Why Sail a Multihull?

Boats are for sailing and for having fun in on the water. No one goes sailing to be miserable, wet, cold, uncomfortable or frightened.

That is why we sail catamarans.

In our experience, which now covers over 80,000 miles at sea over the last 40 years in boats as varied as dinghies, 70' charter monohulls, trimarans and many different catamarans, we have found that even a small cruising catamaran is more comfortable, faster and ultimately more seaworthy than the vast majority of monohulls. That may seem an extravagant claim, but the more I sail, see other boats and talk to cruising sailors the more I convinced I am of that statement.

Not only does a catamarans lack of heel mean that the whole deck area is usable at sea but it also makes the boat dry and secure. Below decks it is still comfortable, even in the worst weather. On most cruising catamarans one can see out from the saloon, it's not a question of "going below", more a case of "going inside". While it's nice to sit inside and look out at your new anchorage its essential to be able to stay warm and dry on a long night watch (ie be inside) yet still have all round vision. As I get older I seem to get seasick less often, but that is partly because I have learnt that I must stay warm and dry. I know that if I had to sail to windward on a monohull there would be no way that I could face going below to cook or navigate. I assume that other people will feel the same way. So sailing to windward in a monohull results in a tired hungry wet cold crew and no one is enjoying their sailing.

As a catamaran does not roll at anchor there is less need to visit increasingly expensive marinas, while its shallow draft and ability to dry out upright opens up many more cruising areas and peaceful anchorages. Most people prefer sailing along the coastline, so it seems sensible to have a boat that can safely sail close inshore. While drying out a conventional boat is always risky and can lead to a stranding or even shipwreck on a multihull you normally look for a nice beach to dry out on so the kids can make sandcastles followed by a BBQ.

Many people dream of sailing to warmer climes while some live there already and so know that ventilation and a good flow of air through the cabins is essential for comfortable cruising. It can be hot even on passage so a boat should be able to sail safely with the hatches open. All readily achievable on most multihulls, but difficult on monohulls. Finally, wide flat decks not only make a boat easier to sail but there's also a lot of sunbathing area!

The average size for a new cruising monohull is now said to be 47' (14m). I'm sure the main reason for this length is because, as I said at the beginning, small monohulls are very uncomfortable to sail. Yet you can get more comfort in a much smaller cruising catamaran - a FLICA 34 being a good example. Personally I'm a great fan of smaller boats - for a start they are easier to maintain (this is written just after I've finished scrubbing the bottom and antifouling my 28' GYPSY, so I know first hand how much work even a small cruiser needs). Furthermore, larger boats tend to be more sophisticated, need an electric anchor windlass, powered headsail winches etc. Remember there are no repair men at sea. My motto is "if I can't fix it myself then either its got to cost so little I can afford to throw it away, or else I don't have it on board". A friends monohull has 13 seacocks on his cruising monohull and this is a boat that will sink if holed! Seems a crazy way to sail.

In fact the idea of "no bruisin' cruisin'" is probably more important to the cruising sailor than the fact that catamarans can sail fast. Speed is often overemphasised. We often compare boat speeds with that of cars. A car going at 60 mph is like a boat at 6 knots. Similarly, 80 mph is like 8 knots. We all know how much faster 80 feels than 60, it is the same with a boat. So those who say they have sailed their cruising boat at 15-20 knots have been going at the equivalent of 150-200 mph in a car. Unlikely, and certainly they would not have been "cruising" as most people recognise the term. What's more important is to have a boat that is controllable in all conditions and easy to sail (the same applies to a car of course). The days of multihulls being hard to handle, slow to tack and unresponsive are long gone. There is no need to have a multihull that cannot sail as well as any equivalent monohull. All should be able to sail "hands off" in all conditions, yet at the same time be able to tack fast, even under mainsail alone.

Unlike monohulls which rely on a large crew for maximum performance a catamaran can be sailed to its full potential by a couple. I regularly race on a First Class 8 monohull. It NEEDS a minimum of 5 crew to sail it safely, yet its only 8m (26') long! In comparison a catamaran of similar length like the Strider or Wizzer will sail a lot faster on all points of sail with a crew of only 2. Much has been made in the press in recent years about the so called speed of the new asymmetric spinnaker rigged monohulls or "sportsboats". They may be fast off wind, but not to windward as to achieve high offwind speed they have very big rigs on very light hulls and simply lack stability. This was well illustrated in the 1997 Round the Island Race (50+ miles round the Isle of Wight) when the first Strider (sailed by a 70 year old) beat the first Melges 24 by over an hour on elapsed time!

The Wizzer, and in the 80's, the Gwahir, are the raciest boats that I have designed. I know that I could design faster boats, but I have found that most people are neither brave nor skilful enough to sail extreme racing boats to their full potential. Furthermore, no racing boat (mono or multihull) has a good resale value. I prefer to draw boats that are in a sense "mass production" thus I don't draw pure racing boats. But that's not to say that I don't enjoy sailing them myself! For example in 1994 I sailed a Firebird and we won the UK National Championships. 10 years earlier we raced extensively on our Gwahir winning many trophies including a first in the Round the Island, 4th in the 1985 World Multihull Championships etc.