You’ve probably seen the new Lagoon 39 at the Boat Show. She’s huge, more or less dwarfing even the biggest, stoutest monohulls that surround her. This is a lot of boat in 39 feet, but 22’ of beam will do that. The boat has been out for about a year, and proudly boasts a “Best Boats” classification from Sail Magazine. After our test sail on a balmy and breezy October Sunday, I must say that I see why awards are in order.
Since the boat has been at two boat shows now, I won’t spend too much time describing her exterior appearance. I will say, however that the boat has a modern and elegant look, especially for a cruising cat. I’m a fan of plumb bows, and the Lagoon 39 has two of them! The most striking thing about her profile, though, is how far aft the mast is placed, and how short it makes the boom look. I wouldn’t say it looks odd, just different, and the rig’s benefits to sailing performance are fantastic, but more on that later. The aft placement of the mast also helps balance the pitching moment, an issue for catamarans in bumpy conditions.
We had to kill a little time before we actually went sailing, and this was a great opportunity to crawl around on this gentle giant. The layout is, frankly, luxurious. Our test boat is the 3-cabin model with an owner’s king size suite in one hull, and two double berths in the other. Even for a private cruiser, I imagine that this will be the most popular layout. Both hulls have a head with shower, each of which would feel enormous on a monohull of the same size. The cockpit and main salon flow together like an
open-air apartment. One of my favorite aspects of the design is the how the elevated helm station still feels very connected to the cockpit seating area. The boat is easily handled by one person at the helm (thanks to an electric winch and self-tacking jib), and we were picturing groups of guests (even 10-12) comfortably mingling and lounging in the cockpit, while the skipper can run the boat and still feel like part of the party. The elevated helm station provides good visibility, which is often a concern with a big cruising cat. From that vantage point, you can clearly see bow and stern on both hulls.
As with most cruising catamarans, the space is hard for a monohull sailor like me to wrap my head around. As we explored the boat, we kept finding storage spaces that I could easily climb into. Including the engine compartments, there
were six storage spaces with room for a person to get in and move around a bit. I found myself wondering how distance cruisers could make use of all the storage space, while keeping the stuff in there organized and accessible.
The living space, as well, is pretty astounding. It’s easy to forget that you’re on a boat under 40’ when you’re standing in that main salon. The design includes oodles of creature comforts in a functional and efficient layout. Front-loading fridge and a real freezer make the galley layout seem not very galley-like. The navigation station is similar in size and functionality to what you’d find on other boats, and would be suitable for offshore navigation equipment. The seat for the nav station pulls out to create a full horseshoe around the main salon table. Again, the feeling of being in a condo or apartment came to mind, and I could envision spending a lot of comfortable time in that salon and its adjoining cockpit, which are on the same level – no stairs necessary. Panoramic windows at eye level make for lots of light and 360° views, though this is really a tenet of most modern cruising catamaran designs. 48°N publisher, Michael Collins, who came along on the test summed it up best, “I can’t think of another boat I’d rather be sitting on, anchored at Sucia, enjoying the views of Mount Baker and the islands, and settling in for a relaxing night.”
Ok, so being at anchor on the boat would be pretty great. But, how does the Lagoon 39 sail? The reports from other reviewers have been that this is a cat that actually goes to weather. Indeed, a knock on many hugely successful catamaran designs is that you don’t want to sail them much above a beam reach. But, the Lagoon 39 was basically fun to sail on all points of sail. To be sure, it takes some getting used to not to have the “feel” in the helm you’d get with a monohull, which is mainly because the boat doesn’t heel. I did feel a little weather helm in one 15+ knot puff on a close reach. The rig placement, which I was worried was too much of a throwback to the designs of the 80s era, with tiny mains and all the power coming from gigantic genoas, produced very nice sailing manners. The fully battened flat-top main is very high aspect, and feels like it’s got the right amount of juice. The mainsheet and traveler are well within reach, and can be trimmed to a winch right next to the helm station. Like all flat-top mains, this main wanted quite a bit of twist to keep your telltales streaming. We tested it, and yes, you actually can tack this big cat bare-headed (an impossibility on many older cruising cat designs). Coming out of a tack, with or without a headsail, the boat took a second to load back up and give you confident steerage. But to me, this is a catamaran thing, not a Lagoon 39 thing. It should be noted that unlike many of its predecessors, the boom of the Lagoon 39 is parallel to the deck, not sloping upward as it goes aft, which makes trimming more confidence inspiring, reefing less tenuous, and it just looks good, too.
The boat comes with a pair of furling headsails, a self-tacking working jib and a big code zero. The code zero sails more like a big genoa than an a true A-sail, with an essentially rigid luff and the resulting ability to go to weather. The big code was the right sail for our conditions, 7-15 shifty knots on Lake Union. However, the code zero is not a Lake Union sail, as it must be furled for every tack and jibe, which on the lake was at least every five minutes. I mentioned earlier that the Lagoon 39 was easily single-handed, which is certainly true with the self-tacking jib. Single-handing would be much more challenging when using the code zero, which sheets to winches well out of reach from the helm, and must be furled for maneuvers. The winches for sheeting the code zero, though, were kind of perfect. We all agreed that their height and position allowed us to assume a stable, powerful, and comfortable stance for hand pulling or grinding in that big sail.
The boat moved along decently, but did feel pretty underpowered with the working jib in those conditions. The self-tacking jib does, however, make the sailing DEAD EASY. Getting the leech profile of the jib to trim correctly was a little tricky, but a lack of tweakability is a design compromise for the ease of the self-tacking system, and it trimmed up pretty nicely. The combo of the furling self-tacking jib and the mainsail on ball-bearing cars raised from its canvas basket with an electric winch means you can go from zero to sailing in an effortless minute.
Going to weather, the boat could bump up to apparent wind angles of almost 30°, but felt happier and more sustainably loaded-up a few degrees off the wind from that maximum point mode. So yes, I’ll agree that the boat does what it set out to do: improve upwind sailing performance over its predecessors. It’s worth noting that it’s still not really what the boat is designed for – the boat felt alive when we reached off in a puff, and I can be sure that a true asymmetrical kite projecting off the weather bow would make this boat absolutely pound out the miles broad reaching in a blow.
So, the Lagoon 39 really, actually, enjoyably sails. But most people look at this boat and think, Bahamas or BVIs, but not for the Northwest. I say, at least for the Lagoon 39, we can let go of that notion. This boat would be a riot as a PNW cruiser, or even a boat to take out and do some of the distance races in style. The boat performed admirably with the code zero in light-ish conditions, it goes to weather better than you’d think, and the weather protection is second to none. With all of that freeboard, you’ll be way high and way dry, even in big chop. The cockpit area is protected from the rain by the massive coachroof. And our test boat had complete cockpit enclosures, including coverage for the elevated helm station. With that set-up, you could be out in the nastiest PNW winter weather, and everybody could be warm and dry. And, unlike some of the full-enclosure monohulls I’ve been on, you don’t feel hunkered down or claustrophobic.
As any good PNW sailor will tell you, there are those August days when there’s not a breath of breeze. On those days, the boat’s twin diesels will cruise at 8 knots sipping 1.5 gallons an hour between the two of them. Plus, for a boat this big, the twin screws means she’s very maneuverable, with the ability to spin 180° within her own length. Not bad.
Spacious, sailable comfort is the name of the game with the Lagoon 39. This is not a Carribbean-specific, trades-only boat, folks. Try it…you might like it. I know I did.