Balance Catamarans Dominate Caribbean Multihull Challenge

The Balance Catamarans fleet hits stride at the Caribbean Multihull Challenge in Saint-Martin.
Balance Catamaran
Balance Catamarans is creating a culture of community through events like this Caribbean rally. Laurens Morel/Caribbean Multihull Challenge

One by one, the fleet of a dozen multihulls—11 performance-cruising catamarans and a sole French trimaran—retrieved their anchors and hoisted their mainsails, each with a deep reef in the main. In the anchorage off Anse Marcel on the French side of the Caribbean island of Saint-Martin, in the lee of the isle, the waters were calm and serene. Outside in the nearby Anguilla Channel, however, the easterly trade winds were pumping, and it was a sporty scene indeed, with the roiled seaway flecked with whitecaps.

It was the second day of the fifth-annual running of the Caribbean Multihull Challenge in early February. For the first time, the event was also hosting a rally in conjunction with the usual regatta for racing cats and tris. While the race committee was setting racecourses back in Simpson Bay on the island’s Dutch side, the cruisers were setting sail for an anchorage on the far side of Anguilla, where an evening of music, dancing and merriment awaited.

As anyone who has been to one of the major boat shows in the past decade knows, the multihull segment of the sailboat sector is far and away the fastest growing. And while the CMC rally fleet was well represented by French builders such as Lagoon, Nautitech and Outremer, with a half dozen entries, the South African-built line of Balance Catamarans was easily the most dominant brand. Perhaps not coincidentally, the company’s founder and president, Phil Berman, was in the thick of things aboard his own Balance 482, In Balance, as part of a season of island-hopping.

“You learn so much from the experience of just getting out and sailing your boat, day after day, living aboard and cruising through the islands,” Berman, a former national champion in the Hobie 14 class, told me at the outset of the rally.

Balance is currently building about 25 of its swift, daggerboard-equipped cats a year, and the production run is basically sold out for the next two years. “It’s crazy, but we’re probably the fastest-growing catamaran builder in the world,” he said. “But we’re just doing what we’ve always tried to do, which is build comfortable cruising boats that perform nicely.”

Berman said he’d been looking for ways to link his owners, and the rally was just the ticket. “We’re trying to build a community with Balance,” he said. “And it’s working. The owners all become friends, and they just like hanging out together.”

As the fleet started blasting across the Anguilla Channel, with most of the Balance tribe hoisting spinnakers and seriously trucking, it was clear not only that the boats perform well, but also that their crews were top-notch sailors happy to push the envelope.

Berman said there were several other Balances cruising the islands. Next year, he says, he thinks he’ll have several more cats in the fleet. Steve Burzon, the CMC director of marketing, says he hopes to attract other brands to the rally. “We do all the organizing; they just need to show up, and, for the price of their entry fee, they get the parties, the camaraderie—everything,” he said. Burzon also acknowledged that the rally half of the event may soon overshadow the racing portion, which drew 17 boats this year. “We may have created a monster.”

It’s a good problem to have, and it will be interesting to see what transpires. In that moment off Anse Marcel, however, all those colorful spinnakers soon vanished over the horizon. While the racers back off Simpson Bay were getting ready for a day of bashing their brains out, the rally folks had different priorities. After all, there was a party to attend to.