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Starry Horizons is a Fountaine Pajot Helia 44. We are extremely happy with her, and having sailed 30,000 nm on her, we find her a very capable ocean cruiser.
As Fountaine Pajot has done with many of its models, about halfway through the production cycle they perform a “refresh” of the model, labeling it as an Evolution and updating it to the current look. Starry Horizons is an original Helia (hull number 77), while Julia, which we spent 35 days on sailing across the Pacific, is a Helia Evolution (hull number 150).
It’s worth noting that these changes are not just limited to the Helia Evolution. Some of these changes we see consistently throughout the other, newer models too.
In 2018, Fountaine Pajot announced that it would stop manufacturing the Helia, and instead will start producing a 45-foot sailing catamaran, a line of which is yet to be named. I’m sure the 45 is extremely appealing to some people, but if we were shopping now, the 45 would not make our short list, as it’s missing some things we find critical.
Of course, I’d like to encourage potential cruising boat owners to consider buying a used Helia – we will, someday, put Starry Horizons up for sale. In the meantime, let’s look at the differences between the original Helia and the Helia Evolution.
One of the biggest differences between the two is the layout of the Owner’s cabin in the Maestro version of both boats. The Helia Evolution pulls the toilet out and puts it in a separate room. It also pulls the shower back and adds a designated space for a laundry machine – a nod to the private ownership sector instead of the charter sector. This change in the layout of the head trickles down to a few more nuanced differences in the heads.
Based on our experience, we rarely ever use the desk or the couch in our Helia. Instead, I would rather have more storage space; not for clothes, but we do store a majority of our tools and spare parts in the main cabin.
The floor of the head is going to get wet, no matter what you do. In the original Helia, the floor in front of the sink is fiberglass and gently slopes towards the shower for drainage. In the Helia Evolution, the shower floor slopes down to the drain, but the floor in front of the sink either doesn’t slope down or doesn’t slope down enough, as the water pools on the aft side of the floor.
On the original Helia, access to under the head floor is through a removable floorboard between the laundry machine and the linen closet. This means there’s a long hose running from the shower to the sump box, which we often have to snake, even though we have a strainer over the shower drain. However, in the Helia Evolution, Fountaine Pajot has added a removable floorboard in front of the sink, a few feet forward of where it sits in the original Helia, giving better access into the bilge.
In the original Helia, the head is all one room; shower, sink, toilet, linen closet, and laundry machine. One door closes it all off from the main cabin. On the Helia Evolution, there is no door between the main head and the cabin. I don’t know why you would want it, but there is no option for privacy while you shower.
All of the hatches and windows in the main cabin have curtains or shades. However, the hatch in the head has neither, on both the original Helia and the Helia evolution. On the original Helia, this isn’t a problem, as you can close the door. Back on land, David and I slept in a room with blackout curtains, and we have been pleasantly surprised with how dark the main cabin can be on Starry Horizons. On the Evolution, the hatch over the head is tinted but doesn’t have a shade. Combined with no door between the head and the cabin, the main cabin gets really bright. Sometimes while cruising, the sun is up pretty dang early – the sun rises in the Western Indonesia Time Zone around 5:45 am this week.
Our bathroom sink is a pain in my ass. Where the bowl of the sink meets the counter is a breeding ground for mold, as it’s rarely ever dry. This design flaw in the Helia Evolution has been eliminated, as the sink is built into the counter.
The shower door on the Helia Evolution does not have a latch to keep it closed and is transparent (again, what’s with Fountaine Pajot forcing us to watch our loved ones shower?). The original Helia shower door is opaque and has a latch.
In the original Helia, we have medicine cabinet-style storage behind our mirror. In the Helia Evolution, there is no behind the mirror storage, but there is twice as much linen closet space directly opposite the sink.
The light switches have been changed aesthetically from a metallic finish to a white finish. Personal preference: I like Starry Horizon’s better.
Fountaine Pajot changed the handles for the cabinets from a flush, push button type handle to a handle that you grip on one side and pull towards you. They are not flush with the cabinet, and I think they are too susceptible to getting caught on things and breaking.
The stairs on the Helia Evolution have been redesigned to eliminate excess space on either side of the steps themselves. In the Saona, that gap is completely eliminated, which is a big improvement because between the stairs and the wall is hard to clean and gets so gross.
The non-skid is now taped onto the step instead of a plastic attachment that slides in place. It’s really hard to describe, but I think it’s an improvement over the original Helia.
The Helia Evolution has a redesigned the front facing window. I think it looks great except for the logistics of covering the forward window. I am still absolutely in love with our window shades, and this method (or the option to put shades on the exterior) is not possible on the Evolution due to the new hatches in the front window. Also, a few original Helias have installed a small hatch under the brow in the fiberglass to improve ventilation when it rains, and that is no longer an option.
On the original Helia, water often gets trapped in any of the metal pipes we have throughout the boat. We’ve had to drill holes in a lot of places to get water out of those pipes. The example above is the stairs from the helm to the lounge deck. Fountaine Pajot has fixed that on the Helia Evolution by creating a large hole at the base of the handrail. It looks better than the hole that we did ourselves, but you are still dumping water into the helm and cockpit.
The backrest of the lounge deck seat has been raised. I have seen several Helias do that themselves either by raising the hardware or by inserting a hard back into the cushions. The Helia Evolution is an improvement.
The Helia Evolution has different cleats. We assume they are better cleats. One of our forward cleats bent while we were in Las Palmas, so we hope the new cleats are sturdier.
The couch cushions on the Evolution are so much better than ours! Ours are firm and angular, while the new ones in the Evolution are soft and rounded. The only thing I didn’t particularly care for on the Helia Evolution was the fabric of the couch. Our fake leather couches have been easy to clean and haven’t stained at all. These cushions are consistent on the Saona 47 too. If we keep Starry Horizons after our circumnavigation, number 1 on my to-do list is replace our cushions!
The armrest also got raised a few inches, making it much more practical. While on Starry Horizons, if you are sitting at the end of the couch, the armrest is too low to use.
This one is kind of weird. The escape hatch for the master cabin is in a cabinet, behind a panel. It’s not very easy to get to in an emergency.
The design of the new dinghy davits on the Helia Evolution lets the dinghy sit slightly higher. This is something we complained about from the beginning – our dinghy does, occasionally get hit by waves. This is a much-needed improvement over the original Helia. You can see that they also added a bend, which makes the dinghy sit in the davits better.
Yes, the portholes in the side of the boat are designed slightly different. Supposedly it adds 30% more light…although I wonder if that includes the forward porthole in the maestro version, which is a fake window.
The factory installed the stern light on our Helia on the metal support pole, inside the cockpit. When in use, the light reflects off the enclosure and lights up the whole cockpit! Not great when you need to preserve your night vision. While in Florida, we moved the stern light out to the very end of the dinghy davit. That is the factory-installed location of the stern light on the Helia Evolution.
I’m biased and like the original Helia! But, seriously, I think the two major changes are the head layout (which I like better in the original) and the davits (which are an improvement in the Helia Evolution). Neither of these things would be easy or cheap to change on the boat. Everything else, for the most part, doesn’t make a major difference.
Did I miss any differences? Drop me a note in the comments!