In the fast-paced world of production yachts a five year old design may be considered past its use-by date. But when such
a yacht is built by Fountaine Pajot and designed by Berret-Racoupeau, the utility of this 13.3 metre catamaran is still well evident.
The original Helia 44 design was upgraded in 2015 and became the Helia Evolution. Our test model, for a new Melbourne owner, gives testament to the longevity of this design. Fountaine Pajot are up to hull number 200 in those five years and we set sail with ten potential new owners for this test ride. This is clearly a design winner, so what makes it so special?
The test yacht was fresh from the Sydney International Boat show so it included 300 kilograms of lead and all the Multihull Solutions exhibition stand paraphenalia. Along with the ten guests for the day, its performance may certainly not have been indicative of true potential.
Pump up the volume
The owner of this Helia 44 opted for the three cabin ‘Maestro’ model, with the starboard hull given over entirely as the owner stateroom. This is a massive space and a solid enough reason alone to want to purchase one. It can come with either a private lounge area or even an office.
The owner’s bed is queen-sized facing forward against the aft bulkhead with plenty of portholes opening to the transom steps for air and light.
The owner’s head is mid-hull, making it accessible to the rest of the boat if necessary. Move into the forepeak, however, and through the enormous separate shower cabin and you will find a sealed door to the fitted laundry machine. A neat addition.
In the port hull the two guest cabins each have their own ablutions cabin. Head and elbow room is plentiful; so is air flow and light. The ‘Questor’ model copies the port hull into the starboard, this is probably a nod to the charter market of which catamarans are extremely popular.
Although the charter market and private ownership have different needs and preferences, the saloon and back deck area are the same in both versions and quality is not compromised between the two. The upgrade to the ‘Evolution’ increased porthole size by 30 per cent making this bright and airy down below no matter where you are, overcoming the cramped feeling some catamarans suffer.
New private owners can use the large number of options packages to add to make their new purchase their own. This yacht’s owner included air conditioning, watermaker, generator set, extra batteries for the power loading and a teak cockpit flooring plus more; adding $250,000 to the price. These inclusions were mostly added as the Melbourne owner wishes to head to both Tasmania and Queensland, experiencing solitude and variable weather.
The owner also doubled up on the fridge and freezer storage for those long trips, including an outdoor fridge in the cockpit saloon.
Joinery and timberwork is quite excellent and luxurious. Most furniture corners are sharp, possibly to assist in saving money on the fitout but this does not detract from the overall look. Falling to leeward onto a sharp corner is not a common problem on a multihull, unless too many sundowners have been imbibed.
One of the continual problems with taking a catamaran into the tropics (or any hull for that matter) is air movement when anchored. The designers have incorporated some neat tricks to help overcome this problem. When anchored it is a simple matter to open up the mandatory hull escape hatches installed underneath the bridge deck in case of inversion. When opened, these hatches, in the shade just above the cooling water, provide a lovely air flow throughout the hulls.
The galley in the main saloon fits in neatly, still allowing plenty of lounge seating around the main table. This keeps the cook in touch with the socialising and makes for easy transition of meals to table, either indoors or out.
There is a small exhaust hatch sitting over the galley but, in such a large and open area, it really is quite unnecessary. Due to the openness of catamarans they often suffer from a lack of storage space where needed. It does not appear to be so with the Helia, including an easily accessible hatch to under floor storage.
The addition of the galley on the port side makes the steps down into each hull offset from each other.
Throughout the Helia there is 190 centimetre headroom, ensuring movement without worry.
Even though there is sleeping for three couples in quite expansive and luxurious surroundings, if need be the saloon table can be dropped to become a double bed as well. The port side of the lounge extends to double as the seating for the navigation table tucked into the port side above the hull and providing excellent 360 degree views.
This indoor table would seat four comfortably. Not enough for a sit-down dinner for all crew, but then the idea is not to spend your time indoors.
Check the scene
Under the solid bimini sits the main table, which would easily seat six and eight at a pinch. It is served by the galley just forward of the bulkhead. A nice opening hatch above provides exhaust and a view of the sky.
The solid bimini is high, out of the way and expansive; covering coaming to coaming for a full 50 square metres. Beside the dining table there is further seating to starboard, tantalisingly called a ‘fainting lounge’! Further bench seating is across the transom in front of the dinghy davits. This is indeed party central.
Storage beneath all lounges is enormous providing for the gen set or dive gear and liferafts.
The two Volvo engines sit under solid hatches at the aft end of each hull. The owner upgraded the standard 30 kilowatt (40 horsepower) drive trains with sail drives to 40kW (55hp). I could stand on the hatch covers above and still hold an easy conversation. Even with the hatches open they ran relatively quietly. The space allocated allows a person to squeeze in and work on all sides of the engine under suitable neon lighting.
On the starboard side of the cockpit saloon area is a short ladder to the steering station. Three others can join the skipper while sailing. The sail controls are standard and all lead to within easy reach of the helmsperson.
Up at this raised height, not totally on top of the bimini but halfway ensconced, the view is excellent surrounded by clear covers for protection. The top cover, however, is solid and, with no hatch, it is difficult to keep an eye on the main and the wind indicator on the top of the mast. Sure, all the instrumentation you need is right there, but sailing is still a visceral pasttime and I found not being able to see all my sails a bit disconcerting.
To port of this helm position leads to the flybridge lounge area on top of the bimini. Here two people can lie peacefully under the boom and soak up the rays.
If the cockpit is party central, then this is relaxation central.
In the groove
Given the extra weight and light winds we were trialling in, our boat speed testing was severely hampered. So we have to rely on specifications.
Like most modern production catamaran designs these days, the benefit two hulls can bring to crew comfort tends to outweigh the inherent advantage two hulls brings to boat speed. We know Berret-Racoupeau can design fast yachts, both single and multi, but that is not what the cruising scene and, especially, the charter market desire.
Plus, like most multihulls, windward performance is not its strong point. Given that, on the quiet day that we did sail in Sydney Harbour, the Helia 44 showed surprising height and speed in the under ten knots experienced. Better than I expected!
The designers own velocity prediction programs show the wind angles of between 90 degrees and 120 degrees as the best performing across the wind speeds. Once you get up to 15 knots of true wind you can expect to maintain double figure boat speed across that apparent wind angle arc.
The sail area to displacement ratio of the Helia 44 would suggest, however, that it is time to turn the engines on once the wind speed drops below eight knots. With 470 litres of fuel you should get well over 100 hours of cruising speed out of her and a maximum speed over nine knots.
The other beauty of the hard bimini is the ease with which a crew can work on the mast, with the gooseneck at a nice low height. Of course, muscle power is not required as self-tailing halyard winches are standard and within reach of crew at the steering station.
Forward of the mast is plenty of storage for anchoring equipment and life rafts and the ubiquitious trampoline for speed sailing fun or watching the dolphins try to keep up.
Test of time
While the Helia 44 has been on the market for five years, this was the first time for me to take one out for a spin.
You cannot deny the quality of the marque that Multihull Solutions has on its hands here: designed by Berret-Racoupeau and built by Fountaine Pajot, which you would think would ensure this catamaran’s longevity. But this is a fast-paced world where quality yacht designs are rolled out every three years. In that respect reputation may count for zip in this crazy world.
But Fountaine Pajot have the runs on the board with the Helia 44 Evolution and many more on the books lined up to be built.