Boat Review: Discovery 50

The Discovery 50 cruising catamaran offers luxurious accomodations in highly advanced cruising hulls powered by a rig fit for girdling the globe.

On a Sunday morning in June, we set off from the little Massachusetts island of Cuttyhunk for the homeward leg of a two-day cruise from Newport, Rhode Island. It was a fine spring morning, but the breeze had been south all of the previous day and through the night, blowing warm, moist air over the region, so we were not too surprised when the fog crept in and steadily turned our sunlit day into the inside of a giant gauze ball. In minutes, visibility was down to about 30 feet.

Rosie and I were aboard with John and Caroline Charnley, the owners of Discovery Yachts in England and the builders of Discovery Magic, which is hull number one of the new line of Discovery 50 cruising cats that the company is now producing. Discovery Yachts also builds the Discovery 55 and 68, both luxury monohulls. As well as being successful boat builders, the Charnleys are veteran offshore sailors. They know boats and navigation.

As we sailed into the fog bank, John took up his position at the inside nav station, which is equipped with a Raymarine chartplotter with radar and AIS and linked to the autopilot by remote. Rosie and I stayed on deck to listen for fog signals and keep an eye out for lobster pots, fish traps and boats that may not show up digitally. But we were more or less redundant. John had complete control as we motored homeward at 7 knots. Plus, he had excellent visibility from the raised inside chart table; the only danger he might miss from his vantage point was lobster pots.

Flying on instruments and without getting wet in the heavy fog, John navigated directly to a series of buoys, across the deep side of Brenton Reef, and up Narragansett Bay’s East Passage into Newport Harbor where the fog lifted enough for reasonable visibility as we anchored.While we proved Sunday that an inside nav station with good visibility where the boat can be controlled in all weather makes sense, on Saturday we discovered how the boat handles under sail and power. With 54-hp Yanmars on sail drives in each hull, the 50 has plenty of power and can be maneuvered in tight quarters. Using engines alone, you can turn the boat in its own length.

We upped anchor in Newport and rolled out the mainsail as we motored past Fort Adams at the harbor mouth. The 50 has an in-mast furling mainsail as standard equipment—unusual for a cruising cat. Normally, boats of this size have high roach, slab reefing mainsails. The benefit of the in-mast main, which has long vertical battens to improve the sail’s shape, lies in its ease of use for a couple. One person at the helm can deploy, reef and furl the sail singlehandedly. With two people standing watches one-on and one-off, this labor saving system is a huge benefit.

We rolled out the genoa as we close-reached out of East Passage, but the wind was light and we needed more horsepower. Still, sailing close to the wind with the 135 percent genoa sheeting to the adjustable cars on the cabin top, we were able to tack neatly inside 90 degrees. Once we cleared the bay and turned east for Cuttyhunk, we hoisted and rolled out the big reacher to make use of the fair breeze. The 50 reacted positively and skated ahead at 6 knots in less than 10 knots of wind. The reacher tacks down to a small bowsprit so you can tighten the luff when sailing and leave the sail hoisted and rolled up when not in use. The 50, which was designed by Bill Dixon, is also set up to sail with a self-tacking 100 percent jib that sheets to a moveable car in a curved foredeck track. Like the mainsail, the jib can be handled by one person from the helm and can be reefed for heavy weather. This smaller sail will be useful in blustery tradewinds and while on passage, but is a bit too small for light air, coastal sailing. The 135 percent genoa takes over in the lighter summer conditions. We arrived at Cuttyhunk and found a good spot to anchor just outside the little harbor. The big Delta anchor is housed under the central nacel that extends forward from the cabin between the two hulls. The windlass and chain storage is under two large hatch covers. The anchor is self-launching, so you can deploy it from the helm but you need to go forward to attach the bridle with a chain hook to the rode. This, it turned out, was not as easy as it sounds, so the Charnleys have redesigned the anchor roller system for hull number two and ensuing boats.

The trips to and from Cuttyhunk showed us a lot about the Discovery 50. The boat is easy to sail with all roller furling cruising canvas, motors like a champ and can be handled in inclement weather from the inside nav station. She is also a proper ocean going boat, which the Charnleys proved by sailing across the Atlantic from England to Newport in May and early June without incident.

LIVING ABOARD: The great advantage of a cruising cat lies in the living space. The 50 has a beam of just over 25 feet, so the interior volume is vast compared to a monohull of the same length. In fact, a 50-foot cat has the accommodations of a 70-foot monohull. Rosie and I were in the starboard aft cabin, which has a queen-size berth and one of the most comfortable mattresses you’ll find on a cruising boat. The berth is positioned so you can climb in and out from the sides—more convenient for the occupants and easier to make up. We had our own head and shower, a large hanging locker and plenty of space to stow bags, gear and shoes. The cabin has large fixed windows in the hull, so you can lie in bed and watch the world go by; at night you gain privacy by lowering the Venetian-style blinds. The cabin has three opening hatches, so cross-ventilation kept us cool on the warm June night. The second guest cabin in the port hull has twin berths with a narrow aisle between. With the feel of an old steamer cabin, the area has its own head and shower and ample storage. We like a double berth, but the twins are a great use of space, fine for visiting friends, crew and grandkids.

The guest cabins pale in comparison to the master stateroom, which occupies the whole forward end of the main cabin and has a giant centerline berth positioned neatly under the foredeck. The bright and airy cabin is 22 feet wide, set up with his-and-hers sides, each with full head and ample storage. For owners who need four separate cabins, the 50 can be configured with two doubles instead of one giant master cabin. The saloon has a large U-shaped galley forward to starboard and the inside nav station to port. The L-shaped dinette to port will seat up to eight. Unlike many cats in charter fleets, the 50 was conceived from the drawing board to be an ocean sailing yacht. The galley is fitted with spill-stopping fiddles, a neat trash system, twin sinks plus a third draining sink for clean dishes, and convenient storage. There are two front-loading fridges under the counter and a large freezer under the dinette. Under the bench seats, there is an enormous amount of room for stowed supplies and gear plus space for installed gear. With just the four of us onboard, we sat around two sides of the table very comfortably for dinner. Aft, the outside cockpit is a good seagoing area, not just an open back porch. To port lies the big outside dinette where we sat for sundowners in the evening and had breakfast on Sunday morning. There is ample storage under the seats for deck gear, diving equipment and even the dinghy’s outboard motor. The dinghy hangs on sturdy davits between the aft hulls, where it can be raised and lowered with a simple pulley system.

The 50’s deck layout has a couple unique touches that add to the crew’s comfort and fun. On both sides of the cockpit, the decks have been sculpted to form lounging nooks, where you can lie out of the wind but in the sun watching the wakes disappear over the horizon. Forward, just aft of the anchor locker, a hot tub large enough for two adults or a handful of children has been molded into the deck. It can be filled with fresh or salt water; the 50 has two hot water cylinders so there is enough ready water for a real soak.The fit and finish of the new 50 has been created by the Charnleys and interior designer Ken Freivokh to be modern, elegant and unique. This is not a production boat. You can tell instantly from the detailing of the interior panels, tables, doors and drawers that you are aboard a finely fitted semi-custom yacht that will compare very favorably to any yacht on the market.

THE ESSENTIALS: Last November, we had the opportunity to visit the Discovery factory near Southampton, England to see Discovery Magic in the final stages of build. With all of her systems laid bare and the laminated pieces still uncovered, it was illuminating to see the attention to detail that has gone into her creation. The hull and deck laminates are foam cored, vinylester and e-glass composites that are vacuum-bagged for uniform stiffness and strength. Carbon fiber has been used to reinforce local stress areas.

Close attention has been paid to keeping weight down, so many interior panels are cored veneer laminates. When options have been weighed, the simplest, lightest solutions have been selected. A yacht of this size and quality would normally have a genset to run onboard systems. Instead, the Charnleys opted to save weight and complexity and use two 80-amp/hour alternators on the Yanmars that charge a 1,000-amp/hour battery bank. With a large inverter, standard home-style appliances can be run in moderation. By using energy efficient lighting and low drain electronics, the system supplies all the backup power you need. We proved this by sitting up late with all of the lights on and the stereo pumping opera tunes and we still had enough juice in the morning to run standard kitchen appliances.

The 50 holds 236 gallons of fuel and 210 gallons of water, so her crew can be extremely self-sufficient for long hauls. With the addition of a water maker and possibly solar panels, the boat can stay away from port for months on end.Having seen the boat in construction and then spending two days and a night aboard poking around and using all of the systems, we are confident that Discovery has employed the best building techniques and engineering practices available to create a blue water cruising boat that is a unique combination of elegance, sophisticated engineering and sailing performance. For a couple setting off to sail around the world, as John and Caroline Charnley are in fact doing, the Discovery 50 provides a remarkably able and attractive platform.

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