The Age of the Cat

There's no doubt about it a catamaran will get you sailing, it might be different than a monohull and you just might like it.

mark pillsbury headshot 1 368

Marianne Lee

Just when we started putting together our annual multihull issue, I received a curious note from a reader wondering why catamarans are appearing in Cruising World with increasing frequency. “Is it a hot market, a market that’s bringing in a younger demographic and thus newer and more readers?” he asked. “If the America’s Cup didn’t involve cats, would the cats have less editorial space?”

The A.C. quip aside, these were legitimate questions, though I suspected an ulterior motive. I read on: “As the owner of a monohull, a Cape Dory 270, I get no thrill from reading or seeing cats in the magazine and feel they take away from photos and stories that could be devoted to monohulls. Part of the wonder of sailing is the beauty of a boat under sail. You don’t get that sense of wonder with a cat, which looks more to me like a floating condo.”

“Whoa,” I thought. That’s sort of like telling a guy he’s got a dumb dog or an ugly wife. I mean, who’s to judge? At the very least, I concluded, this guy’s not going to be a fan of our June issue, the bulk of which is devoted to the world of multihulls and the people who enjoy them—which, by the way, increasingly includes many of us.

Multihulls accounted for nearly half of the boats imported into North America in 2009 and for about a third of the imports last year, according to the annual industry report put together by The Sailing Company. Meantime, the researchers report that catamarans now account for 22 percent of the bareboat-charter sailboats worldwide, up from 14 percent of the fleet just five years ago, and it’s growing.

But enough statistics. Visit tropical locales like the British Virgin Islands and you’ll discover harbors filled with people who’ve found all sorts of ways to have fun on cats. And the reason is pretty simple: They’re very comfortable, don’t heel (the nonsailors love this), and some of the sportier designs are actually quite fun to sail. Honest.

Just ask my sister-in-law and occasional sailing companion Peggy. I clearly recall the trade-wind sail some years back from Tobago Cays to Bequia aboard a 40-something-foot monohull. While some on board (OK, me) relished the thrashing we took on that long beam reach, most of the rest of the crew faired only slightly better than Peggy, whose head hung over the transom, chumming, for all five of the glorious hours. Put her on a cat, though, in blustery Sir Francis Drake Channel, and no matter the swell or breeze, she’s ready to sail all day.

As I wrote in an email to our cat-phobic reader, at this point in the evolution of multihulls, I’d guess that we’re at the period 1965 to 1970 with regard to the similar debate over wood vs. fiberglass. At that stage, wood lovers looked with great disdain upon anything plastic, while those sailing their fiberglass boats adored them as equally and were quite happy to trade maintenance for sailing time. Once relegated to tropical charter bases, cats these days are circling the globe and turning up in harbors pretty much everywhere. In fact, with moorings and dock space at a premium (and sometimes an impediment to even owning a boat), owners are finding berths for their cats in the shallows, where keelboats dare not venture.

Our reader concluded by asking if I thought that the current compromise—mixing multis and monos—is serving both markets well.

I do. Here at CW, we don't care what gets you there. We just think you should go sailing. So go.