Join the Cat Crowd
There's no shortage of good reasons to climb aboard a catamaran
Speed, Economy, Comfort: You can have any two of these
Legendary multihull designer Dick Newick is generally credited with coining the speed/economy/comfort triangle as it applies to multihull sailboats, though it's true for vehicles of any kind. Essentially, you can have any two of these qualities at the expense of the third. You can have speed at a low price if you're willing to give up comfort, and you can have comfort at a low price if you're willing to give up speed. If you want some of both, expect to pay for them.
If we take a couple of examples from the current multihull marketplace, we can see how effective the triangle is in measuring what you get for your buck. The Gunboat 48, which won the award for Most Dramatic Moment during CW's 2006 Boat of the Year trials (see "Liftoff," Editor's Log, December 2005), has a light-ship SA/D of 32.3, making it far and away the most powerful of the catamarans reviewed. Another way to look at power in a cat is to compare displacement to the boat's footprint, or length times beam. The Gunboat weighs a shade under 17 pounds per square foot, while three others in the Boat of the Year competition--the Lagoon 500, St. Francis 50, and Jaguar 36--came in between 25 and 27.
So what does it cost? The Gunboat is fully tricked out for cruising with beds, heads, galley, and the works, but everything is pared down to save weight, and the package comes in at a cool $73.45 per pound of displacement. The Lagoon 500 costs $17.35 per pound, but fashioned more for comfort and loaded with amenities, it weighs 131 percent more. When sailed in top-performance mode, the Gunboat behaves like a racing boat, demanding constant close attention from the crew. The Lagoon, while capable of a fair turn of speed off the wind, won't keep anyone's adrenaline gland on a hair trigger, but most will find it both slower and more relaxing to sail.
These boats also represent two other extremes in the market. The Gunboat is essentially custom built of advanced, lightweight, and high-strength materials. The Lagoon is built largely of standard materials in great numbers on a sophisticated production line by a company (Groupe Bénéteau) with enormous purchasing leverage.
The cost-per-pound measure is a useful starting point for someone looking to get the most stuff for the dollar, but as the above example shows, it needs to be weighted with other factors, such as where the boat is built, by whom, with what materials, and at what level of outfit.
High-volume builders, led by Lagoon and Fountaine Pajot, produce large numbers of boats in a wide range of sizes to a recognized standard of construction. Options are limited by the economics of the production line, but you usually have a choice between layouts for "charter" or "owner" use. Yards that build fewer boats per year, such as Privilège, offer a broader range of options, and as a rule you can expect to pay more in proportion to the degree of customization you seek. Switch Catamarans builds only four boats a year, each one highly customized around the essential structural components. Manta, one of three U.S. catamaran builders, builds about 10 Manta 42s a year, each to order. It offers a choice of finish materials, and it controls the cost of personalizing the boats by grouping extras in incremental packages.
The largest producers don't build much under 38 feet, although Fountaine Pajot is introducing its Mahé 36 this year. Numerous smaller builders take up the slack. The Maine Cat 30 and Performance Cruising's 33-foot Gemini 105Mc illustrate two ways of addressing the problem of fitting livable quarters into shapes that please the eye. Below 30 feet, on smaller hulls, you're moving into day-cat territory.
If you're looking to defray some of the cost of ownership and sub out the maintenance to someone else, there's always the charter business, which has absorbed a large portion of worldwide catamaran output. The Moorings sells its own branded version of Robertson and Caine's Leopard line, and many boats built by Voyage Catamarans enter that company's integrated charter business. Most bareboat companies large and small have cats in their fleets, so you can board your cat close to home or, if you prefer, in a favorite cruising ground.
First, you have to decide what you want your buck to buy: frills or thrills? Maybe you should take a test drive first.