Diane talked with Toast for a review on the Lagoon 380, a well known design that was a workhorse of charter fleets for the last two decades. She and her family sailed a 2001 Lagoon 380 Owners Version named S/V Don Quixote for about six years. They started in Seattle with three little children and then ended up in New Zealand several years later with much bigger children.
You can read about her latest adventures on her blog.
Key Takeways of the Lagoon 380
- Lots of available models to choose from. These were built for two decades in large production for charter.
- Very comfortable and large below. Larger than typical for same size 38 foot catamaran.
- Very forgiving. Simple rigging is good for novices and families. Easy for all to sail and hard to make mistakes with under powered sail plan.
- All lines lead to cockpit makes for safe sailing as you do not have to leave the cockpit great for kids to help with sail changes.
- Very comfortable boat in big seas. Loves to ride up and down waves and feels safe and comfortable.
- Great visibility from helm and easy maneuvering with twin engines.
- Positive flotation. Story of keels being ripped off but the Lagoon 380 did not sink because of design to float.
Challenges of the Lagoon 380
- Lack of storage. They modified to add additional cabinetry and shelves especially in galley area.
- Very sensitive to weight and sails spectacularly poor in light winds.
- Small sailplan while good for novice sailing also leads to performance issues. Slow boat.
- Does not point upwind well.
- Did not handle square seas well. Short choppy large waves, but not many boats handle this well especially at this size.
- Original refrigeration system was raw water cooled and unreliable.
- Galley counter space is tiny and needed to be customized. They added counter space across the companionway and over the sink.
- Third child ended up sleeping in starboard bow compartment because of 3 cabin layout and 5 person crew (3 daughters).
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Lagoon 380
So I’m Toast. Hi.
My husband and I were professionals in Seattle. He’s a doctor and I was the change manager. We decided to check out. We had three daughters at the time, so, when we moved on to the boat, they were 8, 10, and 12.
We decided to take a year off. We didn’t know what it would mean.
Don Quixote was a Lagoon 380 which was a very big step for us because we were your typical suburban family, and it felt like such a downsizing to go into the 380. But six years later when we moved off, she felt huge.
We got used to the smaller lifestyle. Our objective was to spend more time with the kids. That was the best decision we ever made in our lives.
We traveled first north from Seattle up around Vancouver Island then down and did the classic Mexico thing. Eventually we decided to lark off across the Pacific, and then we made landfall in New Zealand in 2011. Basically because New Zealand – by the way in case you’re not familiar with the oceans yet – is downwind of absolutely everything and so that’s kind of where you end up if you’re in the Pacific.
We thought we were just going to stay there for the kids to do high school things, but they bedded down and became Kiwis. Ultimately we ended up selling Don Quixote and moving back to land-based life after a few years living on the boat in Auckland.
So that’s us.
What made you choose the Lagoon 380?
Two things actually.
The most obvious one is that on the West Coast the United States in 2005 there were very few catamarans and most of the ones that were out there with on the market were kind of hand built custom-built. We just didn’t feel as much confidence as we probably could have in those hand-built ones.
They were also larger than we really thought we needed, and we’re not very good sailors. So that gets to our second real reason.
These Lagoon 380s are bulletproof for a fairly novice family of sailors. They’re really underpowered substantially, and they’re very comfortable as a house. So as a result, it’s very hard to go wrong with them from a sailing perspective. They’ve got very simple rigging, and it just felt like the right thing to do for our sailing skill at the time.
So that probably brings us into what was the best thing about the boat. It sounds like it was a great novice boat. What were some of the elements you loved about the Lagoon 380?
She’s much bigger inside than on the outside. For a family as substantial as ours, we could have a relatively small boat whilst also having quite a big space inside.
It has kind of that Beneteau idea though that it had no cabinetry to speak of, so we ended up installing ourselves and building a whole lot of shelf space and and more places to stow things.
So that’s kind of the pluses and the minuses all in one.
She was very easy to sail. I now have a little tiny Noelex 25. That’s much more complicated a sailing boat than than Don Quixote was.
Her lines are super simple, and the previous owner had led them all to the cockpit. We could run everything out of the cockpit. That was nice.
Being out on the oceans, having everything where it’s easy and you don’t have to worry so much, was a lovely aspect of that boat.
She’s a great boat. Indestructible. A very forgiving boat.
Tell me how she did in different conditions. You crossed the Pacific. How did she do in light weather?
The big thing about Don Quixote and all these Lagoons I suspect have a similar problem. It’s really easy to overload them as a boat, so the catamarans are obviously much lighter on their feet if you don’t put a ton on them. This is great for weekend sailors, but as soon as you start loading them up for cruising they sink down on their water line and they’re very heavy.
So she did spectacularly poorly in in light winds and just kind of sat there in the water. It was not unusual for us to throw the children on a line off the back of the boat. That’s how slow she was. So we just drag her along like shark bait.
This is also why she was kind of easy to handle because nothing happened fast on Don Quixote. As a catamaran goes those Lagoon 380s are not what you’d call zippy and so we’d get in catamaran races out of Mexico and we’d always lose our shorts. We could largely keep up with the monohull fleet, but that was about it.
So she’s slow. She would do very well on a beam reach. She can’t point at all. She was fantastic downwind. It was lovely using her as a very large surfboard in high winds.
She was very comfortable in most seas. The only ones I’d say that she sucked at were square seas like in the middle of the Sea of Cortez. You can get some really nasty ones and also in the Straights of Juan de Fuco where the waves are functionally square. We would fall off the back of those waves in way that was spectacularly uncomfortable and frankly a little dangerous because it would really smash the gear. That was the only sea that I really felt uncomfortable.
In the highest speeds, we were at was like 13 knots maybe in a downwind wing on wing in near Auckland, and the worst seas we were ever in were just those choppy ones. The really big waves she just would go up and down. She didn’t care she just loved them. Very comfortable boat to sail.
How did she handle if just one of you was out there doing stuff? Was that ever a worry for you or did you drag a kid inside?
The first thing I challenge is that we weren’t short-handed. The kids were eight, ten, and twelve, and we put them on the helm at age eight. We had a philosophy – and again that speaks to how easy the Lagoons are to sail. The kids could largely sail her on their own. They couldn’t get the mainsail up. They were really pretty bad at gybing, but if you’re just putting them out in the middle of the Pacific, they were fine.
It wasn’t as hard as you might think. She’s fairly easy to handle with the lines all run to the back, but you need power. What I would say for all of these boats is if you don’t have the upper body strength because you’ve either got children doing it or as a female you don’t have that ability to manhandle it. I really encourage a lot of really good winches. Make sure you’ve got them set to the fact that even someone with less body strength can get the main up and down and can reef without a lot of extra help.
Catamarans are challenging especially these really wide fat ones when you’re driving because the lines are on opposite sides of the salon and 17 feet is a long ass way to run in certain conditions. We used to usually do it double-handed whenever we would change point of sail. The kids would come up and one would take one side and whoever was on the helm would take the other side because it’s just logistically a pain to get all the way from one side of the boat to the other.
Was there anything that you really disliked about the Lagoon 380?
No. We were very innovative and I think that’s something I’d recommend to any cruising sailor is just be creative and resilient about your boat. There’s lots of things that were wrong with Don Quixote, but we just changed them right.
I don’t think of them as problems with the boat. They were more just like challenges for the family to solve. She’s just slow. These Lagoon 380s are just slow. Expectations need to be set correctly when people invest in these big fat boats that were largely designed for the charter trade. That’s just not very efficient and that can be really annoying at times, but ultimately as a cruising family didn’t really bother us.
We didn’t like the refrigeration system and so we shifted that around. It was using ocean water, so we completely replaced it to use our water tanks instead. This was more efficient for us, and also meant a whole lot less barnacles on our refrigerator which is lovely.
The kitchen on the 380 is in an awkward place. We created additional counter space for ourselves because the counter space is literally the size of this laptop. It’s ridiculous. We ended up creating a board over the the companion way, and we also extended this sink with a little flip up counter.
There were customizations that we had to do to make that a functional space for living, but we were able to do all of it. We just added it ourselves.
Tell me about living aboard with the five of you. How did you use the cabins? What was the layout like?
We had the three cabin model. The Lagoon 380 comes in a three cabin or a four cabin charter model. We had the three cabin model, so the master bedroom side that had the head and the shower we used for my husband and I.
The kids were on the other side. The two youngest shared the aft cabin which was the larger one, and the eldest had the forward cabin. As the kids got older, and they started wanted their space we had to separate them.
We ended up converting the starboard bow locker believe it or not. It was this drop-in locker, and we converted it into a fourth bedroom so that I could have the children in three different rooms. They were just being horrible creatures to one another, and one of them was willing to essentially live in a closet. We stuck her up in the forward locker and shut the hatch. That was hilarious.
She was quite creative with that space, but the idea that you’re going to live in a bow locker that’s functionally for like lines and fenders. It’s just like okay okay if that’s what you want. Go. But I mean that also shows like how we adapted when we moved in it.
It felt really tiny in the beginning and by the time we moved out the kids were willing to move into basically a fender locker. They’re like wow look at all this space, so we did change our understanding of what it was like to live and what you need to be happy.
What do you think is the ultimate balance of the living space versus your sailing skills? Where do you lean?
Small is beautiful. I can’t emphasize that enough and this is less about sailing than about life. We’ve had so many more fabulous experiences because we keep downsizing our lives. The physical infrastructure of our lives keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller, but every time we do that we have better experiences. We are able to do more. I mean the point where I like pre-Covid I spent two weeks in Bali with nothing more than a backpack and it was one of the best experiences I ever had, and when I mean backpack I don’t mean like a big backpack. I mean literally like a day pack.
We keep getting smaller. The first part of our journey was moving into the boat. To this day Dean and I are convinced that if we were to do it again we would get probably a slimmer boat which means less space overall for the five of us, but slightly longer because on the ocean speed is safety.
She was super comfortable, but the sacrifice we made is we were slower than we could have been. And so I would go narrow with a longer water line, so you get a little bit more efficiency and speed.
Keep in mind where you’re going to be sailing as well to make sure you have a size boat that that gives you that kind of comfort, that safety level. That would be my big ones and you need far less than you think. You do my orders of magnitude less than you think.
We had five people on that boat and a cat. A cat and and four women and my husband. We were fine. It was too big and in retrospect we’re all like less boat right.
We didn’t need that much boat, but it was really good to have a boat that was functionally indestructible like the Lagoon 380s. They’ve literally been ones where the keels have gotten torn out, and the boat doesn’t sink. It’s got positive flotation. It’s just a big beast of a boat. It’s indestructible, so that that aspect of it too was very comforting for us with small children. The boat itself was a life raft and that’s a consideration i think too if you’re going out there for the long haul.
Were there any issues that you found with being able to see from the helm or how it was to move around to marinas or all?
The visibility on the 380s is great. I’ve been on the 410s, 440s, and 480s and frankly the visibility for the 380s is better. The way the layout of the helm is designed on those is quite good. It’s single-helmed so that does give you some blind spots on the far side.
The one warning I have for people who are kind of new to this particularly monohull sailors is that catamaran is like driving a tennis court. It’s great when you’re out on the ocean and there’s nothing out but when you get to little crunchy bits on the edges it starts to get really scary because you’re functionally driving a little aircraft carrier and so it is difficult.
Our visibility was pretty good on the Lagoon. We did however create a new bimini. The bimini was a whole different design. It was structurally designed by the previous owners, and it was an enormous enhancement. It also increased our visibility the way it was set up.
Remember that half the time you’re out there especially if you’re in some place like the Northwest. It’ll be cold and rainy. You’re going to want to have the covers up and those can ruin your visibility if they’re not designed right. Monohulls in particular. I’ve been on my friend’s Evergreen monohull. We’ve been up sailing with them, and I’m like, “I can’t see…where am I going?”
It also sucks on monohulls only having one engine. My new little monohull is very quick but oh my gosh. Where’s my two engines? I want to drive this like a tractor and I only got one engine! This is annoying.