The Berret Racoupeau design has cruising comforts firmly in mind, as we found out during our test sail of the first production hull from the leading French builder, reports KEVIN GREEN.
Catamarans in the 40-45ft category are relatively manageable yet vastly spacious, giving them wide appeal. So it’s unsurprising they are the big sellers at the moment and that Fountaine Pajot is working hard in this category where it has the entry level Lucia 40, the newly announced 45 and the middle sibling Astrea 42.
The Astrea is that small but significant step up from the Lucia with 10% more sail area and that wee bit extra waterline for faster miles. At 42ft it is an ideal entry level catamaran for families yet has the space equivalent to a 55 monohull with up to four cabins with ensuites available. Notable features are the flybridge sunpad and well protected single helm station where all sail controls sit. Also Fountaine, along with main competitor Lagoon, has gone to great efforts to improve the sailing performance of these cruisers but for tropical sailing big headsails are necessary otherwise the twin 30hp saildrive engines will get a lot of use.
Fashion and function can be uneasy bedfellows so it’s interesting to compare the smoother plumb bows of the Astrea compared with the slightly raked profile of its smaller sibling the Lucia 40. As with the car world where Mercedes and others are going all smooth curves, so it is in catamarans where market leaders Lagoon and now Fountaine are following suit. However the function part is arguably improving as infused production reduces weight while maintaining structure; the latter an essential part of a vessel that doesn’t lean from the breeze to reduce loading.
All this and more was revealed when I climbed aboard the Astrea in Sydney after dealer Multihull Solutions had sailed it away from a successful boat show. Very similar in layout to the Lucia the large aft cockpit is the dominant feature and it’s dedicated to relaxation because there are no sail controls here to trouble guests (apart from a Code 0 winch). The fibreglass coachroof covers the entire area and an enclosing bimini can be fitted, protecting the diners around the L-shaped teak table along with transom benches to starboard. A deep transom locker and optional barbecue were other good points on our review boat, while water access was better than the smaller sibling with a wide swim platform to hold a dinghy (with davits optional) along with moulded hull steps.
Stepping up to the helm on starboard gives the steerer elevated views while the sail controls are separated by a gangway allowing crew work; Fountaine’s regular arrangement that is good for crewed sailing but less convenient when short-handed or even solo. However sail controls are well laid out with Lewmar 45 winches for all lines, with an optional electrical one for the halyard and mainsheet. Mast lines have a short run to the jammers on each side of the helm and a wide track for the mainsheet is behind the steerer, giving good control of the mainsail. A deep rope bin below the winches is ideally placed as well. At the separated binnacle, Volvo engine gauges and button controls are at waist height, alongside the Garmin electronics but would be more readable if angled slightly. A small complaint was the oversize throttle levers that snagged crew working in front of them. Our showery day meant that the bimini was particularly welcome for protecting me at the helm. Beside the double helm seat, stairs lead onto the coachroof for easy access to the low slung boom, while outboard is bulwark to prevent you falling out in a seaway.
The helm station is functional and separated from the sailing controls by a gangway (note the optional strap which can also be fibreglass on the outboard side for safety). Photo Kevin Green
The saloon is an easy stroll from the cockpit where there’s a portside galley with navigation station forward. Protected by scuppers and sliding door this creates a large entertaining space, with a galley window allowing food to be easily passed to the outside diners. Inside, space is maximised by the tall coachroof’s vertical sides; while the forward bulkhead is raked back with good sun protection from a fibreglass lip. Good ventilation comes from a large pair of opening windows to allow through flow to the aft cockpit at anchor. Natural light abounds thanks to the long rectangular skylight and there’s curtains all round. The saloon layout has the lounge forward, alongside the chart table on the port quarter with main electrical control panel here.
The galley is spread across the aft of the saloon with a forward section creating a U-shape, ideal for bracing the cook at sea. There’s a three burner gas stove with separate oven plus optional microwave that should cater for most tastes. Perishables go in the twin drawer 144l Vitrofrigo refrigeration with large optional freezer drawers on starboardside. Also on this side are overhead lacquered cupboards. Not so good are all the edges on the Alpi furniture which would bruise the cook in a rough seaway; and the general lack of fiddles. Storage space is mostly limited to the under-bench drawers so the additional floor lockers are welcome.
HUGE OWNER'S HULL
Below decks the starboard hull on the review boat was designed as an owner’s ensuite – called the Maestro version – with the wide aft bed with copious free space around the central lounge and desk, while the forepeak houses an elongated bathroom. Alternatively, the Quatuor version has four cabins and the four ensuites with shared showers between each head.
Moving down into the starboard owner’s cabin on steps – that conceal the essential escape hatch on each hull – brings me into a very comfortable space with towering headroom. It’s lit up by rectangular portlights on three sides and several opening skylights, so natural ventilation is good. Usefully, the aft skylight can be left open due to protection from the coachroof. The skipper can even see aft, thanks to a rectangular window over the island bed, plus there’s an opening porthole for that welcome through breeze at anchor. An island bed on a 42 footer may compromise the mattress size but gives that added flexibility and access. Looking at the cabin’s centre, the vanity desk is surrounded by cupboards, and wardrobes inboard; including a big linen cupboard with lacquered doors. The escape hatch also adds natural light and is the opening variety (rather than breaking glass). Walking forward brings me to the large bathroom which has a separate shower cubicle forward of the electric toilet and several lacquered cupboards that are easily wiped clean. Beyond, is a tall cupboard ideal for a pantry or perhaps a washing machine. The guest accommodation in the port hull has an ensuite for both cabins with shared shower between. Beds are semi-island style in both cabins and have all the benefits of the owners’ bed, including ample wardrobes.
The island bed is a bonus on this size of boat but does mean the mattress size is reduced. Photo Fountaine Pajot
Surrounded by flat decks, flush hatches and a foredeck cockpit, means leisure time at anchor should be comfortable on the Astrea. The tall coachroof and commendable handrail supports crew as they walk forward to the foredeck, where the sunken cockpit has bench cushions. Beneath the cushions are lockers for gas and water; along with the windlass. Also, forepeak lockers are handy for the fenders, with teak bow seats nearby as well. The rode comes directly out of the nacelle bulkhead from the 1000W Quick vertical windlass; ideally a second roller should be attached to the crossbeam. Here, the central fibreglass spine extends to become a sturdy bowsprit which creates a wide separation for flying a gennaker or Code 0. Looking beneath, good points to note include the smooth nacelle and ample bridgedeck height on the Astrea.
The Astrea’s simple sail plan reflects the ethos of this yacht in being manageable by a couple, yet there’s more canvas if you require it. There’s little to go wrong with three cringle slab reefing on the Incidences mainsail and the furling genoa, which runs on long tracks along the coachroof, but a gennaker can easily be put on the sturdy fibreglass bowsprit to avoid engine use in lighter airs. Sheeting for the gennaker used another set of deck mounted winches rather than running sheets through blocks to the steering console. The Z-Spars rig is set back in the hull on the coachroof with a compression post into the lounge and supported by large outboard chain plates holding the wire shrouds.
The coachroof sail controls allows dedicated crew work and the optional electric Lewmar was useful for easy hoisting of the mainsail. Photo Kevin Green
The Astrea's smooth nacelle minimises wave impacts while underwater there’s reduced rocker compared with earlier boats to promote performance. The fine entry hulls widen dramatically aft which creates buoyancy and volume, ideal for coping with the additional load of cruising accoutrements. The build is an infused balsa cored hull, including below the waterline to the keel which is monolithic, while the deck is injection moulded foam. This all goes to keep the weight down to 11.58 tons. Mini keels look tall enough to protect the rudders and the saildrives which are behind the rudders; and folding propellers were optioned on our review boat. There’s mechanical linkages between the rudders and an emergency tiller for the rudder shafts. Our boat had the upgraded 40hp’s fitted instead of 30hp Volvos, which is a wise option given the windage and the volume of this boat. Engine access via the aft deck is easily done and there’s ample working space around the Volvo saildrives. House batteries were placed here, well above bilge level; beside electrical panels and filters, so maintenance shouldn’t be a drama.
Three levels of living space and generous deck sizes all makes the Astrea a fantastic cruiser. Photo Fountaine Pajot
Manoeuvring in confined spaces is one time where dramas can arise as many a husband and wife team have found to their cost. But this is where the manageable size of the Astrea is a bonus and a catamaran’s inherent ability to turn, thanks to its twin engines outboard. So it was with the Astrea and a moderate breeze that kept windage down, allowing us to motor out to Sydney Harbour and join the armada leaving the boat show. Under full power the 40hp’s went to 8.7kt before I throttled back to a cruising speed of 7.7kts with the Volvos spinning at 2,300rpm. Turning into the wind, I left the helm and easily clambered alongside the main halyard which attached easily using a soft shackle, then began the hoist. Back at the helm from beneath the canvas bimini this was done easily thanks to a sensibly placed window which allowed me to guide the sail beyond the lazyjacks while across the gangway my crewmate Marcus operated the electric Lewmar winch. With engine off and propellers folded on the saildrives, the genoa was half rolled out before we set off down the harbour. Using the Garmin wind gauge to guide me at the helm, I watched the numbers rise as we came on the wind with full sail up, showing 5.6kts as we beat at 45° in the 13kt breeze. The partially elevated helm gave me good views of the harbour traffic, which is just as well given the low tolerance levels of the ferries to us yachties so we put in a few tacks to avoid them and found that the lines ran easily; the Astrea turning nimbly. Surprisingly, when off the wind the speed hardly dropped, confirming the marketing blurb about the Astrea. Ideally we’d have hoisted the gennaker or cruising chute on a snuffer, switched the autopilot on and simply watched the world go by in quiet contemplation on what is a very capable cruiser.