Powered catamarans have many attractions for both the cruising boater and day sailor alike, who can enjoy the stability, space and frugality, as seen on the Chinese-built Iliad 50, brought to the Australian market by Multihull Solutions. The first of a range that includes the 70 seen at the 2019 Sydney Boat Show, plus a 60 and 90, these semi-displacement yachts do double digit cruising speeds while offering vast ranges. The key to this a wide array of engine choices, suited to customers needs — all shaft-driven.
But this is not just another powercat, as Multihull Solutions boss Mark Elkington was keen to point out as we gazed at the Iliad 50 moored on the Gold Coast. “The Iliad complements our Fountaine Pajot range, which are IPS driven boats ideal for coastal cruising, a very different market from the Iliad buyer where we start at 50 foot because you need that size to have all the equipment that a true passage making boat requires.”
The popularity of explorer-style yachts has never been higher as people seek to escape the madding crowd, while embracing the latest technologies that liberate them from onshore services. For motor yachts, fuel efficiency is a key feature and this is where catamarans and their low-drag hulls become attractive. Realising this and then forming a consortium to bring such a vessel to market proved a steep challenge however, explained Elkington. “I explored about 50 yards around the world for an offshore passage maker style of vessel, that was tough enough to be beached if necessary, but most were using IPS engines, which are too vulnerable so our choice was either forget about this market opportunity or put a team together and build something ourselves.”
The team included former Azimut designer Riccardo Bulgarelli, and a Chinese naval dockyard relaunched as Xinlong Yachts in Zhanjiang on the South China Sea, near the popular tourist destination of Hainan Island. The yard has experience in both metal and composite builds, including launching explorer class Bering motor yachts. Global Marine, the resutling company, now owns the Iliad brand and Multihull Solutions are the Asia-Pacific dealer. The first result of this collaboration was a prototype launched in October 2017, which motored 3,000 miles around Asia for research and development purposes, surviving a typhoon in Vietnam along the way. “This was created without a mould which allowed us to improve the prototype to the stage where we created the optimum mould for the first Iliad 50,” said Elkington. The explorer-style ethos required the hull to be resilient so the shaft drive engines and rudder are protected by a skeg and a keel-line.
The result of this Australian-Chinese consortium stood impressively before me as I approached hull number one on the pontoon at the Southport Yacht Club on a warm Gold Coast day. Dominated by the large flybridge that creates three levels of living space, below decks there are owner's or charter versions available. The other key market differentiator, explained Elkington, is the semi-custom build and exceptionally high level of detail finish. Another selling point is offering fully optioned base boats, rather than creating add-ons afterwards which has been a successfully proven by quality builders such as Nautor-Swan.
Climbing up to the huge flybridge via the inboard steps from the cockpit reveals a semi-covered area with lounge midships that seats eight, along with a wet bar that includes an electric plate and bar fridge. The steering console is offset to port at the front and is complemented by another in the saloon. Ideal for steering in shoal waters, the flybridge is also good for tight marina manoeuvres.
Looking aft, across the thick teak floor-cladding, is an open area designed to house a dinghy, with stainless winch base already in place, but being a custom boat, this area could have sunbeds or even a Jacuzzi perhaps. “Just let us know what you want,” advised Elkington.
The fibreglass roof overhead supports communications equipment and clear plastics can be closed to weatherproof the forward sections. The steering console was dominated by Raymarine Hybrid Touch chart screen, autopilot and electronic throttles for the Volvo D6-435HP motors fitted. Among the features of catamarans are their two engines located far apart (unlike a monohull) so this gives them incredible manoeuvrability, allowing the hull to be pivoted, which generally offsets the need for a bow thruster. However their vast bulk does create windage (and increased fuel consumption) so powerful engines like these 435 horse power models are ideal for this size of vessel.
LOFT STYLE SALOON
On the main deck, the aft part will be a strong selling point for prospective buyers, especially coming from the narrower beam of a monohull, as the Iliad 50 has a vast area of unimpeded relaxing space that only a catamaran can offer. A wet bar and table for eight means the aft deck is an alfresco extension of the saloon, especially as the galley is just inside. The entire area is shaded by the flybridge extension which is strongly supported by large diameter stainless struts and seamlessly flows into the saloon but protected by sturdy folding doors.
Inside the open plan saloon, the galley is to port, dinette conveniently placed opposite and lounge on the forward port quarter. Alongside is the second steering console (which is optional). As the forepart of the saloon is elevated by a step, this creates clear views from the steering console and given the low-slung styling of the Cherrywood joinery, there are also clear views aft for navigation. Locker space surrounding the steering console has the main power board, which is handy for the steerer to control all systems and its topside is ideal for rolling out a paper chart. Vertical side bulkheads throughout give lots of volume and natural light while a sensibly large front window allows airflow at anchor.
In the galley, a U-shaped arrangement supports the cook when rolling in a seaway with quality Siemens appliances, including electric hob. There are also spacious Corian worktops and a two deep stainless sinks. Large cupboards overhead and under the worktops are ideal for victualling long-term and can house a dishwasher, while twin drawer-fridges keep the perishables cool. Other white goods include a washing machine installed in the owner's hull. My only complaint was the lack of fiddles to prevent crockery rolling onto the parquet flooring.
Most striking, apart from the tasteful shade of Cherrywood is the level of detailing and quality of finish — clearly hand-finished in most places and includes rounded ends, curved cocktail table tops and immaculate stitching in the soft leather couches. The review boat, a stock vessel, had been displayed for only a day before a couple bought it — they'd been keen on a production catamaran but changed their minds when they saw the level of detailing on the Iliad 50.
Moving down into the port hull, from steps just in front of the dinette-galley area, brings us to the owner's suite. Closed-off by a sliding door, the entire hull is dedicated to the owner, with large island bed in the stern where the motion is kindest at sea, and ablutions in the bow with vanity/desk midships. The largest portlight is beside the bed, affording generous water views, and fairly large rectangular openings elsewhere give an airy feel, while blinds ensure privacy when required.
The attention to detail is subtle with quality metal door and cupboard fittings, petite leather chairs and a sumptuously padded couch along with strategically placed handrails. In the bathroom the tall topsides ensure volume is good and opening portlights give that essential airflow for the tropics to reduce the reliance on the fitted air conditioning unit. Teak underfoot and a quality Tecma electric head finish off the area nicely. Over in the starboard hull the two double berths with ensuite bathrooms are equally well appointed, including memory foam mattresses and surrounding bookshelves with tasteful mood-lights.
Usable deck space is important for tropical voyaging, and is ample on the Iliad 50, which has wide side-decks with tall safety rails to guide you to the bow. Here twin sunbeds (in quality Sunbrella fabric) elevate and lockers between them house the essential anchor setup. The rode runs under the nacelle, safely away from bare feet and is controlled by a Quick 2000W vertical windlass. Ideally a second roller should be fitted, but good points included double sets of large cleats. Moving back aft, each hull has moulded steps into the water and the transom can house a tender on davits (or the on flybridge). Here the hatches to each engine are also located. The standard fitting is for 375 horse power Volvo shaft-drives, but up to 10 engine choices are available including different brands. “Our slogan is freedom of choice which includes most of the systems, such as engines and electronics, which the buyer can preference and we are happy to advise of course,” said Elkington.
Given that they must all be shafts, in keeping with the explorer ethos, power choices range up to 500 horsepower. All benefit from being housed in a hull that can dry-out as it protects their shafts with moulded skegs. Looking inside the engine room revealed a spacious and well organised area with electrics and batteries elevated above the Volvo D6-435s. Only leading industry standard components are used such as Racor filters, Victron inverters and a Seafire automatic fire suppression system. Service access to the oilways and belts is also adequate, as is the quadrant and steering linkages. Other key systems here include the 12kW Westerbeke generator and hot water system. This is all housed in a sturdily built CE A category hull that has solid fibreglass base and mini keels to allow a grounding (or hull scrub on a tidal beach). Watertight bulkheads are used throughout — in the engine room, the central hull and in case of collision on the bows.
“It's a full vinylester hull, not just below the waterline but above as well with monolithic or solid glass around the keel line and key parts,” said Elkington. Elsewhere PVC closed-cell infusion has been used by the experienced Xinlong yard, who were subject to visits by independent European CE inspectors at key stages of the build.
OFFSHORE ON THE GOLD COAST
Gliding out from the tight confines of the marina was the first test of the Iliad 50's capabilities, requiring only the two throttles to be pushed fore and aft separately to spin the 50 footer in its own length before we proceeded along the shallow waterway — yet another reason to have such a low draft hull that could nudge itself up to beaches if necessary. Behind the wheel, high up on the flybridge, I had clear views of surfers paddling across to South Stradbroke island and easily dodged them before putting the throttles down which caused a mild roar but absolutely no juddering from the 435 horse power Volvos as they maxed-out at 21 knots, turning at 3,450rpm, before I slowed to a more sedate cruising speed of 18 knots which showed a fuel burn of 105 litres per hour.
For hops between Pacific islands, which this particular boat will be doing, I'd ease back to about 10 knots for a range of 750 miles, to reach my favourite anchorages in New Caledonia and beyond. The calm sunny weather perhaps wasn't the sternest test for the Iliad 50 so I had to chase my own wake to seek out some motion, Turning the hydraulic wheel brought the big cat around fairly quickly as we punched through our wake without a murmur from anything. In fact there was hardly a murmur of complaint from this journalist which says a lot for this highly competent power catamaran.
PRICE AS TESTED $2,500,000 (sail away Australian tax paid and landed)
LENGTH OVERALL 15.51m
AIR DRAFT 6.49m
FUEL TANKS 2,700L
WATER TANKS 700L
FUEL RANGE 2,500nm
ENGINE MAKE/MODEL std is 2 x 370hp volvo/yanmar shaft drives (2 x volvo d6-435hp, shaft drives on review boat)
DISPLACEMENT (lightship) 24,000 kg
33-45 Parkyn Parade
Mooloolaba Queensland, 4557
P (07) 5452 5164