Size v Speed: Choosing Your Cruising Catamaran


Last Updated on November 9, 2020 by Amy

My friend Mary Grace from Let It Be posed a question a few months ago; if you had to choose between a bigger boat, or a faster boat, relative to your current boat, what would you go with?

Of course, going bigger inherently gives you a bit more speed, so let’s say David and I had to choose between a similar-sized but faster catamaran  (Outremer or Catana) or a larger production cat (Leopard 48 or FP Saona 47). What would we choose?

The Helia was definitely a sweet spot when we were looking at boats back at the 2013 Annapolis Boat Show.  We thought the Leopard 48 was too big for two people to handle. I felt (David disagreed) that the faster catamarans require more complex systems that we didn’t have the knowledge to sail. Granted, they aren’t the rotating masts of a Gunboat, but the added complexity of daggerboards was more than I wanted to tackle.

Now, we feel comfortable that a 48′ boat is not too big for two people and I’m convinced David could have handled more complex systems and very easily could have taught me how to handle them. David is an excellent teacher.

Looking back at our time cruising, statistically speaking we’ve spent 85% of our nights stationary. We’ve covered a lot of miles (25,000 nm) so it’s amazing to hear that in reality, we are stationary more often.  Oddly, a faster catamaran actually is a double-edged sword – going faster means you spend more time at rest, but sacrifice the extra space you would enjoy at anchor.

Then there’s the toys argument. We have plenty of fun toys onboard, but we could always use more room (like; where do we put a dive compressor??)! We’ve got friends with kiteboards and surfboards onboard.  We often wonder where all of our space has gone.

When we were considering boats, we knew we wanted to have an owner’s version. We still agree that that’s the way to go, even though we’ve had SO many guests join us. However, some of the bigger catamarans (like the Saba 50) weren’t coming with an owner’s version.

Fountaine Pajot has changed the design to allow for a bigger owner’s suite, and it looks great. The size of the master cabin is probably pretty comparable to the Saona’s, due to the second cabin sharing the same hull. However, cruisers might take that as an opportunity to turn that cabin into a workshop or walk-in storage.

Not to scale, but you get the idea…

Surprisingly David agrees with me, that we would go for bigger.  We both want more toys, and we can see adding a few more fun things to the list if we had a bigger cat.  So if we had to choose, a Soana 47 is where we would go.

Now, if we didn’t have to choose one or the other, AND money was no object, I’d pick a 50s range Outremer, but David has a special fondness for Schionnings (a kit boat!).

As much as we love Starry Horizons, we often play the Next Boat game.  “On the next boat, we’d get a smaller generator…”.  “On the next boat, we’d convert this head to wet storage…“.  We also play the Next Circumnavigation game.  “On our next circumnavigation, we’ll spend a year in French Polynesia….”.  We are perfectly happy with Starry Horizons and are loving having her as our home, but it’s fun to think about, no?


  1. So Seven years on, we are still very pleased with our 1997 Catana 471. Yesterday I sailed back solo from Staniel to Georgetown at over 10kts avg, peaking at 17. There was a Leopard 50 out with me and I took a long time to pass him. The pro windsurfer Gary Eversole-helmed Leopard 50 Novia Del Mar has won class in Heineken the past two years. 3di sails and a gifted helmsman make a big difference. He just pinches the hell out of that thing and has it going upwind better than some daggerboard cats.
    Regarding F/Ps, I am most drawn to the older generation with “wheel of cheese” interiors and metal badges on stern quarters. More the sailing performance than the wheel of cheese. But I come from a racing background, so sailing -not motoring- in lighter winds is a priority. I also like having daggerboards for skinny water access and upwind ability. The new Balance designs are nice, but we had significant boat speed over the three 482s in Caribbean Multihull Challenge. The low cockpit and large transoms of these designs make being pooped by breaking seas a big deal compared to boats with higher cockpits and storage lockers underneath. The HH have more build issues than I would have expected at that price point. Ask an owner. I wish some of the volume cat builders would do a halo performance line. I have not found anything in the same size range that has the balance of comfort and speed we enjoy with our 1997 471. I guess I’m the luckiest man in the world. I love my wife AND I love our boat.

  2. What are your thoughts on length and comfort while at sail. Does a 50ft boat handle waves or rock less at anchor then a 42/44?

    We started with a 31ft monohaul then moved up to a 47 monohaul and the difference at sea was huge. Our current boat is a 42 tug and while a bit different then our sailboats still handles the waves about the same (full keel, just no steading sails :)). We are most likely buying a cat next and I really like the smaller 42/44 range but my wife is convinced the 50 will be more comfortable overall (not overly concerned with space just overall ride/motion)

    1. It an vary so widely based on a lot of factors: bridge deck design, hull speed, beam, weight…it’s hard to say if a 50′ boat is going to be more comfortable without knowing the other factors.

  3. Howdy folks! Reviving a topic here! Found myself chuckling with the confusion above.

    We thought we wanted an FP Helia for wife and I and 4 and 5 year old girls for part time shifting to full time live aboard. Once we got aboard it does appear it would get a bit tight. I then start thinking I can snag a gently chartered Saba Maestro and refit for less than the cost of a couple year old OV Saona. Our broker is urging the never chartered OV Saona over the Saba. What are your thoughts on the Saona? I have heard some say they squeak. Also struggling with the 220v vs 110v setups. There are some tremendous deals in the french Caribbean with the 220 systems.

    1. Hi Coy! We don’t have any experience sailing either. I will say, Starry Horizons does squeak quite a bit, so there may be no escaping that. As for the 220v v 110v, that would depend heavily on your cruising destinations.

  4. I’ve just sold my monohull and am looking at a 45 to 50 ft cat now.. The Saona ticks a lot of boxes and is basically the replacement for the 44 (it’s actually only 45ft long) with the new Astrea filling the gap down. I guess we will see a new 50 next year…

  5. Dear Elayna and Riley,

    I’ve been following you guys, got inspired and me, wife, 2 sons now 2+0(-due next week) and our disabled French bulldog are determined to sail away to circumnavigate in 1-2 years.

    I have little experience and chartered cats in Med, Caribbean and Indian Ocean. I visited a boat show in La Grande Motte and the Outremer factory. I love what they do, but the problem I have is justifying performance over comfort and space, leaning towards Fountaine Pajot, which seem to be the next best performing cats while having a lot more space. I know that so far, I havent done much sailing and motored quite a bit, when on charter. So I know its likely I will fall in love with sailing and then Ill regret not buying an Outremer. On the other hand living with kids permanently onboard space, comfort and load capacity are also a factor. No, AC and washing machine are not a necessity, but nice to have when you got a family. Were planning to buy a second hand cat 44-50, no older than 5 years old, due to savings on cost.

    I know there isn’t a one best answer, as every boat is a compromise, but what I would like to know is whether now with hindsight, you have not wished you’d opted for a faster boat like the Outremere. I specifically would like to know what David thinks 🙂

    Thank you very much for what you’re doing. You are our heroes. Fair winds.

    1. Hi David! I think you are confused…. Elayna and Riley are La Vagabond. We are Amy and David, and our boat is Starry Horizons. 🙂

      As to your question, I guess I wasn’t very clear in the blog post. If David and I were choosing a different boat, we would choose a bigger FP over a faster 44 foot. I hope that helps. 🙂

  6. About FP 44 or 47… My wife and I have been debating this topic… We hope the decision will be easier once we get to see both boats at the Annapolis boat show later this year.

    Could you elaborate on why you would choose the FP 47 today vs. 44? How do you currently use the space on the FP 44 (lockers, guest cabins)? How would you organize the added space in a FP 47? What is your experience talking with other FP 44 long term cruisers?

    Our experience comes from chartering 44 ft catamarans and it definitely feels quite big when you live on it for a week 😉 But we would love to hear more from people who are cruising full time on a FP44 to help us make the right decision.

    Our plan is to follow what your cruising plans… we currently live in CA and plan to buy a FP in France in 2020 and start long term cruising from there.

    1. Hi guys! The 44 doesn’t feel that big once you’ve lived on it for a while. We’ve only used our third bedroom for about four weeks total, so most of the time (especially now since we stocked up on lots of dry goods in NZ) it’s a storage room.

      The storage in the cockpit has fishing gear, our drogue, inflatable kayak, and life jackets. We have two 17# propane tanks in the cockpit.

      In the main salon storage areas, we’ve got lots of food, manuals go under the nav table seat, and one if the under-floor-board wells is for spare filters and belts. Almost all the storage in the guest side is taken up with maintenance items and spare parts. Foulies are in the forward hanging closet.

      We don’t store a whole lot in the bilges. Spare props, vacuum sealed winter clothes, and spare oil and coolant.

      Bow lockers are sails, lines, jerry cans, a bike, camping gear. Anchor locker has a sea anchor.

      Tools are under the couch in the main cabin, except for the main toolbox which is in a cabinet.

      I would definitely take the option for additional cabinets instead of the couch.

      Feel free to email us if you have more questions. We plan on being in the Caribbean in 2020 so maybe we will see you on your new boat!

    2. Wow couldnt of said it any better myself, four of us will be doing the same thing with 2020 being out target date unless we can move it up a year. Thanks for the Question and Amy as always thanks for answers to questions.

  7. More speed is fantastic but with that comes a price. The difference in price between a Lagoon or Helia and Outremer is enormous! In a faster boat you also sacrifice space. If that is not an issue, by all means go with faster. A bigger boat also comes with its issues. When things are good, it’s REALLY good but when it goes wrong, everything is magnified that much more. The rig is much bigger, sails are heavier, etc. and the costs go up exponentially. However if you are experienced enough and understand it will be more costly to run your cat, that should not be a problem. Good luck! We have a Lagoon 450 (it is plenty big and a great sailing boat) and we are looking to upgrade. Whaaat?! LOL

  8. Same emotional issue, there is nothing inadequate with the passage maker i have .However after considering the extra costs- insurance, docking pen, haul out charges etc I decided to ‘love the yacht I had’

  9. This is what we got to too. Plus the enormous price difference. If you consider for a new boat, check for the new Lagoon 50 too. It will be shown first at the Cannes Boatshow this year. She is even bigger than the Saona 47, but the same price, plus you can have more cabins! It is only 20cm smaller than the Saba 50.

    1. Not too interested in more cabins…we hardly use our third one as it is. I’d love a 50′ boat with three cabins and two heads.

      We’re not really fans of Lagoons. The Lagoon 50 is 30% heavier than the Saba and flybridges are a hard stop for us.

      1. Full stop on the flybridge! Hobby horses were fun as a kid, but…
        The folks on Wildling, an Outremer 59, say their old Catana 471 had a larger, more usable interior, despite being 12’ shorter. The Schionnings are cool, as are Eric LeRouge’s designs. We are waiting on our torsion rope from Valencia, then cast off the dockolibes in early May.
        Fair winds!
        PS: A local Helia 44 in Kemah just went up for sale.

        1. Thanks Paolo! We like our space! We wouldn’t turn down a 60′ Schionning though. 😉

          Had not heard about the Helia for sale.

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