Nicely designed former charter cat turned family cruiser
We were nearly 100 miles off the coast of North Carolina when the ugly front moved offshore and walloped us. I was delivering a Venezia 42 cruising catamaran from Martha's Vineyard to her home base in West Palm Beach, Florida. Appropriately named Next Wave, I knew the boat well having logged more than 5,000 offshore miles on biannual north-to-south deliveries. Still, I had not encountered a genuine, spray in the face, heart in your hand, Force 9 gale and was apprehensive about how the boat would respond. Primarily a monohull sailor, I suspected the worst.
The winds blasted us from the northeast and then veered to southwest. We were obliged to pound into wild, confused 15- to 20-foot seas, difficult conditions for any boat to handle. I was pleasantly surprised. Rather, I was shocked to discover that with just a deeply reefed main the Venezia was able to forereach effectively, comfortably bobbing along on top of the water instead of plunging into it. Making way at 3 or 4 knots at 60 degrees off the wind, we rode out the storm without much stress.
There was slamming between the hulls as the rush hour water raced by and we made a bit of leeway, but I never doubted the Venezia's integrity. In fact, with the autopilot in control we were able to stand our watches from inside the saloon staying warm and dry while enjoying the drama outside through the large aft facing windows and forward ports. It was almost like watching an IMAX film!
Although there are many claims as to just who is responsible for launching the cruising catamaran revolution, few dispute that the French were the first to tool up and build big cats as production boats. Fountaine Pajot was one of the early players, launching its first cruising catamaran in 1983, the 37-foot Louisiane. The boat's surprising popularity convinced Fountaine Pajot to concentrate on building catamarans instead of the 420s, 470s and IOR prototypes that had previously been the backbone of its factory near La Rochelle. The 44-foot Casamance in 1985 was in many ways the forerunner of today's cruising cats. The hulls were expanded for more interior space and daggerboards were exchanged for less efficient but trouble-free fixed keels, or winglets.
The Venezia was launched in 1992 and remained in production until the Bahia 43 came on line in 2000. Nearly 200 Venezias were built and most went directly into charter service. These boats have done their duty and many are now available on the used boat market. A quick search on yachtworld.com turned up more than 20 boats, ranging in price from $180,000 to more than $270,000 for a nonchartered owner's version. Expensive, yes, however, when you compare those prices to new cruising cats, the value, even for a tired, ex-charter boat becomes obvious.
The Venezia caused quite a stir when it was introduced at the Paris boat show. Not only was the basic design quite futuristic looking-some say it looked like a spacecraft-but designers Joubert and Nivelt included the now famous visor. This feature, which has become a Fountaine Pajot trademark, extends the coachroof beyond the forward portlights, sheltering the saloon from the sun without restricting visibility or light while creating a very sleek cabin profile.
The Venezia is not a light boat, at least not by multihull standards. The dry displacement is nearly 15,000 pounds. This is a genuine cruising catamaran and can carry a bit of load without immediately immersing the hulls and destroying performance. The hulls have a narrow entry and the bows are nearly plumb, the waterline length is 41 feet. The substantial bridgedeck is just over 27 feet long, giving the boat a feeling of rigidity and accounting for some of the weight.
Bridgedeck clearance is around 2 feet, however, in a seaway there is a lot of dynamic water action between the hulls and a fair bit of slamming. The two fixed keel stubs have a draft of just less than 4 feet and the working sail area is 968 square feet. The fractional rig includes a big, roachy, full-batten mainsail.
The Venezia's hulls are a sandwich construction with vacuum bagged PVC foam cores. The outer skins are hand-laid fiberglass with isophthalic polyester resin. The core is then bonded with regularly spaced couplers, linking the two skins into a single, sturdy unit. From the beginning Fountaine Pajot used isophthalic gelcoats on the hull and decks to prevent osmosis. Overall, the fiberglass sculpting is superb, the boat is filled with compound curves and yet you almost never see a stress crack. The molded nonskid is intricate and effective. A stout aluminum thwart supports the hulls forward with a channel running aft between the trampolines as a lead for the ground tackle.
Many of the interior components are molded composites, a practical production technique but the result, at least cosmetically, is a somewhat sterile look down below. The interior is trimmed with mahogany panels but multihull builders are always battling the weight issue seeking better performance by keeping off the extra pounds. Eliminating copious amounts of heavy joinerwork is often the first step.
What to look for
The first thing to look for is the cabin arrangement that you want. Most Venezias have four double cabins and two heads. Some have fitted the forwardmost sections of each hull with single berths, bringing the total number of private cabins to six. This is a dead giveaway that the boat was chartered as the two extra berths often served as crew quarters. The two aft cabins feature athwartship doubles while the forward cabins have fore and aft doubles. The rare owner's version will have converted one of these cabins into an office, and when you see this arrangement it's a tip off that the boat might well have been privately owned.
Most Venezias you inspect will be ex-charter boats and that is why the boat is affordable, at least by cruising cat standards. Look for normal signs of wear and tear and factor in new fabric and possibly foam for all cushions, which is not an inexpensive retrofit item.
Be wary of high hours on the Yanmar diesels, they are not very convenient to work on, although since they are saildrives they are easy to pull out and replace. Of course, you are talking about two engines, one in each hull, and that conveniently doubles the price. Be sure to check for excessive corrosion on the saildrives and carefully inspect the seals and small cooling filters.
Pay particular notice to the escape hatches located in each head. These hatches, which allow you to "escape" in the unlikely event of a capsize, protrude beyond the hulls and take a beating from the wave action. They often leak and the completely inadequate plastic handles and latches have often been over tightened. We had a dangerous situation when one of these hatches gave way and we had to lash it in place with a broom handle. Also check the lashings on the forward trampolines, especially if the nets seem droopy.
The deck and cockpit are simply huge and as you make your way about the boat you quickly realize that 42 feet of LOA times 23 feet of beam adds up to a lot acreage. The Venezia's wraparound cockpit can comfortably seat more people than you should ever have on a boat at one time. Although I must confess, on a long passage the shallow seats and fairly straight backs can leave you longing for a more traditional cockpit. There is usually a large table to port and plenty of storage space in the aft lockers and under the sole. The bulkhead-mounted helm is perched to starboard, with a fighting-chair-style helmsman's seat. The arrangement is definitely better suited for basketball players and almost unmanageable for short people. Each hull has wide swim steps for easy water access and also for hopping into the dinghy. Most boats have dinghy davits as well.
The mainsheet traveler runs the entire width of the cockpit, along the aft coaming, a great feature for trimming the powerful main. All other sail controls are lead aft, usually to the port side coachroof. Fountaine Pajot used good quality deck hardware and sailing gear and most boats will have a combination of Lewmar and Goit fittings.
Roller furling was standard on the headsail with slab reefing on the main. Standing rigging consists of a single upper, with jumpers, and partial backstays that make it difficult to pay out the boom. There are two deck lockers forward, although the placement of the water tank limits storage.
The trampolines are a terrific place to sprawl out and relax, both at anchor and under way. I fondly remember an hour spent watching a pod of gamboling dolphins race between the hulls. I was stretched out on the tramps, the autopilot was driving and, as Dave Barry would say, "I am not making this up," one of the crew was playing the guitar and singing-I swear.
The Venezia has the classic "galley up" arrangement in multihull speak. You enter the saloon through sliding glass doors-there is really no other way to describe them. The galley is to port and usually includes a two-burner stove, single sink and small front-loading 12-volt fridge. In typical French fashion, the galley works well despite limited counter space. (By the way, there are no fiddles because there's no heeling.)
There is storage for pots and pans below while provisions are usually stashed under the settee cushions. A large oval table is to port with a wraparound settee. The nav station is also to port, with a partial bulkhead serving as a base for repeaters and instruments on one side and the less than state-of-the-art electrical panel on the other.
The two aft cabins include a large hanging locker and storage with drawers below. Many similarly sized cruising cats locate the engines beneath these berths. By placing the engines in aft lazarettes, Joubert and Nivelt created a lot more storage space and improved the quality of life when motoring-the noisy beast is not right beneath your bed. The heads are about amidships in each hull and are not particularly roomy. Some owner versions have converted one head to a dedicated shower.
The forward staterooms have berths running the entire width of the hull with smaller hanging lockers inboard. The areas forward are good for storing light gear, fenders, etc., unless they have been set up as sleeping quarters. Either way, main access is through a hatch on deck. We used these cabins for our cooks when we chartered two catamarans in Belize a few years ago. Incidentally, seven people were aboard a Venezia for eight days without any sense of crowding.
The Venezia is powered by twin Yanmars. Most boats will have 28-horsepower models, although a fairly common upgrade or retrofit was to go with the three-cylinder 37-horsepower 3GM. Access is at the bottom of the lazarette, which is convenient unless of course anything is stored in the lazarette. Once the locker has been emptied and the wooden hatches opened access is still limited. At least with saildrives you don't need access to a stuffing box and stern tube. The batteries and main switches are usually in the port lazarette.
Handling a cat with twin screws is a true pleasure, especially for traditional monohull sailors who have spent years trying to con their heavy, unwieldy, long-keeled boats in and out of marinas. With a screw in each hull it is possible to make the Venezia turn in its own length. Although there is some skill required to operate twin screws, once you get the hang of it you'll love it. Fuel capacity is around 90 gallons in two tanks, which translates into 45 gallons per engine, or about 60 hours of motoring. We motored long stretches on one delivery up the coast and it was not uncommon to steam along at 8 knots at moderate rpms in smooth water.
The first time you sail a heavily loaded cruising catamaran you just might be disappointed. Not that there is anything wrong with the way they sail, they are just not as fast as you might expect. On three round trips up and down the coast, we averaged about 150 miles of non-current miles a day, or about 6 knots. At times we zipped along in low double digits and at other times we labored upwind at 5 knots. One feature that almost everyone loves is the lack of heeling. A feature of the Venezia that isn't as loveable is the quick motion in a chop and the slamming of water ricocheting between the hulls.
We were always able to carry more sail than I expected and by the time I brought the boat back south for the last time I realized I didn't need to reef the main until the wind was nearly 20 knots. The boat sails upwind well with a flat, high-cut 105-percent No. 3. Overlapping genoas are not worth the trouble, it is far more efficient to pop the asymmetrical chute as soon as the wind opens up. One passage north we flew the chute day and night for three days and kept the boat moving smartly despite light airs.
I like the Venezia very much and I would strongly consider buying one if I were in the market for a cruising catamaran. It is a terrific family cruiser, well built and a solid financial value. I suspect my daughters would like having their "own side" of the boat. And keeping your gin and tonic upright when sailing is not a bad selling feature either.