by Quentin Warren
Blue Water Sailing
High-performance offshore cruising cat
Currently in production in South Africa is the newest and perhaps most advanced catamaran to join designer Chris White’s long, well-recognized line of innovative cruising multihulls. It is the Atlantic 55, conceived with serious offshore voyaging in mind—particularly, notes White, “the long reaches of the Pacific where passages are often thousands of miles and cruising can take you far from supplies for months at a time.”
A career in the design profession dating back to 1983 and a life of sailing and cruising these vessels shorthanded support the multihuller’s background and considerable credibility. His designs are unique, some say iconoclastic, but always purposeful, sophisticated, quite elegant and esoterically thought-through.
White’s current catalog includes a range of trimarans between 20 and 54 feet and a range of catamarans between 42 and 63 feet. He has experimented with a variety of distinct cockpit and deckhouse configurations in the catamaran line—cockpit conventionally aft of the deckhouse in the so-called Voyager designs, a midship cockpit in the Concept 63, and cockpit forward of the deckhouse in the Atlantic series. The Atlantic 55 embraces this design feature. To the untrained eye it looks backwards; in practice, it works brilliantly.
Driving a large, fast catamaran from an unobstructed forward vantage definitely has its advantages over what most cruising multihulls offer, reduced as they are to bulkhead-mounted or aft-cockpit steering behind a sizable cabinhouse. White notes, “With complete visibility and all sail controls near at hand, an Atlantic cat fits like a glove.” To go sailing with Chris is to understand at once his appreciation for exhilarating speed and performance. He is no slave to the elements, however. “After a few hours of sailing, in any kind of boat, the time comes to get out of the wind and sun or, worse yet, wind, dark and wet. Enter the pilothouse, offering an inside steering and navigation station with an unobstructed view of the horizon all around.”
And there’s more. Given its generous length, the Atlantic 55 can incorporate what White refers to as a “back porch,” which provides real expansion of the living area and enough space to carry a large hard-bottom dinghy on passage.
The 55 is in full production in vacuum-bagged glass/carbon-fiber/epoxy at Bongers Marine near Cape Town, South Africa. White is meticulous about who builds his designs and his choice of Bongers is based both on the outfit’s familiarity with advanced composite construction technology, and on their ability to keep costs down. The notion that heavy multihulls don’t perform the way multihulls are supposed to perform is central to White’s design ethos, and he uses every angle he can at the building stage to keep his boats in fighting trim.
The accommodations emphasize sensibility as much as comfort, with a solid view to the mores of offshore cruising. All sleeping berths are located aft where the pitching motion is reduced. Each hull contains a large head and shower serving the occupants of two double cabins. The galley is placed amidships in the starboard hull where meal preparation does not interfere with the watchkeeping and the cook can be braced and secure.
From sleek, almost sinister looks, to the sophistication of its design, to intensely practical features such as 3’6” underwing clearance, the list of attributes describing the 55 goes on and on. BWS has not yet had the opportunity to go offshore aboard one, but a long association with the designer, and experience aboard earlier, smaller cats in the Atlantic range, particularly the 42, make it easy to suggest, as we did in a March 2002 item on the boat, “The Atlantic 55 is truly top-notch in thinking as well as execution.”
Draft (bd up) 3’8”
Draft (bd dn) 7’10”
Displ. 25,500 lbs.
Sail Area 1,341 sq. ft.
Fuel 200 gal.
Auxiliary 2 x Yanmar diesel 56-hp
Designer Chris White
Chris White Designs
5 Smith’s Way
South Dartmouth, MA 02748
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