By Lawrence Schaffler, Boating NZ Magazine
Like her bigger sister (the Saona 47, reviewed in our June 2018 issue), Fountaine Pajot’s new 12.5m Astrea 42 is a spacious, cleverly-designed catamaran with loads of features tailored to comfortable living and fun cruising.
Catamarans are justifiably lauded for their space and comfort – offering pretty much double the ‘real estate’ found in monohulls of a similar LOA. And that usually translates into happier ‘personal spaces’ – the skipper’s eye-watering BO is more easily avoided on a cat, not to mention his rig-vibrating snoring.
Of course, not all crews are saddled with such hardships. And for those blessed with a measure of harmony, the Astrea 42 is a perfect ally: she’s an accomplished vessel that encapsulates ‘convivial cruising.’ That’s largely thanks to her well-integrated spaces – chiefly around the helm station and upper decks – but also between her cockpit and saloon.
As is common and popular on many catamarans, the Astrea’s helm station is located high above the decks, offset to starboard. This offers great vistas under sail – as well as a confidence-inspiring ‘spatial awareness’ for manoeuvring her 7.2m beam around a crowded marina and into a berth.
A flight of stairs takes you from the cockpit up to the helm and, for me, the station’s arrangement embodies this cat’s raison d’etre. Rather than a post for a skipper’s lonely vigil, the helm’s more the centrepiece in a carefully-configured area that encourages easy communication/interaction with guests/crew.
Consider that the helm seat comfortably accommodates two – three if they’re close friends. And right alongside – midships and on a slightly higher level – is a large, ‘double’ sun lounger, atop the coachroof. It’s an arrangement that more or less guarantees a shared, fun dynamic involving everyone on board. It might be hard to concentrate on the sailing – best leave the boat on autopilot.
A small reality check: if you find the helmsman’s droning analysis of the All Blacks’ latest performance a little mind-numbing, pour yourself a drink and escape to the foredeck. There you’ll find the standard trampoline or, even better, a little further aft, another arrangement of spacious sun loungers. Bliss.
The interaction theme continues down in the cockpit, where a generous bench settee along the transom neatly incorporates a BBQ (starboard end). Together with the large, L-shaped settee around the table – enhanced by an inboard bench seat on the other side of the table and a recliner bench seat further to starboard – this is a cockpit tailor-made for quality entertaining.
There’s a built-in fridge under the stairs to the helm (no need to go foraging in the galley for a top-up) and, with a steady supply of canapés emerging from the galley, the cockpit’s an obvious party zone, the buzz underscored by the beat from the cockpit speakers. Please remove shoes to protect the cockpit’s teak sole – it feels great underfoot.
So – I’d suggest this is a vessel where festivities happen despite the owner/skipper’s best attempts at sobriety and respectability. But enough of the party features – let’s explore the Astrea’s sail controls.
As with the Soana 47, the Astrea’s sail controls are at first glance a little confusing – but working the sheets you quickly get used to the layout and after a while it all seems a perfectly logical, practical arrangement.
The key point is that the helmsman isn’t able to tweak sails from the wheel. All sheets terminate at three nearby winches – with their attendant spinlock clutches – mounted on the coachroof forward of the helm. But a passageway separates the winches from the helm. To trim the sails the helmsman has to leave the wheel and walk forward.
Of course, this is easily accomplished by punching the autopilot button on the large Garmin MFD. Alternatively, you could ask one of the nearby, sun-worshipping layabouts to make him/herself useful with a little cranking.
I concede that not all sailors will warm to this layout, but it’s best feature – I think – is that it avoids the helm station being inundated with spaghetti – an inevitable result of a multitude of tails ending up in the same place.
If they did terminate at the helm, chances are good you’d end up with the wheel embellished by a macramé-like bird’s nest. I’m pleased to report that, with the Astrea, there are plenty of tail bags at the winches to prevent just such a mess.
A traveller mounted on the cockpit roof, immediately aft of the helm station, helps with coaxing the mainsail into its optimum shape. And – one of the Astrea’s best sail-handling features in my opinion – the boom sits relatively low. With that expansive coachroof, stowing the mainsail into its bag is easy.
On most cats fitted with lazy jacks it helps to be a Tall Black – or perhaps a gymnast – for stowing the sail. With advancing age I’ve discovered vaulting onto a cat’s boom doesn’t come as naturally as it once did.
The Astrea’s also equipped with a bowsprit for flying a code 0 – and its sail controls too are a little unusual. The starboard sheet runs through a turning block at the aft end of the starboard hull, and on to one of the winches. Similarly, the port sheet runs through a port turning block, but it feeds to a standalone electric winch (port aft). Again, to adjust the sail, you’ll need to engage the autopilot and walk down the steps and across the cockpit. Alternatively, rouse the layabout from his slumbers.
Note, incidentally, that the cockpit overhang is such that there’s enough room aft of the traveller for an array of four solar panels. They help to keep the Astrea’s batteries and extensive electrical inventory bristling with enthusiasm.
One of the Astrea’s best design features is her expansive swim platform. An electric model, it lowers quietly – to a point where it’s completely submerged. This makes water-to-tender transfers a far more elegant exercise – and it also allows much easier access for swimmers and divers. And for – ahem – senior guests, it means not having to clamber down/up the precarious, telescopic ladders typically fitted to cat transoms.
Even better, the swim platform doubles as storage area for the inflatable. This eliminates the davits typically mounted on cats. The swim platform is a neater solution – and launching and retrieving the dinghy is way easier.
When conditions are hot and fine, you’ll be struck by the ‘seamless transition’ between cockpit and saloon – thanks to the fully retractable (sliding) aluminium/glass door and sliding window across the back of galley.
This creates a large, open flow between the two areas and, with the galley built into the aft end of the saloon, feeding the ravenous hordes is effortless. I like the thoughtful addition of a duckboard at the threshold – designed to catch any residue from not-quite-dry swimmers.
You’ll appreciate the panoramic views through the saloon’s large surround windows – and the ambient light flooding in accentuates the décor’s subtle shades. Forward, to port, is the nav station, its seat integrated into the L-shaped settee around the table.
The U-shaped galley carries a fairly standard layout – a three-burner cooker, double sinks and a fridge. But what is unusual is the oven. It’s at a decent, comfortable height – a welcome change from the low-mounted ovens in many galleys where checking the lasagne requires a ‘downward dog’ yoga pose.
Like all vessels in the Fountaine Pajot stable, the Astrea’s available in multiple configurations, including three- and four-cabin layouts. This one’s the three-cabin, owner’s version, which sees the entire starboard hull configured as a suite. In the four-cabin layout this is swapped for two cabins, a mirror image of the port hull’s layout.
The owner’s suite comprises a large double bed aft and a very generous bathroom with separate shower up front. They’re separated by a ‘dressing room’ which also functions as a study/office. The contemporary, Euro styling continues down here – grey carpeting/upholstery, grey/white vinyl on the ceiling, white oak cabinetry – it all looks very classy. And again, these areas carry big windows which let in masses of light.
In the port hull, the aft cabin has a double bed with an en suite. The forward cabin is almost identical, though its bathroom is a little smaller.
Sadly, our sail on Sydney Harbour took place in the lightest of zephyrs – so I can’t tell you much about the Astrea’s performance. We ghosted along, through the ferry wakes, grimly enduring the guffaws from those on passing launches – and eventually resorted to the ‘iron spinnaker’ (and apparent wind) to keep the sails filled.
But I can confirm that she’s equipped with design features which ‘point’ to a relatively agile and nippy performer. Examples include the large, square-topped main, the code 0 to optimise downwind performance, and the reverse bows designed to maximise waterline length.
With her twin 40hp engines turning over at around 2200–2300rpm (cruise speed), she performs well – easing along at a comfortable 7.5 knots. Push the throttle forward to 3000rpm (WOT), and the gain is insignificant – just over a knot (8.7 knots) – definitely not worth the increased fuel consumption.
The Astrea 42 is a fun, elegant vessel – perfect for sharing with family and friends – or for hosting large celebrations alongside the quay. For me, her standout features are the integrated spaces – designed for easy interaction and thoughtful conversations that address the world’s problems.
Of course, if that all becomes too difficult to follow (logic is inversely proportional to wine consumption), you can quietly remove yourself for a little solitary soul-searching on the foredeck. The views are sublime.