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This latest Fountaine Pajot catamaran was so new to the Australian market, indeed the world, that at time of testing just after the Sydney International Boat Show in August, there was still no printed brochure available. Mind you, that has not stopped the punters buying into the name of Fountaine Pajot and its designers Berret Racopeau, there was over 100 of these multihulls sold before one even made it out of the shed.

Fair enough, since Fountaine Pajot formed as a partnership in 1976 as a racing dinghy boatbuilder, it quickly presented the cruising catamaran to a sceptical market. Only to see it mass produce its growing range to claim the title of the world's largest catamaran builder: power and sail.

While the Astrea 42 is developed as the replacement for the nine-year old Lipari 41, there has been so much development in catamaran hull and interior design that it is probably better to describe this latest model as a cut-down version of the bigger sister: Saona 47. The reasons for this will become clear.

So, going by the old marketing maxim of 'past history is no indicator of present performance', does this latest model sit comfortably amongst its peers in the Fountaine Pajot saloon, by proving it can take catamaran design a further step?

Using the three design brief factors as markers of how it performs, let us look at each in turn.

Comfort

When I think of comfort on a catamaran I think of hull-ride and, for that, hull design is paramount. Given it is a Berret Racopeau design then it can be assumed it is the latest thinking hull designers have on multihulls.

There is the slightly inverted sheer bow leading up to a quite high chine, probably there to break up the look of such high hull topsides, along with the two hull windows. This topside line leads back to a steep sloping aft sheer. The deckline has a lovely curve to it dropping lower at the stern to give it a racy look. A rather low height in the cabin top continues that racy look as it sits deep in the bridgedeck.

When standing on the deck it is easy to see the quite bulbous forward sections in the hulls, obviously going to provide a roomy interior, but most of all promoting that smooth transition of water around the entire hull. It is a design practice I am starting to see appearing in monohulls as well.

Above the waterline the inside line of the hulls widens dramatically as it proceeds aft under the bridgedeck. At the waterline this width is countered on the inside of the hulls with a low chine. I am guessing it also assists to break up the cross waves, as the bridgedeck clearance looks low, but I could not be sure without the measurement. The hull waterline does carry this fat width right to the stern, which becomes obvious when you note the size of the aft sugar scoops.

When we tok the yacht out for a test sail it was only on Sydney Harbour and the breezes steadfastly wanted to stay away from the cold and never reached over fifteen knots. The gusts that did hit close to that mark showed the 42 footer was still a lively lady and will react.

Going by its specifications though, this is not a performance catamaran. It is amongst the heaviest 42 foot cats going around but, having said that, it still goes quick enough it is a multihull after all; the base speed algorithm claims this will still average nine knots over a 24 hour day. Plus the reason for all that weight can be found inside the hulls, which is the comfort benefit of owning a Fountaine Pajot.

Let's take a look then at the more creature comforts the Astrea 42 provides.

Deck layout is pretty straightforward, because of the bulbous forward sections and maximum beam being so far forward the walk along the side decks is remarkably unencumbered by shrouds. Quite noticeable for such a small yacht.

Forward of the cabin top is a lovely three to four seater cushioned lounge area with a deep well for easy sitting. This is a direct copy of the big sister Saona 47 and the cushions are banana lounge-style movable to ensure comfort in any postiion.

The cabin top sits about a metre above the deck making access to the boom and mainsail easy. All sheets and halyards run under tunnels on the cabin top and appear at the helm station.

The helm station is well-organised. A two-seater behind the helm includes an angled side so one person on watch can swivel around and stretch out as a day lounge. In front of the wheel is the work area for all the winches and jammers. Rope tails fall neatly into a large rope bag and halyards can be coiled and tied off with included tie-offs.

On the inner port side of the station are steps up to the sun lounge under the boom, or down to the aft deck. The sun lounge easily accommodates two people and is articulated to allow sitting up or lying down, same as the forward lounge well.

The teak laid cockpit saloon floor matched the cushions on the extensive seating: three across the aft beam, alongisde the ubiquitous barbecue; six around the large saloon table offset to port with the door into the cabin offset to starboard. All of these bench seats have stowage underneath.

Access to the water, as I mentioned earlier, is easy with these wide hull sugar scoop sterns. In between the scoops is another useful addition added from the Saona: an electric tender lift platform, quite remarkable and, I would hazard at a guess, once you had one of these you would never go back.

The wide sliding door and galley window slide out of sight. When closed the engine noise drop was noticeable from the sound deadening they provided.

The galley is perfectly placed to provide the food for the large outside table, which negates the need for another large table inside the cabin. This is why most catamaran brands now use the full, hard bimini across the back deck, making the outdoor area the main focal point of crew congregation.

The U-shape galley has a 11/2 sink, a separate oven compartment on the bench and a three-burner stove. While I much prefer a three-burner stove to the usual two, this one does not use the idea of a triangular orientation of the burners to allow three round pots to fit on the stove at the same time. Instead it is in the shape of an 'L' with the controls contained in the stovetop. so, while it has three burners you really could only cook with two pots at a time.

Galley storage continues on the other side of the doorway threshhold with extra freezer/fridge space and lockers. All in all a serviceable kitchen space.

Foward of the galley is the stairs to the port hull and forward of that is the navigation station with radio, chartplotter and Fusion stereo system. The desk uses the forward day lounge as a seat. The switchboard and fuse panel are at the back of this station facing the stairs to the port hull.

As with all catamarans there is plenty of flat bench space available with minimal fiddlework. Headroom is excellent and two of the forward windows open up for suitable airflow when at anchor.

A long centreline porthole in the cabin head provides an excellent view up the mast or to the stars when anchored.

Moving down into the hull cabins, our test yacht was Astrea's Maestro version with three cabins and three heads. The entire starboard hull is the master cabin and this is where those wonderfully-designed broad beamed armas come into full comfort mode.

Centre part of the hull is open, includes full height wardrobes, a suitably-sized desk and chair and numerous storage options. Face aft to find the enormous master bed with easy walk-around, plenty of hatches for light and air.

But forward you get the best indication of the advantage those bulbous bows bring. The head is in a separate closed room against the topsides and forward of that is a massive vanity/shower room. It is three metres long and split in two: inboard is the sink and cupboards and outboard is a full shower recess. I mean, seriously, this is a huge space, you would be happy to have this in your own home as an en-suite.

The port side arma has two same size beds with a suitable sized en-suite each. There are a staggering twelve different head/shower layout options between the two hulls.

Overall, this definitely reaches the aimed-for comfort premium in a 42 footer.

Easy sailing

As with the emphasis on most yacht design nowadays, mono and multi, it is to make the yacht easy to sail, even if just by two people.

Like many multihulls the boom gooseneck is quite low at the mast to facilitate hooking up the fathead mainsail and retrieving the main into the lazyjacks bag. The boom angles up from there, enough to allow Fountaine Pajot's preferred bulkhead helming position on the starboard side. As mentioned earlier, all control lines run back to the double seat steering position; allowing both crew to sit up there and control the yacht or just lounge.

The raised steering station is open to the back deck for easy communication, the steps are wide and house the liferaft behind for easy deployment.

The teak-slatted lowering platform between the sugar scoops is an easy way to get rid of the annoying davits. Fold out v-rollers sit the hull of any tender and the platform lowers below water level for easy launch or retrieval. This also makes for an excellent swim platform.

As you would expect from a Berret Racopeau design, these hulls are slippery. At one of the heaviest 42 footers around, however, I am not too sure if two 22 kilowatt inboards is really sufficient to give good fuel economy on long drives. There is so much standard comfort built into this yacht that the option to upgrade to larger engines may well be affordable. Our test yacht had indeed boosted to twin Volvo Penta 40 horsepower units and, with those huge wide sugar scoops, the engine rooms accommodate the extra size with room to burn.

Either motoring or sailing the Astrea 42 is a fine performer.

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