"Substantial" was my first thought when I stepped aboard the Knysna 480 at the Miami International Boat Show. This South African-built catamaran is obviously meant for serious cruising. And so confirmed owners Susan and Tim Mahoney, who chose the Knysna based on the reputation of the builder and their respect for designer Angelo Lavranos.
So far the Mahoneys have spent nearly a year cruising from Cape Town to Miami. Crossing the Atlantic from Saint Helena to French Guiana in light airs took them a respectable 29 days.
The most exciting part, they said, was just after they left Cape Town, when they set a personal speed record of 19.6 knots in 40-knot following winds. Tim said that in the giant waves that accompanied the gale he never buried the Knysna’s crossbeam, thanks to the boat’s flared bows, which provide abundant reserve buoyancy.
The Knysna 480 is handlaid and vacuum-bagged using quadraxial fiberglass cloth with vinylester resin and an NPG gelcoat (to help prevent blistering) over a 1in-thick Airex closed cell foam core. Builder Kevin Fouché adds four layers of International Gel Shield barrier coat below the water line. To save weight, Fouché lightened the structure wherever he safely could. Doors and non-structural bulkheads, for example, are skinned-over foam core, and there is no hull liner.
All the deck fittings I saw were through-bolted with strong stainless steel backing plates. Access to deck fittings seemed easy throughout the boat. As a result, maintenance looked like it would be fairly easy, given good access to mechanical equipment, although getting to the transmissions on our test boat could be a challenge due to the larger engines that had been installed.
The engines themselves are sealed behind watertight bulkheads all the way aft in the hulls, while the generator occupies a forward compartment in the port hull. The watermaker and storage take up the corresponding space in the starboard hull. Both can be reached via either a door in the forward shower or a deck hatch.
On my test sail, I was fortunate to not only have the owners onboard to offer comments on the boat, but a potential buyer as well. He and the Mahoneys agreed that one of the things that attracted them to the boat was the wide, flat decks and the low house that makes climbing up to furl the main a less vertiginous endeavor than on other cats with taller houses. The cabintop extends unbroken all the way aft to cover the cockpit. Shades roll down all around to keep things cool and protect the L-shaped seating area from rain and spray.
Two large hatches slide aft above the forward part of the cockpit on either side of the boat: one to starboard above the helm seat, and one to port providing access to the port jib winch. Low-stretch halyards are led through Spinlock rope clutches to Lewmar winches by the helm, and tails disappear down a hole in the deck to line bags in the cockpit. One thing the Mahoneys said they would change is the lead for the port jib sheet. The addition of a block or two will allow it to come to the helmsman. Personally, I would also like a larger helm seat, with room for two.
Our test boat was hull #1, and I couldn’t help admiring the gorgeous cheery effect achieved by using pearwood with cherry trim throughout the interior. Where there is fiberglass, it’s covered with a textured paint. My one criticism is that the forward-facing windows are a bit small. The sole features a low-maintenance teak-and-holly laminate.
In the saloon, a wraparound dinette to starboard provides room for six adults to sit down to eat with comfortable space for elbows and knees. The whole of the port side saloon is taken up with the galley, which includes a U-shaped counter with a double sink forward and a three-burner Force 10 stove aft. Divided into two parts, the galley is separated by a companionway that leads to the accommodations in the port hull. A small microwave oven sits outboard and aft of the stove. The chef will find abundant working area in both spaces, and the large sliding doors to the cockpit ensure that he or she won’t be left out of pre-dinner socializing.
Located aft and to starboard sits a small stand-up nav area and a tidy electrical panel. Seamanlike windows all around provide plenty of light, while a pair of opening portlights forward and hatches overhead direct air where it's needed most.
Two layouts are available on the 480—one with four heads, the other with three—and the builder encourages customization on the part of owners. Aboard our test boat, which had three heads, the starboard, or owner’s, hull housed a large master berth located all the way aft. A pair of diagonal windows in the topsides let in lots of light. The ports inside and aft and a hatch overhead provided lots of natural ventilation.
Up forward was another large berth that extended inboard over the bridgedeck. Because the Mahoneys are both tall, the cabin sole on their boat is lower than standard, which makes for a longer climb up to the berth. The Mahoneys also wanted a raised berth to increase the storage space underneath.
The port hull features a similar layout, though slightly less roomy thanks to the addition of another head and shower at the foot of the companionway. All the way forward in both hulls is a good-sized head with a separate shower, which includes the doorway to the aforementioned forward storage compartment.
During our light-air sail I was surprised by how well our loaded test boat performed. Despite having nearly full tanks, we were still able to reach along at 4 knots in just 5 knots of breeze. When the wind strengthened to 9 knots, boatspeed increased to 5.2 knots at an apparent wind angle of 60 degrees. Contrary to this monohull sailor’s preconceptions, in even the lightest breezes the Knysna 480 tacked quickly and easily, accelerating well on each new tack.
In smooth water we motored gently along at 7.5 knots, a speed that Tim said normally yielded a range of about 750 miles on 220 gallons of diesel. There was a battery problem, so the alternators and therefore the tachometers weren’t working, but I estimated that the (optional) 54-horsepower Yanmars were turning about 2,200 rpm. Maximum speed, according to Tim, is about 10 knots. As with all catamarans, having the Knysna’s twin sail drives set far apart gave us excellent maneuverability.
The Knysna 480 is an excellent choice for catamaran sailors planning an extended cruise with lots of ocean sailing. It’s a boat meant to keep its crew comfortable while sailing over the horizon. That’s not to say that a weekend in the San Juan Islands would be a bad plan either.
• Buyers can customize much of the boat
• Low-profile deckhouse
• Robust construction
• Small forward windows restrict view from the saloon
• Only room for one at helm seat
• Poor access to the back of the engine
HEADROOM 6ft 6in
BERTHS 6ft 8in x 5ft 4in (fwd and aft)
LOA 48ft // LWL 42ft 4in
BEAM 27ft // DRAFT 3ft 11in
DISPLACEMENT 27,448lb (light ship);
34,172lb (full load)
SAIL AREA 1,338ft2 (main and genoa)
FUEL/WATER/WASTE (GAL) 159/159/30
ENGINE 2 x 40hp Yanmar or Volvo
ELECTRICAL 2 x 90 (engine); 1 x 260AH (house)
DESIGNER Angelo Lavranos
BUILDER Knysna Yacht Co., Knysna,