The Multihull Industry’s Major Builders

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A work crew prepares to splash the new Outremer 55 in France

A work crew prepares to splash the new Outremer 55 in France

It’s a given that boatbuilding these days is a global industry, with sailboats going down the ways everywhere from the icy waters of Scandinavia to the South China sea. This includes the manufacture of multihulls—no surprise given their birthplace in the far-flung islands of the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. What follows is a brief survey of some of the multihull world’s leading brands, as well as where they are located and what their production facilities are like.

Seawind and Corsair Marine International

Seawind and Corsair Marine, which joined forces in 2010, offer a case study in flexible boatbuilding, if for no other reason than the company’s widely varied range of products—which include both the Seawind line of performance bluewater cruising cats (seawindcats.com) and the Corsair line of high-performance and performance-cruising folding tris (corsairmarine.com). According to company marketing manager, Shane Grover, Seawind/Corsair recently added a pair of new manufacturing spaces to the 14,500m2 site its been using, bringing its total facility area to 19,900m2 with 10,700m2 of production space. The company, which has its roots in Australia but now builds its boats in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh city, produces around 25 catamarans and 30 trimarans in a typical year. Grover adds that one of the company’s strengths is the fact it does so much of its prep and fabrication work internally in the interest of quality control.

“We have a strong design team and most of our design work is in-house. Paired with CNC machines for quick realization of parts we are able to produce new plugs and molds extremely quickly,” Grover says. “We also produce our own masts (in partnership with Allyacht Spars in Brisbane Australia). They design and engineer the masts and provide the standing rigging and fabricated components. We then cut, assemble, splice and rig the masts here. We also laminate and produce our own carbon rigs in house [and] do our own electrical work, our own timberwork and plumbing and produce our own upholstery, mattresses, cushions and covers. We do it all in order to have increased control over quality and ensure we can consistently deliver repeatably to our stringent quality standards.”

Xquisite Yachts

Established in 2014, Cape Town, South Africa, based Xquisite Yachts (xquisiteyachts.com) quickly made a name for itself the SAIL magazine “Best Boats” award-winning X5 performance cruising catamaran. More recently it has embarked on an ambitious plan to introduce three new models in quick succession: an update on the X5 called the X5 plus, and sail and power versions of a yacht called the “Sixty Solar.” The company’s 7,000m2 facility produces between six and eight boats per year and combines an experienced workforce with the latest manufacturing technology in the interest of quality and efficiency.

“Our new company, Xquisite Africa is in process of getting a 20m x 5m x 2.5m-large five-axis milling machine to be able to do rapid machining of patterns and molds,” says company founder Tamas Hamor. “We’re also investing in a 3D Printing head on the five-axis milling machine. This will make the boatyard unique in that it will be able to print out a full-size boat mold and sub-components from materials that can upcycled after the molds have reached their lifespan and not thrown into landfill…The company is proud to be supportive of any green manufacturing where all processes are based on eco-friendly practices and renewable resources in building the catamarans.”

Hamor adds Xquisite also does its best to be a part of the local community as well. “The company has partnered with universities in working with leading-edge technologies in the fields of composites and engineering. A training school is being established in order to up-skill youngsters in the fields of small craft building,” he says. “A further development is in the robotronic smart boat technology where an innovative hub space has been created to develop CAMBUS touchscreen technologies that will allow the fleet of boats in the future to interact with the boatyard on a continuous basis.

Balance Catamarans

Long noted for its smart design and top-notch build quality, Balance Catamarans (balancecatamarans.com) produces its boats at not one but two different facilities in South Africa: The Nexus Yachts shipyard in St. Francis Bay and a brand-new Balance Catamarans plant in Cape Town. The Cape Town plant, which Balance moved into in mid-2020, has a footprint of 9,500m2 and is currently gearing up to build as many as 10 of the company’s smaller 442 and 482 designs annually and one of its larger 680 or 760 yachts per year. The company’s Nexus Yachts plant, which was built in 2007 and then expanded in 2011, has a footprint of about 5,000m2 and launches a new cat every four months.

Central to the Balance production process for the company’s smaller models is the fact the hulls are laminated in one piece without the need for additional joining laminates and tabbing, which helps to save weight. The boats’ structural PVC foam cores are also thermo-formed and vacuum bagged for further weight savings, with the structural cores on 526, 580 and 620 all GURIT CORECELL vacuum-bagged using epoxy resin with carbon reinforcing on all structural areas (Full carbon laminates are an option as well.) Balance makes a point of fabricating as many components in-house as possible in order to ensure quality. Beyond that, Balance takes special pride in its workforce, which it says brings a wealth of experience to everything from laminating to electrical installation. All the structural detailing and design work is also done by the company’s partner, Du Toit Yacht Design, which has its offices just down the road from the company’s Cape Town plant, which is itself a second-generation family business with over three decades of experience. “Many of the team have worked with us for a long time,” the company says. “Many are also passionate sailors themselves and therefore bring a wealth of experience to the art of building a catamaran that is both fast and comfortable.”

Lagoon and Excess

Part of Group Beneteau, Lagoon (cata-lagoon.com) and the recently launched Excess line of performance cruising cats (excess-catamarans.com) are both based out of the company’s CNB (Construction Navale Bordeaux) facility in Bordeaux, France. However, they remain very distinct entities within the group, with multiple separate facilities focusing on everything from fiberglassing and woodwork to the manufacture of Lagoon’s larger Sixty 5 and Seventy 7 models. Though CNB is located on the site of a shipyard that first began sending vessels down the ways in the 1800s, the build processes at both Lagoon and Excess are state-of-the art, with the two lines employing the “Lean” approach in all they do to maximize quality and efficiency. Precision CNC machining is used for everything from cutting joinerywork to prototyping new parts. The resin-infusion process is used on all decks and hulls. Lagoon and Excess even run their own laboratories to ensure the components and materials they employ are tough enough for life offshore.

Perhaps most impressive of all, for companies that produce as many boats as they do, the cleanliness and order of a Lagoon or Excess plant have to be seen to be believed. Gone are the cluttered, sawdust-strewn workshops of boatyards past. The look and feel of a Lagoon or Excess production facility is more a cross between Ford Motor Co. and NASA—impressive stuff, but no surprise coming from two of the world’s most dynamic boatbuilders.

Gunboat

Although the company has had its ups and downs, one thing that has never changed about the iconic Gunboat brand (gunboat.com) is its commitment to building some of the fastest, hottest-looking performance cruisers around. Today, the company, which was acquired a number of years ago by France’s Grand Large Yachting, manufactures its boats (including the brand-new Gunboat 68) at a purpose-built 3,600m2 facility that first went on line in La Grande-Motte in 2018. According to Gunboat COO William Jelbert, the reason for moving was to take advantage of the critical mass of cutting-edge design and building technologies to be found in that part of the world.

“Europe is a hotbed of sailing design and building race programs as well as cruising sailboats: France in particular with the notoriety of French offshore sailing and its successful, talented boatbuilding industry,” Jelbert says. “In France, from the engineering offices to the build team, our employees are experienced sailors, many of them have been involved in full race programs, so they understand weight savings and small details, and being passionate about it and having experiential knowledge translates into higher build quality.”

To this end, Jelbert says that in addition to its top-notch fabrication skills, Gunboat also makes a point of employing a “process-driven” approach, in which “clean and careful construction,” is perfected first on a mockup before completing installation on the actual boat.

It’s all about “quality, and delivering on our promises,” Jelbert says. “An owner can take their new Gunboat from the factory straight offshore with confidence… We’ve eliminated this whole business of receiving a new boat with extensive ‘commissioning.’ This is a huge advantage.”

Fountaine Pajot

One of the giants of the multihull world, France’s Fountaine Pajot (fountaine-pajot.com) launches around 300 boats per year from its three production facilities in the La Rochelle area: two in the town of Aigrefeuille, about 30 minutes outside of La Rochelle, and one in the heart of La Rochelle itself, which includes its own dedicated slipway. The combined work area of the three shipyards is an impressive 45,000m².

Founded in 1978 by Jean-François Fountaine to build 420, 470 and 505 dinghies, the company remains an innovator to this day with an eye toward both quality and efficiency. Hulls, decks and biminis, for example, are all fabricated using a proprietary resin injection and infusion technique in the interest of finish quality and weight control. Similarly, the company’s new digital cutting plant allows it to internalize the cutting of fabrics, foams and wood for the construction of its boats’ interior modules. Same thing with the company’s highly sophisticated assembly line approach to systems integration and its recently implemented high-performance varnishing line.

Then there are the company’s people, the designers, fabricators and other construction specialists who make it all possible, not to mention the company’s equally dedicated commitment to the environment.

“Fountaine Pajot’s ambition is to become the leader in sustainable construction in the nautical industry market,” the company says. “To do so, the shipyard wishes to become an innovation platform federating an ecosystem of independent solutions and companies to build a common vision. We believe that by 2030, we will be able to produce boats with a very low carbon impact using the SBT protocol and offsetting. We also want to offer on our boats the latest fashion innovations such as hybrid solutions, hydrogen extensions, organic and recycled materials, solar recharging solutions, etc. Many new solutions will be implemented on our production boats between now and 2024.”

We would expect no less from a true giant of the industry!

Outremer Catamarans

Since its inception in 1984, France’s Catamaran Outremer (catamaran-outremer.com) has made a priority of performance, and it shows in the company’s build processes. Based in La Grande-Motte on the shores of the Med, the company manufactures around 30 boats per year, a number that has been steadily increasing of late. That said, the company is in no rush to grow, preferring to focus on quality as opposed to numbers—despite what marketing manager Raphaëlle Monier describes as “pressure to build more boats per year to keep up with the demand.”

To this end, boats like its new Outremer 55 are all constructed employing both the resin-infusion process and materials such as E-glass and carbon fiber in load-bearing bulkheads and other structural components, in particular. Weight optimization is of critical concern throughout, as is evident in the kitted foam cores the company employs in its decks and hulls. Evolutive cuts are also made in these cores allowing them to better adapt to any curves they encounter during the molding process and reduce resin intake.

According to Monier, Outremer is also looking for ways to lessen the environmental impact of its operations by optimizing the performance of its boats during their design, production and end-of-life stages. The company has also begun experimenting with natural fibers and bio-based resins.

HH Catamarans

Luxury-cat builder HH Catamarans (hhcatamarans.com), one of the growing number of builders focused on the top-end performance-cruiser market, prides itself on cutting-edge manufacture and design, and it shows in the company’s Xiamen, China, shipyard. In all, the facility, which is adjacent to the sea and has its own launch slipway, includes three main manufacturing “halls” encompassing 29,000m2. These three build areas are equipped with everything from gantry cranes to kitting areas and paint shops. There’s also a dedicated CNC building housing four three-axis machines and a massive 18m x 5m x 4m five-axis router and a separate metal fabrication shop. The factory, which is especially adept at carbon fabrication, first opened in 2007 with a substantial expansion in 2017 to accommodate growing demand.

“A factory like this needs multiple levels of organization not, just a set of general drawings,” HH’s Paul Smith says. “So we have an internal design office, too, with 20 engineers, and it is here that the design is received by the engineers who will build the boat with every detail in three dimensions… Once drawings and materials arrive, the magic starts, usually with our giant CNC machine. This machine has been incredibly reliable in delivering full-size plugs or molds to within 1mm accuracy over 60ft.”

Another job for the in-house design engineers, Smith says, is working out how the interior joinery will all fit together, then sending “cut files” to the CNC division. “The interiors (all made with lightweight foam cores) end up going together very efficiently and with perfect accuracy, even though no two boats have ever been the same,” Smith says of the flexibility this approach affords the company in creating its custom interiors. “This is now something we pride ourselves on—the fact we can offer not just one or two interior arrangements, but in essence any arrangement that fits within the bulkheads.”

Dragonfly

The Dragonfly (dragonfly.dk) line of performance folding tris, is built by Denmark’s Quorning Boats. The company is still run by Jens Quorning, son of Borge Quorning, who founded the company in 1967. Over the years, the company’s production facilities have grown to where they now enclose some 4,500m2 of manufacturing space in which 50 veteran boatbuilders produce about 40 boats per year. Over the years the technology and materials the company employs have also advanced, with resin-infusion, CNC tooling of the company’s molds, 3D computer designer and carbon fiber becoming part of the mix. Still, at the heart of the Dragonfly production process are the workers themselves, an especially important consideration for a company that specializes in tailoring its boats to meet each customer’s individual needs to the fullest extent possible.

“Dragonfly Trimarans has a long and special history, based on the DNA for the love of sailing, great design and function, combining performance and elegant comfortable cruising,” the company says. “The Dragonfly line is all manufactured in Denmark, which is expensive, but quality is on a very high level, and the yard crew is a dedicated group of people that have been building these boats for decades.”

Neel Trimarans

Based in the heart of the boatbuilding region surrounding La Rochelle, France, Neel Trimarans, (neel-trimarans.com) which celebrated its 10th-anniversary last year, has been known since it first burst on the scene for its innovative, comfortable and—perhaps most importantly—speedy performance-cruising trimarans, ranging from 43 to 65ft. The company plans to produce 35 boats this year at its 6,000m2 shipyard, a facility that continues to increase in capacity in order to meet growing demand—which now includes a line of “LEEN” power tris in addition to the sailboats that have long been the company’s bread and butter.

“The major specificity of our boatyard is that everything is internalized and that we do not use external subcontractors… We are constantly reflecting on research and development, integrating innovative, new manufacturing methods in harmony with sustainable development and environmentally friendly processes,” says company founder, Eric Bruneel. “Our brand is, indeed, very specific since we are the only shipyard in the world that manufactures sailing and motor trimarans. We are an alternative in the world of multihulls, our boats combine performance and safe and comfortable behavior at sea with an unequalled surface area and volume on board.”

Leopard Catamarans

The original factory for South Africa’s Leopard Catamarans (leopardcatamarans.com), which also builds a series of charter variants for The Moorings and Sunsail, went online in 1991. Since then, the company has steadily expanded to where it now operates out of six facilities expected to launch an impressive 168 boats in 2021 and as many as 190 in 2022.

In partnership with builder Robertson and Caine, the company employs a sophisticated build process to ensure a combination of the highest quality and efficiency possible. Composite components are produced using the Light-Resin Transfer Moulding (L-RTM) infusion process at the company’s various dedicated molding facilities; joinery components are produced with the help of CNC machines at a central joinery manufacturing facility; assembly of each boat takes place on one of a number of model-specific production lines. During assembly, hulls move along the line to a series of consecutive workstations, starting with module installation, followed by deck bonding, interior fit-out and so on. A dedicated rigging department takes care of mast assembly, mast-stepping and rig tuning and all boats are launched and commissioned by another dedicated team at the company’s Cape Town facility.

“We have a global workforce of diverse cultures who are passionate about building boats,” the company says. “A strong community spirit exists within the company and a belief and pride of building globally recognized products on the southern tip of Africa. To quote one of our factory managers: ‘We build people, who build award-winning catamarans.’”

Nautitech

Long an integral part of the maritime culture that is France, Nautitech (nautitechcatamarans.com) produces between 50 and 70 boats annually at its shipyard on the edge of the Bay of Biscay in the town of Rochefort. The plant, which opened in 2008, is located on the site of a former naval base and dockyard and specializes in vacuum-infusion construction with foam coring to ensure lightweight and strength. Weight is also optimized by using a CNC fiberglass cutting machine and lightweight structural bulkheads (also infused with a foam core) glued to the bottom of the boats’ hulls and then bonded at key locations to ensure a strong reliability and durability.

This past summer Nautitech moved from running a pair of dedicated production lines (building the 40 Open and the 46 Open/Fly & 47 Power) to one single multi-model line with an eye toward creating a more agile “pull” flow process and increasing worker versatility.

“On deck, everything is made to be simple and reliable, easily maneuverable by a small crew,” said naval architect and longtime Nautitech collaborator Marc Lombard. “Similarly, the hull balance is a judicious compromise between a moderate waterline breadth to limit the wet surface and a large volume were useful in terms of amenities. Construction must be sturdy, reliable and relatively rigid. This is achieved thanks to high-quality composite material and the care given to the structural links.” 

MHS Summer 2021


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