EXCLUSIVE WEB TEST - Broadblue 385
ALLAN WHITING checked out the latest offering from the Broadblue range of UK-built catamarans. The boat offers some unique features…
Francis and Roland Prout were top UK canoeists and competed in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. They were also skilled sailors and boatbuilders and worked in the family boatbuilding business.
After sailing an experimental boat that consisted of two canoes lashed together they went on to develop and produce commercial catamarans. The achievements of Prout Catamarans were outstanding for more than 40 years, with some of their models becoming legendary for their seaworthiness, structural reliability, ease of handling and comfortable design. Over 4000 boats were built and designs ranged in size from 26 to 70 feet.
MORE COMEBACKS THAN DAME NELLIE MELBA
In July 2000, after the company had struggled with declining sales and resulting substantial operating losses, Prout Catamarans was bought by Quest, a subsidiary of the Canadian Winfair Group.
A little more than a year later, Prout went into receivership. Production of the larger boats was moved to Thailand, leaving a reborn Prout UK with two models ? the 38 and the 46 — and new models planned. This strategy didn’t work and in early 2002 Prout declared bankruptcy once more.
There was some messy activity at this time, involving a UK High Court order over some Prout assets. A former Prout general manager hired a facility and some ex-Prout workers to help owners of part-finished boats to complete them.
In mid-2002, what was left of the Prout business was bought by Broadblue, a furniture company that also runs a shipbuilding school, located not far from the Prout plant. The new company, Broadblue Catamarans Ltd,
hired several key staff from Prout.
Broadblue Catamarans bobbed along until mid-2008, building rebadged and refitted Prout designs and some newer styles. In July 2008, Broadblue struck a deal with Hillyards, the long established UK South Coast boatbuilder and yacht repair business, to take over not just the build of the highly regarded Broadblue 415 Catamaran but also the production, sales and marketing of the remainder of the Broadblue range, including the popular Broadblue 385 and the flagship Broadblue 500. (At the same time, Hillyards also stepped to rescue Sadler Yachts by securing a deal to purchase the moulds of the Sadler 290 and Sadler 340.)
However, in another Dame Nellie Melba-esque manoeuvre, Broadblue Catamarans went into liquidation in January 2009. This surely was the end.
Not so. In February, Mark Elliot, the founder of Broadblue, who had sold his original shareholding in 2006, and Mark Jarvis of leading catamaran broker, Multihull World, teamed up to throw the Broadblue brand a lifeline.
"To be blunt, we both believe so strongly in Broadblue and its products we had no choice but to put it straight," said Mark Elliot.
"I know precisely what this brand is capable of becoming and Mark Jarvis knows precisely what the marketplace demands.
"We are going to rebuild Broadblue and it will, without question, be better than before," Elliot said.
Together, Elliot and Jarvis have acquired the moulds for the Broadblue 385 and 415, as well as the Broadblue name and trademark and the intellectual property that goes with them.
"We will get this excellent range of products brought back to the market with the utmost speed," stated a confident Mark Jarvis.
"What’s more; to give the brand momentum again we will be offering arguably the best catamarans on the market at extraordinary prices for the first three new orders, so form an orderly queue!" said Elliot.
THE BROADBLUE 385
The Broadblue 385 had a solid feel to it from the moment we stepped aboard at the Mooloolaba Marina. It’s built in compliance with the European Directive for Category A Ocean Going boats and employs monolithic FRP below the waterline and FRP-balsa sandwich everywhere else, with foam-cored bulkheads.
The keels are integrally moulded with the hulls but are separated, forming a double bottom to the boat. Each hull is fitted with a Volvo 20hp saildrive engine, fuel tank and fire extinguishing system. There are twin 80amp/h start batteries and twin 100amp/h house batteries.
The steering system is ‘big boat’ hydraulic, rather than cable and sector.
The Broadblue 385 is a serious piece of ocean-going kit, so you don’t get sooky mesh sunbaking nets up front. Instead, there’s a solid bridge deck with vast storage caverns and twin bins in the for’ard ends of the hulls.
The test boat was fitted with what the makers call the ‘aft rig’, that sees the mast stepped at the leading edge of the cockpit and fitted with a small mainsail on a very short boom. The resulting massive fore triangle was filled with two furling headsails — one the size of most asymmetric spinnakers. (The optional ‘sport rig’ has a conventional fully battened mainsail — twice the size of the cruising boat’s — on a deck-stepped mast.)
The standing rigging on the test boat was unbelievable: the expected aft-swept cap shrouds and diamonds, and triangulated spreaders, but with the addition of half-height fixed runners and paired backstays, combined with what were effectively twin forestays. No wonder the Prout/Broadblue heritage is legendary blue water durability.
THE VIEW AHEAD
The cockpit is designed for passage making, with priority given to a comfortable steering station that has excellent visibility. There’s no hardtop, just a lattice of stainless steel tubing with fabric covering and pop-in clear windscreens. US market Broadblues have optional hardtops, so you could get one if you really wanted it.
The saloon door is sliding glass with a grated, drained well at the threshold.
The large saloon featured a horseshoe-shaped dinette, with galley and chart table. Most notable was the quality and strength of the oak woodwork — no flimsy plywood veneers here. The test boat was set up as an owner’s vessel, but there was still double sleeping for four and a single. Other options are 4+2 and 6+1.
We powered through the river mouth at Mooloolaba and headed for the ocean. There we sat for a while, checking out the boat while we waited for the sea breeze to fill in.
The aft-set mast meant that all sail control lines fell, literally, to hand in the cockpit. Owners of previous Prouts criticised the reefing system but the latest one is the easiest we’ve ever used. Large blocks replace reef tacks, so the process is a one-line pull from the cockpit.
The mainsheet system is also clever, with triangulated falls of the sheet, so the boom doesn’t slat about in a seaway.
The Broadlblue 385 ghosted along happily around five to six knots in a 10-knot breeze and pointed surprisingly well with its massive headsail sheeted in hard. Tacking by backing the headie was easy, thanks to the large fore triangle.
We ran for home, using the two headsails wing-a-wing and found the boat self-steered happily, once we dropped the main. Hydraulic steering gave the optional autopilot little work.
I was very impressed with the Broadblue 385. It may not have the Euro-chic styling that’s popular at the moment but it’s solidly made and just shrieks: "Take me around the world". One of these days…
Quality fit and finish
Optional mast and rig positions
Shaded saloon and cockpit
Excellent light entry and ventilation
Quiet progress under power
Ease of sail handling
Old-fashioned exterior styling
No trampoline foredeck
PRICE AS TESTED
OPTIONS FITTED: Aft rig with twin headsails
Material: FRP foam sandwich hulls and deck. Monolithic FRP below waterlines
Length overall: 11.78m
Berths: 4 cabins and up to 2 midship berths
Fuel: 2 x 235lt
Holding tank: 2 x 70lt
Mainsail: 28.19m2 (optional fully-battened 59.82m2)
Headsail: 49.56m2 furling (sport rig 30.39m2)
Screacher: 68m2 furling
Make/model: 2 x Volvo DI-20
Type: Diesel four-stroke
Rated HP: 20
Mooloolaba Yacht Brokers,
33-45 Parkyn Parade,
Mooloolaba, Qld, 4557
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