“Actually, there’s an awful lot of space on offer, isn’t there?” you might say after a quick look aboard a modern cruising catamaran at the boat show. “How nice to be able to prepare food up here, with that view. And that huge cockpit . . .”
The seed is sown; no longer are you looking at multihulls as a ‘floating caravan’ as purists once considered them to be, but as a viable cruising option for you and your family. And you are far from being alone.
Multihulls – and catamarans in particular – are becoming increasingly popular among cruisers. If you take the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) as an example, in 2010 there were 14 multihull entries, but by last year’s ARC there were 36 and numbers are growing.
Which is why we have introduced an eight-part series on Catamaran Sailing Techniques by multihull designer and experienced multi sailor Nigel Irens, in partnership with marine insurance specialist Pantaenius.
In it Irens considers aspects of handling, safety and coping with heavy weather from the viewpoint of a long-term monohull sailor new to catamaran sailing. Each part is accompanied by a free instructional video.
The looks, performance and handling of cruising catamarans has improved dramatically over recent years. Gone are the quirky-looking old-style catamarans that dominated cruising cat design for decades. Cats are now opulently spacious with incomparable views, and can be slippery and stylish too.
A number of sailors, if they’re honest, prefer to charter a catamaran rather than a monohull for the living space it provides. It is the reason why charter fleets are gradually being populated by cats. And once they’ve tried one out on a charter, many become hooked. It is small wonder that multihull converts rarely switch back to monohulls.
But it’s not only about space. The whole ethos of multihulls has changed. They are actually hip these days; whether floating, fetching or foiling, multihulls are where it’s at. From the Tour de Voile’s new 24ft trimarans, to stadium events involving yachts such as the GC32s, Extreme 40s and AC45 World Series, right through to ocean record-setters, multihulls are the elite choice for grand-prix racing. They represent the pinnacle of our sport, and are the playthings of wealthy sailors seeking an adrenalin buzz.
With performance comes better handling and style. These are the trickle-down benefits we’re currently seeing aboard cruising cats – the Gunboat factor, if you will. Moving down to the more mainstream end of the sailing market, we are seeing a rise in the number of performance cruising cats from manufacturers such as Catana and Outremer, and compact multihulls like Dragonfly and Corsair.
These are all good choices – yachts with high speed capability, high aspect rigs and performance features such as lifting asymmetric boards, and ones I would get more excited about sailing than many production monohulls.
There has also been an improvement in the speed, styling and handling ability of catamarans built in series production – those charter-style family cruisers that offer maximum space. This is arguably the only market in yachting that has continued to grow throughout the recession.
Learning from experience
But what about those of you looking for the next yacht to take you bluewater cruising? If you have an eye on the ARC or maybe even a circumnavigation you might well be considering whether a monohull is still the boat for you. Are you considering a multihull?
We spoke to a variety of skippers who have lived aboard and cruised catamarans for years. Some are multihull enthusiasts through and through, others were recent converts from monohulls (see below).
Kevin and Jane Rush, for example, were lifelong monohull sailors who bought a Leopard 44 catamaran when they both retired two years ago and decided to head off long-term cruising.
“We wanted to have extra space, ease of living and be ‘above the waterline’ without moving to a boat that was larger than we could comfortably manage as a couple,” explains Kevin. “The most important point for us is that, even after 30 years of monohull sailing, my wife still suffered from seasickness at times when the boat was heeling over. So the stability and above-water aspects [of a catamaran] were huge contributors to getting her agreement to do longer distance cruising.”
Valuable pros and cons
We wanted to know what drew other owners to cruising multihulls. Space and comfort is obviously the biggest draw. But we also learned some valuable pros and cons of catamaran cruising, beyond the expected ones such as shoal draught and flat-level living.
We also asked our sample sailors for some top tips for those looking to buy a catamaran:
Space for living
- There is no denying the sheer quantity of living space above the waterline. “On our Leopard 44, we have a seating area for up to five ahead of the mast, seating for six in the saloon and six in the cockpit,” says Kevin Rush. “This was useful when crossing the Atlantic as we could find our own individual space and not be on top of each other.”
- Cats have the capacity to carry a larger dinghy that can extend your exploration range at anchor.
- “More space for solar panels, hence less generator noise; better UV protection; easy dinghy handling; more privacy,” declares Reinhard Siede.
- Around 80-90 per cent of a liveaboard’s time is spent at anchor, so having as large, stable and comfortable a platform as possible makes sense. Frank Lambrechts converted to a Lagoon 450 after owning three monohulls “to have more liveaboard space when at anchor. Away from our home port, we are at anchor six nights out of seven, sometimes more,” he says.
- A catamaran is more stable for moving about on deck at sea, and for sail handling, setting downwind sails, etc. So the crew is typically more rested on passage. “The broader beam also makes management of safety equipment (eg drogues) easier,” reports Kevin Rush.
- “You can invite guests who are not sailors and give them an unforgettable sailing experience,” says Maarten Franken, whose parents, now in their late 70s, regularly join them aboard.
Safety at sea
- “The catamaran is a better platform for downwind sailing in a following sea – which you find on the majority of westabout circumnavigations,” maintains Russ Owen. “Her stability and wide stance allows us to fly gennakers for days at a time at sea, without worrying about the ‘death rattle broach’ that monohulls can experience in those conditions.”
- “Upright stability gives you better radar range and VHF radio range than a heeling platform does.” Russ Owen again.
- “Unsinkable; two engines; no spinnaker pole needed.” Reinhard Siede.
- “Visibility, stability underway and at anchor, redundant engine and equipment-carrying capacity.” Michael Roberts.
- Mooring costs are between 1.5 and two times that of a monohull – however, it can be argued that you gain a similar ratio in extra volume.
- “The wide beam limits your haul-out options,” reports Michael Roberts.
- Maintenance: there are two hulls to keep clean, two engines to service, two rudders and more seacocks, etc, to maintain.
Performance to windward
- When sailing to windward heavily laden, a catamaran will typically surrender at least 10º in leeway or pointing ability to a monohull. However Kevin Rush argues that “even if half of your sailing is done upwind, this under-performance impacts less than ten per cent of the time that you are on the boat”.
- “Tacking can be frustrating; and there is no performance downwind without a spinnaker or Parasailor because the genoa is too small,” admits Reinhard Siede. “Sailing is not really fun – it is like driving a bus instead of a sports car.”
- “The catamaran ride is smoother, but not for everyone,” says Russ Owen. “Even a well-found bluewater cat with high bridgedeck clearance has a rough ride to windward in choppy waves.”
- Freeboard height means boarding typically needs to be done via transom steps. The freeboard of production cats is more comparable to 60ft monohulls, hence they can present the same difficulties in an MOB retrieval situation.
- Windage: high freeboard means that cats have a lot more windage than monohulls and tend to sail back-and-forth at anchor and pull on their lines in harbour.
- “More noise upwind; more noise from furniture; high purchase price; special downwind sails required.” Reinhard Siede.
- Finally, there is the stigma in a crowded anchorage of monohulls . . . “It’s kind of like driving a motorhome to a sports car convention,” maintains Russ Owen. “You take up a lot of space, and you don’t have that sweet sheerline to look at.”
Multihull converts offer their tips
Michael Roberts, Vivo
Michael and Dawn Roberts bought Vivo, a Fountaine Pajot Eleuthera 60, in 2009, and recently sailed 13,000 miles with the World ARC from Saint Lucia to Australia. Michael’s main advice is to spend some time on a variety of different catamarans before you buy.
“Talk with owners about what they like about theirs. Even if you are not interested in that particular model there are things to learn about what features hold higher priority: wet or dry heads [no shower], galley layout, davit system, line handling, helm location, ventilation, sail drive, straight shaft, accessibility for maintenance, etc.”
He also suggests you should consider the type of crew situation you will have. “I bought a boat that, as I was to learn, is too big for my wife and I to handle safely by ourselves. As a result we are always looking for crew.”
Kevin Rush, Libeccio
Kevin and Jane Rush are lifelong monohull sailors who made the decision to go the multihull route when they retired and started longer term cruising two years ago.
After purchasing their Leopard 44 in 2013 in Guernsey, they cruised the Mediterranean before doing the ARC in 2014. They recently hauled out in Grenada after cruising the Windward Islands.
Kevin advises that you should decide what is critical. “For us it was that the boat should be easily managed by the two of us; the manufacturer has a strong safety record; the foredeck has good clearance; that the helm is integrated with the cockpit/saloon so the helmsman is not isolated; and that all of the running lines come back to the helm.”
Then you must see all the boats on your list. “We learned more crawling around the boats over three days at the Annapolis boat show than we had with months of research.”
Moreover, you should get hands-on experience. “Once we had narrowed down our preferred models we chartered five different boats for a week each before finalising our ranking,” Kevin maintains.
Ex-show boats are good value, he says, as they are little used, typically well appointed, properly maintained and can be bought at a discount.
Kevin also suggests you should read the owners’ forums: “They give you a real view on the maintenance and issues owners are having.”
Maarten Franken, 99 Bottles
The Franken family from the Netherlands have been cruising for seven years. They started sailing on a Lagoon 380 (“a perfect starter’s boat”) and now own a Lagoon 450.
“We have made a lot of long trips and have been sailing in total for approximately two of the last seven years,” says Maarten Franken. “This includes a five-month cruise of the Mediterranean and a 13-month Atlantic circuit. We are typical family cruisers, not looking for maximum speed, but just a comfortable way to go from A to B.”
He points out that on a long-distance cruise you may be at anchor most of the time, so think about the accommodation aboard a multihull compared with a similar-sized monohull. “You have to sacrifice a lot of luxury for one extra knot of speed. Is this really that important for you?”
He advises installing solar panels and a wind generator if you are on a long cruise. “We have seven solar panels and are now almost self-supporting at anchor (with two fridges and a freezer),” he declares.
Also: “Go to a lot of boat shows, enjoy it, and don’t choose one too soon.”
Russ Owen, Nexus
The Owens were monohull sailors until they bought their first catamaran, a 45ft Leopard in the Moorings crewed charter fleet, for family cruising with growing children. When planning a circumnavigation, they looked seriously at monos and multihulls, before settling on a Nexus (Nexus/Balance 600), “primarily for safety and comfort reasons”.
Russ Owen has a particular issue with balsa-cored cats, which he advises you to avoid as they get waterlogged and rot. A used charter boat with many years of service will be a full-time maintenance and repair hobby – but the price should be commensurate with that condition.
For long-term cruising, he would recommend at least one metre of bridgedeck clearance to reduce slamming in waves, advising you to consider a boat with significant load-carrying capacity without sacrificing performance. “Test-sail a loaded cat and determine her average speed capability on different points of sail – every knot of speed you lack is 24 fewer miles every day on a voyage.”
Saildrives are more problematic than shaft-drive transmissions, Owen believes – shaft-drives move the weight closer to the centre of the boat, which is good. He also thinks mechanical steering systems, with dual rudders linked by a cross shaft, give the best wheel feedback and provide redundancy in the event of having to use an emergency tiller.
All exterior openings on bluewater cats should be able to be solidly dogged down and sealed. “Forward-facing stowage compartments with hinged lids can be bashed off by large waves or pulled off by lines, and flood the boat.”
Replace or rebuild everything you are worried about or is “mission-critical” before you begin your voyage, says Owen. “The most valuable thing you have in those exotic destinations is your time, so don’t spend it fixing your boat!”
Canvas modifications that can get you completely and comfortably out of the weather are a good idea, and Owen rates his Ullmann Sails (South Africa) custom-built 80 per cent gennaker with a 35-knot wind rating for downwind sailing. “You can leave this up day and night, and sail downwind in most squalls, make most of the average passage speeds you need, and still sleep well. For downwind passages, it will be your go-to workhorse.”
Multihulls in the ARC
The most popular brand of multihull to take part in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in recent years has been Lagoon, followed by Fountaine Pajot, Catana, Outremer and Privilege.
No of multihull entries in the ARC
2013 31 (builders: 10 x Lagoon, 5 x Catana,
3 x Outremer/Privilege/Fountaine Pajot).
Average year of build: 2007
2014 36 (builders: 14 x Lagoon, 6 x Fountaine Pajot,
4 x Outremer). Average year of build: 2010
No in the World ARC
How much multi for your money
To some extent multihulls fit into certain categories, much like monohulls. Below we have identified some of these categories, as a means of comparing multihulls against monohulls of a similar price. How much boat do you get for your money? (All prices are standard base prices ex VAT).
For a similar price you could get a Beneteau Sense 50 or Bavaria 55.
Lagoon 450ST: €350,000.
For a similar price you could get a new Jeanneau 53 or Hanse 575.
Corsair Dash 750: £47,000.
Dragonfly 25: €69,900.
For a similar price you could get a Pogo 30
Outremer 5X: €975,000
For a similar price you could get a Solaris 58
Gunboat 55: £1.3m
Dazcat 1495: £600,000
For a similar price you could get an Xp55
Luxury bluewater cruiser
Catana 47: €579,000
For a similar price you could get a Wauquiez 57
For a similar price you could get an Oyster 575; Hallberg Rassy 55; Contest 57CS; Gunfleet 58, Discovery 58 – all between £1.1 and £1.3m.
Neel 65: €1,880,000.
Similar-priced monohull: CNB 76
Ocean Explorer C-60: €3,200,000.