Atlantic 57 Catamaran by Chris White Designs
Fast, Safe, and Comfortable
“Fast, Safe and Comfortable”
Those three words were used in the very first advertisement for an Atlantic Catamaran
in 1985. It is what I believed sailors wanted then and what I believe they want
today. In the 25 years since there's been steady progress in making all of
the Atlantic Cats faster, safer and more comfortable. As a group, they are now recognized
in far flung cruising harbors all over the world as “the” cruising cats of choice.
While other catamaran designs are packed with trendy features and try to appeal to people looking for the sizzle rather than the steak, we put a perfect steak on the platter and hand you a sharp knife.
A57 'Cerulean' giving her crew a great ride in the Grenadines
The Atlantic 57 is not a completely a new design but is rather a refinement of the proven Atlantic 55. While the interior layouts of the A55 and A57 are nearly identical, a variety of changes were made to improve the already fantastic performance of the Atlantic 55.
Adding a little hull length is almost always a benefit to a catamaran, and in the case of the A57 the additional length also allowed a slight increase in the fore triangle area. Adding sail area to the staysail helped to fill the gap in wind range between the small self tacking jib and the larger genoa.
Another interesting modification was the change to asymmetrical daggerboards. The A55s used either swing up centerboards or symmetrical daggers. Both worked well, but it seemed that windward performance could be ratcheted up from excellent to spectacular by using a daggerboard that created extra lift. The result is evident when sailing the A57 to windward as she makes no noticeable leeway.
There were numerous small changes made to the interior accommodation. Most of these qualify a “tweaks” rather than major alterations. Among other things, refrigeration space was increased, lockers in the sleeping cabins were enlarged, access was improved into the forepeaks and the interior lighting plan refined. A significant alteration was made to the aft deck area - the deck level was reduced, which allows fixed seating along the forward side and a deeper bulwark along the aft side.
Additionally, continued progress has been made in the reduction of construction weight by altering materials, installed equipment and construction techniques. The A57s are coming in about 1500 lbs lighter than the A55s, which translates into several percent more boat speed under sail.
Diesel propulsion is provided by twin 55 HP engines coupled to saildrives and three blade folding props. The A57 can go nearly 11 knots at full power and has fantastic fuel economy cruising at 8 kts.
While aluminum spars can be used, all of the A57s thus far (as of early 2010) are equipped with carbon fiber masts. This entails additional cost over metal spars and is an option to the owner. There are some benefits in a carbon mast. It is lighter weight than aluminum and often is quite a bit stiffer, which reduces the need for precise rig tuning. The Atlantic cats with carbon rigs do feel different sailing through waves, and I think in most conditions it is an improvement.
The actual construction process of building an A57 is every bit as important as the design. Without proper execution, the greatest catamaran design in the world will be just one more ordinary boat.
There is much more to building a really good cruising cat than most people realize. As of 2009, it would be a struggle to name 5 boat builders worldwide that could produce an Atlantic 57 to the standard and price required to be competitive. None of the mainstream production yacht builders can do it. Why? Because quality yacht construction is highly labor intensive, a process that is fundamentally at odds with factory style boat building. They have never learned how to control the weight of their products, thus their boats are too heavy. They cut every possible corner in an effort to reduce their labor hours. Given their size, business models and sales/distribution costs they have to. They must be able to build a boat in days or weeks rather than months or years. The pity of it is that because of their high overhead costs, advertising budgets and sales commissions, the money saved cutting corners gets added back in other costs. Final result: poor quality construction sold for “good construction” price.
The Atlantic 57 is currently built by Alwoplast, SA, with vacuum bagged glass and carbon fiber using 100% epoxy resin and foam cores. There have also been several A57’s built in the USA by Aquidneck Custom Composites. Both of these builders exercise great care in making sure that the epoxy composite structure is properly fabricated and the designed weights are maintained. Just as important, their business models keep overhead costs low and allow for the expenditure of many thousands of man hours devoted to careful fairing and painting of interior hull, deck and bulkheads rather than the quick and heavy “cover up and hide” process commonly employed by the large manufacturers. The added care and quality control is immediately evident. Check out the photos, or better yet arrange for a visit onboard. Nothing else comes close.
A57 aVida in Valdivia, Chile
Many cruising sailors have expressed the opinion that a 57’ cat is too large a boat for a small crew to handle. On this point I strenuously disagree. In common with all the Atlantic cats, the A55 and A57 are set up precisely for short handed and singlehanded sailing. It takes essentially the same number of lines located in the same places to sail the A57 as it takes to sail an A42. In fact, it's actually easier to tack the A57 than the A42 because of the self tacking jib on the larger cats. Just turn the wheel and it's done. Or if you're really lazy like me, just push the tack button of the autopilot remote control!
There are certainly differences between sailing a 42’ and a 57’ cat, the main one being that you need to follow the correct procedures for sail handling on the larger boat. On a smaller boat a person has the physical strength to overcome sloppy seamanship - but there are limits to what one person can muscle around. When sailing a cat like an A57 alone or with just one crew you need to let the boat do the work by guiding her carefully and pulling the strings in the correct sequence. This is not difficult to learn and is just part of the natural process of getting to know any boat.
Having just presented a case for the A57 being easily managed I will point out that I do think that this design is near the top of the size range for shorthanded cruising cats. For the cruising sailor there is plenty of accommodation space, as well as excellent carrying capability in an A57. Performance-wise I doubt that much can be gained by going larger because a small crew will not be able to push a larger boat as close to it's full potential. This concept has been demonstrated in many challenging races such as the Vendee Globe, where faster times started being recorded when the boats were limited to a maximum of 60’.
In summary, if you are looking for a high performance cruising cat that is big- but not too big- you've just found it. Performance of the Atlantic 57 under sail is far superior to any of the cats made by the likes of Jenneau, Catana or Fontain Pajot. The Atlantic 57 has also demonstrated equal performance to significantly more expensive one-off catamarans such as the Gunboat 66. While sailing performance is important and highly sought after, it is only half the story. Safety, durability, livability matter every bit as much to the cruising sailor and the Atlantic 57 excels in all respects.