Fountaine Pajot’s new Aura marks new era
Debuting at this year’s Cannes Yachting Festival, Fountaine Pajot’s Aura 51 heads a new generation of eco-friendly models from the La Rochelle builder. However, it’s also notable for its performance, integrated cockpit and saloon, relaxing outdoor areas and remarkable accommodation options. By Emmanuel Van Deth.
The Aura 51 marks a new eco-friendly focus for Fountaine Pajot
The heart of the cruising catamaran market, hovering in recent years at the 45ft mark, now seems to be increasing a little in size. The 50ft sector, which can be sailed without the help of a crew, is becoming fiercely contested, as shown by the almost simultaneous launches earlier this year of Fountaine Pajot’s Aura 51 and the Lagoon 51.
In La Rochelle, we had the chance to discover hull one of the Aura 51, another design for Fountaine Pajot by Berret-Racoupeau, which succeeded Joubert/Nivelt about a decade ago, designing the Helia 44 launched in 2012.
Although relatively heavy, the Aura 51 performs well under sail in all conditions
The brand’s current generation, with its inverted bows, was led by the Saona 47 in 2017 and quickly bolstered by the Astrea 42 and Alegria 67 in 2018, the Elba 45 in 2019 and the Samana 59 in 2020, while last year the Tanna 47 was announced and the Isla 40 made her debut at the Cannes Yachting Festival.
The new Aura 51, set to premiere at the Cannes Yachting Festival this September, picks up on all the same codes and is very successful because of that.
The control position is split on most Fountaine Pajot catamarans
The superstructures are lighter due to the pronounced deck camber, the coachroof with a cap that barely protrudes in front of the mast foot and the bimini, which is refined and covers practically the entire cockpit. The only notable evolution of this latest generation is the slope of the bows, now reversed.
MANAGEABLE BY A COUPLE
The 50-55ft range is where a cruising multihull not specifically designed with ‘short-handed’ sailing in mind can demand a professional crew. The Aura 51 retains the dual forward manoeuvring station and aft helm station used on all the manufacturer’s models from 42ft and above.
Manoeuvring station in front, helm station behind
From here, the helmsman remains in contact with those in the aft cockpit, even galley, as well as the flybridge. A flybridge means a raised boom. Here, the gooseneck remains anchored relatively low, but the cut of the mainsail raises the boom significantly at the clew end.
The cars for the sheets of the overlapping genoa sit on tracks set well inboard – the port sheet passes under a false deck to reach the manoeuvring station.
There are three winches and two banks of clutches. Halyards, sheets, traveller lines: everything can be adjusted from this station except the port gennaker (or spinnaker) sheet, which requires a dedicated winch on the deck, near the return block.
The flybridge has a C-shaped sofa and a double sunpad forward
The entire coachroof and flybridge are bordered by an impressive area of solar panels – up to 2,000W – which have been specially cut to cover the space. Otherwise, the flybridge is a great lounging area, offering a wide C-shaped bench seat and forward sunbathing area.
The foredeck also offers a large C-shaped seating and lounging area, plus two large trampolines. The chain locker is cleverly topped by a wooden cover, which serves as a small table. There are plenty of lockers forward of the mast, but their use is hampered by the upholstery.
The foredeck features lots of seating and a wooden table that covers the windlass storage
The two forepeaks offer very large volume and can be fitted out as crew berths. As for the side decks, they’re wide and perfectly clear.
The aft cockpit is particularly welcoming with a large table capable of seating 10 guests and surrounded by an L shaped sofa and a bench seat, while there’s also a day bed to starboard and a wide aft sofa with a gas grill to starboard, plus a compartment for the liferaft. The two sugarscoops link with a central hydraulic platform that can carry up to 200kg.
THAT FEELING OF GLIDING
The model we tested was equipped with the optional 75hp motors. These larger engines make manoeuvring even easier. It’s very straightforward to make a U-turn on the spot and to hold yourself alongside the dock or a pontoon with the help of a spring or bow/stern line.
Berret-Racoupeau handled the design
On clearing the harbour, we were picked up by an ideal 11-16 knot northwest wind. The Aura 51 immediately demonstrated her excellent capabilities under full mainsail and genoa, settling at a speed of 8-9 knots with the wind on the beam.
The Incidences D4 sail wardrobe – not included in the manufacturer’s options – and the folding propellers provided a welcome turbo effect. During a more pronounced gust, the GPS even indicated 10 knots. The sail plan adapts easily to sailing close to the wind, especially the overlapping genoa with its sheeting point set well inboard.
The Aura 51 performed well in good winds
At speeds below 5-6 knots, the relatively short skeg keels won’t eliminate all the leeway, but above a Force 3, you’re able to make a course a little sharper than 50° without stalling. Under gennaker, the Aura 51 was able to maintain an average speed of over 10 knots. These performances are excellent considering the displacement and the level of comfort observed.
Comparing the specifications of the Aura 51 and the former Saba 50, the displacement has increased 15 per cent from 15.7 tonnes to 18.1 tonnes, while the sail area has increased 9 per cent to 154sqm (1,658sqft). Despite the Saba’s higher sail-to-weight ratio, the Aura is certainly faster than her predecessor.
The aft platform can support a 200kg tender, while at anchor it serves as a beach club
The smoothness of the helm and the good view over the water and the rig obviously contribute to the sailing pleasure. You don’t feel any spectacular acceleration but rather an impression of power and serenity that invites you to continue heading offshore.
WIDE OPEN INTERIOR
In addition to the numerous solar panels that surround the flybridge, the main innovation to be found aboard the Aura 51 is the extra-wide opening between the cockpit and saloon that creates one large covered social zone.
The expansive saloon opening is among the Aura 51’s main innovations
The bay windows comprise three large panels that retract next to the helm station, offering a potential opening of 7ft 6in across.
On the port side, the galley unit extends outward and supports an additional window. Due to the central island design, the chef doesn’t get in anyone’s way and can work almost outside. This ‘inside/outside’ configuration works superbly. To top that, the galley is particularly well-equipped with storage space, while additional refrigeration can be ordered.
The saloon has good height and is well lit by large windows and skylights
The saloon is suitable for taller sailors, with over 7ft of headroom near the entrance, and is very bright due to big windows on three sides and large skylights. The finishing everywhere is neat, without playing the bling card. The saloon extends on the starboard side and features an L-shaped bench seat facing an angled corner sofa forward.
Our test model had a coffee table, but in the absence of a ‘proper’ chart table, the multi-function, electrically-operated high table option – including an extra bed – would seem more judicious, if only to provide a desk when needed.
The saloon has an L-shaped sofa and another corner couch
The watchkeeping and navigation aspects have been catered for by the shipyard using the central lounger, which offers a view of the sail plan as well as power outlets for plugging in a tablet.
CABIN OPTIONS GALORE
Down below, the accommodation options are truly impressive and can include a six-cabin version for 12 guests, comprising three doubles with en-suite bathrooms on each side.
The aft cabins, including the master suites in the Maestro versions, can access the cockpit via a hatch
Layout options also include three owner versions. The Aura 51 we tested had the Maestro five-cabin version comprising a master and double to port and three doubles to starboard.
Otherwise, the symmetrical four-cabin Double Maestro features a master and a guest cabin in each hull, while the four-cabin Full Maestro has a giant master occupying the whole port hull and three doubles to starboard.
In every layout, each cabin has a window-facing bed, an en-suite bathroom and more than 6ft 6in of headroom, while the aft cabin in each hull has access to the cockpit via steps and a hatch.
With well over 100 units ordered off plan, the new model is already assured of a strong commercial career and its popularity is well deserved.
Comfortable, carefully finished and boasting impressive performance, the Aura 51 is already established as one of the leading options in the increasingly competitive 50ft cruising catamaran sector.