviously a very bad thing for catamarans. With this in mind, our friends wanted to know what our experience was with the solid foredeck while crossing the Atlantic. 

The Verdict: We loved it! We have now sailed 6,112 nautical miles on our Bali 5.4 from Europe, across the Atlantic, the Caribbean, and on to Florida. During this extensive sail under almost every type of weather conditions, we never, at any time, had problems with the solid foredeck. To the contrary, we enjoyed the space while underway. It was one of the most loved spaces to hang out for all eight of our crew members! (Check out the video here and find out why we loved it so much)!

Frankly, after experiencing this solid foredeck first-hand we feel that these uninformed opinions do a great disservice to the boat buying public. Instead of being objective and selling to the strength and merits of each type or design of cruising catamaran, the people who criticize the solid foredeck design try to scare buyers into buying their product instead! Click on the link below to read more>>

How Does The Solid Foredeck Measure up?

Strength and Buoyancy

It is a well-known fact that with the development of infusion technology and foam cores which are very light and stiff, the need for nets to reduce weight forward is no longer very important in cruising catamarans. One only has to look at the current cruising catamaran designs to see that the foredecks are getting bigger and nets are getting ever smaller. Some catamarans now merely has “token” nets.

One thing to consider, and this is something we experienced on our trip from France to Florida, is that a solid foredeck is much stronger than nets and crossbeams and has buoyancy which nets do not have. When the bows submerge with nets, the only buoyancy you have is in the two bows. The nets have no buoyancy and do nothing to drive the bows upwards. Once the bows peg into a wave, you are relying on the buoyancy in the two bows to bring you back up. 

With the solid foredeck design, you have a deck and a hull or “underbody”, so the entire section has buoyancy. The angled underbody of the solid foredeck acts like an inverted spoiler so with the forward motion of the boat when the bows start submerging not only does this section present substantially more buoyancy, it also lifts or drives the bows upwards. Read the article where we explain how this platform is constructed>>

Solid Foredeck Water Drainage System

The experts will tell you that once the foredeck is swamped, the bows will be overloaded and make the yacht unstable. This will not be the case on cats with nets which will shed the water instantly. We have owned catamarans with many different types of nets and agree that the drainage of an 80% open net is instantaneous. We have also owned catamarans with 40% open nets which, while very comfortable to walk on (unlike the 80% open nets), they do not shed the water as quickly. This resulted in our nets being ripped out by the weight of breaking waves on them. 

So the question is - how fast will a solid foredeck or forward cockpit catamaran shed the water when swamped. In our opninion it comes down to how effective the scupper or drainage system is. The drainage system on Bali Catamarans have a grating, six foot long by four foot wide, which drops the water into a scupper in the bottom of the bridge deck. It is large enough for a person to pull their head and shoulders into. This is also assisted by separate drains in the anchor locker and in the chain locker. The lid of the chain locker is also designed to act as an additional scupper to drain water on the fore deck. So the drainage capacity is massive.

We are told by the designer and naval architect that if a wave completely swamped the foredeck of the Bali it would take under 12 seconds to shed all the water which I believe to be accurate. On the Bali we only took one big wave over the side of the boat onto the bow during the entire 6,112nm trip and the water disappeared almost instantly. The point of this discussion is to assess whether being swamped by a wave is dangerous on a solid foredeck vessel and we think the argument can be made that it is not. 

Noise and Slamming Under the Solid Foredeck

It has been claimed by the “experts” that the solid foredeck causes slamming. Everyone knows that slamming occurs mainly under the bridge deck where the bow waves converge and not at the front of the boat so this is just plain misleading. There is virtually no slamming that occurs forward of the chest of catamarans with a either solid foredeck OR netting because the buoyancy of the bows lifts the forward section of the boat as it goes into the swell. Therefor, while the boat does experience slamming when pounding into waves, it is no worse than any other catamaran in the same conditions. If anything, the slamming may be less considering the Bali has a very clean tunnel and the height ratio for the bridgedeck is above acceptable. Read about bridgedeck clearance here>>

This brings up another very important point. On boats with nets, when pounding into rough seas, there will be a lot of spray coming through the nets blinding the crew and covering the boat in saltwater. With a solid foredeck none of this occurs, the foredeck remains dry and the crew are protected from being exposed to flying spray at the helm and any noise from the spray hitting the bottom of the foredeck is inconsequential. We have experienced both and assure you that the solid foredeck wins hands down. 

Usable Space On The Solid Foredeck

The foredeck becomes another great area to hang out even while underway. We had our Thanksgiving barbeque on the foredeck in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean while sailing along at between 8 and 10 Knots (see the video). This also became one of our crew’s most favorite places to relax and lounge and take naps while we were crossing the Atlantic. The walkthrough from the salon onto the foredeck makes it so easy to enjoy this space and all the while, we never got splashed. The foredeck was dry and we were completely comfortable. This alone is the BEST selling point for the Bali catamaran range!

Summary: Solid Foredeck on a Catamaran

While we went into the Bali purchase knowing that the foredeck was controversial, little did we know that it is actually a feature which is so good that we would not want to give it up now that we have experienced it. We consider the solid foredeck a selling feature and will be very surprised if we do not see more manufacturers going in this direction to one degree or another.

After an extensive voyage of 6,112 NM which included being in a severe gale in the Mediterranean Sea (up to 45 knots), several squalls while transiting the Atlantic Ocean as well as some pretty severe beam seas and squalls in the Caribbean and North Atlantic, we are sure that we have tested the boat on all points of sail. We wanted to make a fast crossing since we were in the ARC Rally. This is what we found:

  • The foredeck remained dry in virtually every situation and there was no spray or discomfort for the crew
  • We did not experience any excessive slamming, or more than any other cruising catamaran would experience in the same situations and certainly did not experience any slamming under the angled solid foredeck
  • The structure is very solid, and we felt at all times that the boat could handle whatever was thrown at it. The structure is nice and stiff and the boat is very quiet with little to no creaking
  • When we did take a wave over the side onto the foredeck the water was shed almost instantly
  • On occasions when we surfed down into troughs the solid foredeck came into play and we never pegged the bows or took water over the front of the boat including in the Mediterranean Sea with very steep seas and 45 knots of wind driving us from behind.

Having owned both designs (nets and solid foredeck) and having sailed them extensively offshore, our opinion is that both are acceptable to us and we have no issues with either one. The detractors of the solid foredeck may want to try the solid foredeck before making judgements. They may be very pleasantly surprised! 

We Say: "Don’t Knock It Until You’ve Tried It!"

Comments (1)

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I couldn't agree more. I purchased a Bali 4.3, and was a little concerned about the solid foredeck, and thought I would really miss the tramps up front. I departed France in late February 2019, arriving in Grenada early April. The solid foredeck...

I couldn't agree more. I purchased a Bali 4.3, and was a little concerned about the solid foredeck, and thought I would really miss the tramps up front. I departed France in late February 2019, arriving in Grenada early April. The solid foredeck posed no issues, and was in fact the preferred location to relax in the daytime. Fabulous boat and fabulous trip. No issues out of the boat other than a small learning curve on the systems.

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John
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