Find the Cat That Suits Your Fancy

A Miami convergence of multihulls from far and wide attests to their diverse appeal. A catamaran feature from our July 2008 issue

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The Moorings cats are just a few or a raft up of choices floating around on two hulls at the Strictly sail Miami boat show.Billy Black

Big cats, thin cats, round cats, fat cats. As I walked the docks where the catamarans were parked for the Strictly Sail Miami boat show last winter, descriptive phrases popped into my head as if I were channeling Dr. Seuss. There were the square, vertical windows of the Lagoons, the colorful styling of both the Leopard and The Moorings catamarans from Robertson and Caine, and the sweeping, curved housetops on the Manta and the Catana. There were sleek performers like the Seawinds, stout cruisers from builders like Broadblue, and the palatial, 62-foot, crewed charter cat that Sunreef had on display. And did I mention the 48-foot Salina from Fountaine Pajot? The sunning platform/dinghy davits on its stern seemed a delightfully good idea for both passagemaking and catching a few rays.

At what is arguably the largest gathering of domestic and foreign catamarans in the United States, there were seemingly endless choices for a sailor bent on voyaging the seas atop two hulls. The lesson: If there's to be a cat in your future, spend some time shopping for the features that will best fit your cruising plans and budget.
So let's start this herding of cats at the small end of things, since the Gemini 105Mc was literally the first catamaran I encountered as I walked down the gangway. With minor changes over the years, more than 1,000 of the 33-foot-6-inch Geminis have been launched from the company's yard in Annapolis, says Tony Smith, whose company, Performance Cruising, builds both the Gemini and the Telstar trimaran.

The Gemini has twin centerboards, a tilt-up outdrive powered by a 27-horsepower Westerbeke diesel, and comes standard with electronics, shore power, and sails, all for $154,000. While other catamarans may have a girth that can make finding dock space a chore, the 105Mc has a beam of just 14 feet, so it should fit into a standard-sized boat slip. Inside, the Gemini still has plenty of room, with twin aft cabins and a very cozy-looking stateroom forward. The boat's no slouch on the water, either, says Smith, who with his son sailed one from New Jersey to England, in 21 days.

Another boat that packs a lot into its 32 feet of waterline is the TomCat 9.7. With several interiors available, the boat on the dock in Miami had twin double aft cabins and a third double forward. The galley features a propane two-burner stove and oven, and the boat has pressure water and an option for a genset. Sailaway price for the boat is $185,000, which includes two 9.9-horsepower outboards. Strain Associates builds from four to eight boats a year in Toronto.

Just down the dock was the Antares 44i, from a Canadian builder formerly known as PDQ. When fortune turned fickle for the Ontario boatyard, its molds for power cats were sold to Pearson Composites in Rhode Island, and its sailboat molds went to a newly formed company, Antares Yachts.

Antares president Rob Porier says the last boat started by PDQ is now being finished at the Canadian yard; then the molds and tooling will be shipped to Taiwan. He describes the 44-foot Antares as a bluewater cruising catamaran that's rigged and outfitted to take an owner just about anywhere that he or she might want to travel. The boat comes standard with a full weatherproof enclosure for the cockpit, a bank of solar panels, and even a washer and dryer. The interior is available in a number of layouts to suit the owner. The price of the boat I visited in Miami was $775,000.

Porier points to such details as complete engine instrumentation in the cockpit, a hard dodger, and windshield wipers for truly nasty conditions and says the boat is a motorsailer in the best sense of the word.

Another sailboat that can rely as much on its engines as its Dacron made its debut at the Miami show. The Lagoon 420, originally offered as a hybrid electric-powered catamaran and also sold with twin 40-horse Yanmar diesels, is now available in a beefed-up version, sporting twin 75-horse turbocharged Yanmar diesels and saildrives. According to Lagoon America's Nick Harvey, the boat was designed from the outset to accommodate such a power plant. For more on the 420, a review, "Lagoon 420: A Serious Power Play," appears on page 93.

If fresh air is your thing, the Maine Cat 41 is a boat worth looking at. Unlike its many cousins with fiberglass and glass walls separating cockpit from fresh air on the bow, the Maine Cat offers a large bimini for shade on the open bridgedeck and panels that can be rolled up and out of the way when the weather's fine. On the boat I visited, sailing is done from a center-cockpit helm station, where the skipper has access to all the lines that control the headsails on its cutter rig.

The Maine Cat has a queen berth and a single bunk in each hull, two heads, and an enormous galley in its port hull. There's also a fold-down table on the bridgedeck that converts to a double berth for open-air sleeping. Twin daggerboards hint at speed and upwind performance, and its lighter weight means a relatively modest price for a 41-footer of $499,000.

The Seawind 1160 is another catamaran that's much about the great outdoors. This 38-footer from Down Under has a unique tri-fold door that spans the aft wall of the saloon and can be raised using a cockpit winch so that interior and exterior spaces flow into each other. The 1160 features triple lifelines, a barbecue built into its stern rail, and a fold-up bowsprit for light-air sails and asymmetrics. A new Seawind 1160, named CW's Best Multihull in 2007, will run you about $440,000.

Some other CW Boat of the Year winners at the docks provide examples of what's available to those looking for longer waterlines and more spacious surroundings. The South African-built St. Francis 50, with a sailaway, well-outfitted price hovering around $800,000, was named Best Cruising Catamaran by Cruising World for 2006. Each of the four to eight boats built annually are highly customized, says St. Francis' Duncan Lethbridge, who sailed the boat I visited, hull number six, to the States for the show. This particular model has four cabins, four heads, and a fifth cabin for crew. The cherry interior is luxurious in details down to its dovetail-jointed drawers. On deck, solar panels sit atop the bimini to help power the watermaker and other electrical equipment, and a boom gantry can be deployed to raise the dinghy and place it on a platform across the stern.

Across the docks sat CW's Best Multihull for 2008, the Catana 50, its dagger boards poised to go sailing. With a price of $1.5 million, there are significant systems at work on this boat. Electric winches abound, and the equipment list is extensive: fridge and freezer, watermaker, washer/dryer, air conditioning, to name a few. This boat sports an owner's layout with a starboard hull that houses a double aft cabin, small desk, lots of closet space, a laundry, and a head and shower. There are two double cabins and heads in the port hull. A word of caution for a buyer bound for America's inland waterways: The Catana 50 has a mast height of 77 feet, which means that you'll be doing most of your sailing in the open ocean.

No discussion of catamarans would be complete without a mention of the boats that are available for charter. Besides a walk-through during a boat show, most sailors get their introduction to a catamaran by renting one, often for a week or two, and mostly likely in some warm and breezy spot like the British Virgin Islands. Most cats found in the bareboat-charter fleets offer cabins and heads for up to four couples. With 20-plus feet of beam on hulls ranging from 38 to 46 feet, charter cats are set up to be easily sailed, and they offer a comfortable, stable ride that newcomers to the sport appreciate.

But there's more to the charter discussion than beds, heads, rental rates, and provisioning. For certain owners, placing their boat into a charter program can produce an income stream that will help pay for the boat, or it can be a ticket to sail in exotic places without the time and expense of moving one's boat there.

There are different options when buying a boat and putting it into a charter program, and a look at how two of the bigger players in the industry operate illustrates this. With The Moorings, an owner makes a down payment of 20 percent, and that boat is then put in a five-year program at one of the company's bases. The owner gets up to nine weeks of sailing each year-though not necessarily on his or her own boat-and a guaranteed monthly fee that should cover the principal and interest expenses, says company spokesman Van Perry. If you do this, you'll also have a guaranteed trade-in value for the boat. At the end of five years, you have the option of sailing away with your boat (you'll still carry a loan), selling it, or trading it in and starting over with a new boat. All of The Moorings' catamarans are built by Robertson and Caine in South Africa. Each year, the company decides which models it will need for its fleet and where the boats will be located. Those are the boats and locations one can buy. Perry says Sunsail's program is similar but also uses boats from Lagoon.

The Catamaran Company, another player in the charter industry, does things differently, says John Anderson, who describes the company as being a "yacht-management company."

It maintains a base on Tortola and a fleet of catamarans that are primarily Lagoons, although some Fountaine Pajots are also available. Boats are put into charter for three years, during which time owners can use their boats as much or as little as they wish, except when the boat has been chartered. Owners can also decide which layout they'd like in a particular model, though Anderson notes that some-those with four cabins and four heads-are more suited for charter than others.

If a boat is chartered for 25 to 28 weeks a year, an owner could expect that his or her share of the charter fees would cover the annual cost of principal and interest, though unlike The Moorings, this revenue isn't guaranteed, says Anderson. The trade-off, though, is greater flexibility in using your boat.

So there you have it. Like their cousins in the monohull world, cruising catamarans come in a wide assortment of styles, shapes, and prices. And that's a good thing. Once you've decided what you want and need in your next boat, you can hit the docks and match wishes with features. That's the fun part.

Mark Pillsbury is CW's senior editor.