Written by Phillipe Echelle
Photography by Philippe Echelle and Yves Ronzier
26 August 2019
Bali has made a big impression with its range of refreshingly different, spacious, well-constructed and fast catamarans, and now, two years after its successful launch and with 140 boats sold, the Bali 4.0 has transformed into the 4.1 version.
Engaging and innovative, the 4.1 retains talking point features such as the ingenious swing/garage door that opens up the whole rear saloon, and the front opening window to the foredeck – and adds several more for good measure.
The build quality continues to impress, but it’s the distribution of the boat’s serious exterior and interior space that really improves the quality of life on board.
We took advantage of the launch of the first model to rediscover this very resourceful multihull.
Viewed from ahead, the 4.1’s profile is purposeful, with attractive lines. The upper edge of the sloping windshield juts out like a protective ‘eyelid’, and creates a signature look to the Bali 4.1’s coach roof.
The styling of the aft end the boat and the cubic form of the deck saloon tend more to the functional side, but fit within the overall design aesthetic.
At the waterline, the fine-entry bows are overhung with a nice deflecting step which creates volume and attenuates the generous freeboard. The topsides are skilfully underlined by a ridge below the deck edge, and a longitudinal recess integrates the portholes and characterises the style.
The top of the bow is subtly broken by a short inverted edge. The grand accomplishment here lies in the deft design of the ski-shape, forward, and the tunnel effect that this generates.
Experience has shown any concerns initially raised over this bold option of a solid foredeck to be invalid. A recent Transat from Cape Verde to the Caribbean by a Bali 4.5 at an average of 8.96 knots over 2,475 nautical miles confirms the dynamic qualities of the concept. Our test 4.1 had just completed a trip around Spain, from La Rochelle to Canet en Roussillon, in 13 days.
Adding to the ease of the trip, the boat’s ergonomics are also good, the semi-flybridge helm station is comfortable, with an elegant steering wheel, while the change of engines (Volvo instead of Nanni) has allowed for the very exposed ignition key location to be done away with.
The factory at Marans, on France’s Atlantic coast, is a modern industrial site built to house the Harmony brand’s automated assembly line. There is a composite preparation room in which the organisation of work is exemplary.
Every element (foam or glass cloth) is coded; the installation is carried out calmly and in careful order, with a notable sparsity of noises and smells: essential conditions for successful production.
The moulds are made in-house, by an impressive five-axis CNC milling machine. During our visit to the yard in 2016, we were able to observe every stage of construction from lay-up of the hull, to the installation of technical equipment.
Once the composite phase is infused, the outer half-hulls are brought together and carefully laminated. The skegs are then grafted onto a protrusion from the hulls – this technique creates a fuse effect in the event of a major shock load, avoiding structural damage and water ingress.
Balis are complex boats to build even if they do benefit from the significant contribution of digital modelling. The two main bulkheads are produced in sandwich moulds and placed forward and aft of a central frame attached to the bottom of the hull – this supports mast compression.
This ‘box’ is integrated with the bulkheads, forming a very robust structural H-shape. The forward ski-shaped section benefits from reinforced composite samplings stiffened by a network of resin-impregnated plywood bulkheads and generously glued by filleted joints.
Assembly precision, density of reinforcements and the care taken in all the joins, guarantees solidity. An anti-osmosis polyester resin is used for the underwater hull.
With the 4.0, we discovered amazing volumes and an innovative layout with a large opening front window; a Plexiglas panel sliding vertically with three stop positions.
Its efficiency, combined with that of the swinging rear bulkhead, allows for unimpeded airflow throughout the length of the saloon deck. This setup can offer separate zones for relaxing, or one flowing massive socialising and entertaining space.
The dining area is a wide L-shape around a large table for eight guests, making it completely different from that of its predecessor. The installation of a multi-purpose bar unit really optimises the use of the galley.
In good weather, the aft bulkhead can be retracted, making the 4.1 feel like a bigger boat while it remains compact and easy to use.
The forward cockpit becomes a furnished terrace capable of welcoming many guests.
The side-decks and their access steps are safe and pleasant. On the port side, an independent staircase allows access to the sun-lounger on the bimini without getting in the way of sail handling or helming. The new aft seat is superb and comfortable thanks to its smart design and elegant, quality upholstery: the three built-in lockers offer an XXL-sized storage space which is suitable for fenders, mooring warps, outboard engines and diving equipment.
The creative modularity of the Bali 4.1 allows you to adapt to all the external conditions, (cold or excessively heat, or spray coming over). The interior design, by Samer Lasta, and the build quality of internal components such as the Catana cabinetry, show a very high standard.
The spacious owner’s cabin in the port hull is beautifully finished in contemporary materials with the same level of attention to detail in the finishes. The two double cabins to starboard, separated by the shower/toilet, are large and private, and only the traffic between the central corridor and the aft cabin is a little cramped when in use.
The battery bank is housed in the centre of the boat, beneath the saloon floor, and there is easy access to the main circuit breakers.
Access all areas
The current trend is to move all the machinery aft, but some engines can quickly become insufficient on these sizes of boats.
On the Bali 4.1, it is exceptional: the compactness of the 40hp Volvo engines does the rest, and it is possible to go around the whole motor and really work without contorting yourself. The boat exhibited at the 2019 Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show in May has Yanmar engines.
With all engines, accessibility is the first step towards smooth operation, optimised maintenance and easy visual checks, and therefore reliability – the Bali ticks all these boxes, and more.
A large shelf makes it possible to secure optional accessories or stow consumables. Access to the rudder linkage bar, to the turning blocks and to the autopilot is excellent, with these vital parts also benefitting from simple but regular maintenance.
Engineered to succeed
It is cold in February on the waters off La Rochelle on France’s Atlantic coast. There was even snow falling the day before our test, but paradoxically, these tough conditions make it possible to get a better understanding of the 4.1’s versatile qualities.
The two days spent on board highlighted the adaptability of the ‘Maxi-Lounge’ concept: the modularity of the spaces, openness to the outside, through-light and panoramic vision clearly target summer use, yet these characteristics combined with the insulating qualities of the sandwich construction also lend the boat to less conventional all-season use.
The shots taken outside confirm the Bali 4.1’s good turn of speed: in 12 knots of wind at 100 degrees, (under Elvström main and solent), this catamaran shows its agility.
Under asymmetric spinnaker, it slid along untroubled at between nine and 10 knots in 15 knots of true wind, hitting 10.2 knots in the puffs. There was no spray despite our tacking upwind a dozen times to get ourselves back to the Île d’Aix.
At the helm, the direct feel of the cable transmission was reassuring, and the nice composite steering wheel pleasant to use, whether sitting or standing. The semi-flybridge layout does away with the uncomfortable sensation of being excessively elevated and the boat’s balance amplifies this favourable feeling.
The quality of the deck hardware (Antal-Rutgerson) allows fluid and easy sail manoeuvres. Particularly good is the large Rutgerson traveller car, one of the best in its class and fundamental on a catamaran.
En route under spinnaker, we tried opening the aft bulkhead: the kinematics achieved with two small gas struts assist the final closing. The operating accuracy is remarkable, without any sticking points. This clever swing door arrangement, combined with the design of the ‘small aft-house’, the lateral openings (seen only on a few rare models: TAG 60, MC52) characterise the Bali 4.1 and allow users, owners or charterers to enjoy the benefits.
Back on the dock, we tried launching and retrieval of the dinghy. Hats off to the design team, who clearly know how to combine simplicity and efficiency. Coupled with the electric winch at the helm station, this process is absolutely remarkable.
A restyled evolution has allowed the 4.1 to express its full potential. The build quality is excellent, and the renewed design amplifies the seductive atmosphere. The Bali 4.1 is responsive, enjoyable to sail, simple to handle, and the innovations seen on board are both relevant and very well implemented.
It should attract as many admirers in Australia as it did wherever we tied up in France.