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The Argument For or Against The Bali Catamaran Range

Bali 4.5 catamaranWhen the Bali catamaran range was launched about three years ago, it created a stir in the industry, not only because the Catana catamaran owner, Olivier Poncin, launched a NEW brand but also because he turned conventional thinking about catamarans on it’s head. It has since won accolades from industry professionals and consumers alike for innovation and performance and the Bali brand is now well established.

The Bali Catamaran Range Back Story

Olivier Poncin is the owner of Catana catamarans, which has been the standard in semi-Bali catamaranscustom performance catamatans for years. Fitted with daggerboards and constructed with modern building materials such as closed cell foam cores, Kevlar for impact zones and carbon fiber for stiffness and improved sailing ability, Catana catamarans has always been in a class of its own.

While Catana is still very successful in the PERFORMANCE class, Poncin recognized a gap in the market for a faster, lighter and more maneuverable production CRUISING catamaran. He further understood that such a cruising catamaran would have to compete with the likes of Lagoon, Leopard and Fountaine Pajot, all very successful brands for sailing cruisers. The new cat had to also be luxuriously appointed without significantly compromising performance and it had to be priced competitively.

So, he redesigned the entire modern catamaran by implementing innovative design ideas and unconventional and highly controversial concepts. The result was quite a stunning and very successful range of catamarans, called Bali. They have won several international awards and they have very quickly gained market acceptance, both in Europe and in the U.S

Critique Of The Bali Catamaran Range

There have been all kinds of criticisms about the Bali, some valid (which we will discuss later) and others that are just down right ridiculous. The most illogical of them being that these catamarans are not seaworthy and slam excessively because of the solid foredeck. We have already addressed this in our article “Dealers And Their Biases”, specifically about two of their most significant and distinctive design features, the solid foredeck and the “garage door” concept.

 But the biased opinions persist with competing dealers who appear to not have any personal or current offshore experience of the sailing ability and seaworthiness of Bali catamarans and base their criticisms purely on their own biases. While much criticism has been lodged about solid foredecks, like that of the the Bali design, we have a different view on the issue. Here is some history and background information. 

The Evolution Of The Catamaran Foredeck & Reduction Of Weight To Enhance Performance

Prout Snowgoose 37Some of the oldest production catamarans were built by the Prout family, since the 1950’s in England. They have built around 500 catamarans and one of their more popular models was the Snowgoose 37, built mainly in the 1980s. Prout is no longer around but the Snowgoose is still a popular cruising boat even today. Looking at the Snowgoose 37, you will notice that they are designed with a solid foredeck. The Prout builders had this to say: “...although this adds a lot of weight, it provides rigidity between the hulls that a single crossbar cannot match”. Bali catamarans foredeck design

Solid foredecks were much more common in the early days of production cats like the Catalac, Prout, Gemini, etc. than they are today. While they were proven to be seaworthy, the incessant slamming in bad sea on the solid foredeck and low bridgedeck, demanded a design change. Solid foredecks were eventually replaced in modern cats by nets / trampolines as design developed because the heavy solid foredecks placed weight in exactly the wrong area and severely impeded performance. 

Bali's Foredeck Design Philosophy

Bali liked the idea of having an open solid platform from stem to stern and followed the structural strength philosophy of the solid fordeck design of old. However, they created the solid foredeck with their own new and unique box sections construction and lightweight infusion technology which allowed them to replace the netting without adding the extra weight. The foredeck on the Bali is not just a flimsy joint between the hull and deck sections, but is actually part of the bow structure and contributes to the stiffness of the boat, making it much stronger than conventional catamarans with two bows joined by a crossbeam and netting.

The acute angle of the bottom section of the solid foredeck causes the bows to lift, rather than dive, improving performance even further. Since there is no netting the foredeck is relatively dry in most conditions but even if it does take a lot of water over the bows, the water drains efficiently and quickly. It has a very unique and clever draining system. The water drains through a big opening in the well next to the windlass down into the anchor locker. It is fitted with three backward facing scuppers, mounted in the step, which is molded into the center nacelle. This allows for a quick purging of the water with no pushback. The solid foredeck also allows for much more buoyancy forward than a conventional catamaran and in our experience does not slam any more than other catamarans that we have sailed on.

Fountaine Pajot Lucia 40 and Athena 38 catamaran foredeckForedecks On Other Modern Cats

The development of the modern catamaran has been meteoric in recent years and with the evolution of modern lightweight design and infusion technology, netting is no longer a necessity for weight reduction up forward on some designs of cruising catamarans. Therefor trampolines on modern designs have become much smaller and today, catamaran designers are increasingly encroaching on the foredeck to create more interior space and in fact, they are almost completely designing the trampolines out of some of the boats.

Good examples would be the Fountaine Pajot Lucia 40 (see the picture of the Lucia 40 vs the earlier FP Design, Athena 38) in which the designers moved the living spaces forward in the Lucia 40 to create a bigger cockpit. In order to do that, they had to reduce the size of the trampolines. This holds true in other cats like Xquisite, the new Leopard range, the Fountaine Pajot Saba 50 and many others. With this in mind, the possibilty exists that we will probably see more catamarans with solid foredecks in the future. 

Conclusion

The Bali catamaran range is a young brand that stems from an esteemed background. It has a few teething issues but In our opinion there are no problems with the solid foredeck of the Bali that we can see at this stage. We are certainly open to hearing different opinions from informed sources and would be happy to update current information as it becomes available. So far Bali has proven to be strong, fast and seaworthy and it is a fun sailing boat. 

Catamaran foredeck

Bali Catamarans System and Interior Improvements

Bali 4.0 catamaranAs many of you know, we own a Lagoon 450 SporTop but when we were looking at the available choices, the Bali 4.5 was on our short list. We loved that the Bali catamaran range is such a new and innovative catamaran design and we are excited to see where this range will go in the market. Two major points for the Bali catamaran:

  • Bali separates itself from other cruising cats like Fountaine Pajot, Leopard and Lagoon by using the more expensive closed cell foam for the core in the hull versus balsa wood core with the other three builders.
  • The other difference is that the Bali has the rudder far back and aft of the propeller which makes it track very well and is in keeping with the  emphasis on performance versus the Lagoon and Fountaine Pajot who have moved the propeller aft of the rudder which is not ideal for performance but allows for a nice big engine room - in catamarans everything is a compromise.

However, one of the negatives for us was definitely the stark interior of the Bali catamaran range. While it is very functional and wearable, it just did not have that “luxury” feel that you would expect in a cruising cat like that of a Lagoon or an Xquisite. Many of our clients also remarked on the fact that the fittings and finishes are lightweight and somewhat minimalist. While “lightweight” is Bali’s intent for improved performance, the market requires a more luxurious and cozy interior.

We passed this feedback on the manufacturer and they decided to address that issue with the new “PREMIER INTERIORS”, to be launched at the Cannes show in September 2017. From what we can see, this is a big improvement (if that is what you prefer) on current interiors and we think they will have a great reception from the sailing community.

There were a few other small things that needed to be addressed like systems and quality control. From what we have heard from the sailing public, it seems that Bali has done a nice job on improving their quality issues. We will attend the Cannes Boat Show in September to view the new Bali interiors to see what we can expect from them in the future as the product evolves. We got a sneak peek of the new interiors from the Bali design team.

New Premier Interiors For The Bali Catamaran Range 

Bali catamarans premier interiors      Bali premier interior

The New Bali 5.4 Catamaran Model

Bai 5.4 catamarans

Quite honestly, the Bali range is a joy to sail. We have tested these cats in all weather conditions and we believe that Poncin stayed true to his performance roots with these catamarans and we are excited to actually see the new interiors in September. We are taking a serious look at their new Bali 5.4 to debut at La Grande Motte, France in 2018. It has so many good things going for it.

  • Impressively large flybridge
  • Bali's Signature swing / garage salon door
  • Direct access from salon into forward cockpit area through opening door
  • Bali's Signature solid foredeck with large living space
  • 4, 5, 6 Cabin layouts
  • Dining area seats up to 12 people
  • Self tacking jib and is set up for short handed sailing
  • Access from aft cabins directly onto the aft deck
  • Huge water and fuel capacity (315 gallons each)
  • Central island beds
  • Hydraulic tender lift platform with remote control

Bali 5.4 Specifications & Brochure>>

Bali 5.4 Layouts

Bali 5.4 catamaran layout     BALI 5.4 Pont

Bali 5.4 catamaran layout     BALI 5.4 5cab 1twin

Comments   

0 # Mike Van Tuyl 2017-05-31 17:28
Very positive comparison , Good teaching tool for the sales people. With each new Bali we receive I am seeing the differences in the quality getting better. I also see the dedication of the Manufacture in improving to make this the best in the industry.
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0 # Catamaran Guru 2017-06-01 12:52
Thank you Mike. I'm glad this can help. I just wanted to put the foredeck issue to rest once and for all. The disinformation going around is disturbing.
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+1 # Jean-Jacques Astier 2017-06-01 09:30
All of us, including Labrador dog, are fully satisfied with SPOT, the Bali 4.0 our family bought late spring. A pleasure to confirm every point. :-)
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0 # Catamaran Guru 2017-06-01 12:53
Thank you Jean-Jacques. We are glad that you are happy with your purchase. Happy sailing!
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0 # Mitchell Taylor 2017-06-28 17:00
Very impressed with the Bali Stephen. Hopeful to place my order later this year for the 4.5. Any chance that they may update the stateroom hull portholes into something larger like the Helia rectangular windows with portholes inside? That's my only real criticism. Love that they've provided so many but just need to be larger on the lateral hull and transom for my taste. Are they're structural limitations?
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0 # Jeff Mitchell 2017-07-28 16:06
We loved loved loved the interior layouts of the owners version we were on. Here were my negative findings. The rear door motor was not reliable in being able to completely life the weight of the rear door and it took two men two strong tall men to complete the locked and engaged position. Lastly and most important, she was extremely hard to steer st thr helm when motoring at 7 plus knots. The boat actually made 9 knots a couple times. I attribute her good ride and speed to thr high freeboard and the core makeup, but as soon as I took it off auto pilot it was like wresting an elephant . She could not be safely controlled without autopilot above 7.5 knots. I attributed it to thr props being so far from the rudders although I am not an engineer and can not confirm this. She was easy to sail and the self tacking jib is nice for single handing. I would love to own a bigger version, with corrections I've noted
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0 # Catamaran Guru 2017-07-28 19:25
Jeff, Thanks for the reply! The motor for the garage door has been replaced and is now only a mechanical system that easy to operate. We opened and closed it several times at boat shows and all but the littlest lady had no problems pulling the door down and lock it. As for the steering problem, I have no idea why you would have ah that problem. Again, we have been on several sea trials and did not experience that. I will ask around to see if other had that issue.
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0 # Mark Mil 2017-07-29 12:59
Thank you for the excellent article. Works you have any further comments on how this design would fare in blue water and rougher seas? Any major limitations or hesitation for this design versus others for possible crossings?
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0 # Catamaran Guru 2017-07-29 17:07
Mark, the Bali is as blue water capable as Lagoon, FP, Leopard and Nautitech. All are cruising catamarans and of very similar construction. Many of the Bali's have been sailed across the Atlantic for deliveries in the US or Caribbean and they have all fared as well as any of the other designs. Like every manufacturer, they have had issues with the first few models, i.e. a leaky window, but as far as safety and performance, they are good boats. No worries there!
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