Form and Function
Fountaine Pajot’s newest power cat stops over in Portugal on its journey to the Med and shows the author how a smart use of space, in an interesting setting, can be a powerful combination.
Undulating panes of glass, like waves on the ocean, rise, one above the other, climbing the Troía Design Hotel’s façade, seemingly unbounded by the laws of gravity and design conformity. Take the elevator up. Upon closer inspection, the still, rippling surfaces are balconies that look down on the marina, where boats of all stripes and nationalities share slips as they rock on the real thing. From the hotel’s pool deck—or from the infinity pool, because it’s a fricken infinity pool—a guest may look out on the Atlantic and spy container ships streaming into Setúbal across the strait. If he is so inclined, he can kick back and enjoy Portugal’s sandy, off-the-radar peninsula, full of deserted beaches that make up this laid-back, if über-wealthy, retreat. Being there feels like you’re in the know. The feeling is immeasurably heightened if the guest catches a glimpse of the massive pod of bottlenose dolphins that patrols these waters. And if lightning strikes twice, he’ll get to see the original Queen of Pop on horseback.
I learned about the latter sitting at the hotel pool bar. Madonna sightings in this corner of Europe are legendary, if a little less frequent—and suspect—than the monster of Loch Ness. Or so claimed the lone diners sitting on the veranda. Eventually, I would come to find out that the two were light fixture wholesalers from L.A., here on business. We made our introductions seated, from across a chasm of empty tables and chairs; it was mid-week, and the place was empty. When the conversation stalled, I thought back to my flight into Lisbon. As the capital’s red-tiled rooftops came into focus, my seatmate informed me that approximately 70,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses from all over the world would be descending on the Estádio da Luz fútbol stadium. How did he know? Because he was one. “So you won’t be able to escape seeing us,” he joked. Everyone, it seemed, had a reason to come to Portugal.
Mine was tied up below. The Fountaine Pajot MY40 had traveled on its own keel over 600 miles from La Rochelle, France—company HQ—to be here, cruising down the Bay of Biscay and around the Iberian Peninsula, not unlike the voyages made by galleons when the world was far less explored. The 40 had been designed with that adventurous, point-the-bow-toward-the-horizon ethos in mind. She had made the trip in three days, stopping to refuel once along the northern coast of Spain; her sail-powered cousin, the Elba 45, took decidedly longer. (Not that it was a race, but, if pressed, I know which one I would rather take.) Selected as a halfway point between La Rochelle and the Cannes Yachting Festival, Troía and its unconventional hotel would play host to Fountaine Pajot’s annual dealer meeting. Private sea trials awaited, and more than a few of the journalists and dealers were itching to see what the new power cat could do.
I would get my chance the next day. The plan was to head due west, retracing the company captain’s tracks on our way to the fishing village of Sesimbra. Along for the ride was Communication and Marketing Manager Hélène de Fontainieu, Sales Manager Erwan de Vuillefroy and two homegrown sailors from Portugal, who have sailed nearly every inch of these waters. Having them on board would be instructive, as I’d soon find out. One of the benefits of a multihull is maximized space, and compared to other boats in this size range, the 40 rings that timeworn cliché: It feels every bit like a larger vessel. The salon brings together an expansive galley, a three-section sofa—lifted, it seems, right from the family living room—two chairs and a foldable table. Thanks to upgrades in engineering and space-saving design, the salon, I was told, has more volume than the company’s 46-foot power cat. Driving from the lower helm will keep you dry in a squall, and the sightlines are excellent, but true joy can be found at the upper helm, whether squeezing out every drop of the 40’s impressive fuel economy or pushing the rpm to a top end of 23 knots.
Fountaine Pajot has long held to the belief that their range be tailor-made for private buyers. To that end, the 40 has been appointed in a way that a cat destined for the charter fleet might not. This feeling extends to the cabins, which felt equal parts roomy and luxurious. Multifunctional by design, the three rooms can be arranged as a master with en suite head and two double berths—perfect for three couples—with one berth that can be converted to bunk beds for a young family. The two double berths share an adjoining head.
Comparisons, of course, with the other models in the range are compulsory: The 40 fits neatly between the MY37 and MY44. (An outlier, all of 67 feet, is on the way, with a target completion date set for 2020. Judging from the other cats, I’m guessing her social spaces will be compared early and often to a megayacht.) Though smaller in LOA and beam than the 44, the salon seating aboard the 40 can comfortably accommodate just one fewer guest—not bad. To help maximize space, Fountaine Pajot tapped the same Italian designer, Pierangelo Andreani, who worked in conjunction with naval architect Daniel Andrieu on the 44. According to Andreani, the space in the salon is much bigger than anything you would find on a monohull of the same size—I would add and then some. A shallower draft than her larger sistership will allow adventurous cruisers to nose the 40 up close to their own private beach, wherever one might be found.
For us, it was a sandy cove surrounded by towering rock formations. It was the perfect place to photograph the 40 set against a dramatic mountain range. To the beachgoers on land, we must have been quite the sight: a chase boat zipping around the 40 as it stood regally, the hull’s deep blue in stark contrast to the ochre ridges cascading into the ocean. The entire scene could have been mistaken for a tranquil, Algarvian cove. Had we wanted to visit Portugal’s famed southern coastline, the cat’s motoryacht-like speeds could have gotten us there in no time.
We docked in Sesimbra for lunch. Wire mesh ran along the cliffs to slow errant rocks. Seagulls cawed above. Fish boats, some with fist-size holes or greater gouged in the wood, were left unceremoniously on the cement. Lobo do Mar, a nondescript building by the marina, promised to bring together the traditions of fishing and cooking under one roof. Inside the restaurant, fútbol was on the television. What the Portuguese refer to as azulejos, or mosaic tiles, adorned the walls. Behind a glass partition, the day’s catch was displayed on ice. “You have to choose your own fish,” instructed de Fontainieu.
We ate sea bass, stone bass and grouper head, the tastiest part, according to my compatriots. Manuel Guimarães, one of the Portuguese sailors and a Dufour Yachts sales manager, had been talking at length on a common cultural misconception. Portugal, said Guimarães, has more coffee variations than Italy. Somebody said something to the contrary. “No, no, no,” said Guimarães, solemnly wagging his finger for dramatic effect. “We have more. We are a very complicated people.” He smiled.
By the time the waiter brought out bottles of Vinho Verde—literally “green wine”—I had learned that the continental plate along the coast ends abruptly, about 3 miles from land. Such a lucky geological formation allows the fishing fleet, made up predominately of traditional wooden boats, to easily travel to where the action is hottest. When he was a boy, Guimarães, who grew up nearby, would buy salted cod fish and sardines right from the boats.
Guimarães let the table in on another not-so-secret tidbit: He was unapologetically a monohull sailor. Now it was de Vuillefroy’s turn to have some fun. “For us, a monohull is half a boat, and Guimarães is half a man.” The table erupted in laughter.
On the way back to Troía, I climbed up to the flybridge and got behind the helm. The afternoon was sunny and the waters calm—not the best conditions for a performance test. Still, running the 40 through the rpm range was informative. Like the other cats before it, the 40 comes exclusively with a Volvo Penta IPS package. I would find out pods with a twin hull combines stability and get-up-and-go speed into one desirous union. And the best part was that neither fuel economy nor efficiency is sacrificed in the process. With a cruising range of over 800 miles at 6 knots, you could go almost anywhere in the Med, stopping only occasionally to refuel. And yet, if a squall picked up suddenly, the 40 could move fast enough to outpace the meteorological fracas.
Suddenly there was a commotion behind me. I turned around, half expecting the worst. I was relieved and surprised to see over 20 bottlenose dolphins making a beeline for our direction. They jumped and surfaced and in a flash, were gone underneath us. It was a fitting end to an energetic day out on the water. Upon arriving at the docks, Madonna reached an outstretched hand down to me. I took it, and clambered up onto her dapple gray horse. We rode off, laughing, into the sunset. Okay, so one of those things didn’t happen. I’ll let you decide which one.