Boats

Just Launched: Bamba 50 & Neel 45

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Les Salons du Multicoques is a small but influential European boatshow, a special presentation of multihulls that switches between the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of France in alternate years. Attending the latest edition in Lorient in Brittany this past April, we were amused to find that one of the more intriguing new boats on display wasn’t some cutting-edge high-performance job (though there were some of those in evidence), but a rather conservative motorsailing catamaran trawler called the Bamba 50. It serves as a trenchant reminder that the “edge” in boat design can cut more ways than one.

The Bamba’s most distinctive feature is its rather tall mast (air draft is 60 feet, just short enough to fit under highway bridges here in the United States), which is set well aft and is designed to fly just one big headsail—either an 860ft2 genoa or a 1,075ft2 gennaker. The motive force of the sail augments that of the engines, two low-tech 150hp Iveco truck diesels that are configured to run at low revs (max rpm is just 2,800). The Bamba carries 1,050 gallons of fuel and has a functional range of over 3,000 miles under power alone at a cruising speed of around 9 knots. Pop out that big headsail and put the boat in motorsailing mode, with the leeward engine ticking over at just 700 rpm, and this can be increased to as much as 8,000 miles.

In other words, if you play your cards right on this boat you can easily get through a full season of cruising—or maybe even all the way across the Atlantic and back—with just one trip to the fuel dock.

Accommodations, as you might expect, are downright palatial, more like what you’d expect to find on a houseboat than on anything flying a sail. At the main deck level there is an enormous saloon and galley area behind a large steering station; all the way aft is the master stateroom, which has an island double berth and a big picture window looking out over the wide fold-down transom. Down in the hulls there are three more staterooms—two with double berths, and one with a clever pair of over-and-under singles that should be popular with kids. Crowning it all is a covered flybridge with another helm station, a huge dinette table, and a dedicated wet bar and grilling station.

The Bamba, which was designed by Joubert-Nivelt, is built not far from Lorient in La Rochelle, but its creators reckon it’s a natural for the American market. We’re inclined to agree, though we don’t expect many dedicated sailors will be lining up to buy one. We do expect that some older sailors, who might otherwise be looking at retiring to plain-vanilla trawlers, might be interested, and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if La Bamba (yes, it is named after the song by Richie Valens) corrupted some dedicated powerboaters as well.

Another boat that caught our eye at Lorient was the Neel 45, a new cruising trimaran that tries to fit cat-sized accommodations into a three-hulled format. This, of course, is not a new concept. Early cruising tris, those slab-sided plywood beasts from the 1960s, tried to pull this off by pushing sleeping spaces into the bridgedeck connecting the main hull to the amas. But they proved a bit heavy, didn’t sail as well as a tri should, and were fragile. 

The Neel 45 (like its larger predecessor, the Neel 50, introduced about a year ago) also relies on a solid bridgedeck to expand its accommodation plan, but is thoroughly modern in its construction. The hull and deck are foam-cored glass, the interior components have honeycomb coring, and the result is a stiff, light structure that should prove very durable.

Best of all, the Neel boasts two proper staterooms—replete with big double berths,  ensuite heads and generous ports that let in lots of light—that are much more pleasant than the bridgedeck caves found on the ply-tris of old. There’s also a smaller, more cave-like stateroom with a double berth up in the bow, plus (in the charter layout we saw at the show) four more single berths inside the two amas, making for a total of 10 berths. The galley is amidships, in the heart of the main hull, with the saloon just forward behind a semi-circular array of windows that offer exactly the sort of wraparound view of the world that makes cruising catamarans so popular.

We had a chance to take the Neel out for a quick harbor sail during the last day of the show and were impressed by the experience. All three hulls have super-fine entries and narrow waterplanes, and performance is not at all stodgy. The rig features a big square-headed mainsail, with a working jib and a genoa set on twin furlers forward. There’s also a short fixed sprit for flying big A-sails and screechers.

The three hulls, we found, are easily driven. Under power we made 11 knots, while under sail we were moving at or near wind speed when the wind was below 10 knots and at 9 to 11 knots when things got gustier. Tacking angles were reasonably tight, and the boat was fully powered up at a 40 degree apparent wind angle. 

The helm at all times was light and very responsive, much more so than on any cruising cat we’ve sailed.

Coming away from the boat we wondered how she’d do fully loaded for a proper cruise. We’d certainly love to find out sometime. Overall, compared to most cruising cats of comparable length, the Neel in fact has a bit less living space, but markedly better performance. It is certainly worth thinking about if you are in the market for a new cruising multicoque. 

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