A review for persons interested in buying a beach catamaran.
The info below is based on what I found when looking for a new boat, and some things I have learned since. Part of my payback to all the reviews I have read on the web. Just remember I used to own one, so I am biased by definition, and this is my own personal opinion.
The Nacra 5.5SL is an 18 foot long catamaran built by Performance Catamarans.
I think the 5.5 is a great boat, but if you want to buy a new boat and will be spending $9-13K I would recommend other boats. I have heard new Nacra 5.5's are around $9500 new with trailer. This number may be a few years old. This is on the low side for performance oriented new boats. You won't be unhappy if you buy a new 5.5, but boat technology has improved over the years and there are many other options for just slightly more. Look into Inters, F-18's, A-Cats, F16's etc. Personally, I recently bought a used Taipan 4.9 F16 class sailboat. Its not quite as fast as the Nacra due to its smaller size, but it is much lighter, can still be sailed with 1 or 2 persons, and has a standard factory spinnaker setup. Visit http://www.formula16.org/ for more information.
Nacra 5.5's are available in good shape used for well under $5000. Early 90's boats run around $3000. I would highly recommend the Nacra in this price range if it meets your other needs.
You probably won't find a Nacra 5.5 yet in this range. Your best bet is a Hobie 16, but if you can find a Nacra 5.2 in good shape, it is a good boat.
This is a performance oriented boat. I do some social racing. The Nacra 5.5SL is OK for racing but not optimum. This is not a boat serious racers will use since there are more modern boats now out.
If you want a step up from something like a Hobie 16 this is a good boat. I used to have a Hobie 16, and find the Nacra give me so much more control and ability to adjust to conditions. And is much more stable.
But then again this is not a beginner boat. Being performance oriented, there are more "strings to pull". More things to adjust to get optimal speed. If you are a very beginning sailor or want to just have fun sailing, try a Hobie 16. Hobie 16's are cheap, readily available, durable, and easy to sail. But they have a large sail for their size and skinny bows which make them prone to tipping. For very beginners a Wave might be good. But it will not be as fast as the Hobie 16.
The Nacra 5.5 can be sailed with crew as SL (Sloop) or solo as Uni class legal. So if you don't have regular crew, its a great option.
Take the Jib off and you can sail as Nacra 5.5 Uni. (The original Nacra 5.5 was a Uni. That is why the boat with jib is called the Nacra 5.5SL (for sloop), vice just 5.5.) I often sail solo and the boat is great for that. When solo I usually also keep the jib on since I am in an area with lighter air normally.
But also handles 2 people just fine.
If you will sail exclusively solo, and want to race, think about an A-cat for F16 class boat.
As with most performance oriented boats, it has dagger boards. I don't sail in shallow water so not a problem.
If you better performance then a Hobie 16, but sail in shallow water, you might consider a new Nacra 500 or 570 or used Nacra 5.0 or 5.7 which are boardless.
The boat is still made so parts are readily available. Best bet is Murrays. But support your local dealer if you have one. But they will probably get any specialized parts from Murrays.
There seems to be a small concentration in Florida and the South East US. There is a concentration of 5.5 Uni's in Michigan.
If you want to buy a Nacra 5.5, I don't know of any specific items to look for that are unique to this boat. They are durable and have no known common problem areas.
The Ultimate Catamaran Guide, linked to below, has some general info to look for.
I find the Nacra 5.5SL to be a great, fun, fast, durable boat. I would recommend it and would buy one again.
But you should think about other boats if 1) You are a very beginning sailor, 2) You want spend to get the newest high tech boat for serious racing, 3) You need a boardless boat for shallow water, or 4) You are part of a heavy crew.
Another recommendation: No matter what boat you buy, get Catamaran Racing for the 90's by Rick White. He runs catsailor.com. Even if you don't race, it will tell you how to properly adjust a boat for optimum sailing.
ragenp*at**yahoo.com (replace *at** with @)
Nacra 5.5SL #310
July 2003. Updated 2006.