Issue: March 2003
Power catamarans always defeat attempts to compare them directly with mono hull boats in dollar terms relative to their length. Catamarans simply don’t compare in the same way mono hulls do.
A catamaran has completely differing ride characteristics for its given length and, because of its different shape, there’s more interior space in a cat than a similarly sized mono-hull that comes to a point at the bow. A cat costs significantly more for a given length, but at the same time the sea-keeping abilities of a small catamaran can far out perform a mono hull several metres longer. On that basis, the investment comes back closer to par.
Opinion about catamarans tend to be deeply divided. Some people like cats, some don’t. However, we suspect that the Signature cruising catamaran might be responsible for quite a few conversions to the catamaran way of thinking.
Stepping aboard from a marina pontoon onto the wide boarding platform the first thing the Modern Boating team noticed was the deck. The boarding platform and the aft deck, cockpit if you prefer, are surfaced with what looks like a cork composite.
Apparently, the surface material on our test Signature is called “Marinedeck 2000”. Our short-term impressions were “wow” how long has this stuff been around ? The deck surface is not at all slippery and dry or wet it grips deck shoes like glue. It looks good and is comfortable under bare feet with a softish “feel” not unlike cork tiles.
The aft deck is wide, spacious and features a pair of transom doors that latch securely to keep small children safe. There was a set of stairs leading up to the flybridge rising from the front of the aft cockpit.
These stairs aren’t excessively steep, have an excellent non-slip timber tread surface and a high rail that’s there for a steadying hand if the boat moves unpredictably while you’re on them. Beside the stairs to starboard is a chest freezer with the big smoked glass saloon entry door to port. Underneath the stairs is a huge storage locker that houses a massive pair of fenders and a stack of other gear.
Inset into the cockpit sides are storage lockers of varying shapes and sizes. Central in the aft bulkhead is a sink/shower unit. Its lid hinges over to become a bait board, which even Steptoe and Macrae agreed would probably see as much use as a place to present the nibblies.
There is a hinged door each side of the transom and an extendable ladder stowed under a flush hatch on the portside of the boarding platform. A set of clip-on insect/shade screens was fitted around the aft deck on the test boat.
Upstairs the flybridge area is wide and spacious. The extension of the flybridge deck aft, almost to the transom, creates a tremendous amount of extra space. The perimeter is surrounded by high rails, which are securely fitted, but anyone with youngsters might like to add some stainless cable between the rails.
While the flybridge is obviously the helm and control station, this area is also the upstairs living/entertainment area, which adds an extra dimension to life aboard. The test boat had a bimini and a full set of clears around the bridge.
The stairs, or rather the opening in the floor they create, are protected by a high safety rail. There?s also a spacious L-shaped lounge to port to offset the helm station to starboard. People moving out onto the foredeck are kept safe by well-positioned rails along the sides of the flybridge and the high bow rail. At the bow is a massive pair of anchor lockers, industrial grade mooring hardware, self-launching main fairlead, secondary fairlead and the foot controls for the Maxwell VWC 1200 electric anchor winch.
Finally, we enter the saloon. It’s wide, and spacious without being of ballroom dimensions. Those who like to cook will be pleased to find that the forward galley uses the full width of the Signature 4000’s considerable beam.
Although the decor in the galley is neat, it also has a practical side. All the bench tops are finished in Granitex. There are twin sinks covered by infills, which invert to become chopping boards. The stove and microwave are domestic sizes. There’s also a 75lt refrigerator and a 55lt freezer in the galley. Cupboard space would do justice to any landlubber kitchen.
The galley is a step down from the saloon and separated to some extent from view, if not conversation, by a bar top forming one side of the dinette. Six could sit in comfort at the dinette. It has leather seating and an asymmetrically shaped tabletop, which makes it as large as possible without intruding into space in the saloon.
All the timberwork was steamed European beech finished in a semi gloss. Rimu and teak are alternatives. There’s a panoramic view from inside the saloon through the smoked glass windows surrounding it. These windows slide open for ventilation.
The staterooms are downstairs in the sponsons and this is one place, or rather two places, where preconceived notions bred from long association with mono hulls might need some rethinking. A cat’s bows are square and the hull’s depth is set to each side with the tunnel restricting interior space in the middle. A mono hull’s interior is deeper in the centre and squeezes in at the sides. There are pluses and minuses for both.
The test boat was set up with two double berth staterooms, one in the forward end of each sponson and a double decker single berth stateroom on the starboard side under the dinette. The bathroom filled the opposing space to port. Basically, it was set up for two couples plus two other single berths, perhaps for kids.
Power was supplied from a battery bank through an 1800 watt inverter with hot water supply coming from heat exchangers on the engines. A 6 kilowatt genset and dual 24,000 BTU air-conditioning units are extra cost options adding another $30,000 plus to the investment.
Then came time to take the Signature 4000 for a run. It wasn’t a good day. The Gold Coast was being buffeted by strong northerly winds gusting more than 25 knots. With a strong outflow across the Southport Seaway it wasn’t a pretty sight.
If there’s one situation cats don’t handle well it’s taking a head sea square on the bows. We were forced to take it slow as we eased our way between the Seaway walls. Even though there’s a wave breaker built into the Signature’s tunnel to minimise this effect, we still managed several head butting confrontations as the forefoot in the tunnel met the steep swells rolling in.
Once clear of the Seaway we worked our way across the sea at a better angle. She only needs a few degrees either side off square for the twin sponsons to come into their own and provide that magic carpet ride across choppy water no mono hull can match. You hear people talk of “walking” cats across a sea, that’s taking a zig zag course if necessary to avoid the head butts and that’s what we had to do. Any good mono hull would have cleared the bar well in front of us. But once at sea where we had room to ease the angle of approach, we would have quickly out run the best of them.
The Signature is a semi displacement type power catamaran, although typically of cats, it does perform noticeably better with a little more speed rather than less. At 20 odd knots there was scarcely a bump despite the ordinary conditions. Our test boat was fitted with hydraulic trim tabs, which allowed the driver to further fine tune the hull’s attitude.
The Signature 4000 cruising catamaran’s fibreglass hull is built in Hamilton, New Zealand by Andrew Fink Boat Builders from a Wright/Lavros design. The hull is constructed to comply with the Det Norske international standard and critical areas are reinforced with carbon fibre and Kevlar added to the laminates.
Those looking at buying one of these new cats can expect to part with around $660,000.
Power options range from twin 240hp up to twin 440hp motors. Our test boat was fitted with a pair of Volvo KAD44s producing 260hp each. These are a 3.6lt super and turbo charged (with intercooler) diesels and they produced a top speed of 24.7 knots at 4000rpm.
Greg Haines of Signature boats showed us a speed/fuel burn chart for these power plants, which indicates that Signature 4000 owners can expect exceptional economy of operation from what would be small motors in a mono hull this size. They give excellent performance in this power catamaran hull nonetheless.
The chart Greg provided follows. You can check out the economy/speed curve in detail for yourselves, but as you can see, running at around the 20 knots mark the hull was content to cruise over the chop we encountered off the Southport Seaway. This boat covers ground quickly, comfortably and economically.
Story by Warren Steptoe