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01 Sep 2021

CRUISING WORLD: Balance 526 Wins Import Boat of the Year

It was a match made in multihull heaven. On the one hand, you had American Phil Berman, a world-class competitive Hobie sailor in his youth, who parlayed his knowledge, talent and passion into a decades-long career conceptualizing, sailing and selling cruising catamarans. On the other hand, you had designer Anton du Toit and the Paarman brothers, a trio of South African surfing legends who began their careers shaping and building surfboards and later applied that experience — along with their deep understanding of the wild waves, winds and currents that surge along the coast of their homeland — to the lamination, construction and marketing of long-range cruising cats.

The ensuing collaboration between Berman, du Toit, the Paarman bros and their company, Nexus Yachts, led to a balancing act in creating a light, fast cruising boat — one that two people could truly sail well — that nonetheless could carry a cruiser’s payload and offer complete, comfortable accommodations. The end result was the Balance 526, Cruising World’s Import Boat of the Year and Best Full-Size Multihull Over 50 Feet for 2017.

“Phil has entered other boats in the contest, including a Dolphin cat built in Brazil and an earlier Balance model built in China,” said Tim Murphy. “I think he’s nailed it with this one. In fact, I think the Balance 526 represents an important moment in the history of multihull design and evolution. We’ve been watching catamaran development for 20 years now. In the beginning, there were big, fat boats that at first weren’t designed for the loads that people put on them. But there was something missing in the marketplace that Phil recognized: a high-­performance voyaging cat that an experienced couple could take anywhere. Then Gunboat came in with their 62-footer, a real thoroughbred boat, but it was more than most couples could handle; you needed a professional crew. Finally, we have that performance cruiser that a couple can actually sail well.

“The lamination work is very nice,” he continued. “This is a vacuum-bagged epoxy boat. A lot of the structure has carbon in it. It’s an E-glass boat for the most part, but where there are any high-load areas, they’re using carbon. So it’s a good, light structure.”

“The Balance we sailed had a high-end owner who decided to go full-on with a lithium-ion power plant, so we’re playing in the state-of-the-art arena here,” said Ed Sherman. “On the shore-power side, he was also very mindful of migrating around the world, so he set that up in such a way that he has a lot of options that are essentially switchable with the change of an adaptor. But there are also 1,200 watts’ worth of solar panels. To save weight, they went to a 24-volt DC system instead of 12 volts; this enables them to cut their wire gauge and such in half, which on a boat like this can add up to a lot of weight in just copper. It speaks to the whole concept of the boat.”

“The delivery crew that had brought the boat from South Africa were so enthusiastic about how the boat sailed and how functional it was,” said Carol Hasse. “They were sailors, like us, and they were all in sync with the boat in neat ways that made us all feel like ‘OK, this thing is totally happening. It’s well designed and seaworthy.’” Indeed it was. And it was also a big winner.