In a deliberate move to instantaneously expand its range, two years ago formula cruisers entered into an agreement to build the prowler catamaran. Embracing the realisation that the brand definitely had a future, the company recently developed and refined the prowler, to the point that it claims it now represents the very latest thinking in catamaran cruiser design and presentation.
Designed originally by renowned catamaran designer Jeff Schionning as a 9-metre power catamaran, it was further developed by NZ designer and builder Eric Knight, as a 10.4-metre model. Formula Cruisers has now taken the concept one step further again by adding a further 200mm to the aft extremities of the hull, and raising the sheer line by 250mm right through the length of each hull.
“By increasing the height and length,” Formula Cruisers’ marketing manager Troy Woods explained, “the lines of the boat are aesthetically much better balanced now. As well, we have relocated the (500-litre) fuel and (400-litre) water tankage, to amidships in each hull, which makes a big difference to the handling characteristics – again with better balance. Gone completely is the pitching sensation typically associated with a catamaran configuration; and, the other inherent benefit accruing from the higher topsides is a correspondingly higher bridge-deck or tunnel clearance, which is now 900mm. This has prevented pounding on the wing deck in all but the very roughest of seas,” he enthused. Having tested an earlier model some 12 months ago, I must confess that the alterations to which Woods alluded had certainly toned down the visual severity of the height of the cabin top versus the topsides; it was now a more balanced design, albeit still with the same interior features which necessitated this cabin height in the first instance. The other most obvious aspect of this Prowler was the fact it was outboard-powered; in this instance two of the new 996cc 70hp F70 AETX Yamaha 4-stroke high-thrust outboards (standard guise is twin 60hp FT60 DETX Yamaha 4-stroke).
While for some this may appear a little from left field, the bottom line is that this feature typified the designer’s deliberate effort to provide an affordable, efficient family cruiser. It made good sense – less weight at 125kg per side, arguably more economical and certainly easier to maintain. Even more impacting though, was the extra storage space which accrued – when there were no inboard engines in what then became huge storage lazarettos each side. Add the mechanical peripherals and still there was an outlandish amount of space left for storage of rods, wet gear, dive gear, food, spare parts and the like!
Easy steps from these uncluttered (in spite the outboards on the transom) boarding platforms led up and onto what was a generous sized cockpit which sensibly, was devoid of teak flooring; that would surely be an overkill on a smaller catamaran where weight and indeed cost, were a major consideration. And speaking of weight, rather astonishingly this full ‘production’ vacuum-bagged GRP and foam composite hull with its 32 separate mouldings, weighed in at a miserly 4000kg! The cockpit was dominated.
If you could call it that, by the Sunbrella lounges against the saloon bulkhead, and aft of these by a transom beam of significant proportions. Included in this beam were several forward-facing storage locker doors which provided access to amongst other items, the (stored) S/S BBQ, and the gas califont. On the top of this transom beam was a sink with hot and cold water, a remote shower, mounting points for the BBQ – and even an electric winch for the tender davits that were mounted on the aft outside of this beam – good thinking!
In a nice touch from an entertaining perspective this cockpit was virtually encapsulated by the cabin overhang above, and side coamings which extended aft to the boarding platforms. Steps moulded into each side of these coamings offered practical and safe (courtesy of a wide walkway, substantial bow rail assembly and well placed grab rails) access to what was a very generous-sized, uncluttered foredeck. Presentation and attention to detail was spot on here, with the anchor mounting point and the aft of the two hatches where the Lofrans Kobra windlass was located, offering a definite insight into the skills of the Formula team. So simple yet so effective, as were the solar panels for the onboard power, which were attached to the roof of the cabin. Every solar panel system I have ever seen looks like the proverbial window shutter off a Swiss Chalet but in this case the four Alphatron 5.1A (each) slimline solar panels attached direct to the roof top, offered the appearance of merely a simple roof-top lining. Interestingly, other than the two 12V / 17A Yamaha alternators, these solar panels either in the standard guise of two panels or in this instance with four panels, provided more than enough power to feed the 12V 150Ah Toyama AGM batteries.
All the Home Comforts
Stepping through the single saloon door, it took little time to appreciate the fact that the Prowler offered all the home comforts and use-ability of a much larger 12m monohull. How many 10-metre cruisers for instance, provide accommodation for six, how many have two ensuite bathrooms, how many have electric flush heads, how many have a four-burner stove and an oven, how many are as economical and perform as well as the Prowler, with just 140hp? Very, very, few!
Just as quickly, I also appreciated the reason for the larger and more upright cabin profile, for the ‘trade-off’ factor was the generous space allocation to each feature area, and of course the equally generous head-room. Décor quite frankly, was as good as you would expect to find on a far more ‘luxurious’ cruiser and again it was this ‘Formula Cruisers’ methodology and mentality instilled into this boat, which shone through.
The ‘classy’ little touches like the fabric-covered padded panels embedded into the front bulkhead, the impressive windscreen mullions, the plush padded ceiling panels, the solid cherry wood dining table, the Corian style bench-top in the galley, the polished cherry flooring – not only did it look good, but also more importantly it was entirely functional and practical regardless of whether it was mum and dad, or two families who were aboard.
The dining setting was to port and easily handled a complement of four to five adults, and opposite this the galley was again appropriate for this number of people. Appealing for the ladies would be the generous Corian-style bench space, plenty of cupboard storage provision, appropriate refrigeration and certainly the crowning glory, the four-burner stove and oven combo. Completing the saloon picture was the forward helm station, neatly recessed into the front bulkhead.
From an elevated ‘skippers’ chair I had a great view of each corner of the boat, plus I was close to the action when it came to the controls and instrumentation. Features at this futuristically-styled helm included the Yamaha binnacle controls, a multi-gauge for each engine, a Raymarine GPS/plotter/sounder and ST6002 autopilot, a Uniden VHF, a Fusion stereo system and surprisingly again for a vessel of this size, a big-ticket BEP Marine CZone onboard vessel management system.
Mandatory Cruising Features
With what I had seen thus far, four mandatory cruising orientated features on the Prowler were particularly obvious. The first was the general ‘seriousness’ of equipment, the gear was all of big-boat specification, and with no short-cuts taken. The second was the ‘energy’ supply, for ‘gas’ powered the hot water, the galley stove and oven, as well as all the refrigeration. The third was storage – storage galore, for every possible void was well utilised for this important component in any bonafide cruising boat. Finally, the fourth very real plus in a boat that could very easily get away with not having airconditioning, period, was ventilation. The large aft (opening) bulkhead windows, opening ‘ports’ above the front windows, and three overhead hatches in the saloon all created a brilliant ‘cross draft’ effect. Below decks, the choice of configuration aspect was just as succinct; simply, there was just the one two-bedroom two bathroom layout available. That made sense, and I was pleased to see that Formula Cruisers was astute enough to resist the temptation to pretend otherwise, for what it offered in this guise were two spacious bedrooms; both were light, bright and homely, with a third single berth up in the bow peak. There was storage available in the bed bases and the step modules up to these bow berths, but if you needed more and these bow-berths were not in use, then this huge cavern each side would be a great place to store suitcases, even fishing rods.
Innovation abounded within these two near identical cabins, for the fore and aft queen-size berths each side were cleverly designed so the foot end of the bed was in under the actual deck height. At one-third distance back from the foot of the berth the lower level of front windows came into play, angling up from deck level and providing very good head-room when sitting up in bed. Cleverly they had overcome the relatively low profile of the hulls, and the relatively high level of the central bridgedeck or tunnel.
Décor in these non-claustrophobic forward cabins was more of the same as in the saloon, with fabric side panels, a tasteful upholstery package, a side porthole and two overhead hatches plus one opening porthole, good lighting and of course generous storage potential. These were two very open, warm and yes contemporary cabins, but also their ‘open’ nature belied the fact we were aboard just a 10-metre vessel.
Power as stated was a pair of 70hp Yamaha outboards, but I do admit to initially having reservations as to whether or not this was enough power for a boat this size. I remember thinking that diesels might have been a better option, but my thoughts were soon dispelled once we were underway. The designer(s) and the builder(s) along the way had all got it right for this particular mode of power was more than adequate. I wouldn’t say they ‘rocketed’ the boat up to its maximum speed but considering the size, weight and drag of the boat, the Yamahas were doing a damned good job. At the full speed of 21.4 knots yes they were probably as noisy as inboard power but drop the throttles back to 4500rpm at the cruising speed of around 15 knots, and they were whisper quiet.
Emphasising the fact that Formula Cruisers is more than happy with this package just the way it is; diesels are not an option at this stage. “Formula Cruisers considers outboards provide the most balanced package with which to address this sector of the market,” Woods stated, “This boat was designed around outboard power, so it would be silly to change that philosophy and direction. You can of course run the standard twin 60hp configuration and for charter application it would be quite acceptable to go even smaller again, but for a cruising situation we think this mode ticks all the boxes.” Underway, I was suitably impressed with the handling capabilities. The boat was quiet through the water, which of course makes it feel like it is handling better anyway, but it was the Prowler’s ability through the slop that especially impressed. The further we went the wider the smile too, for out in genuine bluewater conditions the real attributes of this hull design quickly became apparent. All the factors such as weight, buoyancy, lift, stability and tracking appeared totally in ‘sync’, which again was symptomatic of the better weight distribution and ‘balance’ alluded to earlier. Not once did the tunnel ‘bang’ and even better still there was a distinct lack of the phenomenon known as pitching. This hull had all the attributes of a displacement style hull, ironing the bumps out whilst still maintaining momentum! Whatever this combo of designers has done with this hull, it sure as hell works!
Finally someone has come up with a 10-metre boating package that legitimately addresses the ideal of entry-level cruising – it can be done! Simplicity with solar power and outboards, sensible features that make a house a home, it was a bonafide turn-key bluewater cruising boat for four to six people. Consider the as-standard features; add the economy and convenience of outboards and you surely have a ‘well rounded’ boating package. Compare apples with apples, volume with volume, performance and economy with….. and the price tag of $362,000 as tested, sets the bar very high indeed!