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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

NauticBlue 464

It’s important to keep your focus when you’re testing a boat, but I must admit that I found doing that a challenge with the NauticBlue 464 power catamaran. Not because I’m particularly fond of catamarans. Rather the potential distraction I had to grapple with was the test venue: the Virgin Islands. NauticBlue runs a charter company based on St. Thomas which serves both the American and British Virgins, as well as a base in the Abacos, Bahamas. It also sells the four-cabin 464 and three-cabin version called the 463 to buyers who agree to lease them back to the company for charter.

Fortunately, I signed on for only three days instead of the full-week charter, so I was able to keep my mind on my business most of the time despite the tropical distractions. And that 72 hours gave me enough time to wring out this boat—none of the “the calm waters on test day didn’t allow me to test the boat’s seakeeping” stuff we’re so often saddled with.

The 464/463 is a displacement-style catamaran, which means it offers efficiency, a smooth ride, and a relatively shallow draft (3'8"). Yet our test boat was no slouch when it came to speed. NauticBlue claims a 464 powered by twin 370-hp Yanmar diesels has a top speed of 24 knots. The best I saw was 19.5 knots, but my boat was loaded down with four adults, about 800 pounds of gear, and enough provisions for a week. (We weren’t exactly careful shoppers.) Plus, I suspect there was something amiss with our boat’s powertrain. More of that in a moment.

The Yanmars are mounted almost all the way aft in each of the catamarans’ hulls, thanks to V-drives. The principal benefits of this setup are more interior volume and quiet. The maximum sound level I recorded on the bridge was just 77 dB-A (65 dB-A is the level of normal conversation), and most of that was water noise. Impressively, readings were virtually identical at the lower station. The V-drives also provide a nine-degree shaft angle, which in concert with relatively small props (22"x31") and propeller pockets help produce the moderate draft.

Add these features to the catamaran’s inherent smoothness, which comes courtesy of the air cushion formed between her hulls, and you have a fine cruising boat. The tradewinds that bathe the Virgins gave us plenty of chop to test the 464’s seakeeping, and she did well on every point; when the three- to four-footers were on her nose, they were virtually undetectable. She was not terribly dry, again courtesy of the catamaran design that can trap spray between the hulls and blow it back forward and up onto the windshield, a phenomenon know as “cat pant.” NauticBlue says it has since modified the angle of the windshield, which should significantly reduce spray.

Acceleration was more than adequate, although on our boat it came along with an extraordinary amount of smoke. Indeed, during full-throttle acceleration runs, the Yanmars actually left a fuel slick. I've been on plenty of boats powered by these engines and never seen anything like this. At one point I thought perhaps the engines were starved for air, so I tried a few runs with the hatches open. But the same thing happened. I was at a loss to explain this phenomenon, until the folks at NauticBlue told me the likely cause was substandard diesel fuel, which is apparently a common problem in the Virgins. Note that the smoke was objectionable only while we were under hard acceleration. At normal cruising speeds, emissions appeared to be normal.

Also normal—at least by catamaran standards—is the layout. If you've been on a cat, you know the drill: a main deck—in this case with saloon, galley, and lower helm—that far exceeds in room and airiness that of any comparably sized monohull and staterooms that are less so. Frankly, the trade-off worked quite well for us. Being in the tropics, we spent virtually all of our time either outside or in the saloon, which has a comfortable, aft-facing bench to port of the starboard helm and a large starboard-side dinette that handily seats six. The galley is along the port side, and we put its nearly full-size refrigerator and deep double sinks to good use, as we did the standard coffee maker and microwave here, all standard. We never used the three-burner ceramic stovetop.

Stowage up top is adequate, and we all agreed that installing a nifty tip-out trash bin in place of another large cabinet was a solid move. Not so solid was the bungee cord that kept it from opening all the way. We liked, but did not use, the flat-screen TV/DVD player that retracts into the overhead above the sink, and both used and liked the lower helm, which has good sightlines.

The four staterooms, accessed by port and starboard stairs down into the hulls, each have en suite heads and integral shower (no separate shower stall). Of roughly equal size, they also had only adequate stowage despite their generous length, thanks to the V-drives. Stowage is an issue on most catamarans, as the design precludes deep bilges where boaters love to stuff stuff. The berths were comfortable but lacked the walkaround feature of a comparably sized monohull's master or VIP. (The three-cabin 463 does have an island berth in the master but is probably not as highly prized as a charter vessel, where the number of berths trumps all.) In any case, we found the rooms comfortable, in large part because we dumped a lot of our stuff in the two unused staterooms.

Indeed, after three days living aboard, our quartet gave our 464 high marks. We loved her quiet running, roomy saloon, and ability to eat up anything Drake's Channel threw at us. Stowage wasn't a problem for us, although it might have been had we been eight—an imprudent idea on any 46-footer. Add to that a nice turn of speed and good fuel efficiency, and you have one of the nicest cruising boats I've been aboard. And I swear I would have said that even if I'd tested her in the American Paradise.

NauticBlue Power Yacht Vacations
(800) 416-0336

This article originally appeared in the November 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.