W/L 3800 Flybridge Powercat
Catamarans New Zealand's all new W/L 3800 Flybridge powercat is optimised for sport fishing without compromising cruising potential. The design is aimed at US markets, but the W/L 3800 is also available for New Zealand and Australian delivery. Geoff Green went aboard and talked with the principals behind the project.
Catamarans New Zealand is a development, co-ordination and marketing company specialising in the production of power catamarans between 10-16m. They have sold 50 boats into various world markets, but the W/L 3800 design is their first move into production building using a comprehensive set of female moulds.
Managing director Neville Solley says his company has marketed mainly 12m and 14m semi-production GRP boats in the past, but at overseas boat shows he fielded many requests for smaller boats.
"We were approached for a 10m or 11m boat so often, it became clear there was a gap in the market.
"After considering our options, we pitched the boat at the international sport-fishing market, but also made it a good cruising design. Generally, the cruising market requires a two-cabin, two-bathroom boat, while sports fishermen often want a three-cabin, one-bathroom layout. So we've provided both options. It had to provide good rough-water performance and reasonable economy at fast cruising speeds, and be optimised for fishing American-style. It's got a marlin pulpit - because West Coast fishermen cast live bait off the bow - which meant we had to provide easy access forward."
While some features are oriented to the American game fishing market, Neville says those strengths are also welcomed and appreciated by locals.
Designers Alan Wright and Angelo Lavranos design all Catamarans New Zealand's boats, and Alan says the relationship with Neville goes back nine years.
"He deals with the clients and I'm the back room guy. I arrived at this hull design through a development process that began with a 10m cedar-core boat we produced for New Zealand charter companies in 1995. We developed the W/L 3800 concept using that experience and everything we have learned since."
The design sequence for the WL 3800 started in May 2000 and plug making began on September 9. The first Sports boat was launched in July 2001 and the Flybridge model was launched in early September.
Neville says it would have been impossible to produce such a high-standard craft in such a short time - 12 months from starting the plugs to having four boats and two versions on the water - without the co-operation and input of many builders. Although the Flybridge boat shares the same hull with the Sports version, it has unique deck, cockpit and interior designs that required another set of moulds to be built.
The hulls and decks are moulded by Impact Fibreglass in Tauranga and distributed to one of four finishing boat builders. Brian Harken Boatbuilders finished the flybridge version seen on these pages. He worked with Craig Loomes on Ultimate Lady and taking over the Pine Harbour shed when the project was complete. Peter Marks, a long-established Tauranga boat builder with more than 40 boats to his credit, finished the Sports version that accompanied us. The other finishing builders are Kevin Johnson Boat Builders in Devonport and Andrew Fink Boat Builders in Hamilton. All four helped build the 70-odd plugs and moulds.
Neville says the boat builders communicated with each other and came together for think-tank sessions at significant stages throughout the development and building processes. As demand increases, he intends each builder will craft boats going into specific markets - Australia, US West Coast, US East Coast etc - for consistency in the delivered product.
Alan says the hull design is a semi-displacement shape rather than a planing design.
He says this hull form offers many advantages, including less wave making and greater efficiency at trolling speeds.
"The hull stays in displacement mode longer than a planning hull, there is less transition period from displacement to planing and it runs well at speeds up to 30 knots.
Each hull has a shallow propeller tunnel and Alan says this allows shaft drives to be installed in a relatively small powercat, while reducing draft and minimising shaft angle.
Recommended power ranges from 130-420hp per side. A Sports version in charter in Sydney cruises at 14 knots with twin 130hp Yanmars and a soon-to-be-built Sports Express, powered by twin 420hp Yanmars, is expected to cruise comfortably at 28 knots.
The review boat, powered by twin 350hp Yanmar diesels, cruised at 25 knots and had a top speed of 29 knots. The speeds quoted are corrected figures, independently compiled by Diesel Craft Evaluations (see sidebar for details). When I helmed the boat, I thought its sweet spot was 2650rpm (20.8 knots) and this was confirmed by the figures (20.5 knots at 2600rpm for 1.26 nautical miles per gallon).
I only got a chance to trial the boat in flat water, but Neville tried to deliver the boat to Tauranga during an easterly storm to meet a suddenly accelerated shipping schedule.
"We had short, steep five-metre seas with breaking tops in Colville Channel, and it wasn't worth pushing a new boat and tired crew through to make the ship. But the boat handled very well, it was stable, responsive and soft riding."
He says this particular W/L 3800 was optimised for rough water at the owner's request - he is an ex-president of the San Diego Game Fishing Club - and the modification is now available as a standard option. Plant-ons to the wing deck of the mould create two deeply curved sections that merge into a deep, central wave break in the middle.
"As a result, the forward wing deck has no flat panels, and this virtually eliminates slamming while trolling and ensures its soft landing when operating in heavy seas on the plane."
The W/L 3800 hull is constructed of solid GRP laminates in the bottom sections (using a combination of vinylester and polyester resins) and Herex high-density foam-cored panels in the topside. The superstructure is a mixture of solid and cored laminates.
It is an attractive boat inside and out, and has a big, open feel for an 11.6m cat. The big windows and interior décor contribute to this, but so does the generous headroom throughout.
"We worked hard to provide a minimum of 2m (6ft 7in) headroom throughout, says Neville.
The saloon is positioned aft with pretty good visibility into the cockpit, despite the stairs leading to the flybridge bisecting the aft bulkhead. To solve the problem of people being "trapped" along the inside of the table, the dinette has twin tables to maximise access and table space. An in-fill, to extend the table area in quieter times, is available.
The galley is one step down from the saloon, and retains excellent external visibility and connection with the saloon. It's set athwartships under the front windows and also provides access to the hulls. The eyebrow of the flybridge is utilised internally so the galley area has a high ceiling and this extends partially into the saloon. Rod racks are provided on the sloping ceiling and vertical face where the rods will be out of harm's way, but readily accessible.
The main bench - with inset vegetable bin, stainless-steel sink and freezer - looks like a Corian or Trezzini solid surface, but is in fact created by spraying the finish on to the mould before laminating the galley unit. Neville says this achieves the Corian-look, but keeps weight down. A servery links the galley and saloon, and additional bench and cupboard space is provided on the galley side of this. A convection microwave is fitted above the bench in this area.
Several cabin and bathroom combinations are available, and the review boat was a three-cabin, one-bathroom version. Other options include a two-cabin, two-bathroom layout. Further choice is provided by replacing the mirror-image, double-forward cabins with a larger master cabin (the bunk runs athwartship) matched with a bunk room in the opposite hull (the bunks run fore and aft, and the lower is a cosy double).
Like the rest of the boat, the cabins feel spacious and not claustrophobic, because there is ample shoulder and headroom, as well as natural light provided by the long, tinted side windows and elliptical hull ports beneath them.
Interior linings on the hull sides, bulkheads and deck-head are soft vinyl panels in keeping with international expectations.
The single bathroom in the port hull is equipped with an electric toilet, small moulded vanity and a dedicated shower. The shower area is comfortable, because the bi-fold shower door folded back out of the way, and was easily closed behind you when in position to turn-on and soap-up.
Immediate access to the front of the engine spaces is provided via watertight hatches in the shower and bunkroom bulkheads. For a moderate-sized cat, the combination of front and rear approaches gives good access to the engines (the rear of the engines can be accessed via the lazerette hatches). Each engine bay is nicely presented, the outside of each hull is lined with a moulded white gelcoat panel and the remainder is finished with brushed white gelcoat.
Gas stays support the large lazerette hatches and the port hatch provides access to the 6kVa genset, starting batteries and house batteries. Including additional house batteries on the starboard side, there are 440 amp hours available to run the 12-volt systems - such as the 12-volt live-bait tank pumps - through the night.
The cockpit-boarding platform can be moulded in two forms, as a game-fishing version or a cruising version 600mm longer. Neville says fishermen, when standing in the cockpit, want the rod tip to extend past the platform and for the line to clear the hull.
"The rudders are well under the boat to ensure they don't foul the line, and all cleats and handles are semi recessed," he says.
The cockpit doors - which open outwards to drain any serious water in the cockpit - and the door surrounds are stepped to avoid direct water paths and minimise water entering the cockpit when backing up hard.
There is plenty of toe space when standing braced against the doors (make sure the sliding catch is engaged), but not so much around the rest of the cockpit that has near vertical sides and only the bolster to give clearance when an angler is braced against them. It's still very fishable, though, and Neville says most stand-up angling is done from the corners and the door areas are ideal for this.
In cruising mode, the twin doors allow a dinghy to be stowed on one side of the platform, while retaining access to the water or dock through the other. A drop-back tank (a live-bait tank holding pre-rigged baits to drop in front of a marlin attracted to the lures or tailing on the surface) is moulded in the centre of the aft coamings. It's a good-sized bait tank, but nothing like the second live-bait tank fitted under the flybridge stairs. Measured in context of the W/L 3800's size, this tank is massive, but does not intrude into the cockpit. Hatches on each side of the stairs provide access to the tank.
A 12-volt cockpit freezer is fitted under the dinette window adjacent to the monster live-bait tank, with a tackle locker above it. Secondary lockers provide additional tackle and utility storage, as well as a home for the wash-down hose.
Rod holders on each side of the stairs and on the rails around the flybridge are provided for the rods when the gear is cleared in a hurry.
"There is no need to toss them into the cabin or reposition them around the cockpit edge, where they invariably get in the way," Neville says.
He says many West Coast fishermen cast off the bow, making easy, comfortable side-deck access a pre-requisite.
"The boat is designed for anglers to safely walk forward with a rod in their hand. To ensure this, we provided steps up to the side decks, many grab rails along the way and a 30mm-high toe rail moulded into the deck."
The engine air-intake grills are installed in the cabin sides in the trench created by the side-deck step.
"It's the best place for them, because they are high, inboard and protected." The classic Carbo casting pulpit (Carbo San Lucas is a Mexican west-coast hot spot renowned for many small marlin) has thigh-high rails and a stainless-steel toe rail to lock your feet under. The owner could fit a live-bait tank in the bow to optimise the forward casting position and in anticipation of this, a 12-volt pump was wired and plumbed into one of the two anchor lockers either side of the auto-anchor winch. The bridge offers good visibility down to the bow and into the cockpit. Access to the flybridge is excellent, because the stairs are optimised for comfort and ease of use. "This encourages socialising because everybody - including non-seafarers - can move between the upper and lower decks easily, and anglers can race up or down the stairs at will."
The flybridge has three aft-facing seats for crew to keep an eye on the lures or gaze across the wake on a passage, and two forward-facing seats for the skipper and spotter. It is a comfortable bridge that offers plenty of seating flexibility. The swivelling helm seat is offset to starboard, and the dash is curved so instruments and controls are within the skipper's reach. There is space on the dash for two 10in screens - plotter, radar or such like - and space on top of the dash for larger free-standing electronics.
The boat travels very nicely and at the 2650rpm sweet spot, it's quiet and vibration-free. Even when pushed hard, the engine noise is not too intrusive and the vibes stay away. Naturally, it has catamaran stability and spin-on-a-dime manoeuvrability due to the propellers' wide thrust separation.
The internal volume has been nicely balanced against the cockpit size and there is plenty of room in all areas of the boat.
The flybridge and sports versions will probably polarise views, and I suspect a prospective buyer will like one or the other, but not both. The flybridge version was my boat, because it fulfilled my cruising/fishing /diving lifestyle needs, it covered the ground quickly and, by all accounts, is a very seaworthy hull.
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