Join the Cat Crowd
There's no shortage of good reasons to climb aboard a catamaran
A rare sight on the world's waters 20 years ago, catamarans are now ubiquitous. At boat shows, they elbow aside monohulls, clamoring for attention. And they get it. Their mere presence demands it. They're big and brash, they offer bountiful creature comforts, and they revel in their exuberant styling.
Catamarans have evolved over the past three decades, and the public perception of the cruising cat has gone from oddball and dubious to mature and proven. Viewed more clearly through the lens of experience, the spectacular flips of some early racing models are accepted now as the inevitable outcome of experimentation and the price of progress. Modern cats have benefited from the "oops" moments of these pioneers, and they're now considered at least as safe as monohulls.
"The first question out of the mouths of visitors aboard catamarans isn't 'Will it tip over?'" says Hugh Murray, president of The Catamaran Company, which handles cats in every capacity, from new- boat dealer to used-boat broker to charter broker. "We haven't really heard that for five, maybe more years. We do get 'How fast can it go?' But that's usually for pass-along information intended for the guys back at the office. What people are really interested in is the space."
That, and the idea that sailing holidays don't have to mean the family has to be cramped together, white-knuckled, at 30 degrees of heel. Instead, they can spread out and lounge in the airy deck-level saloon, with its wide view of the horizon; engage in the sailing in the roomy cockpit; or lie on the trampoline and watch the sea go by.
The most popular cats bear out this dynamic. Their predominant features are an abundance of living space aboard a stable platform. Despite the inherent potential in the configuration, cruising catamarans, just like cruising monohulls, aren't built for speed but for comfort. Their appeal has as much, if not more, to do with the luxury they offer--and a penchant for lying quietly to an anchor in a rolly roadstead--as it does with their ability to sail a little faster off the wind than their monohull cousins. OK, in some cases, a lot faster.
While cabin count and condo-like convenience rank high on the cat designer's brief, they come blended with performance and seakeeping features in all ratios. There's a cat for every wallet and want, from small to large and from gentle and domesticated to fast and feral.
Under 30 feet, a catamaran's natural proportions converge to make it less habitable than a monohull of similar length. The hulls become constrictingly narrow, and it requires great artistry on the part of a designer to fit headroom into a bridgedeck saloon without seriously limiting clearance over the water or condemning the profile to a caricature.
One of the smaller boats with true liveaboard potential is the 33- foot Gemini 105Mc. It has accommodations approaching those of a 38- or 39-foot monohull--and at $150,000, not a dissimilar price. With centerboards raised and rudders tilted up, it can float in knee-deep water.
At 40 feet and over, available space seems to grow exponentially.
"These boats have more space than many two-bedroom apartments," says Murray. "Buyers see them as a home away from home, and more and more they're bringing household appliances aboard, like a flat-screen TV for every cabin."