Bali 5.4 Review: Our Favorite Yacht Charter Catamaran

Bali 5.4 helm station view

We had the opportunity to sail a Bali 5.4 during our week-long sailing trip in the Exumas Bahamas.

The verdict? This was our crew’s favorite catamaran that we have ever been on for these sailing vacations (and we’ve been on many other Balis, Lagoons, and Leopards). If you want to know why I only sail catamarans for these trips, check out my catamaran vs monohull comparison.

This was also the largest multihull I’ve handled and a bit bigger than we needed for our crew size. We were supposed to be on a new Lagoon 46 for this trip, but it’s delivery was going to be delayed. So instead, the charter company upgraded us to this brand new Bali 5.4.

How new? We were the second crew to use it after it’s delivery from being on display at the Annapolis boat show.

Let’s start this Bali 5.4 review with the living areas.

Bali 5.4 in the Exumas
~5 foot draft took us to some anchorages otherwise off limits for monohulls in the Exumas

This boat was made for relaxing!

This is exactly the type of catamaran that I’d want with a big crew (8-10) on a sailing trip!

Let’s start with the flybridge. The helm station has room for two and affords excellent visibility perched high above deck. It’s positioned on the starboard side so your immediate view isn’t blocked by the mainmast.

What I love about the flybridge is that it combines the helm station and lounge areas. The captain/helmsman still feels like they are a part of the action. Just behind the wheel is a large U-shaped seating area with two tables. And then behind that, are a couple cushions for sunbathing underneath the mainsail.

sailing the Exumas
Room for two at the helm station
Bali 5.4 top deck
Lots of room at the U-shaped seating area of the flybridge
Sunbathing on the Bali 5.4
Sunbathing underneath the boom on the flybridge

Other amenities of the flybridge: plenty of storage, speakers for jamming sailing tunes (yes I’ve been on catamarans that don’t have this) a beverage refrigerator, and a sink! No need to go downstairs for fresh cocktails.

The trampoline, a common feature of most catamarans, is replaced with a solid foredeck – probably the one feature I disapprove of. I love laying on the trampoline at night for stargazing. It’s a tradeoff on the Bali 5.4 to make room for the two single berths in the bows.

You can still lounge up front at the forward cockpit and we usually used this space in the morning for breakfast. Use the forward door straight out of the galley. This direct access is great. Enjoy some bacon, eggs, and coffee at the table as the sun rises over your anchorage.

Bali 5.4 forward cockpit
Breakfasting at the forward cockpit with direct access to the galley

Heading aft, another feature of Bali catamarans is the garage style door that rotates up. Our version had an electric winch to handle this, but on some models you may have to do this by hand (which is no big deal). So rather than have an indoor and outdoor dining table, you only need one. The door rotates up and large windows slide open so you get a true indoor/outdoor open space to enjoy!

We enjoyed dinners here and even popped up a sheet to make a big screen for Master and Commander.

Cooking in the Bali 5.4 galley
Making fresh wahoo sashimi in the spacious galley
Watching Master and Commander afloat
Pop up screen to watch Master and Commander | We have the garage door in the down position

The galley is plenty big for any amount of cooking and entertaining you plan to do. On the Bali 5.4, you have so much storage that we were able to stow most of our provisions away. It’s also U-shaped which makes enough space for 2 cooks to prep meals without bumping into each other.

The gas grill is built in with a pop up cover. While we could never get it blazing hot, always a problem with boat grills, but it’s location and cover helped shield it from the breezes.

Below decks on the Bali 5.4

Honestly, below deck features on a sailing trip are the least of my worries. We sleep there, but otherwise don’t spend much time hanging out in the cabins.

Our version had 5 main cabins, each with it’s own head. In addition there are 2 additional single cabins in the bows of the two pontoons. We didn’t use them – I believe for a crewed charter, this is where the captain and hostess would stay. You might be able to fit a kid in each, but keep in mind they are separate from the main living space. Access is from a deck hatch and in our version they were not air conditioned.

This was the first time I’ve slept on a mattress positioned perpendicular to the hull. The benefit is you have more space to maneuver in the cabin. The mattress was also bigger than, say, one shaped to fit in the bow of one of the pontoons.

One of our cabins was extra large – the biggest I’ve seen so far. On some models, this can be shrunk to make room for a 6th cabin.

Compass Cay shark
Shark visitor in the Exumas | You can also see the hydraulic swim platform
Bali 5.4 blue lights in the Exumas
The underwater blue lights were a lot of fun

Systems/features that are great for sailing trips

Our version of the yacht came with all the bells and whistles.

Generator / air conditioning: it got real cold! We can thank how new the boat was. In case you haven’t been on a Bali, be aware that the galley area is not air conditioned. The reason? The pop up garage door doesn’t seal perfectly.

Watermaker: again, this worked great and required no mid-trip adjustments. Our charter base helped set it and forget it. All we had to do was check the pressure occasionally and turn it off when water tanks were full.

Underwater blue lights: this was the first time I’ve had this and it was awesome!!! We put them on in the evenings – lots of fish and a couple sharks showed up to say hi.

Hydraulic swim platform: another nice suprise. You can adjust it to any level and it double functions as the dingy lift.

Bow thrusters? The Bali was equipped with these (I saw the propellers while snorkeling) but the charter company advised us that they were not operable. So, we didn’t attempt it. There was a control for them at the helm station. This boat, like most catamarans, are so easy to maneuver with twin engines that I’m not sure I would have even tried to use them.

Catamaran downwind sailing

Sailing Performance

We only averaged 10 knots of wind on our trip, occasionally cranking up to 15. As a result, we didn’t really get to put the Bali to the test under sail. We had to motor about half the time due to light winds.

But, we put the sails up whenever we could. The sails went up smoothly with help from 3 electric winches.

It has a self tacking jib – another nice feature that would make it easy to single hand for a captain.

On a broad reach we were able to get our speed up to about 7 knots – pretty good as far as I’m concerned for a bulky yacht charter catamaran. Downwind we picked up 6 knots with about 10 knots of wind speed.

Bali 5.4 helm station view
You have excellent visibility from the helm station on the Bali 5.4

Under motor

This was the fastest catamaran I’ve been on under motor. Revving to 2,500 rpms, we easily reached double digit speeds. Engines seemed at ease. The speed came in handy for our Exumas trip when we got a late start out of the marina on our first day.

I really liked the electric throttle controls. It takes getting used to since you need to let them pause in neutral when moving between forward and reverse. Once figured out, there is no guessing which gear you are in – have you ever asked yourself if you are really in neutral??

Sail Rocks North anchorage sunset
Great sunset on our last night in the Exumas

Another bareboat charter with the Bali 5.4?

So would I charter the Bali 5.4 again? Yes and no. For a crew of 5 (we had a few last minute covid-related cancellations), it seems a bit excessive.

The other big consideration is the price, which we did not have to pay (we payed a lower rate which was applicable for the Lagoon 46). This would probably be one of the more expensive yachts you can charter – especially for a new model.

If money were no object and I had a large crew of 10-12. Absolutely!!! We loved it.

The Tobago Cays: An Essential Guide to the Grenadines Gem

Of all the idyllic Caribbean destinations of the Windward Islands, the Tobago Cays of the southern Grenadines tops the list.

White sandy beaches, uninhabited islands, pristine coral reefs, and a laid back Caribbean island vibe await you.

Much of the allure of the Tobago Cays can be credited to the National Park designation – regulations protect the marine environment such as no fishing and anchoring restrictions.

Another reason it’s unique – boat visitors only! It’s accessible by private yacht, water taxi, or tour operator. This keeps the number of visitors down that such a special place would otherwise attract.

There are 5 cays that make up the park, with four of them falling inside the protection of the 4km long Horseshoe Reef. The 5th cay (Petit Tabac) lies alone outside and happens to be the one Jack Sparrow visited.

Here’s what I’ll cover:

Tobago Cays looking south
View of the Tobago Cays from the NW | Sail Rock is visible in the distant background

Where are the Tobago Cays?

The Tobago Cays are located in the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to the south of St Lucia and north of Grenada.

Canouan, Mayreau, and Union Island are the closest Grenadines islands with hospitality and overnight resources. If you want to stay in the Tobago Cays, you’ll need to do it on a yacht, such as on a bareboat charter trip.

How to get to the Tobago Cays

Canouan (CIW) and Union Island (UNI) have small airports that you can connect to from the primary St. Vincent airport, Argyle International airport (SVD). SVG Air is the primary operator.

If you prefer not to take a short hopper flight, various ferries are available in Kingstown. These take 1-3 hours depending on where you are staying in the area.

Check with your local hotel/accommodations about who they would recommend as a tour operator or water taxi.

Visiting the Tobago Cays by yacht

Again, the Doyle Windward Island Cruising Guide (link below) is your friend here.

The recommended approach is to follow the black and white markers between Baleine Rocks and Mayreau. Remember the 5 knot speed limit once you get to the park.

White sand beaches await you in the Tobago Cays

Tobago Cays planning resources

Check out the Tobago Cays Marine Park official website for some basic information and the latest regulations.

For cruisers and those taking sailing trips, you’ll want Doyle’s Guide to the Windward Islands. It’s the gold standard as a cruising guide for this part of the Caribbean. On the Tobago Cays, it will have additional detail on navigation, approaches, anchoring, local resources, and more.

2021-2022 Sailors Guide to the Windward Islands

If you're sailing in the Grenadines, you'll want to make sure you have a copy of Doyle's Guide.

I wasn’t able to find any great maps online. I’d suggest downloading the Boating App, which you probably already have if you are sailing. Navionics chart viewer is another option online.

The anchorage between Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau | Most yachts use the mooring balls or anchor closer to the reef

Advice for charter yachts and cruisers

If you’re looking for solitude in the Windward Islands, you won’t find it at the Tobago Cays. It’s a well-known and busy destination in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Besides other sailing yachts, you can expect boat boys, day excursions, and local dive boats plying to and fro through the turquoise waters.

For charterers, many full-time cruising vessels depart the Caribbean over the summer, due to insurance reasons associated with hurricane season. This might be a quieter time to visit the Tobago Cays.

While Horseshoe Reef provides excellent protection from the tradewind waves, there is no protection from the trades themselves. If the Christmas winds are blowing, you may want to find a better time to visit.

Tobago Cays rules and regulations

Visit the official marine park website for the full list – here are some of the big ones:

  • Park entrance cost and fees:

    • It costs $10 EC (about $3.70 USD) per person/day to visit the park

    • Mooring fees are $45 EC/night, although anchoring is also permitted in sand

  • Vessel speed in the park is limited to 5 knots – this is intended to prevent jet skis from tearing through the anchorages

  • Use the mooring balls when available; no anchoring around coral or sea grass

  • No unaccompanied scuba diving – you’ll need a local, registered guide

  • No fishing

  • Pets are not allowed

Green sea turtles in the Tobago Cays

What to do in the Tobago Cays

Snorkel to see some green sea turtles

The green sea turtles are abundant in the area due to conservation efforts. You’re likely to encounter them in most places where you can snorkel and along Horseshoe Reef.

One of the best places to see them is on the west side of Baradal. They have established an area, marked by buoys, to observe them.

Dive with on pristine coral reefs

Make reservations in advance for a dive charter with one of the local operators. Grenadines Dive comes recommended. They can even pick you up right from your yacht.

If you decide to to this, you’ll get to visit some of the best dive spots in the Windward Islands: Mayreau, Horseshoe Reef, and World’s End Reef.

Petit Tebac
Petit Tebac, the filming location of the Curse of the Black Pearl

Visit Petit Tabac where Jack Sparrow was marooned

Petit Tabac is the one cay located outside the Horseshoe Reef. It was used for the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl where Jack and Elizabeth were marooned. Good luck finding his rum stash!

The island makes for a great daytrip and picnic. Relax in the calm waters on the north side and wander along the beaches.

If conditions are settled, there is a small anchorage for 1-2 yachts. It requires some eyeball navigation but is otherwise clearly seen with a sandy bottom. Consult your Doyle guide.

You could take your dinghy over, but it’s about 2 nautical miles around the reef. Best only in calm conditions, otherwise you are sure to get wet!

Go hiking for a 360 view of the Grenadines

Petit Bateau, Petit Rameau, and James Bay all have hiking trails where you can check out the local flora and fauna. Expect to see some of the protected bird species or iguanas that make the park their home.

You’ll also be treated to spectacular 360 views of the surrounding Grenadines!

Arrange for a beach barbeque with one of the local boat boys

If you don’t find the boat boy vendors, they’ll find you. They can help you out with most anything you need: supplies, ice, quick trip to one of the other islands, etc. Just ask and they will probably figure out a way to make it happen for you.

Vendors that sell shirts, food, etc are limited to Petit Bateau at the north beach.

Many specialize in beach barbeques and will be happy to arrange it for you. There may not be a better combo than fresh spiny lobster (as long as it’s in season), cold beer, and an epic Caribbean sunset on the beach.

Kite surfing in the Tobago Cays
Kite surfing behind the protection of the reef

Kite surf behind the protection of the reef

If kite surfing is your thing, the Tobago Cays are an excellent destination to tear across the water behind the protection of the reef and with the steady trades in your kite.

While the speed limit in the park is 5 knots, you can exceed this while kite surfing as long as you are in the designated areas:

  • North of Petit Rameau

  • SW of Jamesby

Catamaran vs Monohull: Why the Cat is Better for Your Sailing Trip

Catamaran vs Monohull

You have a big decision to make.

You’re the captain, planning your next week-long bareboat sailing vacation in the caribbean. What type of sailing yacht do you choose? Make sure you don’t disappoint the crew.

There are more than a couple things to consider.

I’ll preface this so you know my bias up front – I only sail catamarans for yacht charters. This is what I recommend.

That said, I don’t think there is a right and a wrong answer. 

The catamaran is a good fit for our crew – 4 couples in our 30s. A couple reasons why:

  • We enjoy the extra lounge space a cat provides, especially a flybridge if available – that’s where we’ll spend most of our time during the day
  • We like the common areas being above the waterline and the better stability
  • We care less about sailing performance – we are the type of crew that is OK dropping sails if the winds are light or it’s more convenient to motor
  • As the captain, I appreciate the maneuverability twin engines provide for docking – it keeps some stress out of the equation
  • Most tend to come with generators, AC, and water makers: all features we enjoy on these trips

Here’s a review of the Bali 5.4 I put together that talks about some of these reasons, including lots of pictures.

Catamaran vs monohull comparison
Catamaran vs monohull - which has the advantage?

I came up with a few criteria to consider as a framework for your next trip…just remember – choose what makes the most sense for your group and budget.

If you want to learn more about handling and sailing catamarans, check out the Smarter Charter Guide or ASA’s Cruising Catamarans Made Easy.

Smarter Charter (Amazon)

This covers everything you need to know including docking, sailing, and anchoring a catamaran. I like to review it as a refresher before our bareboat charter trips.

Cruising Catamarans Made Easy (Amazon)

Another great resource is the American Sailing Association's Cruising Catamarans Made Easy.

Let the catamaran vs monohull debate begin. 

I’ll go through each of these in more detail:

Lounging on the catamaran's top deck
You'll find lounging space everywhere on a catamaran

Space & lounging

Advantage: Catamaran

I enjoy the added living space that a catamaran offers – there are many areas for hanging out and lounging. The beauty of many of the designs is that these spaces blend together – it doesn’t feel compartmentalized.

The trampoline and flybridge are some of our favorite places to hang out. You absolutely can’t beat the visibility and view from a flybridge. Neither of these are available on a monohull design.

Catamarans tend to have bigger cabins with more headroom and privacy. Although we don’t spend much time in the cabins, it’s a vacation – treat yourself!

Lastly, I prefer the galley to be above the waterline. The below deck space in monohulls feels claustrophobic to me.

And if you are the one prepping a meal on a cat, it still feels like you are part of the action. Look out the windows and enjoy the view.

Some people enjoy the thrill of heeling over in a fresh breeze

Sailing performance

Advantage: Monohull

I have to give the advantage to the monohull for sailing performance. And if you have less sailing experience, you may find it’s easier to sail a monohull.

When sailing upwind, monohulls can usually sail closer to the wind. They will also make less leeway (sideways drift while moving forward) since they have deeper keels than a catamaran. This means the monohull can get to a destination faster at this point of sail.

Many people also find that sailing in a monohull can be much more exhilarating since you can feel the power of the wind as it heels over. 

Catamaran downwind sailing
Easy downwind sailing with just the mainsail

Tacking is usually harder on a catamaran since it is sometimes more difficult to maintain momentum through the turn. In part, this is due to leeway. It is possible in such a scenario to stall out and getting the cat moving again can be difficult.

If that happens, it can help to fire up the motors and use the added power to regain momentum.

Speed – most charter sailboats aren’t particularly fast, topping out around 8-10 knots on ideal points of sail and fresh breezes. While the monohull is faster upwind, the catamaran is faster on a downwind, beam reach.

Strong winds – since catamarans don’t heel over (which can be used as a warning that you are overpressed), you need to be more vigilant in a cat about reducing sail/reefing early. Capsizing is rare, but the possibility is always present.

Visibility – on average, catamarans are going to have better visibility since the helmstation is often perched higher. This is especially true if your cat has a flybridge (flybridge for the win!).

Dinghy – on monohulls during sailing trips, you are unlikely to haul the dinghy aboard. You’ll need to tow it behind you. A minor point, but it might slow you down some and you’ll need to be careful with the line in the water during anchoring. On catamarans, you can always raise the dinghy out of the water.

Pirate's Lair Warderick Wells Exumas
Twin engines helped me stay on station as the tide ripped through this mooring field at Warderick Wells

Maneuverability

Advantage: Catamaran

Twin engines on the cat means that you can spin on a dime and make precise corrections for docking. The bigger ones might even have bow thrusters.

It’s also helpful to make adjustments and stay on station when picking up a mooring ball – this can be particularly useful if you have fewer experienced crew members aboard.

Docking

I would point out that for a week-long trip, you can get away without docking. The only reason you must dock mid trip would be to refuel or take on water. 

Running out of fuel has never been an issue for us, even on trips where light winds mean we have to motor more frequently. I’ve never had to refuel more than half a tank at the end of a week-long trip

As far as water goes – this depends on your crew and usage behaviors.

Catamarans have bigger water tanks. Usually there are two of them. If you educate the crew about how to conserve, you shouldn’t have a problem with running dry.

Water makers (although sometimes they malfunction) are another luxury that should keep you off the dock.

Lastly, on the way back to the base, you can always radio the charter company – they can send someone out to dock the yacht for you.

Catamaran in shallow water at Staniel Cay
The catamaran can help you access shallower water anchorages | This one is at Staniel Cay in the Exumas

Draft

Advantage: Catamaran

Most catamarans are going to have a shallower draft than monohulls. However the difference in the bareboat fleets is probably only about a foot.

  • Catamaran draft: ~4-5 feet
  • Monohull draft: ~5-6 feet

If you are sailing in the British Virgin Islands, this probably won’t matter much since most navigation is line of sight in relatively deep water. The anchorages are also less shallow

However, if you are planning a trip to the Exumas Bahamas, the shallower waters will make a difference. You will most certainly be able to access some anchorages in a catamaran that you would want to avoid in a monohull. On our last trip to the Exumas, we visited several of these, such as Fresh Well Bay at Shroud Cay.

Bali 5.4 blue lights in the Exumas
This cat we sailed in the Exumas that had all the bells and whistles, including underwater blue lights

Comfort & stability

Advantage: Catamaran

Hands down, the cat is the easy pick here. At anchor, the cat will pitch and roll much less if a swell is wrapping it’s way into the anchorage.

While sailing, some people prefer not to heel – if that’s the case, the cat is your choice. This is generally a good idea if you are aboard with a family and some younger children.

For those more susceptible to seasickness, you will feel the effects of the sea less in a cat.

While more stable in heavy seas, water can slap the catamaran’s bridge deck. This tends to be more of a nuisance than a disadvantage.

Bali 5.4 top deck
This cat, the Bali 5.4, is at the upper end of what you'll pay for a yacht charter | The top deck even has a refrigerator

Cost

Advantage: Monohull

I’ve generally found that monohulls are more cost effective, especially if you have a smaller crew.

For a similarly equipped yacht that accommodates the same number of crew, you can almost always expect to pay more for the cat…sometimes many thousands more. 

Why is this? Catamaran’s are more expensive to build and maintain. That cost is passed on to you as a charterer. I also believe that catamarans are in increasingly in higher demand from the bareboat community for the reasons described above.

If you enjoy docking for a night or two in a different marina during your trip – expect to pay more since cats take up a full slip. Fuel costs will also be a bit higher.

I hope that clarified a few points for you when considering catamaran vs. monohull for your next bareboat sailing trip. If you’re interested in learning more about taking sailing vacations, check out our beginner’s guide.