In an ever more crowded multihull market, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. The Balance 482 has what it takes, as Sam Jefferson discovered
There was a time when, if you were searching for a cruising catamaran, your choices might end up being a bit limited – this is certainly not the case any more. Cruising multihulls are the fastest growing sector of the boatbuilding industry and the result is that there is now a vast range of boats to choose from.
An exploding market has also meant that designers are pushing the boundaries in many different ways in order to make their product stand out. Balance Catamarans is a fine example of this.
The South African company is the brainchild of its President, Phillip Berman, an American who set up the company in 2013. Berman, a former Hobie world champion racer, has written many books on multihull sailing in his time.
His years of both cruising and racing catamarans have given him very strong ideas about how a catamaran should be. As is so often the case, he found himself frustrated by what was available and, enlisting the help of designer Antoine du Toit, he set about drawing up the lines for what he saw as the perfect fast cruising catamaran.
The Balance brand was born and, yes, you may have noticed that it is a concept that treads heavily on the toes of bigger boatbuilders such as Outremer and Catana. If you’re going to go up against the big boys you therefore need to be armed with some original ideas to make you stand out from the crowd – and that is exactly what Balance aims to do.
All of which brings me to the Balance 482, the latest yacht, sitting between the 442 and 526 in its range.
The concept remains consistent throughout the range – fast cruising in style and the 482 certainly stays true to this.
The first thing you notice about the boat as you approach it is the style. Cruising multihulls can at times – let’s not mince our words here – be pretty damn ugly but that is not something I would level at the Balance 482. The looks are striking but pleasing with relatively slippery looking hulls tipped with dramatic wave piercing bows and a decent amount of reverse sheer.
The coachroof is harmoniously designed and sufficiently sleek to give the boat a racy, purposeful feel. It’s worth noting that the boat I tested did not feature the rather alarming paint job evident on the boat in the photoshoot, but was a somewhat less, ahem, exciting pastel blue colour.
As already noted, the Balance is conceived as a fast cruiser and, as such, weight is a relatively modest 11,500kg. Construction is in E-glass and vinylester with a PVC foam core and carbonfibre reinforcements in high-load areas. There is an option of stub keels or daggerboards – with daggerboards the option on the test boat.
The rig is aluminium as standard but can be upgraded to carbonfibre if you wish. The sail plan features a relatively generous (36.25sq m) self tacking jib and a powerful (94.47 sq m) main. It all adds up to a boat that promises to be fun to sail without being off the scale sporty.
Step aboard and you find yourself in a welcoming and roomy cockpit that feels very modern and stylish. The main a lounging area is to port and this doubles as the outdoor dining area, which could comfortably accommodate eight around the table.
There is a solid bimini providing shade and also the rather clever touch of storage for a couple of paddleboards. The cockpit feels nicely enclosed aft thanks to further seating, with davits for the dinghy aft of this.
The piece de resistance of the Balance is the triumph that is the Versadeck helm system. This is to starboard just abaft the deckhouse and is a means of getting around the age old problem of how to deal with the headache of where to put the helm on a cruising multihull. Raise the helm above cockpit level and you end up leaving the helmsman isolated and also have to make a separate bimini just for the helm – then you likely have to raise the boom.
If the helm is at cockpit level, then visibility can be restricted and it’s best to go with two helms situated outboard – but this leaves the helm exposed on a long passage.
Balance’s solution is a wheel that can be set in two different positions – one at cockpit level – which has access to all the instruments etc and one raised up to give excellent lines of vision and a good view of the sail. It’s a neat solution that I imagine will be imitated many times from now on.
In terms of sail controls, this is a yacht set up for short-handing and all the sail controls lead to three winches just in front of the helm with a bank of nine Spinlock jammers. In addition, there are two separate winches for the daggerboards.
Out on deck there is a handy grab handle recessed into the coachroof, which helps you feel secure and also doubles as a rain collector on long ocean passages – a thoughtful touch. The side decks feel broad and secure with a raised toe rail and really powerful non-skid making you feel exceptionally safe. Access to boom is good as it is very low and there is a good acreage of solar panels.
Step into the saloon through big patio doors and you find yourself in a space that is very white, light and welcoming. There is a galley with sink and cooker to starboard and twin banks of fridge/freezer to port. The galley has been carefully thought out with long distance cruising in mind, and there is a really good bracing position in galley with additional work surface and storage forward of the fridge.
It’s clear that this has been designed with the pitching motion of a catamaran in mind. Forward of this is a U-shaped seating area to starboard and chart table to port. There are also many, many USB ports. It’s worth noting that Balance takes a semi-custom approach to the interior so there is scope for changing to suit specific owner’s requirements.
Step downstairs into the starboard hull and you find yourself in the master cabin. This, again, is a bit different from most multihulls, largely because the large double berth is set forward with the bed set athwartships and raised up a couple of feet. This is essentially a way of gaining space; it’s raised up to create an island berth that straddles the nacelle to some extent and wins back otherwise dead space.
This is a clever touch and has a nice feel but being forward in a big sea high up makes you feel a bit vulnerable. Forward of this is a big storage area and aft is a huge shower room – possibly the biggest shower stall I’ve ever seen on any boat I’ve tested. You can have a sit down shower if you wish. The heads is forward of the shower and struck me as slightly awkwardly placed as it blocks access to shower a bit.
The corridor in between the master suite and the heads/shower room has all the switch panels etc plus a washing machine and the water maker, which are all well placed with excellent access. There is an option to have a more modest shower room and a double berth aft which is the layout that is used in the port hull
The port hull features a double berth aft with a second athwartships double forward. These two berths share a heads, which is set outboard just forward of the aft cabin and a shower room – more moderate than on the starboard side – which is set inboard just aft of the forward cabin, with shower just behind. As with the starboard hull, there is a lot of storage in the corridor between the two berths. There is an option to have both hulls set up like this, thereby gaining an extra double berth and losing a palatial shower room to starboard.
I tested the Balance off Castelldefels in Barcelona (not, alas, off Cape Town, where these shots were taken). I have test sailed many boats here and it’s rare you get a good breeze.
Yet, for once, the weather gods obliged and we had 20kts of wind on the day of the test with a bit of chop. The boat took it all in its stride and with full main and headsail we were soon making 7.6kts hard on the wind.
The Balance pointed impressively high – around 31 degrees off the wind in fact – and we kept pace with a 60ft monohull which was brand-new and out being tested at the same time. The helm position was a triumph. With the helm at cockpit level, you felt part of the action and there was good vision for watch keeping through the huge glass windows of the coachroof.
A sliding door leading to the upper helm position could be slid shut to further protect you from the elements. Meanwhile, with the helm in the raised position and Jefa cable steering also had very good feel. The boat was also good fun and inspired confidence. The sail controls were also thoughtfully placed and everything was made very simple by the self tacker, meaning you could throw the boat through tacks at will. Easing off the wind, we hit 8.6kts on a beam reach and 10kts on a broad reach.
Find out more at balancecatamarans.com
This article first appeared in the March 2023 edition of Sailing Today with Yachts & Yachting. Buy a single issue or subscribe here.