Purpose-built motor catamarans like this explorer-style ILIAD 50 give owners a versatile vessel for those bluewater voyages, reports Kevin Green for Boating NZ.

Powered catamarans have many attractions for cruising boaters and day-sailors alike. They can enjoy stability, space and frugality, as demonstrated by ILIAD Catamarans, and bought to the market Downunder by the team at Multihull Solutions. Having so far sold six in Australia, the first 50 was recently sold into New Zealand, due in 2022.

ILIAD 50 Review - ILIAD Catamarans

These catamarans are ideally suited to ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’, says boss Mark Elkington. Apart from an all-weather design able to cope with variable Kiwi conditions, the long fuel range is a major factor. The first 50 arrived in Australia in 2019, joined in 2020 by a 70 model in a line-up that will include 53, 62 and 74 models. 

These semi-displacement yachts can achieve double-digit cruising speeds and long ranges, the key to these capabilities being a wide array of engine choices, all shaft-driven, tailored to a customer’s needs.

The 50 is perhaps the most realistic proposition for a bluewater cruising couple – for 2022 there will be a sedan version as well. This model, the 53S, was one of four ILIAD Catamarans ordered during the 2021 Sanctuary Cove Boat Show.

The ILIAD is not ‘just another powercat,’ which 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 of IPS-driven powercats up to 50 feet, ideal for coastal cruising – a very different market from the ILIAD buyer, where we start at 50 feet because you need that size to accommodate the equipment a true passage-making boat requires.”

Explorer credentials
The popularity of explorer-style yachts continues to grow as people seek to escape the crowds and embrace technologies that liberate them from onshore services. For motor yachts, fuel efficiency is a key feature, and this is where catamarans with their low-drag hulls are very attractive.

ILIAD 50 Review - ILIAD Catamarans

Wanting something special but finding nothing suitable on the market, Elkington formed a consortium that included former Azimut designer Riccardo Bulgarelli, a leading South Asia shipyard, well-known marine expert and Chief Operating Officer Michael Crook with his Australian finance and administration team, to establish ILIAD Catamarans.

A company was formed, Global Marine, which owns the ILIAD brand – Multihull Solutions is the Asia-Pacific dealer – and a prototype with shaft drives, propellers and rudders protected by a skeg and keel was launched in October 2017. This resilient vessel motored 3,000 miles around Asia during testing, surviving a typhoon in Vietnam.

Commanding views
The first fruit of this Australian-Chinese consortium floated impressively before me as I approached hull number one on the pontoon at the Gold Coast’s Southport Yacht Club.

ILIAD 50 Review - ILIAD Catamarans

The 50 is dominated by its large flybridge. There are owner’s or charter versions available. Another key market differentiator, explains Elkington, is ILIAD’s semi-custom build and high standard of detailing. ILIAD also offers fully optioned base boats, a strategy proven by quality builders such as Nautor-Swan.

Three levels of living start at the top with a flybridge that extends all the way aft. Access to the upper deck’s eight-seater midships lounge and wet bar with electric hotplate and bar fridge is via inboard steps from the cockpit. Offset forward to port is the main helm, complemented by another optional station in the saloon. Ideal for steering in shoal waters, the flybridge is also good for tight marina manoeuvres.

The flybridge’s teak-clad aft deck is designed to house a dinghy, with the stainless winch base already in place. However, this area can be specified with sunbeds or even a jacuzzi – “Just let us know what you want,” advised Elkington.

Overhead, the fibreglass roof supports communications equipment and plastic clears to weatherproof the forward sections. The steering console is dominated by a Raymarine Hybrid Touch MFD, Autopilot and electronic throttles for the Volvo D6-435hp engines. Unlike monohulls, catamarans have two engines widely spaced, so they are easily pivoted and have incredible manoeuvrability. This generally offsets the need for a bow thruster. However, a cat’s bulk does create windage, so powerful engines are required for vessels of this size.

Loft-style saloon
The aft part of the main deck will be a strong selling point for prospective buyers, especially those coming from monohulls with a much narrower beam. The ILIAD 50 provides a vast area of unimpeded relaxation 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 steel struts.

ILIAD 50 Review - ILIAD Catamarans

The aft deck flows seamlessly into the saloon, through sturdy folding doors. Inside the open-plan saloon, the galley is to port with the dinette conveniently placed opposite and the lounge on the forward port quarter. Alongside is the optional second steering station. As the fore part of the saloon is elevated by a step, there are clear views from the helm – and given the low-slung styling of the cherrywood joinery, there are also clear views aft. Vision is greatly aided by ILIAD’s generous use of toughened glass throughout the range, made in New Zealand by Glass Shape.

Locker space around the steering console includes the handily placed main power board, its top side ideal for reading a paper chart. The saloon boasts lots of volume and natural light, while a sensibly large opening front window provides good airflow at anchor. In the galley, a U-shaped arrangement supports the cook in a seaway. Quality Siemens appliances are installed, including an electric hob, and there’s also extensive Corian worktops and a double stainless- steel sink. Large cupboards under and over the worktops provide victualling space for longer voyages and space for a dishwasher, while twin-drawer fridges keep the perishables cool. Other white goods include a washing machine in the owner’s hull. My only complaint was the lack of fiddles to prevent crockery rolling onto the parquet flooring.

ILIAD 50 Review - ILIAD Catamarans

The vessel’s tasteful cherrywood trim and its level of detailing and finish overall is most striking. Clearly hand-finished in most places, examples include rounded cabinetry ends, curved cocktail table-tops and immaculate stitching in the soft leather couples’ 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 detail on the ILIAD 50.

Private suite
Moving into the port hull, down steps just in front of the dinette-galley area, brings me to the owner’s suite. Closed-off by a sliding door, the entire hull is dedicated to the owner, with a large island  bed in the stern where the motion is kindest at sea, the vanity/desk midships and ablutions in the bow. The largest portlight is beside the bed, affording generous water views, while rectangular windows elsewhere give the space an airy feel. Blinds ensure privacy when required.

ILIAD 50 Review - ILIAD Catamarans

The attention to detail is, again, subtle: quality metal door/cupboard fittings, petite leather chairs and a sumptuously padded couch, along with strategically placed handrails. In the bathroom, the tall topsides ensure plenty of volume while opening portlights provide airflow essential for the tropics, reducing 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, extensive bookshelves and tasteful mood lighting.

Beachable hull
Useable deck space is important for tropical voyaging – it is ample on the ILIAD 50, which has wide side-decks with tall rails to guide you safely to the bows. Here you’ll find twin elevating sunbeds (in quality Sunbrella fabric) with lockers between them to house the  anchor setup.

The rode runs under the nacelle, safely away from bare feet, controlled by a Quick 2000W vertical windlass. Ideally, a second roller should be fitted, but good points include double sets of large cleats.

ILIAD 50 Review - ILIAD Catamarans

Moving back aft, each hull has moulded steps down to the water. The transom can house a tender on davits (or house it on the flybridge) and this is where you’ll find the engine hatches. The standard spec is for 375hp Volvo Penta shaft drives, but up to 10 engine choices are available from different manufacturers. “Our slogan is freedom of choice, which includes most of the systems, such as engines and electronics. The buyer chooses, but we are happy to advise, of course,” said Elkington.

While they must be shaft drives, in keeping with the explorer ethos, power choices range up to 500hp.

Looking inside the engine room revealed a spacious, well-organised area with electrics and batteries elevated above the Volvo D6-435hp engines. 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 it is to the quadrant and steering linkages. Other key systems here include the 12kW Westerbeke generator and hot water system.

The machinery is housed in a sturdily built CE A category hull with a solid fibreglass base and mini keels to allow grounding (or a hull scrub on a tidal beach). Watertight bulkheads are used throughout – in the engine room, the central hull and on the bows in case of collision.

“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 structures,” said Elkington. Elsewhere PVC closed-cell core infusion technology has been used by the experienced Xinlong yard, which was 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. It required only that the two throttles be pushed fore and aft separately to spin the 50-footer in its own length before we proceeded out the shallow waterway – yet another advantage of such a low draft hull that can nudge itself up to beaches if necessary.

ILIAD 50 Review - ILIAD Catamarans

Behind the wheel high up on the flybridge, I had clear views of the surfers paddling across to South Stradbroke Island, dodging them easily before putting the throttles down. This produced a mild roar but absolutely no juddering from the 435hp Volvos as they maxed-out at 21 knots, the engines turning at 3,450rpm. Satisfied, I slowed to a more sedate cruising speed of 18 knots, which showed a fuel burn of 105 litres/per hour. For those hops between Pacific Islands, I’d ease back to about 10 knots.

The sunny and calm conditions 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 smartly as we punched through our own wake. Not a murmur from anything. In fact, there was barely a murmur of complaint from this journalist at any point, which says a lot for this highly competent power catamaran.

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