By: Peter Nielson, SAIL Magazine
The growing popularity of catamarans for bluewater sailing has spawned a number of designs aimed at sailors who want some speed along with their comfort, yet either don’t want, or can’t afford to go down the high-tech carbon-fiber route. Builders like Catana and Outremer are the best-known companies that cater to this market, but there are a number of others, many of them based in South Africa, which is tied with France as the current hotbed of multihull development. One of the newer entrants into this competitive field is Balance Catamarans, whose second model, the Balance 526, we took for a spin on a sunny day off Fort Lauderdale.
Design & Construction
Balance is the brainchild of veteran multihull broker Phil Berman, who wanted to distill his decades of experience into a line of dedicated fast cruising boats. Experienced naval architect Anton du Toit put flesh on the bones of Berman’s requirements, and builder Jonathan Paarman of South Africa’s Nexus Yachts made the creation come to life.
The aim was to build a cruising cat that was easy to sail shorthanded, would look after its crew at sea, could carry all the cruising comforts that one could reasonably expect and could sail at average speeds of 10 to 12 knots. The hull forms exhibit no chines or protrusions, and wave-piercing bows and fine forward sections give way to wider, flared sections aft. High bridgedeck clearance and a pair of daggerboards combine to provide a seakindly ride and good windward ability.
One of the aims was to keep the boat at under 10 tons light-ship displacement—in the knowledge that owners would pile various amounts of gear onboard—and this was achieved with a build schedule that specifies a hull and deck sandwich of Corecell foam skinned with E-glass and epoxy resin. Carbon fiber is used to strengthen high-load areas, and interior bulkheads and furniture—including the handmade sliding doors to the saloon—are of composite construction to further keep weight down. The build quality on our test boat, Ondine, which was packed with complex systems specified by its owner, was first-class—the moldings were flawless, the attention to detail throughout was outstanding, and the complex electrical and plumbing installations were to high standards.