In early December, Aquila added the 28 Molokai and 28 Molokai Cuddy to the brand’s power catamaran offerings, creating the Offshore model line in addition to the Sport and Yacht lines that range to 70 feet. The new-product announcement may sound standard, but it represents yet another step in an evolution that has taken years to bring power catamarans into the mainstream boating market.
While power cats used to be an anomaly, even in bareboat charter fleets, today Aquila is among the brands that heavyweight dealer MarineMax sells, alongside Azimut, Boston Whaler, Ocean Alexander and other leading monohull brands. And the fact that the new Aquila cats are 28 feet overall demonstrates a belief that the power cat design is growing in popularity not just among longtime boaters, but also among customers entering the market for the first time.
“Cats in the 28- and 32-foot length tend to attract a younger demographic, with many customers being new to boating,” says Aquila brand manager Alain Raas. “The larger 54- and 70-foot boats appeal to older, more experienced boaters, many of whom are looking to step down from bigger boats. Our price segmentation sets up a sequencing; when our customers search for either a larger boat or a smaller one, they easily find one without sacrificing performance or quality.”
How the Aquila brand got to this point is a story that begins in the late 1960s in South Africa, where Alain Raas’ father, Lex Raas, built his first boat. “My dad was very much into sailing and racing,” says Lex Raas, who spoke with Soundings Trade Only from his home in Hawaii. “So boats were always part of my life. I built my first trimaran when I was 15 and have been involved in the business ever since. A lot of people lacked confidence in multihull boats. People believed bi- and tri-hulls weren’t capable of big seas or rough conditions. There was an overall sense that they were unsafe, but that’s not true.”
Lex Raas always believed that multihulls, when
designed correctly, could offer a superior ride in all kinds of conditions. “In a way, I guess I’ve devoted my life to designing and building multihulls that would change the boating community’s views,” he says. “Sales of multihulls have been growing in the past few decades, and many people have come to experience what I’ve known for so long. Within that change in attitude came a business opportunity, and I was pleased to use my experience to serve it.”
He adapted his experience with sailing multihulls to power catamarans in the early 2000s while handling fleet purchasing at The Moorings, which primarily offered monohulls for charter. “Their heavy use revealed reliability issues, mostly involving props and shafts,” he says. “One day, we had a group of non-sailing customers who wanted to charter a boat. The only remaining boat was a sailing cat, but they didn’t know how to sail. I suggested that they rent the boat, leave the sails folded and simply drive. They did, and they were so excited when they returned that they rebooked.”
Additional repeat bookings convinced him that there was a market for luxury power cats — thus came Leopard power cats in 2005. At the end of 2010, Raas left The Moorings, and in 2012, Aquila Power Catamarans was founded as a partnership between the Sino Eagle Group and MarineMax, with Lex Raas joining the MarineMax team to oversee the development of the power cat line.
“MarineMax has over 100 locations worldwide, including 77 retail dealership locations, which includes 31 marinas or storage operations,” Lex Raas says. “I could never have done what I’ve done without [former MarineMax CEO] Bill McGill, who supported me even when there was a lot of opposition in the industry. It’s why I’m here at MarineMax, heading development at Aquila and keeping the relationship with Sino Eagle on a strong footing.”
Aquila boats are built at Sino Eagle’s facility in Hangzhou City, China. “We built a million-square-foot factory and designed it so that it is not only safe for our employees but also for the environment,” Les Raas says, adding that all FRP parts are resin-infused to nearly eliminate the styrene emissions common with traditional hand lamination. The plant, which is fully covered in solar panels, also employs what he calls an industry-best filtration system for the cutting and trimming of FRP parts.
“I’ve worked at factories all over the world, and I’m pleased to say that our facility is one of the most environmentally and employee-responsible factories and production lines that I’ve seen,” Lex Raas says.
The focus on leading through innovation also applies to Aquila’s boats, Alain Raas says. “Our innovations include clean designs with lots of living space,” he says. “Our boats incorporate wide, spacious cabins with numerous windows, and passengers feel like they’re in a luxury suite with the best ocean view. They enjoy amenity-rich features and style such as open-galley kitchens and state-of-the-art technology.”
An example of that technology is on the Aquila 36 Sport, whose foils reportedly create a 40 percent reduction in fuel consumption and a 35 percent increase in top speed. “A dihedral vee-shape in the main foil makes for a smooth, predictable ride,” Alain Raas says. “Transitioning foils allow boats underway to rise and descend based on speed.”
On the Aquila 70, the company uses carbon-fiber bulkheads to add strength and rigidity. A bulbous bow improves open-ocean handling.
With the strong focus that MarineMax places on post-sale follow-up, the Aquila brand now has invaluable customer feedback to help refine its power cat designs going forward. As with all kinds of boats, the owners’ expectations differ. That’s even true of Lex and Alain Raas, and what they want to see on the water.
For Lex, “a power cat must offer more than a monohull motorboat,” he says. “I expect every Aquila to perform in both massive seas or rough water, and to ride equally smoothly on a calm day.”
And Alain? “I am on the water with my family, so space and livability are important. We need enough square footage in our boat for comfort, while enjoying excellent performance,” he says.
While Aquila did not provide the number of annual builds at the time of this writing, sales outside the United States have been robust. “Our strength with Aquila is in international sales,” MarineMax CEO Brett McGill told Soundings Trade Only last year. “We’ve set up almost 20 dealers across the world that sell the Aquila product. It’s not [the biggest] part of our business, but it’s impressive how much we sell internationally.
Simpson Marine — which has multiple offices across Asia and is Aquila’s exclusive dealer in the region — reported an excellent start to 2022, saying it had sold a flagship 70 to a seasoned owner keen on long-range cruising with his family. In addition, it moved a 54 Yacht in Thailand, three hulls of the 36 Sport, a 44-footer and a 28 Molokai in Malaysia, all within the first month of the year.
This article was originally published in the February 2022 issue.