After we set the spinnaker that day about 20 years ago, I did the math: We’d just sailed 28 miles to weather on a 30-footer. Four hours. Average speeds over 10 knots, and an average speed made good dead upwind of seven knots. Since then, I’ve never needed convincing that catamarans could sail to windward, and apparently neither have the growing legions of cruisers who choose two hulls over one.
The racing-monohull community hasn’t been so open-minded. The Stiletto 30 I was aboard finished that overnight race out of Clearwater, Florida, by midnight. The bigger monohulls sailed a longer course and finished about 0700-only to be greeted by the morning newspaper trumpeting our victory. Multihulls were banned from the race the next year.
By contrast, cruising sailors have steadily integrated catamarans into their world, and in 2005, cats were one of the strongest segments of an otherwise flat new-boat market, according to an annual study by The Sailing Company, owner of Cruising World. Of all imported sailboats, 20 percent were multihulls, and most of their builders were represented at Strictly Sail Miami last February, their cats occupying more dock space than the monohulls.
Cats have long been put to work as stable, fast sailing vessels that can carry large numbers of people in comfort. At the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands, for example, one or another Peter Spronk-designed cat has been in service since the 1980s for snorkeling trips and sunset cruises.
When it came time for cats to migrate into the bareboat-charter business, it happened in a hurry. According to Lex Raas, president of First Choice Marine, the group that owns Sunsail and The Moorings, the latter has increased its bareboat fleet from 3 percent to 35 percent catamarans in the last 10 years. And it hasn’t been alone, as Sunsail and other charter companies have made the switch, too. Design innovations have followed, including moving the galley up out of a hull into the bridgedeck saloon and shifting the steering station, on some boats, onto a flying bridge.
According to Nick Harvey of Lagoon America, whether for charter or family cruising, the boats aren’t so weight sensitive anymore. “At first, the premise was speed,” he says, “but as hulls have evolved, they’ve widened. Even though they have a slower top speed, the boats can now go faster in rough weather and maintain faster average speeds on long passages.” The payoff, says Nick, comes in “comfort, space, and storage capacity, especially for extended cruising.”
We look at several aspects of this design equation in the lead story to this month’s special section, “Join the Cat Crowd,” beginning on page 58. The author is our contributing editor Jeremy McGeary-who’s never happier than when running his calculator and studying tradeoffs in yacht design. If there aren’t enough numbers in the article for you, visit our online version of the story (at www.cruisingworld.com), where you’ll find all the data that Jeremy couldn’t fit inside the magazine.
Also in the section, experienced cruiser Todd Scantlebury addresses a recurrent concern of those considering the move to monohulls. In “How to Herd a Cat,” on page 78, he offers an excellent guide to docking and mooring these wide but surprisingly nimble craft. And in “Why Cruise on a Cat?,” on page 74, Sue Hacking offers a personal perspective from halfway through a family circumnavigation aboard a Kronos 45.
Is speed still a factor? On some boats, that’s a definite yes. Take, for example, the Gunboat 48, a carbon/Kevlar speedster capable of double-digit speeds upwind and 20-plus knots downwind. But even on a less cutting-edge cat, Sue and her husband, Jon, find they have speed as a matter of choice. You can limit your sail area and keep your progress comfortable-and you usually will. But if you’re on a deadline, as Sue describes in one anecdote, you can go ahead and let it rip.