By Peter A. Robson
A striking new power catamaran line, Aquila, has made its way to the Pacific Northwest. Good looking and incredibly roomy, the Aquila 44 we tested is also very stable and fuel-efficient thanks to its twin hulls.
The Aquila 44 was developed with some of the world’s top talent. The brand began in 2011 when Bill McGill, CEO of MarineMax, the largest powerboat retailer in the world, decided to get into yacht chartering. In early 2012, McGill brought Lex Raas on board. Lex helped develop the well-known Leopard and Moorings lines of sail and power cats and was also the president of the Moorings Charter Company when it was purchased by Tui Marine, which owns Sunsail Yacht Charters (and others). He became president of both companies and responsible for a fleet of some 2,500 yachts. In his new job at MarineMax Vacations, Raas was tasked with coming up with a “new breed” of power cat, one that was built on a dedicated power cat platform, instead of a modified sailboat design, as is the case with many other power cats. The company began the Aquila line with a 38-footer, which was essentially a Moorings 39 power cat, but highly modified. However, to come up with their “new breed,” the company enlisted the services of the J&J design group. That company has designed yachts for the likes of Azimut, Bavaria, Beneteau, Dufour, Jeanneau and Monte Carlo. Once the team came up with the design for the 44-foot model, they enlisted J&J’s highly respected development arm, Seaway, to produce the fibreglass tooling. Next, they partnered with the well-known Chinese builder, Sino Eagle, which had plenty of experience building catamarans for charter companies. Sino Eagle is known for building the majority of Olympic rowing race boats, which is a testament to their ability to produce high-tech vessels.
The fibreglass components of the Aquila line are built using resin infusion, which helps maximize resin penetration. Vinylester resin is used throughout and where sections of the hull, deck and superstructure are not solid, end-grain balsa coring is used.
On Deck “Wow!” was the first word that came out of our mouths when we saw the Aquila 44. The overall mass—the width, height and wide stairways—was more like you’d find on a 65-footer. It was further evident in the massive port and starboard foredeck lockers; each more than six feet deep, with steps and about six feet square at the top. There’s more than enough room here for all manner of water toys, crab traps and so on. Another great feature of the forward deck is a set of shallow stairs that lead up to the flybridge. In addition, at two feet wide, the side deck walkways are pretty well twice that of any other similar size yacht we’ve tested.
The dual swim platforms at the transom have a nifty davit system that can handle an inflatable dinghy of more than 800 pounds When not needed, the arms of the davits can be folded up so they don’t extend over the stern.
We were also impressed by the cockpit “bar” area—a cool place to hang out—which has two fixed round stools. A large, smoked glass window in the aft end of the cabin hinges up. The Corian galley backsplash then folds down and becomes an extension to the galley countertop. This arrangement opens the cockpit to the saloon and the aft galley can serve both areas.
The stand-alone steering/instrument console is the central feature of the flybridge. It offers good all-round visibility. An expansive hardtop covers the entire flybridge and is designed so that optional canvas curtains can be stowed out of the way in a channel in the hardtop. There’s tons of seating forward and to either side of the helm station and a large U-shaped settee aft. Under that settee is a suitcase-type life raft, stowed here for easy launching. Behind the bench helm seat is a sink and storage unit that can be configured as an outdoor kitchen with grill and icemaker. The flybridge will be a great place to hang out on those warm summer days, but when the weather turns it might not be so great without being enclosed. However, besides a canvas enclosure, there is an option for a second, inside steering station.
Interior A hinged, three-panel glass door opens into the saloon, which is finished in synthetic teak plank flooring, a combination of solid and laminated cherry cabinetry and off-white upholstery and headliner. The L-shaped aft galley was fitted with a propane cooktop and microwave with drawers for the fridge and freezer. In addition to the double sink, there is a handy top-loading compartment built into the countertop that can be used for dry storage or as an icebox. There’s not a ton of countertop space in the galley itself, but there is extra space above the fridge/freezer units to starboard, plus a linear cabinet that runs along most of the starboard side of the saloon—and hides the pop-up flat screen TV. There’s good overall storage in under-counter cabinets and in a shallow well under the galley sole. All the cabinet/locker doors have ingenious, but simple, plastic catches. Nothing mechanical or expensive, but they are effective. One needs only to reach behind the door and press the catch to open it.
Stairways lead down from either side of the saloon to the guest staterooms. Sliding doors offer complete privacy. Both staterooms are surprisingly roomy with good headroom, queen beds, ample storage, hull windows and lots of cherry woodwork. Each stateroom has its own head, nicely outfitted, with separate shower. The portside stateroom is slightly larger thanks to the raised dinette overhead. The starboard stateroom can alternately be configured for additional storage, a workshop, laundry room or whatever the owner wishes.
Underneath each stateroom staircase is an escape hatch; a square of glass that can be broken in an emergency by a hammer mounted nearby. Of course, capsizing would be almost impossible, but nevertheless, better to have that safety feature.
The only flaw we could find in the two guest staterooms was that portions of the flooring squeaked when walked on.
The full-width master stateroom is in the bow and features a king size island berth and a separate nook, walled off to starboard, that has a desk, armchair and plenty of storage. This would work well as an owner’s office or a vanity/dressing table. The ensuite is to port and is again tastefully outfitted with raised sink and separate, roomy, shower compartment.
Engine and Systems The test boat was fitted with twin 225 horsepower Volvo D4 diesels connected to V-drives and shafts that turn 20-inch, four-blade bronze props. The props are tucked into shallow tunnels, which helps reduce draft and allow for more efficient prop angles. The props are further protected by sacrificial keel sections, sort of like shark fins, just forward of the props.
Access to the engines is through large hatches in the cockpit, though future models for the Pacific Northwest will have secondary access via watertight hatches in the guest stateroom heads. There is a surprising amount of room around the engines and the layout is very clean and simple (which is what you want in a boat designed with chartering in mind). In fact, throughout the yacht, all machinery, valves and switches are easily accessible and clearly labeled to make for easy identification and repair.
Reverse cycle air conditioning/heating is standard, but was not fitted on the test boat because of the high power draw. Instead, more electrically-efficient hydronic or forced air heating will be added according to the buyer’s wishes. This in part reduces the need for a generator, as does the propane stove (instead of electric) and LED lighting throughout. Because of this, the four 200-amp hour house batteries should be adequate at anchor, where the main power draw will be refrigeration.
One unique feature of the 44 is a hatch in the saloon floor that lifts to reveal the house batteries and primary wiring circuits. These are mounted on the raised crosspiece joining the two hulls. Their raised location means that in an emergency, they will stay dry for longer than if they were mounted in the lower machinery spaces.
Underway Thanks to the 21-foot beam of the Aquila 44, the twin engines are far enough apart to provide excellent low-speed manoeuverability so there is no need for thrusters or a joystick. Getting this big, wide yacht out of the extremely tight broker’s docks at Granville Island proved a snap for Cooper Boating’s Colin Jackson, even though there wasn’t much more than a foot or two clearance on either side.
Once out of False Creek, we accelerated nicely to a slow cruise of 6.9 knots (1,500 rpm). At this speed, we were burning just less than 2.5 US gallons per hour. The twin hulls make the 44 slow to turn, which isn’t surprising, and there was minor cavitation in sharp turns. Acceleration, however, was quite good, especially considering there was only 450 horsepower pushing us. The ride, thanks to the wide beam and twin hulls was smooth and comfortable. At about 2,500 rpm, the 44 leveled out on the plane and we could ease the throttle back to 2,000 rpm and remain on the plane. At that speed, we were making 10.3 knots while burning 4.5 gallons per hour, which is better than two miles per gallon—very impressive. At 3,000 rpm our speed was 14.9 knots while burning 15.3 gph (0.97 mpg). Top speed (3,500 rpm) was 19.2 knots and we were still getting a very reasonable 0.8 miles per gallon. Overall, while the performance of the 44 was never meant to be that of a sports car, we could find little fault, especially considering the boat was designed more for fun and space than for speed.
Concluding Remarks As a charter boat for six people, or as a private yacht, the Aquila 44 is not only sweet looking, it is a worthy platform for comfortable long or short term cruising. There’s tons of great party space throughout, yet the accommodation areas allow for complete privacy. The minds behind the Aquila line have a wealth of hands-on catamaran experience and it shows. The 44 is not only simple to operate and economical on fuel, it incorporates simple, well-laid-out mechanical and electrical systems. Others were also impressed. In 2014, the Aquila 44 was honoured with the Editor’s Choice award for best multihull 40 to 49 feet. Price as equipped and tested, for the introductory boat, is $969,000.