Join the Cat Crowd
There's no shortage of good reasons to climb aboard a catamaran
Cruise Before You Choose: Whether on charter, as a demo, or with a friend, take a test sail
Purchasing a catamaran for the first time represents a big investment, not just in money but in a different style of onboard living and boathandling. Happily, you don't have to jump in without testing the waters first. There are many ways to get hands-on experience of cats and the cat experience before making the leap.
Every October, the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, is a great place to view a variety of cats, and Performance Cruising hosts Multihull Demo Days (www.multihulldemodays.com) for several builders shortly thereafter. Many of the companies that have been exhibiting at the show make boats available for brief demonstration sails, so this is a good chance to check out several boats in a condensed period of time. The Miami Strictly Sail show in February also has dozens of cats to view dockside.
But at any time of year, one of the best investments in trial sailing is to take the entire family for an extended introduction to what their new onboard roles might be by chartering a cat. You'll learn a lot by moving aboard any boat for a week. And to get a jump on the special handling techniques involved and to flatten your learning curve generally, you can also hire and take along an experienced skipper. You can even go whole hog and charter a fully crewed cat, learning from professionals while being pampered.
Charter opportunities abound. At one end of the supply spectrum, the fully integrated Catamaran Company (http://catamarans.com/) provides every service, from selling new boats to bareboat and crewed charters worldwide to brokerage sales of used boats. Major charter companies, including The Moorings (http://www.moorings.com/country_select.asp), Sunsail Sailing Vacations (www.sunsail.com), and TMM Yacht Charters (www.sailtmm.com), feature catamarans in numerous locations. Even smaller builders often have unique trial opportunities. For example, Maine Cat (www.mecat.com) operates a single base in the Bahamas where you can charter a Maine Cat 30 or 41.
If you enjoy traveling in company, Cruising World Adventure Charters hosts a Sail-a-Cat flotilla (www.sailingcharters.com) every year in the British Virgin Islands. This is an opportunity to share impressions with like-minded sailors-not to mention that on this year's trip, you'll get a chance to spend time with Cap'n Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander.
For a more ambitious immersion in catamaran sailing, you could hook up with a crew-networking outfit, such as Offshore Passage Opportunities (http://sailopo.com/), through which you might find a crew position on a delivery.
The chances to learn about cat sailing don't end with a purchase, however. PDQ Yachts runs a program called PDQ U every summer on Lake Ontario for owners taking delivery of their new boats.
Jeremy McGeary is a CW contributing editor.