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Review: AfriCat 420' Catamaran

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Review: AfriCat 420' Catamaran

AfriCat 420 Catamaran

by Capt. Chuck Gnaegy


When does a 42' vessel qualify as a yacht?


1. When she sports a bountiful 22' beam, and also offers a King, a Queen, plus two double berths in ensuite luxury, full capacity for 8 in quietude and splendor.

2. When her 3' draft allows truly unlimited Bahama and Caribbean cruising, yet her multihull design provides ultimate stability in every sea condition and speed.

3. When her amenities flaunt indoor and outdoor space equal to a 70-footer and sport a commodious main salon boasting full leather upholstery.

4. When she struts across the seas at a fleet 28 knots, on twin 440hp Yanmar diesel engines with fly-by-wire technology.

Introducing a slinky new feline - the AfriCat 420!
Leigh Ford, spokesperson for the company, led us through this truly remarkable yacht, this beamy but aerodynamic creation. On the spacious aft deck, "We had 35 people on the yacht at the opening party," she says, "and it wasn't overcrowded even then." Try that on anything under 65' in a monohull and you recognize what a crowd pleaser this is.

Photo Caption: From a profile view, it seems as though AfriCat's 420 is racing some unseen competitor, but there is nothing on the horizon at this moment that can give her a run for the money. Her big-cat-like, cheetah-silhouette surges forward in three stacked, saber-like strokes, held steady by her handsome hull, and the volume of its sturdy, ocean-friendly design. Below, a keel is molded in at the lowest part of the hull -- at 3' -- providing protection for propellers and rudders in shallow waters.
"AfriCat's 420 is even roomier than a 65' monohull," claims Ford, who with her husband, AfriCat USA President Richard Ford, once sailed a 65 up to the States from South Africa. It's a safe bet that the AfriCat 420, with its marvelous stability, is a more comfortable ride as well. Built in South Africa just outside of Durban -- the capitol -- the AfriCat Shipyard is in New Germany, S.A. Not pretentious by many U.S. or European facilities' standards, it's a compact 7,500 sq.ft. yard. Yet it's geared to produce the multi-hulled Cat with her 22' beam, on a production line which boasts a 15-ton gantry crane running full length of the yard. The line also has a vacuum station and compression lines which are designed to deliver, in record time, the highest quality hulls. How many so far? Ford smiles, "The facility has just recently inaugurated hull #12."

Photo Caption: At sea level, twin trampolines stretch across the wide bows, especially designed to lessen pounding in heavy seas, allowing water pressure to dissipate upward and out as it passes between the molded hulls. Running full length on this Cat is an 8-inch wave breaker, leaving no flat surfaces between the two pontoons. Designed to deliver a no-pounding ride, even in choppy seas, her stable motion becomes even more silky smooth. At anchor the trampolines convert to a marvelous retreat, a play toy to bring out the adventurous child in every adult.
In fact, the production line will accommodate 6 power cats at various degrees of concentrated production. Still not mammoth by comparison, its staff -- also recently doubled -- comprises just 70 highly trained boat-building and engineering technicians. "Those technical experts, along with our Microsoft Project control program," Ford says, "help assure the attention to detail necessary in an ocean-going venture. This computerized production program keeps track of all man hours and materials, every nut and bolt used in a particular yacht. We can lay up four hulls at a time, so we know every detail that goes into each boat. We know at all times the exact cost of the project."

Photo Caption: The AfriCat 420 was designed by Angelo Laverone, whose credentials harken back to Sparkman & Stevens and others in the U.S. some years back. He relocated to South Africa, where he designed yachts for several builders, including a 42' catamaran that was very well received, both there and the U.S.
The manufacturing process begins with the outer gel coat -- vinylester and polyester resins, with catalyst -- sprayed into the hull mold to set up its excellent, everlasting glossy finish. Here the pigment is added to determine the final, perpetual hull color. Built in successive layers of balsa and foam core which are forced under intense pressure in a vacuum-adhesive operation, the hull is shaped into its final form, one complete, indivisible unit.

Photo Caption: For those glorious tropical evenings, their braided webs provide the perfect avatar to celebrate sunsets or trace blazing star shots across the heavens. Our galaxy is never so profuse with starlight as when you've seen it at sea on a clear, black night.
Big sky. Far horizon.

Exterior and interior expanse -- while at a premium for most yachts this length -- space is one of AfriCat's most compelling inducements. From her topmost point at the flybridge, to her well sculptured base below, the designer's message, and gift of talent, equals more space than a cruiser might have dreamt for within the throes of reasonable imagination. A group of ten or a dozen passengers slides easily onto the wide, semi-circular couch on the non-slip decking. Forward, the double helm chair fronts a hydraulic steering wheel and double, weatherproof engine control panels. Atop that level, the radar arch reaches out over the observation platform -- which is fully coverable with a bimini top and windshields. Another innovation in design moves a small bench from the rear of the flybridge to cover the built-in staircase down. That adds even more walk-around room.
The overhead flybridge creates a covered aft cockpit as large as any normal apartment living room. Rain or shine, the party starts here. Going aboard via the molded-in staircase from the cockpit, with its stainless steel hand rails, up to the flybridge and soaring radar arch, you enter into an observer's world.
A built-in settee on the aft deck seats eight, while other pull up chairs add to that number. The entire rear deck is covered by the overhang of the flybridge, so the sweeping expanse is sun protected. A couple of molded-in steps to the wide swim platform on either hull makes entering the water a snap. Hot/cold showers, and deck wash down, are right at hand. Hoisted between the two on davits is the 14' RIB dinghy. "At least one owner," says Ford, "has added a crane up on the bow to raise the dinghy. He's in Barbados, so most of the time he just tows the small craft. But when he goes out to sea, he wants it up high and safe."
As a central living room, the broadly spacious salon opens to all activities on the yacht, especially those of homely comfort and congregating. So wide and welcoming, there seems to be no barriers as each section blends into the other. Dominant is the wide, C-shaped curving couch, upholstered in soft Ultraleather and heavily padded -- it must span 15'. Just under the broad front windows, it wraps around a cocktail table on a pedestal. This piece can be raised or lowered, or be covered by a special, much broader dining table top for a full, formal dinner. Adding to the spaciousness, head room exceeds 8 feet. A 42" plasma TV provides escape entertainment for the entire room.
Still part of the wide open space, the compact galley is divided by the main aisle, cooking on one side and refrigerator plus food prep, and cherrywood bar, across. Gobs of storage space, and room for microwaves, toasters, etc. "Here's the hidden freezer," Ford says, as she lifts the edge of the sofa's thick cushion. It's a large freezer built into the base of the couch. "I managed to provision for eight of us for ten days with this; steaks, chops, everything," she says, "it all went into the freezer, so it was right there when we wanted it."
Salon settee with a central pedestal table that raises for dinner and lowers for socialing. 360 degree views are afforded from any position.
At the lower helm, just to port, a complete set of instruments includes a radar screen, plus GPS, VHF, digital controls, engine monitors, room for sat-nav charts and whatever else your voyage may dictate. The lower helm is not the primary steering station on this model, though some instruments are doubled on the flybridge helm with the same monitors and gauges shown. Not shown, on the aft main deck to port, another clever innovation: A compact pair of throttles nestles unobtrusively, almost out of sight, like an addition on the molded railing. But they are an indispensable magic on docking, since the stern can't be seen from the helm. Comments Ford, "With these little jewels, inching into tight quarters at the dock is a piece of cake. You can single-hand it."
Again, divided by the entrance way to the salon from the main aft deck, this is one part of the two-part galley configuration. The beauty of this lay-out is... it allows two cooks in the kitchen at the same time without bumping elbows. Essentially... one to prep and one to cook. Or, one to clean and one to store away. When dinner is not be served, this section doubles as a stand alone bar for serving refreshments.
At the forward section of the starboard sponson is the huge sit-down shower, again, big enough for a crowd. There's also a large mirror and vanity, with Corian finish, plus more than enough elbow room to walk around in. Up forward is additional storage space as well.
The bath vanity is sectioned off from the head and the shower, providing a seperate area for primping and such. This well thought-out use of space allows a cruising couple to share the same facilities without needing seperate quarters. After all, this is a 42' boat!

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