A true blue water cruiser, the new Morrelli & Melvin-designed cat packs a lot of performance in a very well conceived and beautifully built package (Winter 2017)
In October, The Chesapeake Bay can show you many moods and often several of them in one day. On the Tuesday following the Annapolis Sailboat Show 2017, the mood on the bay was gray, dull and gusty. The surface of the water was the color of slate and the sky wasn’t much better. And, it was threatening to rain.
But that didn’t stop us from heading out for a sail trial aboard the new HH55 performance cruising catamaran. Aboard with us was the builder, Paul Hakes, his able team Lauren and Chris, the boat’s new owners, cat expert and dealer Gregor Tarjan and a prospective buyer. Needless to say, this big, completely modern Morrelli & Melvin design had us all excited about seeing just what she would do. And, with 10 to 14 plus knots of wind, we were in for a good sail.
The 55 is a large vessel that measures 54-feet, six inches on the waterline and 27-feet, six inches in maximum beam. The boat was moored on a floating dock up Back Creek and we had very little room to spare to get her out into open water. With her shiny new paint job, we didn’t want to brush the boats ahead of us as we threaded the needle, and we didn’t. At the helm, Chris handled the boat like a dinghy.
The 55 has two steering configurations that an owner can choose from, with a central forward command center in the saloon, or twin raised steering stations in the cockpit; the owners of the boat we were sailing had opted for the inside command center. From there, visibility is good and you can see both bows as you maneuver. The cockpit forward of the saloon and command center also has a wheel so you can steer from there, too.
We motored down the creek and out into the bay. Under power the 55 slips along effortlessly and the twin 57-hp. Yanmar diesels with sail drives, which are mounted aft in the sterns, were nearly silent. At full revs, the 55 will motor at 12 to 13 knots and at cruising revs will maintain 9 knots. For such a big and wide boat, the 55 handles well but you have to be aware of the windage of the hulls as you maneuver.
The HH 55’s mission in life is to be a elegant, performance cruiser for a couple or family that is capable of sailing around the world or to any destination. The hull and deck are all carbon and epoxy for light weight and ultimate stiffness. The rig is all carbon and the rigging is aramid fiber. The rudders and daggerboards are built of pre-preg epoxy and carbon fiber.
The underwater innovations of note in the new 55 are the “C” shaped daggerboards that will provide some foil-like lift when under pressure and the “T-foil” rudders that will help with lift as well and will inhibit the pitching motion of the hulls in head seas.
But for all of the emphasis on high tech construction, the new 55 is not ultra-light or liable to scare you by unexpectedly flying a hull. At a light displacement of 30,864 lbs. the boat feels solid in the water and has an easy motion. The 55 gets its speed from the shape of the hulls, the fairly low wetted surface and the size of its rig. Note that the mast stands 86 feet above the water…on a 55 foot cat…and the working sail area is 2,096 square feet. There is no compromise in the “performance” part of performance cruising, which includes high average speeds with a good motion at sea.
We hoisted the big square-topped mainsail and rolled out the self-tacking jib. This was done from the forward cockpit where all sheets, halyards and control lines lead. These are managed by a brace of line stoppers and electric winches. As soon as the sails were full and drawing nicely you could feel the 55 lurch forward as it gained speed. In the 10 to 14 knots of breeze, we were sailing close hauled at 8.5 to 9.5 knots with an apparent wind speed of over 16 knots.
We threw the big cat through a couple of tacks, which is simple with the self tacking jib, and found she tacked inside 100 degrees and made only a small amount of leeway. Tacking a performance cat takes some practice since it is easy to get into irons. But, if you steer the 55 deliberately through each tack you can keep her speed on and the sails filled and drawing quite easily.
Cats are best when reaching. We rolled up the jib and Chis hoisted and then rolled out the big Code O reaching sail. This was a big sail and it made the best use of the moderate breeze. As soon as it was drawing nicely and we were sailing at about 90 degrees to the apparent wind, the 55 really began to go. The helm felt lively as the T-foil rudders developed more lift and it was fun to heat the boat up and then fall off a bit and let her rip. We were making 11 knots all the time and had a few surges up to 13 knots, which was basically sailing as fast as the wind.
We engaged the autopilot on all angles of sail to see how the boat behaves when no human hand is involved. Probably it is not surprising that the autopilot was steadier and faster than some of the folks sailing with us that day. But, since cruisers use the autopilot a lot, it is good to know the 55 cooperates with it well.
The daggerboards are raised and lowered mechanically from the helm, so we played with various configurations. Upwind, with just the leeward board down, the boat sailed higher and faster than without it. On a reach, it seems that having both boards half way down gave us the steadiest motion and the easiest helm.
The 55’s polars and velocity performance curves are a sight to behold. In 30 knots of apparent breeze (about 20 true), the 55 should broad reach at 30 knots with the main and Code 0 flying. That has to be the very hairy edge of where a normal cruiser would consider sailing. More conservatively, in 30 knots of apparent wind, with a reef in the main and the Solent (self tacking) jib, you can expect to sail at 16 to 18 knots. Realistically, you will only do that for a while before tying in the third reef and rolling up a third of the head sail. Cruising in a boat like the HH55 offers a lot of excitement, but you will find that you rarely want to sail for long at top speed. Instead, making 10 to 14 knots in comfort will be a better long haul option.
The 55 is a powerful boat. It’s kind of like driving a high end, luxury Maserati; it can do things that you don’t always need it to do but when you do put the hammer down, it will blow your hair straight back.
The 55 comes in two accommodation plans, one with a master suite in the port hull and two cabins in the starboard hull, the other has a four-cabin version with two cabins and two heads in each hull. The boat we sailed was the owner’s, three-cabin version. You also can have either a forward helm and cockpit version, like the one we sailed, or you can opt for the two aft, raised helms, which leaves the front of the saloon open as living space instead of as a cockpit.
When you climb aboard the 55 for the first time, the expanse of the after deck and the way it flows on one level into the saloon impresses you with just how big this 55 footer truly is. There are good sitting and sunning areas on the after deck and with the sliding doors wide open, you can seat a party of 12 for a meal at the two tables.
The L-shaped galley occupies the aft starboard part of the saloon where it is convenient to both the saloon and the after deck. With large windows all around the saloon you always have a 360-degree view and plenty of ventilation.
With the forward cockpit and command center, there are two doors that lead to the forward cockpit. While we were sailing, we had these doors closed to keep out the cold breeze. So, for every trim change someone had to go outside to tweak a sheet or line. We discovered, however, that if we closed the sliding doors between the saloon and the after deck, we could leave one of the forward doors open and very little breeze would blow into the saloon since it had no place to go. Very cool. Above the forward helm, a huge skylight provides excellent light.
The 55’s hulls are quite narrow, hence the stellar sailing performance, but that also means the living spaces in the two hulls are more compact that you might find on a charter-style cat. But, the owner’s suite, with the double berth aft, head and shower forward and vanity in between, is very comfortable and there is plenty of storage for a couple living aboard for long periods.
The two-cabins, and two heads in the starboard hulls are perfect for family sailing with your kids or as guest cabins for friends you fly out to join you somewhere exotic. The two heads share a shower, which seems like a good use of space.
Large windows in both hulls and deck hatches give the cabins plenty of light and ventilation. Both hulls have long windows in the hulls so you can lie in bed and watch the world go by. Plus, the two aft cabins have large windows—picture windows—instead of headboards above the bunks that look aft to the after deck and beyond. These can be closed off for privacy with shades.
The 55 we sailed had a very high level of fit and finish. Using a combination of off-white panels and teak joinery, the boat has a modern but classic feel. The tables had attractive inlays and everything was varnished in both gloss and matt finishes to achieve different effects.
There is no question that the new HH55 will make a very commodious, and elegant home for her owners. But it is so much more than that, too, since it will take them anywhere they choose to cruise and will do so at speeds only dreamed of by most cruisers. And, while the boat is big and powerful, it has been designed and fitted out for an experienced couple to manage on their own.
Draft (boards up) 4’10”
Draft (boards down) 10’9”
Displacement 30,864 lbs.
Sail area (working) 2,096 sq. ft.
Spinnaker 2,171 sq. ft.
Mast height 86’5”
Water 104 gals.
Fuel 160 gals.
Engines 57-hp Yanmars
Hudson Yacht Group
318 South US HWY 1
Jupiter, Florida 33477