Why a catamaran?
The arguments between yacht owners over catamarans vs. monohulls are legendary (as are arguments over the best anchor). While no boat is the perfect boat for every person, here are some of the reasons why we feel that a catamaran is the best vessel for sailing in the Caribbean Islands.
Comfort at Anchor
The great success of catamarans in over the past decade is due primarily to the fact that catamarans offer enormous advantages over monohulls when the anchor is dropped. These benefits are as follows:
- Catamarans are considerably more stable than a monohull. As such, they do not bang back and forth in swells. So catamaran cruisers can eat, sleep, and live far more comfortably on the hook than a monohuller.
- Catamarans are much wider than monohulls and therefore provide enormous aft cockpits. In tropical climates this is an enormous plus because cruisers tend to spend the majority of their time dining, reading, and lounging in the cockpit under the protection of the bimini.
- The main salon of a catamaran is on the same level as the cockpit. Unlike a monohuller, catamaran sailors do not step down into a deep dark place (where the windows are generally above eye level), but rather straight from the cockpit into a light filled salon. I don’t mean to get New Age here, but catamaran sailors truly “Live in the Light.” Onboard a catamaran you remain intimately connected to the world outside. This makes cooking, reading, dining, navigating and lounging far more pleasant on a catamaran than a monohull.
- When sailing with three or more people catamarans offer much more privacy as the two hulls, and the suites and heads within them, are far away from each other.
Speed Under Sail
Because a catamaran does not have to carry a heavy lead keel underneath to stay upright, they are generally faster than a similarly sized monohull – especially off the wind. However, catamarans that carry keels cannot point as high into the wind as a monohull. They will, however, typically arrive at an upwind destination at about the same time because they are moving much faster. They sail a greater distance, but at a much higher speed.
Because a catamaran does not heel (lean over) it offers far more comfort underway than a monohull.
- Cooking is much easier on a cat underway and more pleasant as you are looking out on the world and not “down below.” Most catamarans do not have gimbaled stoves and ovens because they simply don’t need them.
- You are far less prone to sea sickness because you have mostly fore and aft pitching and very little beam-to-beam motion. Catamarans don’t roll from swell to swell like a monohull.
- Walking on the deck of a cat underway is far easier as the boat is sailing flat. The danger of falling overboard on a catamaran is considerably less than on a monohull.
- Finally, it is much nicer to sleep on a boat that doesn’t heel.
Monohull sailors have for years argued that multihulls are not nearly as safe. I heartily disagree. One of the primary laws of physics is that “Everything in nature seeks its most stable position.” The most stable position for a catamaran is indeed upside down on the top of the ocean. But the most stable position for a monohull is at the bottom of the ocean. A well built and properly designed catamaran is very hard to sink – you must either be run over by a tanker or suffer a massive fire.
Multihulls gained a bad reputation in the 60’s and 70’s because most of them were home built, not beamy enough, and poorly designed. But modern Multihulls are very hard to capsize. It really takes a monumental act of bone-headedness to capsize a modern cruising multihull in winds under 70 knots. If you are so bold as to cruise around far offshore in hurricane zones, well, yes, you are taking a serious risk. But so is a monohull sailor. Fact is, monohulls sink about as often as catamarans capsize, which explains why Lloyd’s insurance policies on cruising cats are nearly the same for cats and monohulls of similar value. (Note: racing mutihulls capsize quite often because they are little more than Hobie Cats on steroids, driven to the edge at all times by thrill seeking racers.)
In short, monohull sailors are rescued from liferafts. Multihull sailors are rescued from capsizes. Where would you rather be? Sitting in a small life raft in a storm or sitting securely inside your much larger and more stable upside down multihull? For me, the answer to this is a no brainer.
A faster boat is also a safer boat, as the faster boat is exposed to fewer storms. A catamaran that can regularly pull 220 mile days on a passage from Panama to Hawaii will be exposed to far less storm risk than the monohull that has a hard time regularly pulling 175 mile days. With good weather routing information a multihull can avoid most serious weather and, at worst, place itself on the most favorable position to avoid the brunt of a storm. Since most multihulls can run before a storm between 10 and 15 knots they offer considerably more options and therefore safety than a boat that has difficulty topping out over 9 knots.
I also believe that catamarans are superior to monohulls in terms of redundancy. Cruising catamarans generally carry two diesel engines and a generator. An engine failure on a monohull is the end of motoring. Not so on a catamaran. In fact, when motoring, most catamaran sailors only use one engine to conserve on fuel. They use two engines to dock.
And a catamaran has two hulls, not one. Should one of the hulls be damaged you still have another one for buoyancy. A hull fracture on a monohull is a far more serious and dangerous thing that it is on a Multihull.
Because most catamarans have twin engines they are far easier to dock than a single engine monohull. A modern catamaran can do a 360 turn in her own length. A monohull cannot do this. However, a monohull under sail is much more maneuverable and certainly will tack a lot faster than a catamaran.
In shallow areas the catamaran is clearly superior to a monohull. Because most cats draw 4 feet or less of water they can anchor in places a monohuller could not even consider. In the Caribbean and the South Pacific the catamaran sailor has a peerless advantage. I often anchor my own cat just a few feet away from a beach, occasionally tying her off to a tree.