We flew to Miami to revisit and test sail one of our catamaran top contenders from boat shows – the Xquisite X5. The X5 is either a beautiful catamaran if you like the modern styling, or one ugly beast if you are a traditionalist. To us . . . .
The curved coach roof . . . the four diagonal windows . . . and that curved Targa arch that gives is Porsche like feel . . . . . .
Bottom line -we love it at the dock. There are faster boats, there are more luxurious boats (not that many actually), and certainly roomier boats, but few seem to strike the balance the X5 does. Walking around a boat at the dock is not enough to know whether it was truly a sexy beast or a crone in lingerie. (Game of Thrones reference for those few of you unfamiliar with the best show ever (and even better books).)
Good news- in the short time this blog has been active we made the Feedspots list of the Top 75 Sailing Blogs. Kudos to me!
Arranging The Test Sail
After seeing the X5 at the dock a couple of times, I emailed the company and asked about a test sail. Our schedule and living on the west coast caused us to miss several opportunities. Luckily, in early December Teresa and I both had trials cancelled, so had time for a holiday trip. I emailed Tamas at Xquisite Yachts and the stars aligned -there was a boat we could test sail in Miami just before Christmas. So, we planned a holiday trip around a stop in Miami (Atlanta, Miami, and the Bahamas -woot woot).
We shlepped ourselves, our luggage, and scuba gear from San Francisco to Atlanta, camped for a night in an airport hotel, and then shlepped again (I do not know the yiddish word for repetitive shlepping, but feel reasonably certain one exists) to Miami. Our flight arrived at about 10:30 on December 21 and we rushed from baggage claim to meet the X5 for a test sail.
Objective Observer Joins Us
Laura, a friend from San Francisco, happened to be in the area for the holidays and agreed to join us. Not only is Laura fun to hang out with, but she is also an accomplished sailboat racer and has her Coast Guard 50 Ton Captain License. (For you non-boaters- that is a big deal) . So, she would be a great extra set of eyes and objective opinion about our boat evaluation. She met us at the No Name Harbor seawall in Key Biscayne.
Let The Games Begin!!
As soon as we found Laura we texted Tamas. His response was almost immediate -Dave is on the way to get you in the dinghy. We later learned Dave is the owner of Hull #2- Catitude. Dave bought his X5 after he and his wife retired. He later became friends with Tamas and eventually agreed to a part-time gig helping Xquisite with demos, delivery, etc. Dave was super nice, and very informative.
The Test Sail
Conditions, Crew, And Weight
We boarded the boat at about noon. The wind was about 25 knots (28 mph) with gusts to 32 knots. The tide was slack leading into flow (that is -no discernable tide that would eventually begin moving toward high tide). In the excitement I forgot to note the wave size and frequency, which would have helped objectively gauge water conditions. But, there were a few white caps, the dinghy ride was a bit wet, and smaller sailboats we saw were having a bumpy day. A nice day for a sail and not totally flat water (though it looks pretty flat in the pictures -probably due to my crappy photo skills), which was good for a test sail.
We had a total of ten people onboard. Four Bonders, Laura, a couple from Alabama, and a guy from Montreal, Dave -the retiree turned part-time Xquisite employee, and Tamas, the President of Xquisite Yachts.
I checked the gauges and diesel tanks were nearly full and water about half. So, that is 205 gallons of diesel (600 lbs) and 113.5 gallons of water (800lbs). We were testing a pretty well loaded boat- also a good thing for a realistic feel.
The Sales Pitch
First came a more detailed version of the sales pitch also given at boat shows. Tamas was well rehearsed on this speech, so was pretty efficient. Tamas deferred most of our questions for later because the forecast indicated higher winds and rain.
Anchor up! Dave went to the bow to use the hand controller to lift the anchor and Tamas took control at the helm. Ella took her self-assigned post as guardian and sole occupant of the cockpit, at which point she turned on a video, and was rarely heard from again. Teresa, Sam, Laura, and I wandered the boat and watched the operations.
Lifting anchor was uneventful and simple -as expected. We then motored out of the harbor to get leeway for raising the sails. Tamas took us out of the bay in one of the nicest helm stations I’ve seen.
I was surprised when Tamas turned on the auto-pilot and the boat’s wheel did not move. I knew that the X5’s steering was hydraulic, but did not realize that meant no wheel movement while on autopilot. Tamas explained that since it was hydraulic there was no need for the wheel to move -there was simply a separate hydraulic pump for autopilot.
I did not get much information on the procedure in the event of hydraulic failure. In hindsight, I should have asked a bunch more about the steering system. This requires some more research. Most guests, myself included, took a turn at the helm while motoring. Unsurprisingly, the helm had no “feel” to it as a cable system would, but the boat was very responsive.
Underway – Raising The Sails
Tamas gathered us around the helm to demo the ease of raising sails single handed. (This felt a bit like a VitaMix demo- but since most of us were sailors it was less magical then making soup in a blender. I mean come on. . . soup . . . IN A BLENDER! Magic?)
He steered us into the wind and increased the throttle a bit (not what I typically do -we just maintain headway into the wind while crew raises the main). He then set autopilot to “Wind Hold” to keep us into the wind (cool feature I had not seen before) and proceeded with raising the main. The increased throttle gave the auto-pilot better control. Raising the mainsail was virtually effortless. The two speed electric winches with foot controls made everything a breeze.
The lazy jacks got in the way a bit, as they are apt to do, so Tamas lowered and raised the main in a dance familiar to most sailors. The only thing notable about this procedure was the ease with which it was achieved. I forgot to time it, but the whole procedure, including his pauses for explanations and to answer questions (including the lazy jack issue), could not have taken more than 5 minutes.
Tamas raised the main to the second reef because of the wind and anticipated gusts. As a demo, we dropped the main to the third reef and then re-raised it to the second. Again, simple and easy. Not a step taken out of the helm station to perform a single task. All lines are well labeled, and easily stored.
Tamas also demonstrated the longer term reefing system, which is not a feature I’ve seen on any other catamaran. While the main can be reefed from the helm, for longer periods that still leaves a lot of tension and possible chafe points in the lines. In fact, this tension and chafe is often an argument against leading lines back to the helm. To address this issue on the X5, there are additional clutches on the boom that can release the tension from the forward foot of the mainsail back (or aft portion of the foot forward- I cannot recall which). These clutches do not need to be used if you are reefing in bad weather, but are a great addition for passages.
The jib was self tacking. Given the wind, it was super easy. The jib was never unfurled past the second reef due to the gusts. We all asked about light wind sailing and were told that the boat sails well in as little as 4 knots. Dave explained that he has sailed his X5 at 2.5/3 knots in 4 knots of true wind. He says his boat will tack without engine assist in 4 knots of breeze. I have no way to verify this claim at this time. I’m a pretty cynical curmudgeon, so I’ll believe it when I can see it.
Underway – Overall Stability
We sailed as slow as 6 knots and as fast as 10.5 (while I was watching) on all points of sail during our test sail in 25 knots of consistent wind. I was very happy with the overall performance and stability of the X5. Nobody complained of the chop. Even Ella, lying on her side on the daybed and watching her shows on her phone, was unfazed by the conditions. Also, I noticed that the can of Corona I put on the cockpit table when Tamas finished the sales pitch was still in the exact same place when we were ready to drop anchor- and still half full. I don’t think a more performance oriented catamaran could pass this critical test.
Post Sail Q& A
After a rather mundane anchor dropping, Tamas was happy to answer more questions. Much of the conversation was about the upcoming X5 Plus, which is the new model. The official release is sometime in early 2020, but since all of us were interested in boats that would be the new model, we got to see drawings, and heard quite a bit about it. I won’t steal Xquisite’s thunder and leave the detailed reveal to them. Suffice it to say, we all liked it.
A Tour Of The Electrical System
We crawled around a under the chart table and inspected the wiring. Everything was neat, labeled, and really well done. The same neat runs and labeling were found throughout the boat.
The X5 is a high tech boat and uses a CZone digital switching system. That is, the circuits are run to centralized fuse boxes which are in turn tied to digital switches. This simplifies and shortens the circuits themselves and allows some really cool features as well such as iPad control over most systems.
One concern about the high tech part is what if the tech goes to shit -as tech often does- at the worst possible time. First, the chart plotter at the helm is hard wired into the system like most other installations. So, it is not dependent on the CZone system. Absent a complete electrical failure, this should not be a problem.
Second, if the digital switching fails, the bypass system (seen here at the 4 minute mark) allows control of the circuit. The circuit can be turned on or off manually with little effort. This walk through eased my fears about the tech side of the boat quite a bit. There will still be the usual difficulties of tracing the electrical problems inevitable in a boat, but they won’t be more difficult because of the CZone system. (Arguably, they may be simpler since the circuit runs are shorter.)
Odds and Ends
Other notable items: the camera in the mast was super cool and I could see it being useful for mooring and docking; the heads were nicely laid out and easy to use for non-sailor guests; the speakers in the spreaders were great; and the overall fit and finish were as good as we saw at the boat show (where I always assume they did their best to hide defects).
We opened the cabinets, the dishwasher, and monkeyed around with everything we could while underway looking for problems that were not present. I really could not find anything to dislike.
Overall, I think it was more impressive underway than it was on the dock, which is to say really top notch.