There is nothing wrong with a bit of conformity. Even as humans we all have a certain desire to blend in and melt into the background. Yet, as the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. This certainly rings true on boat tests where, from time to time, you find yourself confronted with a yacht so bland that you are left struggling to find anything to say. This is not an accusation that could be levelled at the Windelo 50. This is a blue water cruising catamaran from a relatively new company based in Canet en Roussillon in the south of France. The company is ambitious and solidly backed with a large boatyard up and running. The company is young, energetic and tries at every turn to be different – and generally succeeds. Even better, all those innovations are set within the framework of trying to create a boat that is as environmentally friendly as possible. From a journalist’s point of view, there is a lot to like before you even step aboard. Yet all that innovation and daring to be different has to work, and the proof of the pudding would be in the testing. I stepped aboard eagerly.
On one basic level the Windelo 50 is a conformist. It wants to be a comfortable, top end blue water catamaran in same bracket as, say, Outremer as opposed to Lagoon. To achieve that, the boat has to be reasonably lightweight but also well fitted out, feature decent performance but also the ability to be sailed across oceans with confidence. To achieve these aims the company tamed up with the highly respected team of Berret/Racoupeau who have worked extensively with the likes of Outremer and Catana in the past and produced a hull with the aim of providing strong performance even when the boat is fully loaded up. This has been achieved by making the waterlines slightly fuller than some rivals. This may slightly inhibit performance when the boat is not loaded but means performance does not drop off a cliff once you’ve filled the lockers up with all the gizmos and kit you need for blue water cruising. Volume is also provided by angling the floats 6° off the vertical axis. This means that the load-bearing volume extends outward thereby increasing transverse stability. As with rivals in this bracket of cruising catamaran, the Windelo features daggerboards and, unlike many others, these are positioned in the middle of the hull, not offset as is sometimes the case. This is the most efficient position and further enhances upwind performance. Aside from that, careful consideration has gone into the positioning of the nacelle, which is set well back to minimise pitching. To further aid this, there is a clearance of 90cm between the underside of the nacelle and the waterline. Marry all that to a powerful rig with 135 sq/m of sail area, a lightship displacement of 11,200kg, and you have a yacht capable of munching up the ocean miles at anything up to 20kn under sail. Twin crash bulkheads forward provide reassurance.
This is about where the quest for conformity ends because the other great aim was to do all this while constructing an extremely environmentally friendly boat. The stated aim, in fact, was a boat with 50% less environmental impact than traditional designs. To achieve this, you certainly couldn’t accuse Windelo of lacking ambition, they started from the keel up and by using Basalt – yes, that’s right, the by product of a volcanic eruption – instead of traditional fibreglass woven rovings. Basalt fibres have actually been produced for many years now but Windelo are among the first to use it in yacht construction. Basalt is a natural volcanic fibre which offers vibration resistance and durability while still maintaining a high strength to weight ratio. The other great asset it possesses is that it is naturally produced and has no toxic additives.
So that’s the outside of the hull, but the other problem is that hulls are generally foam cored – a product also not good for the environment. This is where the other weapon in Windelo’s armoury comes into play: PET [Polyethylene Terephthalate]. This is a very elaborate word for a substance that is made using the plastic from old bottles which is crushed into very small pieces then melted again in order to create the PET foam. During the fabrication process, the PET core produces half CO2 than the PVC core does. It’s light and environmentally friendly. This is not only used in the hull construction, but many of the wood laminates in the interior are cored with PET.
So that’s construction dealt with, but there’s more, much more: The Windelo carries a pair of 20kw electric engines which are powered by a 560Ah 48V battery pack. This provides instant power on tap in total silence. Marry that with a diesel generator and you have a yacht with a range of 1,100 miles under power at 6 knots. Yet the diesel generator is just that – a back up. The boat also features MaxProp hydroregenerating propellers that switch to generating power when under sail, plus, as with other catamarans, the Windelo 50 offers acres of space for solar panels. Factor in the fact that the Windelo is, first and foremost a fine sailing yacht and you have a boat capable of sailing many miles solely under the power of sun and wind.
Step aboard the Windelo and you are immediately aware that this is a boat that is just that little bit different. The cockpit, for example is not where you’d expect it to be but has instead been shifted well forward, sitting in front of the main living area and just abaft the mast. There are twin helms and large windows, while sliding doors provide masses of light and air but also mean you can shut out the elements if needs be. The only other mainstream boatbuilder which has gone for this approach that I can think of is Gunboat in the multihull market and Saffier Yachts in the monohull market. It provides you with a working space with excellent all round vision. Meanwhile, with all rigging controls led directly to the helmsman and the addition of a self tacking jib means that handling is a breeze. Both daggerboards can also be raised and lowered from here. In addition to this, the anchor winch is also right there within the cockpit, giving you a much more immediate view of what’s going on as you lower and raise the anchor. Marry that with excellent views of the sails and, with the big sliding ‘patio’ doors back into the main saloon blending the technical ‘sailing’ area of the boat and the lounging area nicely and you have a very appealing set up. I liked it a lot.
Out on deck, things are a bit more conventional to be fair. Up forward there is the usual pair of lockers just forward of the mast with twin diesel tanks for the generator plus ample storage. With the nacelle set well aft there is a decent sized trampoline. Back aft there is a clever set up for raising and lowering the tender on its davits. When raised, this davit device helps to enclose the aft deck, ensuring you feel protected and enclosed at sea. With the davit section lowered, the aft deck is extended and opens out into a large bathing platform area. The aft deck also has a table that can be shipped for full outdoor dining when at anchor, bringing you close to the waters edge.
You’d usually describe this area as ‘down below’ on a boat test, but it’s hard to use that term on a catamaran, not least this one. The first thing you need to note is that the Windelo features the full width tilt/slide ‘garage door’ first pioneered by Bali catamarans. With this lifted up, the whole back deck blends seamlessly with the interior to provide a huge indoor/outdoor living space. Combine that with huge sliding toughened glass side windows with narrow mullions and you have the very definition of a light and airy living space. The test boat featured the optional U-shaped galley to starboard with a main seating area to port, plus a huge double pilot berth above this where you could happily lounge on watch and keep an eye on things with the autopilot doing the hard work for you. The U shaped galley is not the typical arrangement but did work very well as you felt completely enclosed and comfortable. The standard arrangement also features a chart table to port forward of the main seating area with a clever flip around seat that means that lounging space is maximised when required. In fact, the dining table can be expanded to accommodate 12 people if required.
In terms of sleeping arrangements, the standard set up for the Windelo is the port hull devoted to the master cabin and owners suite and the starboard hull featuring twin double cabins, and a shared shower/ heads arrangement. Being a top end boatbuilder, Windelo is happy to accommodate a good deal of customisation for each individual model and this was the case with the test boat which featured twin guest cabins in the starboard hull but with the forward cabin a bunk room and the aft featuring a non-standard athwartships double to accommodate the slightly larger U shaped kitchen arrangement in the main saloon.
The bunk room, although not standard, worked exceptionally well. Forward of this was a hatch which opened out into another huge storage space that could also be accessed from the deck. This can be converted into a skipper’s berth if needs be.
In the port hull there was a huge double set aft and running athwartships. A beautiful curved custom portlight made from toughened glass provided a wonderful view of the sea from bot aft cabins and there was a great feeling of space in both. Forward of the berths, this particular model featured separate heads/shower rooms and then a huge and very pleasant office area which took up the entire forward living space. In standard arrangement, this is actually a much larger heads/shower room and there is also the option of having another double berth up here. Overall, the finish was very good quality and the overall sense of light and space was beguiling.
All very well but the litmus test is, of course, how the boat performs at sea. It was time to head out and find out. With a very moderate 8-10kn of wind, this was going to be a day when we found out how the boat’s light displacement and big sail area could be used to best advantage. First though, the electric motors; we left the marina in eerie silence. The bottom end torque of an electric motor is a real advantage when manoeuvring a big multihull, while the daggerboards can be quickly dropped to provide a bit more grip in blustery conditions. The helm position also worked well for manoeuvring in tight spaces. Handling a big multihull often makes you feel like you are at the helm of a cross channel ferry but by being positioned amidships, this feeling of vast bulk was considerably reduced and the result was pleasing. Sails up, and the boat proved to be a polished performer in the modest conditions. With eight knots of wind, we were able to match windspeed and boat speed provided we used the big gennaker. Sail handling was very simple and at the helm you had a really good view of the sails thanks to the forward cockpit and twin helms. The steering is a combination of rod and Dyneema line and is considerably more complicated than inf the helms are positioned right aft above the rudder quadrants. I was concerned that this might add up to more friction and therefore less feel but evidently a lot of work has been put in to ensure that this is not the case and I was very impressed with the handling, which felt reasonably responsive and involved for a big cruising cat. million times more pleasant than hydraulic steering.
This article first appeared in the September 2021 edition of Sailing Today with Yachts & Yachting.