Shootout At Cat Cay - PassageMaker

Shootout At Cat Cay

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After the 2006 Miami boat show, I was invited aboard the new Lagoon power cat for a trip to the Bahamas. Lagoon was doing a photo shoot for brochures for both their new 44-foot power cat and their new 500 sailing catamaran. I jumped at the chance to be involved-this is a great group of people who really love being on boats.

Nick Harvey, director of Lagoon North America, has his headquarters office in the same building as PMM in Annapolis, and we've had numerous chats about the development and subsequent introduction of this new Lagoon power cat in our niche. The design for the new LP44 model-which replaces the original Lagoon 43-includes a full flybridge and extended boat deck over the cat's large aft cockpit. (Some 90 Lagoon 43s were built during its run, so there was a history of what worked and what needed to be changed in the updated version of the boat.) In many ways, the two boats are the same in terms of hull molds, layout, finish, and performance. But there are differences, and I was eager to find out about them while living aboard a LP44 in the Bahamas.

It should surprise no one that a power cat is an ideal platform for exploring the islands-many of which are surrounded by shallow water. The combination of a stable, multihull design and covered outdoor areas on the LP44 puts it squarely, in my mind, near the top of desired boats for these cruising grounds. Lagoon offers the cat in a threecabin model (the boat I would be on), a two-cabin model with onboard office (ideal for liveaboard use), and a four-cabin model best suited for chartering.

The plan was simple enough. Scott Vanerstrom, skipper for the Catamaran Company-the Florida Lagoon dealer-would be my shipmate aboard the power cat. Nick and his team in Annapolis-Danielle Launais and Sandra McCann-would host the event and serve as models during the shoot. French photographer Nicolas Claris was arriving from Paris to do the shooting, along with his son, Romain, who would shoot video of the event for later use on Lagoon's website. The five of them would live on the 50-foot sailing cat, a hugely spacious boat offering accommodations typical of a much larger yacht. It is an awesome sailing machine.

We intended to base the shoot around the pristine waters of Cat Cay, an exclusive private island in the Bahamas some 50 miles southeast of Miami. Cat Cay has a terrific marina, well-maintained facilities that include golf and tennis, lovely waterfront homes, and even a private airstrip frequented by air charter companies from Florida. It is a special place, for sure, and we were going to use the island as home base as guests of the Cat Cay Yacht Club. I was definitely looking forward to that!

ABOARD THE LAGOON 44

Scott planned to spend the morning at various customs and immigration agencies, handling the paperwork for the five Americans and two Frenchmen making the jump across international waters. This gave me a chance to spend time aboard the power cat and tour it before we got heavily involved with the logistics of the photo shoot- models, helicopters, and the never-ending chore of washing the cats off after making runs around the rocky shores of Cat Cay. Nick and his crew shoved off from Bayshore Marina in the sailing cat, motorsailing from Miami across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas-a direct route aimed at Gun Cay and the narrow entrance between Gun Cay and the north end of Cat Cay. Even if Scott and I left hours later, we were confident we could overtake the sailboat halfway across. (As it turned out, Scott was held up most of that day, so we rescheduled our crossing for early the next morning.)

So I got to spend the day alone with my thoughts on the power cat, a three-stateroom boat, with two guest cabins in the bows of the port and starboard hulls. Each guest cabin is 9 feet long, with its own en suite head for complete privacy. Guests have a hull to themselves, a luxury unparalleled in traditional trawlers. And each cabin has a Lewmar escape hatch that opens into the shaded area between the hulls. A throwback to early multihull sailing days, this is not really a necessary requirement for a power cat, but it is kind of a neat feature for another reason. I find the shaded water under the bridgedeck attracts schools of fish, so the view of the water world is usually pretty entertaining.

An aft master stateroom extends the full beam of the stern, with an island king-size berth on the bridgedeck between the two hulls, and dressing areas and heads with showers. Headroom is a nice benefit of a modern power cat, and even where it is limited, headroom still averages 6 feet 5 inches. The aft stateroom averages 6 feet 3 inches in the hulls and 4 feet 6 inches on the bridgedeck where the island berth is located.

Walking back a bit later from Starbucks (there's one right in the marina!), I noticed that outboard of the boat's caprail is a rubrail that extends the full length of the boat, although some vents stand proud of the rubrail's protection. Given that so many docking situations put a power cat alongside a bulkhead, it seems a beefy rubrail is a requirement of a multihull that is just over 21 feet wide.

Normal access onto the boat is from port and starboard lifeline gates across from the aft cockpit. One can also step onto the large swim platform running the width of the boat. At 38 inches long, it is a secure place to load groceries and dive gear, and get your golden retriever aboard. Two voluminous locker hatches in the swim platform open into ample storage in each hull-42 inches deep and the full beam of each hull. From spares to folding chairs, there is space for it all. The boat's single 50-amp shorepower outlet is found on the transom above the swim platform.

The side decks are three steps up from the swim platform, with 28-inch-high lifelines around the perimeter of the boat.

The big change the new LP44 offers is the extended boat deck over the aft cockpit area. It provides 6 feet 6 inches of headroom and creates a wonderfully shaded cockpit area that shields crew from the intense tropical sun. It is a huge selling point for this cat, as the breeze under the boat deck is a marvelous alternative to a typically exposed cockpit found on many trawlers and cruising powerboats.

The foredeck also has a seating area, but it is for sun worshippers only-not something on my agenda these days. But with the wide beam of the LP44, it is just another example of how much room is available, both inside and out, on a large cat. The bows stand 6 feet above the water.

A molded stairway from the aft cockpit leads up to the flybridge, and the opening for the stairs in the boat deck can be sealed with an acrylic door. (This door turned out to be larger than Lagoon folks care for and will be changed to make it less ponderous. It is an example of Lagoon's ongoing tweaking as miles are put on each new power cat.)

Three helm chairs provide great visibility for when the boat is run from this upper station. And the number and size of the boat deck cushions invites lounging in the sun while under way. This arrangement leaves no space for a dinghy, but a good roll-up inflatable would easily store in one of the swim platform hull lockers or a boat could be put on davits. And a really cool thing about power cats is that they can generally be beached on any sandy shore, so one might argue the normal demands put on a dinghy are greatly reduced.

The intense Miami sun reminded me of how important protection from the sun is on any boat, especially one designed to explore the tropics- whether Mexico or the Caribbean. So it is critical to have terrific ventilation and covered living spaces to keep the heat from eliminating the fun of being on the water in the first place. The Lagoon 44 saloon windows are vertical, unlike the sweeping, angled windows of so many boats. During my days aboard the boat, I never felt the window treatment created a greenhouse effect. (I've been on boats where the heat coming through the windows literally cooked the boat's electronics, turning a simple cruise into a piloting adventure.) While the Lagoon's saloon windows don't open, they contribute little to heating up the interior.

ROOMY INTERIOR

A large sliding door separates the aft cockpit from the saloon and can be kept open in most conditions to integrate the two areas-a nice touch that makes the distinction between inside and out living spaces less noticeable. The interior wood finish is a cherry color, more contemporary than the original dark mahogany of the LP43. I find the lighter color much more inviting and better suited to the way this boat will be used.

An inside helm is complete with basic instrumentation, and the LP44's helm is a step above the helm found on the Lagoon 43. The inside helm is clearly intended as the secondary steering station, especially in bad weather.

To the left of the helm is a long, L-shaped settee and table. The view from this settee to the world outside is outstanding-an important element of the overall design. The large table can be switched easily with the smaller coffee table in the cockpit, so one can fit a table to the mood and entertainment needs. With the saloon door fully open, the living spaces really open up on this boat. I think the arrangement makes for a great living aboard experience.

A portside, 25-inch-wide companionway leads to the aft cabin, down several steps from the saloon level. Forward along this passage takes us to the port guest cabin.

On the starboard side, one steps down from the saloon to the galley. A four-burner LPG stove and oven faces aft, with an angled double sink to the right of the stove. Storage in the galley is on the small side, and there is only a 13-inchlong opening port for ventilation. I suspect this would be an issue for the galley crew, and no doubt makes an on-deck barbecue quite desirable. I noticed no microwave but later learned that the boat is wired for one (model selection is left up to the buyers).

Stepping forward down from the galley, one passes the boat's electrical panels on the way to the guest cabin in the forward end of the starboard hull. There are storage lockers along this area, and the arrangement worked well while we were aboard, as I envision it would on a longer cruise with all the creature comforts and cruising stuff.

The boat we were on came equipped with a pair of optional six-cylinder, 310hp Volvo Penta KAMD diesels, accessed by opening gas strut-supported hatches amidships in each hull-one hatch is in the companionway sole, and the other is in the galley sole. Checking the oil is a snap. I did notice only a small fuel filter in the engine room space, and access to it might be difficult for some. (Catamaran engine rooms are typically tight, so any comment about tight spaces is less of a ding against Lagoon and more a general comment about power cats.)

I asked Nick about the fuel filter, and he commented that most buyers would prefer switchable dual Racors, which are being discussed at Lagoon. As we have been pushing for years, clean fuel is the key to trouble-free engine operation, and making the fuel system easy to maintain is no longer, in my opinion, a luxury.

Master disconnect switches for the batteries are just forward of the engine compartments, inside the hinged steps that take you down from the raised saloon sole to the passage forward.

ACROSS THE STREAM

We left Bayshore Marina at 0500 and made the three-hour crossing to Cat Cay at better than 15 knots-arriving at Gun Cay at 0800. I witnessed a spectacular sunrise directly ahead of our easterly course.

Conditions were calm as we ran across the Gulf Stream in the early morning dawn. But I did notice that spray from the windward bow would hit me as I manned the helm on the flybridge. (Nick later explained they are working on a solution to this issue of spray coming off the windward bow.) Other than the occasional spray in the face, it was a flawless, magic-carpet ride across flat seas, and so quiet on the flybridge-a starship voyage following Venus to the Bahamas.

The waters around Cat Cay are the reason we were there-spectacularly clear and clean. The Lagoon folks wanted the boats photographed in these waters because the water speaks for itself-it's why so many of us dream of cruising.

Once docked just behind the 50-foot sailing cat, Scott took the paperwork and passports and headed to Bahamas customs, while Nick and I walked up to the island's commissary. It's a small shop with small quantities of most items: sugar, mustard, wine, crackers, even Bombay Sapphire. I joked with Nick that I did not see any Red Bull, a drink I had learned two days earlier that Nick enjoys with vodka. Alex, the shop cashier, overheard our conversation and commented that he also loves Red Bull, but he drinks it for breakfast mixed with Guinness. Now that sounds like a breakfast of champions!

After both crews cleared customs, everyone grabbed a brush and cleaned off the boats for the planned shoot later that day. Hoses were pulled out of lockers, buckets of soap produced, and all surfaces cleared of the layers of salt that covered both boats.

On the afternoon of the first day, both cats headed back around Cat Cay and ran a course to the tranquil waters between Wedge and Victory Rocks. I went aboard the sailing cat and shot the Lagoon 44 as it danced around us, making run after run. After hundreds of photos, we rafted up and enjoyed lunch and a swim in the 10-foot-deep, crystal clear, turquoise water off Wedge Rock.

The dreamlike setting was helped along by bottles of French and American wine, as we discussed how the photo shoot thus far looked from each of our perspectives, and how we might approach the rest of the afternoon session, and the changing light. While my light meter consistently indicated F8/500, I know it is never quite that simple.

Later that afternoon we tried some other angles then ran close inshore to shoot the sailing cat beached on the western side of Cat Cay. The light was going too quickly to be able to do the same location shot with the power cat, so we ran north to Gun Cay to capture the boats in the setting sun. Throughout the day, Nick, Danielle, and Sandra kept up with smiles, diving from the boats- maintaining the look and attitude the shoot required, time after time. It was much more tiring than the final images will indicate, and the glamorous setting does not do justice to how much work went into the day. By evening, everyone was ready to relax, enjoy some wine, and simply unwind. It would begin all over again the very next morning.

But the next day would also be different, as a helicopter would be arriving from South Florida at 0830 to allow Nicolas Claris a better vantage point for his brochure photography. The chopper only had about 45 minutes of air time for each boat before it would have to return to Florida, so careful planning was necessary to make the most of the time we had.

As we discussed the various opportunities, I decided to find a local boat to follow the shoot from a third boat, one that could also capture the helicopter as it worked with the catamarans, one at a time. By this time, I was convinced an interesting angle to this trip was an insider's view of a professional photo shoot, and it just made sense to get a wider perspective than Nicolas was working with. Nick and Scott easily agreed, and made the arrangements.

So the next morning, about 15 minutes after the power cat left the marina and sped off to round Cat Cay and get on the western side of the island, Nicolas and Romain lifted off in the helicopter to catch up with the Lagoon 44 and begin shooting it at full-out speed-just over 20 knots. While this unfolded, I stepped aboard a 25-foot Contender center console, with local boatman Diamon as driver. With dual 200hp Yamaha outboards, this boat is too fast for me to wear a hat, and we soon caught up with the action. Alan, the experienced chopper pilot, began a dance with the Lagoon 44 that intertwined forward movement with the up and down banking of the helicopter. Alan showed off his closequarter expertise, often hovering just feet off the stern of the power cat- which was thrashing ahead at 20 knots. It was all very intense, exciting, and in the moment.

Running alongside the duet and maelstrom of spray they created, I had a ringside seat to the controlled chaos. I could clearly see Nicolas hanging out the side of the chopper, with spray everywhere.

As Diamon finally turned his center console around to bring me back to the marina at what seemed like 50 knots, the helicopter and power cat ran closer inshore for some additional photos from a different perspective. But I had been there for the turquoise water shots, and I have no doubt they will reign supreme in the editing room. The water is just too compelling, beating all other scenery choices without question.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION

As Alan took off in his helicopter for home a short time later, the ongoing cleaning continued, as did rearranging flowers and props, and the continued smiling for the cameras after umpteen takes. After several days, all of this intensity took its toll on the Lagoon staff and support crew. I suspect most of us think such photo shoots are very glamorous, hosted by a hugely expensive P.R. firm employing professional "pretty" people, but the reality of it was far more down to earth-involving boating people who just love what they do. The results show this was a lot of work...and fun.

It was my pleasure to put faces and names to a company that contributes a cool boat to our trawler community, and to go behind the scenes and document the real story of the Lagoon 44 making it into a brochure.

The boat continues to change for the better, and I put my own ideas onto Nick's list of updates to the model. At the end of the last day of the shoot, we all sighed with relief that the weather had been perfect, and the combined crews chilled out with a last dinner together. Tomorrow would have us heading back to Ft. Lauderdale and home. A job well done, which would be soon reviewed in minute detail, as hundreds of images would be sifted for clarity, spontaneous energy, and that elusive sparkle in a picture worth a thousand words. Speaking for all involved, I'd say we nailed it.

It's all so much glitter, the happening of a professional photo shoot, but for the most part on this trip, the most dazzling sparkle of all came from the brilliant stars that showcase this part of the world, high above the small private island community of Cat Cay.

EPILOGUE

The forecast for the next day was most certainly unrelated to the conditions we woke to. The front had not moved as expected, and we had 25/30 knots from the SE, with 6- to 9-foot seas across the Gulf Stream. It was going to be rough.

After stowing every possible item aboard the power cat, Scott and I brought the French photographers aboard, as they had flights to catch back to Paris. Whatever we encountered on our crossing, it would certainly be faster than crossing with Nick on his sailing cat. We decided to leave early, and Nick and his crew would follow in the sailing cat.

Once past Gun Cay, we found the 15-knot boat speed brought down the apparent wind on our stern, and the building seas proved a good test for the catamaran. Under way, I measured 79dBA in the saloon at 15 knots and 82dBA in the aft cabin. That's not really quiet, but it is not overwhelming, either. Soundproofing is a growing issue for today's consumers, so perhaps this is an opportunity to tweak the sound deadening even further.

Our crossing was a three-hour endurance ride, a blustery roller coaster that tested the boat in conditions that could hardly be described as pleasure boating. I must admit I was fully impressed by the performance of the Lagoon 44. The bows did not once bury as we sped forward, and the wide platform between the hulls provided safe stability as we ran up one wave set and down another. In a traditional trawler, I think the rolling motion would have been inhumanly painful, and I'm not sure stabilizers would have been a saving grace.

The cat simply powered on by autopilot, and the quartering seas never forced her hand into anything dangerous or really uncomfortable. I got thrown around a couple of times, and once my shoulder slammed into a bulkhead so hard the structure resounded with a crack, leaving my body sore from the impact. While talking with Scott at the lower helm, I was also tossed out of a chair so quickly I reached the other side of the saloon before I hit the sole. Ouch!

Eventually, as we approached the Florida coast, sea conditions moderated. I was glad that it was over, although delighted to have made that passage aboard Lagoon's power cat. Spending time in paradise is the way to go, but seeing the same boat in rough weather brings a stronger respect for a design and construction deeper than pretty ladies on the foredeck.

In my four days aboard the new power cat, I got to know the local people of Lagoon better, and the power cat they bring into our market. Both get my respect, and I thank them for the chance to be there for one very special occasion.

The rough return was an added bonus that assured me the Lagoon power cat is more than just a pretty face. It is an honest sea boat, complete with Category A certification.

Thanks, Nick, and I promise to toast your new boat when I get the chance to mix Red Bull into a Bombay Sapphire martini, up with olives. À votre santé!

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