If you can sell more than 150 catamarans off-plan before the resin has even hit the fiberglass, you must be doing something right. Despite costing around $1.1 million once fitted out and on the water, Fountaine-Pajot’s new 51 has done just that.
The French yard has been at it since 1986 and has built up an enviable reputation for soundly designed bluewater catamarans. Buoyed by the recent purchase of Dufour, the business is booming. It hangs its hat on the rigor of its industrial processes and the consideration that goes into every detail of the design. Not for nothing is Fountaine-Pajot a multiple winner of SAIL’s Best Boats awards.
Design and Construction
A towering mast allied to her principle dimensions of 51 feet LOA and 26 feet 6 inches in the beam make the Aura 51 an imposing boat. Sleek, harmonious lines with some reverse sheer to the deck and the athletic aft sweep of the slim coach roof give her the unmistakable Fountaine-Pajot look. There’s the long-term design input of Berret-Racoupeau to thank for that.
Hulls are built in high-quality vinylester and fiberglass with foam and balsa cores for strength and rigidity. Smaller parts are injection molded (including the coachroof), and vacuum infusion is used everywhere else. This system is expensive but guarantees a more consistent finish with fewer air gaps while using fewer raw materials. The build site in Aigrefeuille even includes a shallow testing tank where the finished boats are floated to check for water ingress.
There is a marked gull’s wing shape to the underside of the bridgedeck. At just shy of 3 feet, the clearance is good enough to avoid slamming, but there are two little ledges where the bridgedeck connects to either hull that catch the waves as you sail.
Fountaine-Pajots always have a bulkhead helm high on the starboard side. From the wheel here, you can see comfortably forward over the coach roof with a good view of the sails and back to either quarter for maneuvering. The 51’s rudders are controlled hydraulically, so there is no physical connection required from the helm. This means there is no feedback, but it does free up plenty of space for line handling in front of the pedestal.
Sail control is extremely simple, with all the active lines coming back in two swaths to the three big Lewmar Evo winches on the coachroof, which can be specced as electric. With the mainsheet feeding in athwartships, it is straightforward to get some elbow grease on the line, while the deep fall of the rope tidy bags make for easy stowage. Just the genoa halyard is at the mast, on a captive line which can only be adjusted using a block and tackle.
A stubby bowsprit is angled slightly skywards for tacking the gennaker or Code 0. These sheets run aft, then double back up to extra winches on the edge of the cockpit.
This leaves a lot of exterior space on the boat for eating, lounging, and (when at anchor) water sports. In the cockpit, a fine teak table seats eight in comfort, and it can be easily extended to seat 12 with a fold-out leaf and fill-in seat. The plancha grill on the transom makes for easy food prep. The cockpit includes a raised sunbed and a sofa on the transom.
The boat sports forward lounge seating with an opening window from the saloon, plus a huge 172-square-foot flybridge. Decks are flush, and a hydraulic platform aft carries the tender while underway and launches swimmers or divers at anchor. Careful thought has ensured that the platform closes up nicely to the transom skirt for easy access.
Liveability is the key to the rise and rise of the catamaran, and the Aura 51 puts natural light and its huge volume to good use. With the aft doors fully slid back, there is a 10-foot opening with the galley island in the middle. It naturally splits traffic between the galley and the saloon and puts the work surfaces and the waste bin within easy reach from the cockpit.
Flexibility is the name of the game here. Deep upholstered sofas fill the forward and starboard side of the saloon, where they can do service for watchkeeping, movie nights or a cup of coffee with friends. If it’s too cold outside, you can slot in a removable table and eat indoors. Fountaine-Pajot calls the chaise lounge on the centerline the “meridian,” and from here you can keep an eye on the instruments, plug in a tablet for remote helming, and check the sails through the skylight overhead.
Cabin configuration runs from the four-cabin maestro version—devoting an entire hull to the owner—up to six en-suite cabins. The trick here is that the two aft-most cabins have their own companionways that emerge through an L-shaped Plexiglas hatch onto the aft deck—ideal for charter and for older children.
Styling is by Isabelle Racoupeau and reflects neutral colors and natural textures; it’s also possible to go off-piste with a custom finish through Fountaine-Pajot Service. Every cabin has been carefully designed to offer at least two sources of natural light and opening for natural ventilation. A heating and air conditioning package is also available.
It took no time at all to hoist the main and unfurl the 120-percent genoa using an electric winch, and we were soon skimming southwest on a beat towards the glittering Ile d’Oléron. To make the most of the square-top main’s 1,023 square feet, we opened up the foot a little using the mainsheet traveler. We also toyed with the trim of the 635-square-foot genoa, whose sheeting point on the coachroof gives a nice tight angle for upwind work. Once the telltales were flying cleanly, I glanced down at the Garmin instruments and found to my surprise that we were frothing along at nearly 6 knots beating into 12 knots of wind. From my perch up on the navigator’s seat, the boat’s motion betrayed no speed at all.
Even pinching to around 32 degrees apparent, we lost less than a knot of pace. The trick is to pick up speed after the tack by staying slightly lower, then edging onto a really close-hauled course by degrees. Like all Fountaine-Pajots, the Aura 51 has two stub keels designed to resist leeway. Although marginally less efficient than daggerboards, these keels require no handling and are sacrificial in the event of an impact. “The keels are made of polyester and are glued into a recess in the hull,” explained operational marketing manager Erwan de Vuillefroy.
In no time at all we had covered 7 nautical miles, first tacking upwind, then bearing away on to a balmy reach where we touched 9 knots of boatspeed. Make no mistake: This boat is a mile-eater.
We didn’t need to think about reefing, but if the wind had edged over 18 knots, it would have been simple to set the first of three slab reefs, all nicely color-coded at the helm.
The standard engine set up allows for twin 60-hp Volvo Penta D2s, but you can also opt for punchier 75-hp models. At the lower power rating, this will give you a top speed in flat water of around 8-9 knots for a fuel consumption of around 3.3 gallons/hour. For the 75-hp option, expect about 2 knots more of speed for over 5 gallons/hour. With a fuel capacity of around 240 gallons, you can motor for days at cruising revs and still achieve an easy 8 knots.
Maneuverability is every bit as good as you would expect from a catamaran. There was a tricky moment getting out of the marina past a slew of dredging pipes. But from the bulkhead helm station offset to starboard, we could jockey the twin throttles and wheel. Astern it is even easier, standing on the other side of the wheel facing back. There is also an option for an aft camera feeding into the 12-inch Garmin display on the console.
This is a well-conceived boat with an accent on incredible living volumes and a high standard of finish and fittings. Sailors will enjoy how the rig can be tuned and tweaked, with its generous sail area and optional carbon mast. Fountaine-Pajot’s aim to build carbon-neutral boats by 2030 with a focus on reducing waste and emissions in the meantime is the cherry on the cake. By the time you read this, there will be an all-electric version of the boat in the water.
LWL 50ft 7in
Beam 26ft 6in
Draft 4ft 4in
Displacement 39,904lb (light)
Sail area 1,023 sq ft (main); 635 sq ft (genoa)
Fuel/water (GAL) 238/238
SA/D RATIO 22.8
D/L RATIO 134
Engines 2 x Volvo D2-60 (60hp)
Designer Berret-Racoupeau Yacht Design
Builder Fountaine-Pajot, Zone Industrielle, 17290 Aigrefeuille, France
Base price $1.1m at time of publication