Why a Cat?
These experienced monohull cruisers made the jump to a 46-foot cruising cat, and they're never going back. Here's why. A multihull feature from our June 2010 issue
4. Can a cat carry a full cruising payload?
Yes, but there's some truth to the saying "Overload a cat and it becomes a dog." A cat's bonanza of interior space must be treated carefully. Too much weight sabotages a cat's high-end speed potential; gain too much weight, and you'll still be sailing faster than most monohulls, but double-digit speeds will become elusive. So you'll need to restrain your worst packrat/four-spares-of-everything instincts. On 46-foot Hands, even as we've added heavy equipment to the boat (four anchors and lots of chain, a 1,400 amp-hour battery bank, a washing machine, a watermaker, a hydronic heating system, and more), we're continually cleaning house to save weight and stave off the clutter monster. Such winnowing will continue.
5. Do you feel safe offshore on a cat?
Yes. When a catamaran is holed, it's reassuring to know that while it may swamp, it will rarely sink. Hands, for example, has three watertight crash bulkheads in each hull and several sealed, watertight sections beneath the cabin sole. On a cat, there's also the built-in safety/redundancy factor of two engines and two rudders; break one, and you've still got one left. In fact, the more I cruise on a cat, the riskier seems the prospect of heading offshore in a monohull that can sink in 60 seconds and has only one engine and only one rudder.
6. What about capsize?
The tremendous stability of a cat simply has to be experienced to be believed, understood, and appreciated. Working on deck is safe; a cat barely heels and doesn't suffer knockdowns. Through blasts of wind and steep seas that would've slapped down or broached a similarly sized monohull, we've stayed firmly on two wheels. Having been through it firsthand, I'm a believer in the cruising catamaran's simple formula for awesome stability: buoyancy leveraged by lots of beam. Hands, for example, has 24 feet of beam. That said, one must exercise prudent seamanship when heading offshore in a cat. Harriet and I know that it's "game over, wait for rescue" if we're stupid enough to flip the boat. However, on Hands that would mean flying a full main and jib, sheeted tight, in 50-plus knots of wind on the beam-but note that the main shroud is designed to fail before the boat can be overturned. And let's get real: If our seamanship is that bad, we shouldn't be out there. On any boat.
3 Questions We Wish People Would Ask
1. How's a cat at anchor?
Considering that most cruisers spend 99 percent (OK, maybe only 98 percent) of their time at anchor, this isn't a dumb question. The simple answer is: Cats shine at anchor. They don't roll; when the dinner plates go flying on the monohull next door, the worst you'll get is a waddle. At anchor or on a mooring with a bridle led to the tip of each bow, cats barely "sail" like a monohull can. On Hands, we rode out a gale on a mooring to leeward of a 44-foot performance cruising monohull. While they tacked continually through 140 degrees, sailing back and forth, heeling to each gust, we tacked through only 30 degrees and stayed flat. Also, all cats have a safe-at-sea, convenient, out-of-the-way spot between the sterns for hoisting and stowing the ship's tender. And finally, the "loading dock" cutaway-stern design of modern cats means that tender-to-boat access is superior to that of most monohulls.
2. What's the most important equipment for a cat?
In my opinion, the best thing you can do for a cruising cat is get well-cut sails of low-stretch material. It's my observation that for cats longer than about 35 feet, crosscut Dacron sails are just too stretchy to handle the loads. Headsails morph into bloated bags as the wind picks up, and mainsail leeches dump off to leeward; this means poor performance, especially to windward. On Hands, we have a full-batten Spectra mainsail with 12 feet of roach, a carbon/Dyneema self-tacking jib, and a large Cubenfiber screacher for light-air and downwind work, all by North Sails. Equip your cat with great sails and the boat will perform in accordance with its design intentions.
3. Would you go back to a monohull?
No-and we haven't met any cat sailors who would. The first time Harriet and I went long-distance cruising, in the 1980s, we sailed a 15,000-mile route three-quarters of the way around the Pacific on board a heavy-displacement, full-keeled cutter. When we decided in 2006 to go cruising again, we approached the question of which type of boat to get with an open mind. After a lot of research that included hands-on testing, we chose two hulls-and we're glad we did. But since then, we've found that there's an inevitable one-two combination of ignorance and prejudice that cat owners run up against. Ours occurred when a veteran cruiser took a tour of Hands-during which he referred to our hulls as "pontoons"-and ended up announcing, "I could never get a cat. They just aren't real boats."
But the majority of monohull sailors are indeed curious, if cautious, about cats for cruising. They wonder, while trying to sift through anti-cat myths and pro-cat hyperbole, about these odd-looking craft. Cat sailors, meanwhile, have already discovered that there's another way to go cruising. They know that it's possible to sail flat and fast and safe and to cruise with all the comforts of home. So is it crazy for cruising sailors to consider buying two hulls instead of one? The journey starts with an open mind.
Tom and Harriet Linskey continue to cruise aboard Hands Across the Sea (www.handsacrossthesea.net) and bring educational, healthcare, and environmental help to island communities in need.