Choosing which yacht to buy is not easy and catamarans are no exception to the rule. That’s why my wife and I decided to go to the La Grande Motte show in April 2017, as a first step, to see and compare the available models between 39’ and 42’ likely to suit us.
Fortunately, the French and foreign manufacturers are not short of models in these sizes and in two days, we could compare no less than six boats that corresponded to our desires. The choice was difficult, knowing also that our budget was not unlimited and that each manufacturer had undeniable strengths. On this point, it was clear that equivalent equipment prices are almost identical.
However, among all the boats visited and compared, the unique concept of the Bali 4.0 with its huge saloon worthy of a much larger boat, its very easy to operate pivoting door, its forward cockpit offering a large extra living space for all the family and overall, the intelligence of the solutions invented and chosen by Bali was the one which seduced us the most.
The flybridge, another cozy space.
Despite having concerns over the newness of the brand, we were reassured that the long experience of Catana and the manufacturing technique of Bali according to the same quality criteria as their elders would guarantee a very good quality / price ratio and therefore a good resale value, two very important points for us.
Throughout the July holidays that followed, spent on a friend’s monohull, we studied the various specifications and brochures of the boats that we planned to compare, with the intention to definitively make our choice in September at the Cannes Yachting Festival or the La Rochelle Boat Show. It was at this point that we learned that the Catana shipyard had developed an improved version of the Bali 4.0, named Bali 4.1 and the announced improvements including an increase in the length overall with a large platform linking the two sugarscoops with a comfortable bench seat for three people completely changing the ergonomics of the aft cockpit, which won us over.
After five months of reflection, our choice was definitively focused on the Bali 4.1 to the detriment of another model built by a yard at La Rochelle, which was also very attractive. The launch of our Bali 4.1 could therefore be done in June at Cape Bon in Tunisia where our boat was built in a factory of the Catana group. We could have chosen to have it built in La Rochelle but in this case, we would have had to pay additional delivery costs from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, which we considered unnecessary when we know that the materials and manufacturing processes are strictly identical at both sites. We had checked this point with an existing customer.
After two full days of hand-over, we were able to take delivery of the boat. Due to lack of time, our program consisted of handing our new boat over to three long-time friends to sail to Montenegro, then join them to take over and to be able to sail in the area for almost three weeks with our children and grandchildren before bringing the boat back to France in early September.
Our friends gently took 18 days, including six stops to reach Montenegro, and it was at Herceg Novi in the Bay of Kotor that we embarked. After picking up our three children from Dubrovnik and just as many grandchildren from 4-10 years old, our cruise was able to start.
Despite our choice for the ‘Family’ version to have an ‘owner’s’ hull with a single cabin on the port side, a long passageway and a large bathroom, Balirama nevertheless has 10 berths, counting three possible in the saloon and one in the starboard forepeak. So we are comfortably settled with this configuration and then damn, parents must have some advantages ...
With the aft door open (it has been lowered less than 10 times in four weeks), the platform space is truly amazing and the absence of bulkheads makes it possible for 10 and even 12 to eat at the table very comfortably with the children with amazing ventilation when the forward bay window is totally retracted. I think it’s still unique today on a cat of this size. Aft, the bench seat and the platform add greeatly to the comfort at sea and at anchor, judging by the number of hours the children spend here. We take full advantage of the forward cockpit space, for aperitifs, breakfast for some and relaxation for everyone, including the grandchildren who play constantly, parents are reassured by the protection of the very secure forward handrails.
Twice friends who had rented a villa in Croatia located less than 20 miles from our base in Montenegro joined us on board and we found ourselves with 15 on our Bali 4.1 without any problem and this, thanks to the many relaxation areas on the boat. Amazing for the size, it amazed our friends. “I told you so, my dear Alain!”
We also love the incredible ease of lifting our big tender on the davits, no more than three minutes without effort thanks to the electric mainsail winch. This had been a point of concern for me ... Congratulations to the engineers!
We spent almost three weeks in the coves of northern Montenegro or southern Croatia and were surprised how quiet it was in these magical places and often we were alone a whole day in an idyllic cove with crystal clear water between 27-29°C ... The children enjoyed paddling the kayak. The dream and wonder of the whole family around our grandchildren discovering the almost daily ballet of dolphins playing round our bows, new landscapes and the tranquillity of these places. When they are not in the water of course ...
Stopover under the ramparts at Dubrovnik.
Although very well equipped in the standard version, some selected options make our life easier, I start with the most important one in our eyes – water!
A 12 volt watermaker producing 100 litres per hour has ensured us full autonomy throughout our vacation, not once did we take on water from the dock.
• The power of the Yanmar engines (40hp), not very noisy, propelling us to 6.5/7kts, consuming only 2.5 litres per hour per engine in cruising mode. What reliability!
• The bimini, of course, because it’s impossible to navigate the Mediterranean without one
• Raymarine electronics, reliable and suited to our needs, yet we did not go for all the options the yard offered, I recommend nevertheless the pack including the 12” screen at the helm station, a little expensive for my taste but a great help for navigating
• A special mention for the autopilot who was our best crewmember in all weather throughout the trip ...
• The barbecue grill for cooking some beautiful fish caught with our trusty Penn Senator fishing rod which is over 15 years old ...
• A light genoa (Code 0) for light airs, fortunately we had it because this year the summer saw very light winds in the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian sea
• And finally the outdoor cushions on which we spend most of our time.
A creek in Montenegro with only three boats ... three generations of catamarans built by Catana.
We did not opt for a generator because the two inverters allowed us to operate all our small appliances: expresso coffee machine, toaster, hair dryer, vacuum cleaner, etc., total comfort like at home!
Unfortunately we eventually had to return, four days in Albania (surprising country), then a 36 hour stop in Corfu in Greece to drop off our children and grandchildren, before leaving for France via the Strait of Messina, the Aeolian islands, then southern Corsica, which is still beautiful, finally returning with a Mistral wind, and then a well-established Tramontane from Propriano to Canet, where Balirama will be berthed this winter, with the intention of visiting the Balearic Islands at least for a month next year.
Note that between Montenegro and Canet we sailed 191 hours, with nine stops, eight days at sea, unfortunately 69% with the engine due to the lack of wind (hence the interest of our 40hp motors). We faced two storms with 35/40kts of winds between Corfu and Messina, saw top speeds of 11.5kts under reefed main sail and Solent, 100° off the wind at 30kts and missed two huge fish that broke our lines ... This was the first time we experienced bad weather with our new boat and it was an opportunity for us to appreciate its passage through the water thanks to its rigid forward platform.
It doesn’t pitch up and down at all, doesn’t slam, contrary to what salesmen of other manufacturers suggest, and does not slap under the bridgedeck unlike all the other catamarans we had the opportunity to try. Thank you to Mr Faÿ, the architect of the boat.
Finally, to be as objective as possible, I confess to having given to the yard a list of improvements that seem necessary to me on a catamaran of this quality:
• For safety, it is necessary to extend the handrail between the helm station steps and the aft seating area, in bad weather or at night, it is really too short
• There are missing hooks in the cabins, any ladies wishing to hang their clothes that do not fit in the wardrobes ... and yes we do not sacrifice anything to elegance!
• Bathroom lighting deserves to be improved
• Although my wife finds the galley very functional and has lots of storage space, she regrets that there are not enough fiddle rails on the 2 countertops, in rough sea you need fiddles everywhere she says…!
• The position of the switches located at the back of the fridge-freezer, which was much appreciated during these almost three months of sailing, needs changing, and to add a 220 volt socket next to the chart table
• And finally, the rams for lifting the forward locker lid are not powerful enough with the weight of the cushions, the next size up would be better.
Note that after discussing and exchanging points of view, Bali’s commercial manager told me that the yard would take into account these points for improvements that would be made at no additional cost to future boats, as well as the current boats which are in build.
Lastly, thank you to BALI for having accepted to publish my testimony, without forgetting the criticisms that I express … in a constructive way of course.