Powered catamarans like the Aquila 44 are comfortable cruising platforms that are growing in popularity for some very good reasons – such as their frugal fuel consumption combined with spacious hulls, writes KEVIN GREEN.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed sailing several of these power cats including models from Fountaine Pajot, Lagoon, Leopard and now the Aquila 44 which boasts the largest owner’s cabin of the lot. Australian dealer Multihull Central also spotted this growing trend for power cats and were particularly attracted by the innovative approach of the Aquila brand, boss Brent Vaughan told me. I first came across the Chinese builder of these yachts – Sino Eagle Group – three years ago when the highly specified carbon monohull racer, the Aquila RP 45, caught my eye. Penned by Ioannis Moatsos from the famed Reichel-Pugh design house in the USA, this was a classy grand prix race boat. So, for a yard to build to this standard they had to be good, or Jim Pugh wouldn’t have signed it off. But Sino Eagle has plenty of other runs on the board when it comes to catamarans, having built Leopard cats and the Sunsail 38 models, so it wasn’t surprising that American charter company MarineMax approached them in 2011 to build the Aquila range of power catamarans. As one of the USA’s largest powerboat dealerships, MarineMax has plenty of clout in the business so were able to put together a design group with equally large clout, led by the experienced J&J Design Group. J&J Design group and their development arm, Seaway, have worked on designs for Azimut, Bavaria, Beneteau, Dufour, Elan, Jeanneau, Monte Carlo and more. This partnership was first established when Sino Eagle Group began building the Aquila 38 specifically for MarineMax’s new charter business. The international team consisted of South African Lex Raas, a charter industry veteran and interestingly Ant Steward; another South African. Steward got my attention many years ago with his epic 1991 circumnavigation in an open boat and since then has built up a wide knowledge of the multihull industry. The group has gone on to build the Aquila 48 and the Aquila 44. They’ve also pioneered the first bulbous bowed small catamaran Aquila 44 that out-performed the early standard bow version, so these guys are innovators.
TRAWLER OR POWERBOAT
The Aquila 44 offers the best of both cruising worlds as the variety of engine sizes can transform it from a six litres an hour trawler to a snappy powerboat; as long as you don’t mind burning the gas when hitting 20kts. On our review boat the standard 225hp D4 Volvos were replaced by 300hp compact in-line four cylinder units; with common rail fuel injection and four valve heads. So, for the long mileages along our Australian coasts or that dream cruise around the Top End that an acquaintance of mine recently did, trawler mode is ideal because it gives your a whopping 623 mile range. Adding the optional 1,500 litre tanks to the standard 225’s increases this range to about 1,000nm. However the 300hp’s are recommended, so should you be caught in the wrong tide at the Gugari Rip between the Wessel Islands, as I once was on my way to Darwin, simply put the hammer down for 20 minutes and you’re through. For that trip I lacked a flybridge so couldn’t see the coral heads but this won’t be a problem on the Aquila 44. The commanding views from the flybridge, combined with the fibreglass bimini – which is also a high gantry for the Raymarine radar – ensures the skipper has clear sight from the forward set helm. The hydraulic wheel tilts and the console has the Raymarine plotter with autopilot and Volvo Penta Electronic Vessel Control engine screen; which displays comprehensive menus. Prominent warning lights on the console indicate that our review boat, hull #21, was no ordinary Aquila 44 as it’s been put through commercial survey for Australia. Dealer Andrew Mcleod told me about the arduous and expensive process involving several build inspections by AMSA. In-survey equipment includes fire suppression systems, extra fuel shut-offs and life rafts as well as beefed-up shaft drives and railings. The result is an ideal luxury charter vessel with three cabins and there’s a four cabin version as well.
Back at the console there is plenty to like, including its sheltered position set back from the flybridge top. Clears can be put on to weather-proof this area as well. The huge flybridge has L-shaped seating so command needn’t be a lonely job, while behind is more lounging space with wet bar and barbecue plate in front. Should the skipper need to reach the foredeck when anchoring in haste, he can simply walk down the forward flybridge exit using sturdy grab rails for support, rather than the aft steps. This clever idea integrates the foredeck lounging space with the flybridge. Down at deck level you remain protected by the flybridge overhang as you sit on the stools beside the galley, which has a flip-up glass partition. Or for sun bathers, enjoy the U-shaped transom lounge. Grab rails, sensibly located, are a good feature throughout the Aquila 44 and this includes the transoms so you can safely tie the dinghy after you lower it from the davits, or guide yourself down to the swim ladder.
Walking inside the single level deck takes you first into the L-shaped galley, so handy for serving the outside diners. On starboard is the two drawer refrigeration, with navigation station above. The main electrical panel is also on this bulkhead, so everything is in reach from the aft cockpit.
Cooking gear includes a two burner induction ring plus AC powered convection microwave/oven, however no convection microwaven/oven is fitted on our boat, with lots of cupboards instead. This could be retro fitted in the optional utility room below and also include a wash-dryer. Other good points in the galley are double stainless sink plus a large ice locker with drain which are surrounded by black Corian worktops. Moving forward, there’s a U-shaped lounge-diner to port with storage opposite. The table can drop to become a queen bed and the surrounding joinery is precisely finished with shallow fiddles but plastic latches are a bit of let-down. The longitudinal starboard bench contains cupboards and the elevating television. Surrounded by raked back front windows and tall side ones that allow plenty of headroom, the area is airy while the outside overhangs reduce the sun’s glare. Small opening front windows should give some airflow but larger ones would be preferable.
Leading down from the forward lounge is an owner’s area worthy of the title ‘stateroom’ because it uses the entire 6.56m beam of the Aquila to create space the size of which you’d be fortunate to find on a 60ft monohull. This layout, along with the separate entrances aft to the two guest cabins will endear the Aquila 44 to many potential buyers. However an option is a two stateroom version and the owner can have a walk in wardrobe/office powder room area or lounge in his suite. Our review boat had the desk arrangement down to starboard which is a comfortable cubbyhole to work at with large rectangular portlight for sea views and ample natural light. Dominated by the by king sized island bed, the owner has lavish space with cupboards and shelves on two sides; just mind your head going to bed as the forepeak height drops. Rectangular portlights and smaller elliptical ones above, plus skylights lighten up the darkish cherrywood interior enough to make it a pleasant place; both day or night. At night the six inch thick memory foam mattress should ensure rest and ablutions are equally taken care of with separate head and shower stall tucked in the forward port quarter. Here there’s a teak seat outside the shower, a rounded deep sink plus two opening hatches. Walking back up the steps into the forward part of the saloon, then moving aft before stepping down the port steps takes me to a guest cabin which has an island double bed; with bathroom across the corridor aft. Notable features in this berth includes deep cupboards, a wardrobe and the large rectangular portlight with blinds. Over in the third cabin on starboard is a similar arrangement apart from a slightly smaller bed against the internal hull side. Its ensuite bathroom can be optioned to become a utility room, which is ideal for cruising couples.
For a fully specified flybridge cruiser, 16,000kg is a fairly lean unloaded weight and this is largely thanks to an infused balsa core build in Sino Eagle’s new yard. A high standard of build was required to reach the European CE standard and this was reflected in the fairly clean layup I found when opening various hatches. Solid glass is used below water level and its balsa cored on the topsides and decks. The curvaceous lines include hard chines from the bow where the unusual bulbs protrude two feet beyond the tall hulls, while the bridgedeck beneath has a smooth wave-breaking design. Actual clearance is modest due to the stateroom and the wave piercing nacelle is designed to compensate for the fully enclosed foredeck (rather than netting as on typical cats). At sea I didn’t experience wave slap during our trial off Surfers Paradise even going to windward in the choppy conditions. Crash bulkheads fore and aft are a welcome safety feature, as is the sealed engine rooms and another essential for me, and a CE requirement is escape hatches in each hull with tempered glass. Another plus and something some competitors don’t have is emergency steering with stainless tiller located in the deep starboard bow locker which is huge and includes GRP steps. Looking in the aft section, the the 300hp Volvos are connected to V-drive gearboxes and the short shafts run out through tunnels to slipstream the underside; where a pair of 20 inch four blade bronze propellers spin with rudders behind. Bilge keels in the form of sacrificial skegs forward of each drive train is another welcome feature of this hull, especially among the shallows of the Broadwater at Surfers, as I found out. The engine rooms have the 10.2KW Fischer Panda generator set in the starboard side and on both the strainers and filters are prominent. Separate air conditioner units are housed in each hull and the battery bank is in the nacelle, so easily checked by lifting the galley hatch.
CRUISING OFF SURFERS PARADISE
I can’t think of a more suitable boat for meandering the Broadwater channels and their hidden shallows where a flybridge gives you the confidence to edge into that tight anchorage or spot the endless array of bobbing white crab pots. Manoeuvring the tall Aquila 44 is done, like all catamarans, by using the outboard propellers to push the hull round so no bow thruster is needed but some brands offer one to compensate for the windage. At sea the choppy conditions didn’t reach me at the helm thanks to the spray shields and the ride felt very smooth as I powered up the hull to trawler speed of 7.1kts, giving a total fuel burn of 19 litres per hour (six people and 50% fuel) with revs at 1,820rpm. The reward for this modest speed is range of about 600 miles which is ideal for that ocean crossing to Indonesia or beyond. Pushing the electronic throttle down further kicked the turbo charger into life which brought me without any shuddering to a fast cruising speed of 18kts before pushing on to maximum revs of 3,500 which the Raymarine advised was 23.5kts with a burn of 115 litres per hour in total recorded on the Volvo EVC screen. At the helm the small hydraulic wheel was turned to steer us through series of figure-of-eights and doughnuts which brought little water aboard as the wide pulpit deflects the spray. Perhaps the protruding bulbs may have increased the diameter of the high speed turns but I feel it’s a small price to pay for pretty frugal cruising.
Leaving my host for the day, dealer Andrew Mcleod at the helm I went below to check sound levels which were fairly low and of course just a murmur in the stateroom forward; which really sums up this Aquila 44 that is indeed a quiet achiever in all departments. But see for yourself at the Sydney International Boat Show (July 28-August 1, 2016).