St Francis 50
The St Francis 50 was designed by legendary South African boat builder Duncan Lethbridge (now sadly no longer with us). This is one of those classic catamaran designs that has steadily evolved over the years. The newest version, the Mk II, is one of the best long distance cruisers around. Other notable South African designs include the Voyage 480, the Kinetic 62 and the Knysna 500.
The new model is built with resin- infused molding, Corecell foam core and the plenty of carbon fiber in high-stress areas. This classic is now both lighter and stiffer. The best got better as they claim on their marketing material, and it is a believable claim.
The whole concept has been designed to provide a comfortable platform on the water in a safe businesslike package that is no slouch through the waves, something that the South Africans seem to excel at, with the likes of Balance (higher up the price range) and Leopard (more in the production boat category). And the quality of the finish is a step above production boats like the Nautitech 47 and the Lagoons.
Photos credit: Stfranciscatamarans.com
St Francis Catamarans only produce a handful of boats every year, and because of the smaller production numbers, the quality of these boats is from the top drawer. Especially when you compare them to the higher volume manufacturers like Fountaine Pajot catamarans, Leopard and Lagoon.
- The Protected Helm
- Seaworthy: built for distance cruising.
- Build Quality
- A proven design that has evolved gradually
- Storage Space
- She’s quick for a cruising cat with that powerful sail plan, but safe.
- Safety is ingrained into the design (there are handholds everywhere)
- Those cool paddle board lockers aft.
- Lack of forward facing ventilation in the saloon
- There is no self tacking jib. You might be able to customise this set up, but the sail plan has been designed for a larger genoa with more traditional jib sheets run through tracks on the coachroof. Having said that, all the lines lead back to the helm, she’s well set up for short handed sailing, and you will have more control over your sail shape in different conditions.
This boat comes with a very functional cockpit in the starboard bulkhead position and it has been designed for maximum protection from the elements with a hard dodger over the raised helm. Visibility is good and you can flip the glass hatch forward open for ventiliation on fine days. Or if it’s chucking down, drop the clear enclosures down and flick on the windscreen wiper! All the controls are here and lines are fed back to the helm.
This connects to a spacious aft deck that lead onto wide side decks and onto the foredeck from which you can access the coachroof easily via molded steps from the foredeck. There are handrails everywhere for safety: top marks on that score.
Heading inside, you have a U-shaped galley to port and plenty of storage. A big sliding window connects to the cockpit aft and a cosy nav station on the port side across from the dining table with its wraparound sofa to starboard. The forward facing ventilation in the saloon is limited, we would have like to see more options in that area.
This is a fantastic boat for entertaining. The hulls hold four comfortable berths with plenty of space left over for the heads and showers which are well above average in size.
Engine access is under the aft berths which is unusual. This means it is very easy to get to the the engines for maintenance (the berths just swing up) and this configuration is much safer than accessing via the transoms (plus the weight is moved forward). The downside is potential noise and heat in the aft cabins under way. That said, on a cat, you can alternate engines to minimise noise in the sleeping hull, and hopefully you’ll be sailing anyway as this boat gets going quickly in lighter air.
The cabins are comfortable and light and what really sets the St Francis apart from the competition is the amount of storage space. It’s everywhere. The guest cabin forward (port) is athwartships.
Instead of davits, the St Francis 50 comes with a boom crane: an extendable beam to get your tender up with (or to lift anything else for that matter). It’s a neat solution.
What the St Francis does really well is storage. If you want to stow toys away like SUPS and dive gear, there’ll be a locker for your gear. The finish throughout the boat is very high quality compared to some of the production boats you will see out there. That’s what you get with a St Francis: it’s a semi-custom build. I love the way you can easily access the forepeaks from the forward cabins (even more storage or an extra berth?)
Sailing & Motoring
It might look like a solid cruising cat, but this boat moves. In lighter air, you will be approaching true wind speeds thanks to those shaped hulls. She has a powerful sail plan for a relatively light 50′ boat (12.5 tonnes).
And under power, she will slice through the water at up to 9 knots at full steam ahead. Alternate the engines and you will still move at 6 to 7 knots using half the fuel.
How much is a St Francis 50 Catamaran?
Well, you wouldn’t call them budget boats, but you get a lot for your money- these are high quality semi-custom boats after all. It will depend on the options you for, but a figure of around €1.1 million puts you in the ballpark for a new boat. If you can find one on the second hand market, you’ll discover that they hold their price well. Expect to pay €750k and up for a decent example.