Oh, how I love this picturesque town of La Grande Motte! It has a very, very special flair and charm. Not least derived from its very strange history as being founded by a degree of Charles de Gaulle, the architecture of the city is a strange mixture of brutalism, art and a good portion of James Bond-ish evil headquarter. I really like it.

Ah, how I love this place!

For some reason, La Grande Motte of the French Camargue is turned into the center of the world when it comes to multihull sailing boats, meaning catamarans and trimarans. The “Multicoque” show draws more and more visitors. I am attending this show since four or five years and I can clearly see an increase in interest by a sailing public. It´s a must go for a boat dealer. Last year, you might have read it already, I was happy to sail the Outremer 45 performance catamaran. Being puzzled and amazed by the sheer power and performance, I was interested in more. So here we are, this year it´s the shipyard of this well know brand I was able to visit.

Outremer´s headquarters

Outremer catamarans belongs to the Grande Large Yachting group. A conglomerate that holds brands like Allures/Garcia or the famous Gunboat under its umbrella. Very practical: Outremer has its headquarters and shipyard facilities right ar La Grande Motte, adjoining to the yacht harbor across the street. Being definitely not an architectural highlight, we started the tour in the container building.

Focal point for Catamaran enthusiasts

The brand image and product aura that is Outremer is absolutely amazing. These boats managed to acquire a reputation of being exceptionally fast and performant sailing cats made by absolute specialists in high quality building. Outremer was one of the first brands to understand the importance of social media influencing. We are greeted by one of their staff who introduced us to the history and origin of the brand first.

Another one almost finished

Setting off for the shipyard tour, we passed by a nearly finished new Outremer 52 which was being prepared for watering in a few days. Here at La Grande Motte, as our guide tells us, they only build the current 52 and 55 models with having set up a new production facility at Lorient´s “La Base” at the Atlantic Ocean to exclusively build the 45. There are rumors that Outremer will leave the production location at La Grande Motte for good as well as the City wants to develop the area for holiday housing and keep away the smelly, dusty factory from the city center. But for now, this is where they are.

The deck mold

We enter a first hall, as our guide tells us, the nucleus and birthplace of the brand some 40 years ago. Founded in 1984 by a guy named Gerard Danson, this is where almost all cats have been made. The hall is dark, drafty and has a feel of makeshift to it. The corrugated sheet metal roof has some bigger and smaller holes in it, one can clearly see where rain poured in. I´d say the company doesn´t invest anymore in the infrastructure here as the days maybe numbered at this location. Underneath, two huge molds on large steel frames are placed, this is where the deck of an Outremer 52 and 55 is made.

High-end composite production

We are climbing up a ladder onto one of these large racks. The form is already filled with GRP mats and foam parts. Outremer makes the composite parts of each catamaran exclusively in vacuum infusion technique. After the gelcoat is sprayed into the form, the workers put in the pre-cut GRP mats and adjust the PVC foam core for creating the sandwich structures. The parts are sent to La Grande Motte laser-cut from another factory.

Vacuum infusion, sandwich layup

What I found interesting was the fact that Outremer, although the catamarans are series production boats, will adjust the layup of the mats, the positioning of sandwich materials like foam, carbon and even aluminium plates individually to the owner´s needs. It may be that an owner has special demands for winch positions, travelers and such. In this case, the layup is adjusted to create stiffness and rigidity where needed. That is one of the reasons, as they tell me, why the shipyard talks directly with the buyers to extract each detail of the use case – to come up with an individual solution.

The sheer size of a catamaran in production

In the next hall we can see the hull production. In La Grande Motte, the capacity of the production combined is to work at three to five 52 and 55 at the same time. With two catamarans currently in raw building process and three more in the fitting stage, there are also four to five catamarans outside for finishing touches. They tell me that this facility makes 30 to 40 catamarans a year: An impressive number, but still, compared to market leader Lagoon, celebrating their 1.000th Lagoon 42, Outremer still is a niche product.

First layer: Gelcoat

In the large shed a portside 52´hull mold has just been freshly sprayed with white gelcoat. This is the very first layer in GRP boat production – and a smell that is so nice for anyone interested in boat building! Just as we have seen a few minutes ago in the deck production hall, right after the gelcoat has dried sufficiently, the layup work with GRP-garment and sandwich foam materials starts. Right next to the gelcoat-mold, we can see this same part being finished and erected.

What a tiny person …

The size is enormous. 55 feet is an impressive size even for a monohull, but in a catamaran it is even more stunning. A guy from our tour walks past both molds and the relation of boat to man is breathtaking. This shows basically why people just love the multihull concept: It´s the enormous volume created by the two hulls and the saloon on top that is comparable with a full blown flat or small house. One can clearly see this by standing in awe looking at the molds.

Made of four parts

You may have read my recent article about the shipyard tour of Excess production – I was happy and a bit proud of being one of the very, very few people allowed by Groupe Beneteau to take pictures inside the halls and publish them. Even then, the shipyard did a selection of what I was allowed to show and what not – for some secretive reasons they are insanely protective of their production facilities. And so I am ver happy of showing this picture indeed:

Three parts make the underside

Most newbies to multihulls don´t know the basic construction of a catamaran. Almost all cats are made primarily of four parts. Which is the central lower part – let´s call it the “backbone” – two hulls or outer faces for starboard and portside hulls and the deck coming on top. I have a ton of these pictures put for some reason have never been allowed to show them. Now, here we are (and big thanks to Outremer!) to reveal this. A cat is made of four main big parts! Impressive, isn´t it?

Adding stiffness

After the three lower parts have been connected and laminated together to form a bond that could never be broken again, on the next stage of the construction the shipyard will add the bulkheads, frames and stringers. These are all extremely stiff but lightweight sandwich materials, laminated to the hull. These bulkheads will finally add the stiffness and rigidity needed to take away the molds (and start making another hull again) and hold together the boat for once. After this process, the empty but compartmented hull is transferred into another shed where the fitting works are done.

Meticulous fitting

We walk across a small public road that is cutting right through the shipyard – a testimony to the constant growth of the company right here at the La Grande Motte marina – and enter another big hall. It is basically a huge industrial tent with a thick plastic roof. Three catamarans are currently apparent, all in different stages of the production process.

Outfitting an Outremer

Basically, building a boat follows some principle rules and since I´ve seen quite a number of shipyards, I can say it is always the same. Adding some more frames to the boats, the work starts by installing the Diesel-engines and supportive equipment, like tanks, piping, cables, saildrives and such. Followed by other big mechanical items, like the rudders, fresh water system, shore power et cetera.

Like a house

Now, the sheer size of a catamaran seems to allow for some speeding up of this process. Whereas the constricted room of a multihull and the cramped access into a sailboat´s hull only allows for a step-by-step fitting process, on a catamaran many more people can work at the same time on one boat. At least this is my impression: On this cat, at portside it seems they were more focused on the machinery whereas at starboard side another team started fitting the electric and electronic equipment.

Quite some working space

This is very efficient. It may cut down production time as well as the need for more production space in terms of facilities. On a monohull production like Beneteau, there is a kind of conveyor belt where the hulls going along from station to station every 3 or 4 days. In catamaran production it seems you don´t need this as many, many more production steps can be done at the same time on just one single building lot.

Note the steering cable

I am especially impressed by the pride our guides take in their product. We are allowed to roam freely in these boats (with respect to the safety rules of course) and we can take pictures as we wish. No secrets, nothing to hide. Accompanied by the production manager, each question is answered openly and with high technical competence. Look, touch and feel: Outremer, it seems, is not only proud to show its “inside” but also keen to promote and proof the solid high building quality of their boats. As they put it: Every boat is made for an owner-couple and most boats really sail around the world.

Lightweight components, weight saving production

Another detail catched my attention. You know that I am always curious about the different solutions shipyards find to solve the problem of weight saving. Especially when it comes to furniture. Everything that is added to improve comfort on board will add weight. Weight decreases performance. Everything that is left out will add to the performance but will be less luxury for the owners. You can´t have a bare boat emptied of anything, right? So how does Outremer solve this problem?

Sandwich core furniture

Instead of utilizing massive wooden parts or even plywood for the interior, they use composite parts. Behind the fitting area of the cats I discover some offcut from a furniture part that nicely reveals how this is tackled in la Grande Motte: Foam cored furniture. Stiff and lightweight, but also expensive. Another detail: Look at how gorgeously the joints are made. This is nicely done joinery with an emphasis on quality.

Some 40 Catamarans per year …

Asking our guide about the current capacity and order situation, the answer is pretty open and straightforward. In the last year some 35 catamarans had been delivered by Outremer, which is a stunning number of three cats per month. Outremer is incredibly famous among the two-hulled circumnavigation scene, not just after “La Vagabonde” set on to their adventures aboard a 45.

Where dream boats are made

Since their catamarans are made for the world rounding couple, the feedback gathered in 40 years by literal hundreds of owners sailing millions of miles has refined a product that evolved into a perfectly adapted product to the needs of this very special target group. And it keeps on evolving. Looking at their current fleet available, our guide reveals that the Outremer 55 indeed is their best selling product.

Almost done …

This is amazing and really surprises me. Normally you´d expect the entry level product to be produced in most numbers with units delivered going down the bigger and more expensive they get. It’s the same way round with Outremer as it seems: Their buyers grow in size and with them the company grows. Both the Outremer 52 and the 55 are really big boats indeed. With a 7-digit price tag they may certainly be a dreamyacht for many, but available to just a few.

Soon underway

As final fitting takes place both at the outside of the boats as well as inside, we roam the big main hall with three catamarans in the making to explore more details. It´s past 6 o´clock now and so the staff has already left, which is a pity since I love to watch the guys working as well, it must be an exciting thing to witness, people bustling all over the place busy doing their work. On the other hand, we can freely roam and crawl into every corner …

Thorough testing and shakedown included

Concluding our tour we gather underneath a brand new Outremer 55 named APPA and another 52. Both are finished and currently receive their bottom paint. The shipyard will launch every boat right here at La Grande Motte. As the guide tells us, before handover, each catamaran is thoroughly tested and sailed extensively to shake out any teething troubles. That is why the La Grande Motte marina is filled with literally dozens of Outremer catamarans.

Impressive both on land …

Also, if an owner wants, the shipyard´s skippers – of which I met one absolutely competent and skilled master-specimen last year on the 45 sea trial – are happy to assist in getting to now the new boat, helping to acquire the sailing skills to safely operate such a boat. I don´t have too much experience in sailing catamarans (LINK) but from my humble cruising so far I can say that especially maneuvering and safely landing a catamaran was at east for me the biggest challenge. I can´t imagine what it would be like operating the throttle levers on such a big boat for the first time …

… and in the water!

Back on the boat show the next day I walk past by the display of Outremer. They have three boats in the water, their current 52 and 55 near the entrance and a 45 further along the pontoon. Now having seen how these gorgeous boats are made and how much pride the guys take in their work lets me appreciate the awesome lines of the Outremer a bit more. Such an interesting thing to see how much effort, accuracy and attention to detail is put into the product. And of course I will do a detailed walkthrough, I decide: But that´s something for another article.

Thanks guys for the chance to see the production, awesome work indeed.


You may also be interested in reading these connected articles:

A demonstration of absolute power: Sailing the Outremer 45 in tough conditions

At the Excess catamarans shipyard

Sailing skills: Catamaran!