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When I first became aware of the Helia and thought it might be a potential winner in our ‘boat for a trip around the world’ sweepstakes, I read every review I could get my hands on. And believe me, there are a lot.
However, nothing compares to getting out on the water and seeing how a boat sails yourself. Granted, the protected waters of Biscayne Bay weren’t an ideal location for us to test out the blue water capabilities of the boat, and winds blowing under 10 knots weren’t going to truly show us what the Helia is capable of. Yet, there was still something amazing about getting on a boat that we’ve spent so much time thinking about and seeing the main raise up the mast and the genoa roll out for the first time.
The boat itself was hull #47 and will be named Trance Atlantic. She was delivered to Miami by a cargo ship and had a bare minimum of equipment on board. No genset, no ACs, no solar, no watermaker, and only one plotter which was mounted on the interior nav station. So that means she was much closer to lightship status than Starry Horizons will be. She was so new that the protective bubble wrap was still around the anchor!
Inside, she had the new 2014 color scheme so we were able to envision what our boat will like. Fortunately, we both agreed that the new color scheme was an upgrade. We spent a bit of time down below in the master hull on the starboard side to get some idea of how it would feel to be below while under sail. I was pleased with how much light was in the hull, and how comfortable the bed was. Getting around was fairly easy given the wide hallways, and the fit and finished looked quite nice. However, the true test of fit and finish will be once the boat has sailed a few thousand miles, not what she looks like when going for a sail for the first time.
While this Helia 44 had the optional bowsprit for a gennaker, the boat had not yet been fitted for one. That meant we set sail with the factory mainsail and genoa. Getting the main up the mast was a fairly easy chore with the electric winch, but one thing we’ll have to keep a close eye on is the reef lines which appeared to get a bit tangled up in each other. The genoa came out quite easily as well and we were off.
There wasn’t much wind and, unfortunately, the instruments hadn’t yet been calibrated so they weren’t much help in monitoring the conditions. My weather app estimated somewhere between 6-10 knots of wind. And with the plotter located inside, I opened up my Navionics app to start a track and monitor our speed. I was quite pleasantly surprised when the app showed us constantly at 5.5 knots with occasional bursts up into the low 6’s. Not bad for a big boat!
Starry Horizons is significantly heavier with more equipment on board, but we employee some weight management and we don’t suffer too significantly in terms of performance. Having a Code 0 or a larger spinnaker helps significantly. Trance Atlantic also had the upgraded engines (which we got as well) and seemed to maneuver well under power and be quite quick with both engines working.
We spent most of the day on a reach and tried out a few tacks and jibes. The boat handled the maneuvers quite well under sail, turning within a boat length or so and quickly setting off on our new heading. There were several other boats out doing test sails as well but no one we could really try and race against. And while Navionics said that we would have fit under the Bay Bridge, we were under instructions not to risk it so it was a lot of back and forth.
At the end of our sail, we were welcomed back to Miami by Mark Cuban’s beautiful yacht Fountainhead as she set out from her berth in a marina. Nothing like an even bigger boat to make the large boat you’re on feel quite small…
Both of us were quite pleased to see how well the boat sailed. Coming from a much smaller catamaran, it is still a bit surprising to me just how effortless it can feel to be under sail on a larger cat like the Helia, and how much smoother the ride is. I didn’t spend much time behind the helm and instead enjoyed the ride and discussed various plans with the owner of Trance Atlantic (Fuad, who we are still in touch with years later) and a few of the other prospective clients that were with us (Hans, who years later went through the Panama Canal with us, and his family). We came away with a few good ideas and a confirmation that we had definitely chosen the right boat.