Yin & Yang

A 1,200-mile heavy-weather cruise reveals the good and the bad of cruising on a power catamaran.

The sea swirled around us, layering every inch of C'est ce Bon, a brand-new Lagoon Power 43, with a heavy covering of salt. The wind blew a steady 25 knots with greater gusts, and seas in the Gulf Stream climbed to more than 10 feet. During the next few days, the sound of cresting rollers tumbling down on our little ship would become common background noise. There was no doubt that the 1,200-mile delivery from Ft. Lauderdale to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the catamaran would begin charter service with Trawlers in Paradise, would be a vigorous shakedown, fully testing boat and crew.

The voyage included a cornucopia of conditions that required varied levels of performance from C'est ce Bon. We bashed through 8-foot head seas, slid down 12-foot rollers and sliced through flat water with sunny skies. At the end of our adventure, we determined that this power cat may not be the most appropriate bluewater passagemaker, but she makes an excellent island cruiser and plush liveaboard.

Our crew included Tommy and Denise McCoy, owners of Trawlers in Paradise, a St. Thomas-based charter and yacht sales company. Also on board were Yachting Senior Editor Scott Shane, the McCoys' friend Leroy Hermon and myself.

Nestled in the warmth of our cozy staterooms around 0100, we awoke to Tommy's deep baritone.

"We're going, he bellowed, as he brought the twin Yanmar diesels to life. Though our crew was experienced, we admittedly felt some anxiety before leaving Ft. Lauderdale. Our uneasiness was due to more than the foul conditions and our vanishing weather window-it was due to our lack of confidence in a brand-new boat. The vessel and her systems were untested; moreover, none of us had ever cruised a power catamaran offshore.

Exiting Port Everglades inlet, we slowly pushed the throttles forward. For the first few hours, the cat maintained an average speed of 12 knots. Not bad, we thought.

"Hey, I'm liking this, Tommy said from the boat's flying bridge. Her motion was sure and stable in the beam sea. She gently lifted with each wave and shimmied her way back down, providing us a ride more pleasant than those aboard some other semi-displacement hulls.

What a difference a few hours can make. As we approached the Gulf Stream, the wind increased and clocked around to the northwest, creating an agitated sea state. The confused swells leaped onto the bridge, pouring buckets of water on us.

"OK, that was a 10-footer, laughed Scott, as he wiped salt water from his stinging eyes.

We established a civilized watch schedule of two hours on and six hours off. As we tried to find our sea legs, the covered afterdeck became a popular lounging area, sheltered from the wind and spray.

Then came the head seas. Though her entry was good, a large volume of water rushed from the stern and between the hulls, searching for an evacuation route. C'est ce Bon has a fairly square transom that tends to inhibit the escape of water stirred up by large, stacked waves. Tommy was hesitant to push her too hard and decided to back down to fewer than 9 knots.

Soon the sun rose and revealed a brownish, mysterious sky, capturing the crew's mood and exhaustion after our battle across the Stream. Our original plan was to cruise through the day and night to the Exumas. Given the boat's reduced speed and inconsistent fuel gauges, we decided to alter course and spend the night in Nassau.

Once we tied up at Hurricane Hole Marina, we began to appreciate one of C'est ce Bon's key advantages: her vast interior volume. There were five of us on board, and we each had our own end of the boat (Tommy and Denise shared one of the four staterooms). Crewmembers working in the galley and hanging out in the saloon did not disturb those who sought privacy in their staterooms. That's impressive for a 43-foot cruiser.

After scraping scales of salt off the boat, then ourselves, we had a few drinks and began preparing a holiday-size feast. A roar that could have shaken nearby windows interrupted our cocktail hour.

"I don't believe this! screamed Tommy. The bracket on the new barbecue grill had opened, sending our steaks cascading to the bottom of the harbor. Before the smoke even cleared from the water, Tommy dived in for the steaks with a spotlight, shaking off a few hungry fish already nibbling on our dinner. He resurfaced with some very tenderized beef.

The next day, C'est ce Bon seemed eager to make amends after the beating we had sustained. Apparently, she also made a deal with Neptune: We had sunny skies, calm seas and light winds crossing the crystal-clear waters of the Yellow Bank on our way to the southern Exumas. The day was filled mostly with fishing, reading, good tunes and napping on the expansive deck. She sliced quietly through the water at 16 knots, and we remained in relaxation mode all the way to Staniel Cay. For this type of cruising, the cat was tough to beat.

This feline, however, was a tease. After topping off our fuel tanks and bellies, we departed Staniel Cay, clawing our way south, moving at painfully slow speeds with 6- to 7-foot seas on the nose. Thankfully, we had no rain, but we were stuck between two fronts that left the sky dark and overcast, and increased the wind to a steady 25 knots.

"Man, I'm about done with this, sighed Tommy, as we averaged a measly 7 knots over ground. We all shared the sentiment.

Sensing a low point in everyone's morale, I headed for the galley. I'm a firm believer that warm food is good for the soul when you're offshore. It took me more than an hour, though, to create a simple concoction of chicken, rice and beans. Boiling water vaulted out from the pot, singeing the counter and cook with every crest. When waves struck the bottom of the platform, the galley shook and lifted. I made very deliberate moves, trying to coordinate the opening of the refrigerator with the trough of a wave. It didn't work. As I sprawled out on all fours and tried to corral the contents of the fridge, I looked anything but graceful. Scott, who wanted no part of the madness, politely told me what I could do with his plate.

The next morning, Tommy decided to stop for a while and give us a chance to clean up and pull ourselves together. After reviewing the charts, he determined the best spot was the western side of the uninhabited Plana Cays. What a treat. This eight-hour stop became one of the most memorable parts of our cruise. We had no detailed charts for the Plana Cays, so we picked through coral heads and anchored off a pristine, palm-lined beach that stretched for miles. Denise and I dived in, checked the anchor and scouted out a few untouched snorkeling spots. After a hearty dinner, we sat in the forward cockpit enjoying our sliver of paradise, freshly showered and rejuvenated.

Tommy always has a way of putting things in perspective.

"You know, I have a love-hate relationship with this boat. Right now, I love it, he laughed, absorbing the stunning sunset. "But in two hours I'll probably hate it. Well, strongly dislike it. He was alluding to our approaching departure back into a steep, nasty head sea and heavy winds.

To be fair, the cat and our crew withstood tough conditions, battling 4- to 12-foot seas that would have been unpleasant aboard any number of boats. If we had been without the pressures of a schedule, we would not have left the dock at all. Apart from the steep head seas, C'est ce Bon handled all sea states like a thoroughbred. Running with the waves, she drove like a freight train, tracking far better than a lot of similar semi-displacement hulls.

Scott and I jumped off early in the Turks and Caicos, while Tommy, Denise and Leroy continued to St. Thomas. They had good weather, good fishing, and more important, they formed a better bond with the cat. She reportedly has a solid lineup of charter bookings, signaling that clients recognize the value of spacious accommodations. I've already slotted my week for this winter.

Contact: Trawlers in Paradise, (340) 775-9002; www.trawlersinparadise.com. Lagoon America, (410) 280-2368; www.cata-lagoon.com.