The Balance 526 is a great looking boat, a catamaran that seems to have been sculpted by the wind. This South African blue water boat packs some serious performance while keeping the comfort levels up, and she has some interesting innovations like the Versa Helm- a dual position helm station for all weathers.
Daggerboards or Fixed Keels
You can opt for either fixed keels or daggerboards (interesting in itself) and she is easy to sail short-handed despite a powerful sail plan.
Swing the helm up for a birds eye view in the sun, or swing it down and you are well protected under the bimini. They call it the Versa Helm – it’s probably this boat’s biggest USP.
This epoxy carbon reinforced racing cat is a beauty and very comfortable. You will need deep pockets to buy a new one though.
The driving force for the Balance 526 came from the desire to design and build the finest performance voyaging catamaran for a couple or small family.
Multihull racer, author and designer Phillip Berman, naval architect Anton Du Toit, and reknowned catamaran builder Jonathan Paarman teamed up to develop this multihull which will take you to places in speed and comfort while retaining the ability to carry significant weight (translation: lots of toys).
You can also read our Balance 526 Owner’s Review from Tiffany and Frank on ‘Little Bird’.
- A great balance between performance and comfort. The 526 aims high in both of these departments and delivers. She really does live up to that brand name.
- She is able to soak up some weight, so you will get performance with all the creature comforts and toys that you need.
- That Versahelm gives you the best of both worlds. Pop out of the coachroof when the sun is out, or head down into the aft cockpit when the weather turns for the worse.
- Very high quality finish that is streets ahead of most production cats.
- The 526 is a semi-custom boat so you can tailor it to your needs.
- The visibility from both helm positions is good and obviously something that the designers worked hard on.
- That huge shower and head in the Owner´s suite – that’s a real wow factor isn’t it?
- I also like the orientation of the Owner´s berth: athwartships forward with good ventilation.
- The Balance 526 is not a cheap boat. Sure, with production in South Africa you get good value for money for the spec, but this is a high end catamaran.
- Those steps up from the hulls to the salon are pretty steep. You have to watch your footing in a seaway.
- With slender hulls for speed, you lose space down below. That´s the compromise, of course, but it really comes into play in the guest hull, especially if you have gone for the daggerboard option. With fixed keels, you have more space in the hulls. The owner´s hull is very comfortable however and up top, the living space is extensive.
Other than this brand, we can only think of the Slyder 49 when it comes to achieving that balance between performance and comfort. But nobody pulls it off quite like Balance.
The design team of the Balance 526 has a lifetime of experience sailing, racing, cruising and building long distance blue water catamarans. Phillip Berman alone has sold over 500 catamarans through The Multihull Company. In short, these guys know their stuff.
The ride on the 526 is known to be smooth with little fore and aft pitching, and that’s because the designers worked hard to center any heavy weights on her carefully, leaving her bows and sterns light.
A Powerful Sail Plan
She sails at high speeds with ease: this is a boat that has been designed to clock off the nautical miles. Her rig, reefing systems and sheet handling are as simple as a charter cat- she´s a forgiving boat to sail despite her powerful sail-plan, her top speed, and the way in which she pulls the apparent wind forward.
Flexible Helm Position
The self-tacking jib is efficient and all of the sail handling can be done at the helm: lines come back to a winch station just to the starboard side of her Versahelm in the “up position.” Or you can opt for lines to run into the aft cockpit- it´s customisable.
Another standout feature is the visibility. Someone has been doing some serious sight-line checking on this boat- even when sailing on autopilot, with the remote control in hand, the visibility is superb. Whether you are down below, up top, sitting in the saloon, or in the aft cockpit, the visibility is top notch.
And the finish of the interiors is high quality. She doesn´t quite hit the quality of something like the OC60 catamaran from Ocean Explorer, but that´s not a fair comparison. Value for money for the quality level you get, the Balance wins.
This is the area where the Balance 526 scores top marks. One of the philosophies behind balance was to achieve the optimum mix of performance and comfort. They have aimed high in both departments. One key objective for the designers and builders was to keep the weight of this yacht down to under 10 tons light-ship- this gives owners plenty of margin for extras and toys.
Low Weight, High Quality
The hull and deck is a sandwich of Corecell foam skinned with E-glass and epoxy resin, and carbon fiber is used to beef up the high-load areas. The weight police have been all over the boat: interior bulkheads and furniture are built in composite to minimise the weight .
The build quality is high and the overall philosophy is to keep things simple, just in case something breaks in the middle of nowhere (as it will on a boat).
Sailing in the Teens
The Balance 526 likes to sail in the double digits in a decent breeze. She should approach true wind speed, sailed well with the right sails up, and she gets going quickly in light winds. On a long passage, you´ll hit 20 knots and over.
Once you have 16 knots of wind or more, this boat really takes off and will average 12 to 15, and more down the waves. Upwind she will point from 31 to 34 degrees apparent, comparable to the the best monohulls. And all this while able to carry a significant payload.
Designed for Short-Handed Sailing
The Balance 526 has been designed to be comfortably sailed by a couple, or even solo. She has two headsails on furlers, one being the self-tacking jib, and all the lines run back into the cockpit, so you can sail totally protected in bad weather (Versahelm down).
But the 526 is a semi-custom boat. Some owners handle their lines in the upper helm position alone, some have line handling, like the mainsheet for example, in the aft cockpit. Everything is very tidy with all the line ends tucked away in a big storage box .
The standard boat comes with an aluminum mast made by Southern Spars, but there is an option for a carbon spar, also
by Southern Spars. The same goes for the fore-beam and longeron.
Polars for Fixed Keels and Daggerboards. In the Daggerboard version, the polars map the speed achieved with the boards fully down. In reality, the speed will increase further off the wind as the boards are raised.
The 526 comes with dual Yanmar 45s but everyone upgrades to the 57s as there is no weight penalty. They’ll shift you along at 10 knots when you are going full pelt. Motor her on one engine at a decent RPM (2300) and you’ll see 7-8 knots. She’s got a good range at this speed.
Both engines are housed in their own aft compartments, away from the living spaces with thick sound insulation, so she is very quiet under power.
The furniture in the 536 is all custom made foam sandwich, which is strong and keeps the weight down. You choose the style you like.
The Best Shower on the Market?
The owner´s hull shower and head (aft) is huge: something that was developed at Berman’s insistance.
The master suite has a queen-sized bed athwartships forward. This has allowed the designers to keep the hulls sleek for maximum speed through the water while keeping the comfort levels up.
In the guest hull, there’s a double in the aft cabin that runs fore and aft in the aft cabin. On the port side, the head and shower rooms are separate which makes it more comfortable when both cabins for and aft are occupied.
In the salon, there´s a cosy nav/office station with good views around and a U-shaped galley. A big sofa wraps around convertible tables, and the window aft is a slider to connect the salon with the aft cockpit. The whole area is well thought out for long distance live-aboard cruising, whatever the weather, highly finished and very comfortable.
Which Balance 526 Catamarans Have Been Launched?
526-05 Kai Pai
526-09 Blue Diamond (Nov 20)
526-10 NuWay (May 21)
526-11 Wahoo (Mar 22) Balance 526 Mark II
526-12 Little Bird
Balance 526 Brochure
Click for the
Balance 526 brochure.
Once you have experienced this boat, you will appreciate that the designers Berman and Du Toit have tapped into thousands of hours of sailing experience to produce this catamaran. She’s a real beauty.
How much is a Balance 526?
Well, that depends on the options you go for of course, but prices start at $1,440,000 FOB from the South African Factory. A fully cruise equipped model is approximately $1,650,000 FOB from the South African Factory.
Which is the better catamaran? The 526 with daggerboard or the 626 with fixed keels?
You will achieve faster speeds to windward with less leeway with the daggerboard version, so if that if performance is a top priority, then that answers your question. But the difference is less than you might think – the fixed keel 526 is still a very fast boat and comes with some advantages – less complex to sail, less to go wrong, more room in the hulls amidships and so on. The main advantage with the daggerboards is in lighter winds.
The competition is hotting up in the 50ft performance catamaran segment. You’ll also probably want to check out our Seawind 1600 review and take a look at the HH50. The Balance is a tough boat to beat however.