Cats Make Them Curious

Along the docks, boat-show visitors ask a multitude of questions about the multihulls. A "Catamaran Special" from our July 2009 issue

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Robert and Caine-built Leopard Catamarans are part of the StrictlySail Miami dockside scenery.Mark Pillsbury

The afternoon I spent listening to conversations amid the multihulls on display last winter at Strictly Sail Miami confirms the more formal industry research that shows that catamarans are the fastest-growing segment of the sailboat market.

Indeed, the annual survey conducted by The Sailing Company shows that today, multihulls account for one out of every three sailboats imported to North America, and that doesn't include those bought for charter, a category in which catamarans are becoming increasingly popular, especially at bases located in the tropics.

My own study of the subject is, well, admittedly more subjective, and it's based solely on this simple question posed to the passersby: "So, what do you like about these catamarans?"

The number one answer, not surprisingly, came from men and women alike; they said that they're most impressed with the amount of living space that's possible when cabins can be spread along the length of two hulls and a saloon can span their beams.

"Cats seem so much more spacious than a monohull," said Anna Maria Meeks, who was with her husband, Monte, in Miami to look for alternatives to their 19-foot powerboat, although she stressed that they weren't ready just yet to commit themselves. Residents of inland Florida, they were intrigued by the Telstar, a 28-foot trimaran whose folding amas make it easily trailerable. For them, the ability to hitch the boat to their car and visit various cruising grounds is an important consideration.

Bill Bowen and Cody Schisler were coming from a section of the docks lined by new Lagoons and Fountaine Pajots. Bill also pointed to the spaciousness they found when they climbed aboard a few different models. For his part, Cody said he thought that the boats felt like home. "I just loved how much room there was," he said.
Bill mentioned that he'd be tempted to give up his 26-foot powerboat and buy a multihull if he could find one in good condition and for less than $100,000.

But a potential stumbling block does exist for buyers thinking of crossing over from the single-hull world: A casual look through the classified listings indicates that foot for foot, catamarans are significantly more expensive than monohulls. First off, one has to remember that the typical 36-foot multihull has the interior volume of, say, a 45- or even 50-foot keeled sailboat. And while multihull admirers often point to the safety value of redundant systems, the fact is that installing plumbing, wiring, and fixtures into two hulls instead of just one-not to mention having two diesel engines-all help drive up the cost.

Derek Escher, a longtime multihull sailor and a broker with The Multihull Company, agrees that some sticker shock can greet first-timers when they initially come aboard, but once serious buyers begin doing their research, the prices, he says, become more palatable.

The big question he often hears has to do with performance: Everyone wants to know how much faster a catamaran is than a monohull. Early multihulls made a name for themselves by setting speed records and trashing their monohull rivals on watery racecourses around the globe. These often-overpowered cats and tris also earned a reputation for boats that are most stable when floating upside down.

Both reputations are somewhat off the mark, however. Today, builders size a rig and a boat proportionately so that most of today's catamarans make stable cruising platforms that newcomers to the sport appreciate because they don't heel and often don't cause seasickness quite as quickly as a monohull bashing upwind with its rails awash.

On the other hand, because of the volume of catamarans, people are tempted to bring lots of toys aboard, and cats that are built for comfort-with a genset, a dive compressor, a fridge, and a freezer, for example, on board-will serve up speeds that aren't much greater than those of a monohull.

For the performance-oriented sailor, Escher recommends going after a catamaran with daggerboards. These boats tend to sail closer to the wind, and if they aren't loaded down, the owner can be rewarded with a good turn of speed. Bridgedeck clearance is another consideration: the higher this clearance, the better for boats headed far offshore.

Salwa Farah of Antares Yachts adds that the comfort factor can't be overlooked when potential buyers step aboard. "I'm not camping out on my boat" is a comment she says that's often voiced initially when a husband and wife begin a tour. But after they visit the galley, the cabins, and the saloon, Farah reports that she often hears the wife proclaim, "Yes, I can do this."

Mark Pillsbury is editor of Cruising World.

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