I’m sure many readers have heard of the dinghy test, in which it’s considered important you be able to admire your own boat as you’re dinghying ashore. Taking things up a notch, I’d say there’s also a kind of vanity test underway, whereby it ain’t half bad finding yourself sailing around on a boat so cool you can’t help thinking you’re pretty cool as well. Case in point, the new South African-built Balance 482 catamaran.
Design & Construction
A collaboration between Balance president Phillip Berman and naval architect Anton du Toit, the Balance 482 features a pair of narrow, slippery hulls that include either high-performance fixed keels or dual daggerboards (the latter far and away the more popular of the two); wave-piercing bows, to reduce hobby-horsing; a nicely drawn reverse sheer to maximize living space while keeping weight out of the ends; a low cabintrunk to minimize windage; and a powerful easily handled rig with a square-top main and self-taking headsail. Reaching sails can be flow from a centerline longeron sprit fabricated out of aluminum.
Construction is in E-glass and vinylester with a PVC foam core and carbon-fiber reinforcements in high-load areas, like the mast beam, aft beam and chain plates. This kind of selective use of carbon allows Balance to achieve strength and stiffness at a more reasonable cost than going “full carbon,” so to speak. Interior joinery work and floorboards are also cored to provide stiffness and further reduce weight. The bows include a pair of crash boxes in the interest of safety. The overall look of the boat, with its swept-back saloon windows and gently angled cabintrunk and hardtop aft, is purposeful and fast.
My test sail aboard the Balance 482 shortly after the 2021 Annapolis sailboat show was a bit unusual in that we had a crowd of family and customers aboard. The more the merrier, though, as far as I’m concerned, since that’s the way bigger boats, in particular, are meant to be sailed—with plenty of friends and family to keep you company!
The reason I mention this is that in the case of the Balance 482, there was more than enough room for all, a testament to Berman and du Toit’s design skills. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to move around aboard some cats, but not the 482. Balance makes a point of doing mockups of all its designs for the express purpose of ensuring its boats work in the real world, and it shows.
The boat also felt rock solid going forward. The combination of wide, flat side decks, an aggressive nonskid, outboard toerails and a nicely designed groove-like handhold enclosing much of the cabintrunk (which doubles as a water-catchment system for longer passages) ensures you don’t have to feel like you’re taking your life into your hands exiting the cockpit. I especially liked the step and handholds integrated into the boat’s Sparcraft aluminum mast and boom (carbon spars can be priced on request) for getting onto and around the cabintrunk for, say, tending the mainsail.
Finally, no discussion of a Balance catamaran would be complete without giving a shout out to the company’s proprietary Versa-Helm, a system whereby the wheel can be oriented in a raised helming position overlooking the cabintrunk or swung back down to a more sheltered position beneath the hard dodger with views through the saloon. It’s a proven setup that works well and makes lots of sense.
Deck hardware aboard our test boat included a combination of Harken electric winches, blocks and tracks, Spinlock clutches and Jefa cable steering. Electronics aboard our test boat were B&G. Solar panels mounted on the cabintrunk complement LED lighting throughout and a sophisticated well-installed electrical system.
Belowdecks and in the saloon, the Balance 482 is equally impressive—again the result of the mocking up and tweaking that are an integral part of the Balance design process. The saloon includes a forward-facing nav/watch-standing station to port and a wraparound settee and dining table to starboard that can be easily converted to an additional double berth. The aft-facing galley flanks the passageway to the cockpit, with multiple front-opening fridges and freezers to starboard and sinks, a Bosch oven and Kenyon convection stovetop to port.
On our test boat the entire starboard hull was given over to the owner, with a lateral double bunk forward and a truly massive shower space aft. A pair of double-berth cabins share the hull to port. A four-cabin, eight-person layout is also available. The overall finish is sleek and modern. A somewhat unconventional striped “zebra” wood veneer is apparently all the rage among Balance owners these days, and while it’s a bit unusual, I confess it’s starting to grow on me. Other, more conventional veneers are also available.
We had perfect weather for our test sail, and the Balance 482 took full advantage of every puff. Sailing in flat seas with 12 knots of wind just aft of abeam yielded 8.6 knots of boatspeed. A puff of 20 knots popped our speed up into double digits. Unfurling the Code 0 did the same. Steering aboard out test boat, which came equipped with the aforementioned daggerboards, was sensitive and predictable, whether holding a course or coming about. The Balance 482 is one of those multihulls aboard which the helm provides you with some real feedback, à la a monohull. There’s nothing like chasing puffs aboard a boat that rewards you with a burst of speed once you’ve caught them.
Best of all was how effortless it all was. Again, we had a crowd aboard, including two little girls in colorful sundresses, no less. There was never a moment, though, when they or any of our passengers were in any way concerned. Just the opposite. They spent most of their time lounging around up on the tramp without a care in the world while we nerdy sailors did our best to max out the boat’s VMGs aft.
Alas, we didn’t have a chance to try the 482 out in any real seas. But a short, rough sail I took to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a few years ago aboard another, smaller Balance made clear the company knows how to build boats for this kind of weather as well. I have every confidence the Balance 482 will be a great offshore passagemaker.
It was impossible to accurately assess precisely how the boat did under power. However, our test boat’s twin 45hp Yanmars and Varifold three-blade folding props (Gori props are also an option) had no problem propelling us through the chop. With the daggerboards partway down to provide a little lateral resistance, “tractoring” the two engines back and forth made getting on and off the dock in a surprisingly tight marina just south of Back Creek a snap.
The multihull market has long since matured to where there are a variety of different types to choose from. Personally, I think they all have something to offer. However, if you’re the kind of sailor who values performance and drop-dead gorgeous good looks in addition to comfort afloat, you owe it to yourself to check out the Balance 482.
LOA 48ft 3in LWL 48ft 3in Beam 25ft 11in Displacement 25,358lb Sail Area 1,417ft2 (main and jib) Fuel/Water (GAL) 212/206 Engines 2 x Yanmar 4JH45 w/saildrives SA/D Ratio 26 D/L Ratio 101 Designers Anton du Toit and Phillip Berman Builder Balance Catamarans, Philadelphia, PA/Cape Town, South Africa, balancecatamarans.com Price $1.5 million (fully equipped) at time of publication.
MHS Winter 2022