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2024 Boat of the Year: HH44

  • By Dave Reed
  • December 18, 2023

HH44 testing

On a cool late-October morning in Annapolis, Maryland, Sailing World ’s Boat of the Year judges stepped on board the gleaming red HH44 built by the Hudson Yacht Group in China. With them for the test sail was HH Catamarans president Seth Hynes and commissioning skipper Chris Bailet, who had tuned the rig and bent on the boat’s Dacron delivery sails. (The race sails were delayed in shipping.) It was their first time sailing the boat too, and like the judges, they were eager to see what it could do.

As the crew slipped dock lines and motored away in silence, the boat’s twin 10-kilowatt electric engines propelled the sleek catamaran through the mooring field in silence. If not for the sound of water gurgling from the transoms and the apparent wind blowing across the foredeck, the judges could barely tell they were underway.

The mainsail was then carefully hoisted inside the lazy jacks, and the halyard held firm with an innovative Karver KJ cone (a conical rope-holding device that acts like a restricter). They bore away and unfurled the non-overlapping jib, which snapped full, and the boat immediately accelerated. 

“Once we got going, it was 5, 6, 7 knots and then—boom—we’re right up to 10,” Stewart says. And with that they were laying tracks all over the Chesapeake Bay, making good pace on all points of sail, even without a reaching sail to deploy. (That too was stuck in transit.)

HH44 salon

After two hours of straight-­lining, tacking, jibing, and enjoying the comforts of the interior in a 10- to 15-knot southerly and sharp Chesapeake chop, I extracted the judges from the boat and asked, “So?”

“Boat of the Year,” was veteran Boat of the Year judge Chuck Allen’s immediate response. “That thing is wicked.”

Greg Stewart and Mike Ingham confirmed with nods of approval and big grins. There was no need to debate any further: The HH44 had earned the first award of what will be more to come. This $2 million crossover catamaran is the performance sailor’s retirement race boat. [Editor’s note: The judges’ estimated price was based on an expected racing inventory and associated hardware, but according to HH Catamarans, the new 2024 pricing is as follows: The HH44-OC will start at $995K and is approximately $1.3m fully optioned with EcoDrive and sails). The HH44-SC will start at $1.45m and be approximately $1.6 million fully optioned with EcoDrive and sails.]

HH44 helm

With a stated 37 of these 44-footers on order as of late October and a waiting list of three-plus years, HH44s will someday be scattered about in cruising grounds around the world, says Hynes. But it’s only a matter of time—and it will be sooner than later—before owners gather and give the racing thing a go.  

Aft lounge

The HH44 is the smallest of the builder’s new lineage of hybrid-powered performance catamarans (there is a 52-footer in the works), so it is positioned as an entry point into big-cat sailing. This model does not require a professional captain or crew because simplicity and owner-operator considerations are prevalent throughout the boat, which is designed by young naval architect James Hakes, son of Paul Hakes, one of the company founders. Chinese entrepreneur Hudson Wang is the other “H” of HH Catamarans.

“It had a great groove upwind. The self-tacking jib was really easy to deal with, and for the mainsail it was just a few feet of ease on the mainsheet, adjust the powered traveler up to center, trim on and go.”

“James brought the hybrid idea with him, and Hudson was willing to take a risk and look at doing something kind of game-changing in the industry with our parallel-­hybrid approach,” Hynes says. Morrelli & Melvin was intimately involved in every performance aspect of the boat, from the appendages to the final hull profile.

“It’s a diesel engine with a shaft drive, and then independent of that is an electric motor with a belt to the shaft, so they’re really independent of each other,” Hynes explains.  

HH44 Sport Cruiser rear

HH isn’t the first or only builder to use the system from Hybrid Marine, but Hake’s approach to the boat overall is inextricably linked to maximizing solar coverage, which means a clean roof and placing the helm stations down in the cockpit. To address the known challenges of cockpit steering in such catamarans, the steering wheels pivot inboard and outboard to allow for better forward visibility and communication with anyone on the foredeck dealing with sails, anchors or dock lines.

Placing the steering stations in the cockpit eliminates the tiered wedding-cake look of most big catamarans these days. More importantly, doing so allows them to lower the sail plan. “That allows for more sail area and less stress on the standing rigging,” Stewart says. “Plus, it looks so much better.”

There are 4,432 watts worth of solar panels piled onto the coach roof, which Hynes says has plenty of juice to get by off the grid, even in low-light conditions. “At full battery capacity, you can run the boat at full throttle using the two 10-kilowatt electric motors and get 7 knots of boatspeed for approximately two hours,” he says. “In light air, you can even keep your leeward electric motor running to build yourself some apparent wind. That’s what’s great about this system: You can sail quietly when no one else can sail at all.”

HH44 daggerboards

The port helm station is where a lot of the boathandling happens; there are powered halyard winches and a meticulous array of labeled jammers. Tails disappear into a deep trough forward of the pedestal. The wheels are sized just right, Stewart says. “Initially, I was steering from the weather wheel and I could see fine, and when I went to the leeward wheel, I could easily see the telltales. It had a great feel to the helm—light and responsive with no slop or tightness.”

In Allen’s sailing assessment of the HH44: “It had a great groove upwind. The self-tacking jib was really easy to deal with, and for the mainsail it was just a few feet of ease on the mainsheet, adjust the powered traveler up to center, trim on and go. There is some choreography to learn with the steering wheel, though. You have to move the wheel inboard to get better access to the sail and daggerboard controls during the tack. But once you’re done, you pop the wheel right back out to the outboard position. We didn’t have a screecher to really light it up downwind, but even with the Dacron jib and main, the boat took off. I was really impressed.”

catamaran new sailing

One wish for Stewart would be a sliver of a coach roof window for quick sail-trim checks, but he understood the priority of using every inch of solar-panel coverage.

Not having a sail-trim window wasn’t an issue for Ingham, however. “Most of the time, you’ll trim it to your best guess, take a step outboard and up the stairs right next to the wheel, and check yourself on the trim. It’s all push buttons anyway, so you’re not having to reload a winch or anything like that every time you make an adjustment.”

Even as the morning’s fresh breeze abated, the boat continued to perform beyond expectations, Stewart says. “As we got down to 5 knots of wind, the boat was still quick through the tacks. We didn’t have to back the jib at all, and it sailed at good angles upwind. I was impressed with how well it tacked, and how well it tracked with only one daggerboard down.”

catamaran new sailing

Stewart, a naval architect himself, also appreciated the boat’s modern styling and “sexy-looking profile,” especially the uncluttered interior. “It’s a nice departure from other similar-­size catamarans,” he says. “I like the styling—it caught my eye the very first time I saw the rendering. The transom angle and the reverse bow give it nice aesthetics and the buoyancy you need. The curved boards worked well and are integrated nicely on with the boat. Overall, it’s a great-looking package, and it would be a lot of fun to do some races on.”

“We will definitely end up racing in the Caribbean and doing some fun events for owners,” Bailet says. “The cool thing about this boat is you can take a smaller crew of friends and race competitively, and it isn’t going to cost you $50,000 in paid crew and housing. You can race this boat with three or four people, no problem. Doublehandling is pretty easy too, but if you really wanted to go banging around the buoys, with this boat it would be easy.”

  • More: 2024 Boat of the Year , HH Catamarans , Print January 2024 , Sailboats
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Best catamaran and multihull: We sail the very best yachts on two and three hulls

  • Toby Hodges
  • March 20, 2024

Toby Hodges takes a look at all the nominees and the winner of the best catamaran and multihull category in the much-anticipated European Yacht of the Year Awards

There are many categories in the  European Yacht of the Year  awards, from the best  luxury yachts  and  performance yachts  to the  best yachts for families  and event a  best specialist yacht category. But with multihulls rapidly increasing in popularity, the best catamaran and multihull category was possibly the most hotly anticipated.

The small number of entrants in this category in no way reflects the rich range or huge demand for multihulls. Many new models were launched by the big yards in the preceding years and they’re struggling to keep up with bulging order books.

However, these three shortlisted represented a choice pick of the latest fast cruisers and each, in their own very different ways, are responding to this insatiable demand for high end space and pace cruising.

Best catamaran and multihull

Best catamaran and multihull winner 2024 – outremer 52.

My highlight test of 2023? Sailing this Outremer 52 for 200 miles over two days and nights! Quite how such a large vessel, one that is capable of doing laps of the planet in true comfort, is also capable of providing such enjoyable sailing is the secret sauce that helps scoop this prize.

And it was pushed hard for this award by the disruptive HH. But the Outremer is such a well rounded, measured and thought out yacht for bluewater cruising at a reliable speed – it’s the full package, a dream boat for family bluewater sailing and arguably the French yard’s best and most refined model to date.

Designer VPLP was tasked with replacing the popular and well proven 51 with more comfort and stowage, while maintaining the performance. It says it took the best of the 55 (which won this award two years ago), and the best of the 51’s deck plan to create this 52. The result means too many good features to point out here, from the variety of helm positions, including a completely protected position inboard using the swing pedestal, to the well conceived spaces. I’d therefore recommend reading our full test report online or in YW’s June 2023 issue!

Neel continues to enjoy its cruising trimaran niche, using the wow factor of bridgedeck accommodation combined with the type of sailing enjoyment and feedback monohull sailors appreciate.

The impressive lightwind performance and direct feel of a Neel I am used to. But I don’t think I’ve ever been so surprised by the amount of cabins or space as I was on this 52. It’s available with four to six cabins plus the option for two crew cabins aft! Some of this maze works well, other areas, such as the forward cabins in the main hull not quite so well. Horizon and rig sightlines and some finishing also leaves room for improvement.

The HH44 seemingly manages to achieve the space and pace balance in a compact 45ft package, while also being one of the most innovative and exciting new production yachts I have sailed. From its looks to layout, to practical on deck solutions such as swing pedestals, side gates through the bulwarks and transom gates that double as swim platforms and boost cockpit security, it’s packed with fresh thinking.

And on the subject of ‘fresh’, the natural ventilation encouraged into the yacht through those massive forward facing coachroof windows which open – a feat made possible thanks to a stiff carbon composite structure – negates any aircon requirements.

With its deep carbon boards and tall carbon rig the HH44 is a powerful, reactive animal to sail. However, it’s the incorporation of the first parallel hybrid electric drive units which really makes this high tech high performance cat stand out. The electric motors are attached to the aft end of conventional diesel engines, not only providing silent power, but renewable energy through regenerative drives while sailing.

Best catamaran and multihull 2023

Best catamaran winner – nautitech 44.

If the very best catamaran delivers the ideal comfort to performance compromise, here’s a catamaran that seems to strike the perfect balance.

For those who cite a lack of visibility and protection as reasons not to choose this aft helm route, try sailing this first – direct steering brings so much more helming pleasure that you get the enjoyable feeling and communication more associated with a monohull. The attention to keeping weight low and central, vacuum infused vinylester build and a low coachroof and boom all aid this performance. The fine entry Lombard-designed hulls allowed us to properly point upwind at 8 knots (in 13), but it was the hands-on steering sensation that really stayed with me.

While there’s no real inside/outside boundary – the saloon bridges both – the Chedal-Anglay interior design works well. It is not as voluminous as some, but is certainly enough to be smugly comfortable at anchor, finished to a good quality, with walnut Alpi trim as standard. The layout option for a ‘smart room’ office/laundry/bunk room or stowage cabin is indeed really smart.

Out of all the multihulls nominated or sailed last year, this cat impressed me the most under sail. It’s the ideal size to go distance sailing, with good performance, low draught and space for family and friends. It had me dreaming.

Balance 482

I was drawn to the Balance 482, thanks to the combination of good looking modern design, high average speeds and, chiefly, the profusion of clever thinking and practical ideas that it brings. The South African build uses a foam core with E-glass laminate and cored furniture for a light weight of 11.3 tonnes, but also with the ability to take a generous payload.

An electric furler option combined with screecher sail helps offer effortless handling and fun sailing, although the 482 prefers a breeze in the double figures. Smart options such as load cells on the rigging, a bowsprit camera to monitor the anchor chain, plus engine room and mast cams all help for maintaining vigilance. Other features we like include the solar panels properly installed on raised brackets, raincatchers built into the coachroof, and how all sheets and lines are led to the helm station. But the prize solution is the VersaHelm, which allows you to swing the wheel inboard, close off the helm station, and stand watch and steer from a fully protected position.

Catana Ocean Class

The Catana Ocean Class is a bulky model which is geared more towards creature comforts than the higher performance of its predecessors. That said, it uses carbon in the structure and roof, foam cored furniture, the tanks are mounted low in the hulls and it has daggerboards and fine entry bows. The weight savings help it offer a massive 5.5 tonne cruising payload, plus there’s capacious stowage and large tank, refrigeration and laundry capacity.

Positioned between Lagoon and Outremer, the Catana echoes a bit of its sister brand Bali’s concept with its internal cockpit-cum-saloon layout while providing good ventilation via large sliding doors and opening windows. We liked how it’s easy to handle solo from one helm station, including the electric remote control of the boards, plus the layout of the galley and navstation.

Those chasing speed and helming pleasure should perhaps look to the C-Cat 48, as it’s as close to helming a fast monohull as a cruising cat is likely to get and one of the rare times we enjoyed sailing upwind in light breezes on a multihull! This is largely thanks to a lightweight, stiff build – the Comar yard has managed to save 1.7 tonnes over the first boat (9.5 tonnes light) and increased the draught of the curved daggerboards to 2.95m.

A carbon roof and rig comes as standard, as well as an epoxy hull, full carbon deck, bulkheads and compression beam. It is a little quirky with comparatively small volumes, but this François Perus design will outperform most other performance cats and monohulls of a similar length.

The Excess 14 shares that direct sensation you get from aft helms and some of the performance of the C-Cat, but in a more balanced, voluminous layout for cruising. The Excess 14 benefits from the research of VPLP’s Vannes racing office, where attention was focused on weight reduction, with savings particularly in furniture, on improved stiffness (PET foam cored sandwich for main structural bulkheads), and the efficiency of deeper fixed keels.

The result is telling on the water, as it should be for any best catamaran contender, where you can log easy miles: we clocked late 7s upwind, reached in the late 8s and regularly averaged 9 knots with gennaker in 12-15 knots. Clear glass windows give acceptable visibility from the helms through the coachroof and the comparatively minimalist interior. In short it offers a good mix of volume, reasonable performance and enjoyable sailing – see our full review last month.

Sailing performance was another key facet in the battle of the big cats from the big cat yards, Lagoon and Fountaine Pajot. Both models offer luxurious amounts of space for home from home comfort, as watersports bases for long term cruising.

The decision to push the mast to the front of the coachroof to allow for a larger genoa than its recent preference for self-tacking jibs has paid off on the Lagoon 51. It helped us sail efficiently into the waves (albeit not pointing too high) before clocking double figures reaching with the code sail in 15 knots.

The Lagoon’s large flybridge with dual access is a USP at this size that will be a hit or miss deal breaker for many. The 51 offers unrivalled accommodation volume in three, four or six cabins, and relaxation zones, and good circulation through these big spaces. Once again the jury applauds Lagoon for thoroughly testing the prototype model during a six month tour. Over 100 have already sold.

We saw in our December issue how the experienced owners of the Fountaine Pajot test boat choose to live and work full time aboard their Aura 51. It’s a design that promotes space, enough to take friends, family and crucially for them, all the toys to enjoy at anchor. Its capability of averaging 8-10 knots also appeals, although the single side helm and hydraulic steering result in scant connection to the sailing in light winds (the same applies to the Lagoon).

The fact the yard already offers this in a hybrid version and has an electric and hydrogen model in the pipeline could sway some, but the decision between the FP and the Lagoon will likely come down to preference between a central flybridge or offset bulkhead helm together with interior design and layout.

If you enjoyed this….

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