I have been a cruising cat fanatic for quite a while now, since the early 1990s. In my years as a yacht broker, one question that has often been raised, then easily dismissed, has to do with the offshore safety of cats–particularly the discussion of capsizing.
There was a time when the first words out of my mouth when confronted with safety at sea were “no cruising cat over 45’ has ever flipped.” Whether or not that was more hyperbole than fact, most early cruising cats were really heavy, slow condomarans. There is still a huge amount of these types of boats out there, and there is a great likelihood that none of them will ever flip. So digest that…if your aim is to safely cruise, you love the comfort and footprint of a cruising cat and you might make a passage every few years (and even then, you are fine with slow, methodical and lots of motoring), stop right there! There is nothing wrong with boats like that–in fact, 80% of the cruising cat industry is based on that thinking, and you don’t need to concern yourself with what it will take to stay upright. Just watch weather and carry plenty of fuel, and you’ll have nothing to worry about. The reality is, most big comfortable cruising cats will break their rig a whole lot sooner than they will capsize.
Ever since guys like me got into this game, though, there has been a clamoring for performance cats–faster, lighter and more powerful. And a funny thing happened. They appeared. More and more, better and better, and pretty soon, there were a lot of fast cats out there. Enough that old Murphy’s Law had to intervene somewhere. And frankly, there are so many catamarans cruising the oceans now that sooner or later, bad stuff was going to happen–even to big heavy boats. It’s a numbers game.
So, to sell some magazines later, I am telling you now that I will write an in-depth article about this topic in an upcoming Multihulls Quarterly. I will examine what has happened, hypothesize on user error and talk about what could be done to stay safe at sea in a performance multihull. I will discuss pitch poling, evasive maneuvers, using sea anchors and drogues, weather and routing, as well as design issues that contribute to disaster. But for now, let me ask your opinion: Of recent cruising cat problems, are there any that simply could not have been avoided? Conventional wisdom says that when it gets really bad, go downwind. But what is your boat like going 22 knots unbridled down a 30 foot wave? And what happens when you reach the bottom? Sounds like time to drag something, right? Have you practiced that? Thought not! What about heaving to? When a 25’ wave goes vertical, what then?
Then there is the discussion of apparent wind. All those Orma 60 trimarans that capsized are a result of coming down a big wave going absurdly fast, getting to the bottom, having the leeward ama stuff and the apparent wind swing back to true–which is aft of the beam–and wa-bam! Over they go.
Last two thoughts…not every catastrophe can be prevented, but a great percentage of recent disasters could have been avoided. User error? You be the judge. The other thought: If you go out and buy a Ferrari, then drive around at 180mph, your odds of survival certainly are worse than if you drive around in your Suburban at the speed limit. Just sayin…
Ok, so you’re looking for a cruising cat. Or, you already have one, and you know what is good, and less than good, about that cat. The following are some discussion points that everyone hears over and over. Do they really apply to you? You tell me!
1. Bridgedeck clearance. Hey, there are a bunch of boats out there for sale that have lower than advised bridge clearance. You can get a relatively great deal on one of these boats. So how much does clearance REALLY matter?
Answer: A lot if you plan to go offshore, or sail upwind frequently. A cruising cat with low clearance pounds relentlessly, and is incredibly uncomfortable. A pounding cat ruins your sailing experience, and will relegate you to early insanity.
HOWEVER! If you sail 90% of the time in coastal or protected waters, one of these boats can be a great deal, and make a perfect liveaboard. Even if you plan to move the boat long distances once in a while, the tradeoff might be worth it. There are many South African cats in this category.
2. Weight and payload. This boat is going to be your home, and you want to have all the amenities of home. How big of a boat do you need to allow you to carry what you want, and still have your boat sail?
Answer: Before you buy, you need to reconcile what is acceptable performance, and what you need to bring with you to live comfortably. Do you need to have air conditioning, washer/dryer and a generator? In the 40-foot range, there are going to be compromises, but it is possible to have a boat that will sail acceptably and carry a well considered amount of home amenities. If you want a boat that will sail 200 miles a day and have three cabins, entertainment stuff, and carry all your toys, you need something larger—maybe 46’, 48’ or even 50’ plus.
3. This is a buyer’s market; you can “steal” a boat these days!
Answer: There are great deals out there, absolutely. The part of the market that is particularly vulnerable is in ex-charter boats. So, if you think you can accomplish what you want with a boat that has been in service for a while, you are in business. Here is the problem. In the evolution of the cruising cat, many buyers are now looking for a dream boat with more innovations and performance. For cats that are un-chartered, owner versions, with daggerboards and high bridgedeck clearance, the deals dry up a bit. Each one of those points increases desirability and limits the inventory of boats out there. Owner version boats are worth at least 20% more than their charter version counterparts, and often much more than that. Daggerboards are worth 15-20% over keels, and for many are mandatory. It goes on and on. SO, the truth is, the buyer’s market is there, but well-designed owner version cats have not devalued at all in the recent recession
The next and previous America’s Cup yachts are equipped with rigid wing sails. I keep thinking about whether there may be a practical application for this type of sail on a cruising boat. So far, I don’t see it, given the issues with sailing on anchor, need to reduce sail quickly, and general unwieldiness. Still, in our game, one common objective is to be able to sail greater than 200 miles a day consistently, without running an engine. As that ambition becomes more and more of a focus, rigid wings do begin to get a longer look….
In 1999, I owned a 48′ Privilege Cat, and we sailed her here to New England to do charters. After going through getting a Jones Act Waiver (a good story for another day), every minute we were willing to work, we worked. It was great!
Most people seem to like going on charter in the winter as a getaway. But summer chartering can be such a good deal—less travel cost, great places to go. Get in touch with your favorite charter broker to see what’s available.
Many people who are considering going off cruising wonder how they can gain offshore sailing experience and credentials. Whether your dream is to sail your own boat offshore, to do deliveries, or to captain for others, how do you get the background you need?
First off, try to get on a crew. Most boat owners, sooner or later, are desperate for crew. The biggest thing is to find them. Get your name out there. Visit the Caribbean 1500 rally’s website (www.carib1500.com). Get signs up at popular marinas on either end of your passage route. Know that in the spring, and again in the fall, there are many opportunities. Let us know that you are looking. Talk to brokerages. These days, social networking will get you where you want to go.
I have been known to instruct offshore sailing too
If you have enough sailing experience, consider a USCG license. There are a number of ways to prepare for one, including sailing schools. I did it by reading a book, floundering mightily the first time I took the test, then being advised by the Coast Guard on how to study, what to know and what I had to memorize. I passed the next time.
Consider this as well. The ideal crew for a passage includes 1. a captain, 2. a cook, 3. a mechanic, and 4. a monkey (someone young and crazy who will climb things, etc). Figure out your best strength, hone it, and your desirability as a crewman will be much improved.
Take at look at a sailing school and see if it fits your need. Here is a list of just some sailing schools and opportunities out there:
Offshore Passages Opportunities in Huntington NY (matches crew with boats) – www.sailopo.com
Blue Water Sailing School (does offshore courses) – www.bwss.com
Offshore Sailing School (Doris & Steve Colgate run several offshore and live aboard courses) –www.offshoresailing.com
Several years back, I wrote an article for MQ about the pros and cons of all the different helm station placements that have been tried on cruising cats.
While my opinion hasn’t changed too much, I guess I have more appreciation for various ideas than I did then, and thought I would revisit a few of them.
I had an opportunity to spend a lot of time on a Lagoon 50, and I have to say that the flybridge is the ultimate social cockpit, and for that boat, it makes it perfect. 10 people can sit up there in the sun, seeing everything, and having a great time. It is perfect for a boat where the object is the “being there” as opposed to the “getting there”.
I also think that the forward cockpit idea has great merit for boats with professional crew. If your boat is professionally managed, the forward cockpit separates the owners and guest from all the mess and mayhem of sheets, halyards, etc. It is ideal for that. If I won the lottery, I would want a boat like a Gunboat 66, with a crew. Perfect.
I personally would chose a twin helm setup outboard 2/3rds aft, and outboard as far as possible while remaining protected by the hard bimini. If I was designing something for myself, it would be designed with sailing performance as the first consideration, owner operated, and in the 48-52 foot range. To this day, each of these helm placements has a very valid reason for their existence, and no one can really say one is better than another. Like so many things in life, there are many different ways of looking at things, and while proponents of each of them may get fanatic, in the larger global view, each is as valid as the next.
Following up yesterday’s blog, I am submitting an excerpt from an article I just wrote for The Multihull Company’s newsletter. Enjoy, and check out the whole thing on their website, http://www.multihullcompany.com. For years, I have been writing stories, and selling boats based on my own preferences and pig headed ideas. I am a performance guy, that’s it! These are sailboats! They ought to sail really well, go fast, be strong in the ocean. If you want to bring an elephant with you, join the circus! I have always looked at those other boats as something really weird and foreign.
Well, maybe it is the fact of getting old. Or maybe it is the fact that I have been forced, then realized I was lucky enough, to spend time on luxury cats. Whatever it is, I am going to talk about all those things that a guy like me isn’t supposed to appreciate.
So yeah, I do like a really comfortable, walk around queen or even king sized bed. If it has a memory foam mattress, all the better! And, there ought to be a nice stereo system in there. A flat screen TV to watch movies would be good, too. And, great lighting, ventilation, well-placed hatches. At my age, I love a good night of sleep. So okay, having air conditioning is a really good idea, too.
When I get up in the morning, I love a nice stand up shower. I am 6’3”, so having some room over my head is really nice, and I like lots of hot water and jets in different places. Now we’re talking. And, I want a separate head stall, not there with the shower…separate. There ought to be a washing machine in there, too, so I can keep my t-shirts smelling nice.
I am not a great cook, but I like having a very hot stove. One of those Viking style things, with a seriously hot oven, is a pretty great idea. I love tuna, seared in garlic and ginger…
The magic number for judging a boat as a performance cruising catamaran is the ability to average 200 miles a day on a long trip. No engines. Upwind. Downwind. Average speed…. Doesn’t sound that hard, right? But let’s look at this.
To go 200 miles in 24 hours, your average boat speed has to be 8.34 knots.
That means that your boat needs to sail at 10 knots, easily, a lot, and in 12-15 knots of wind. It should periodically sail better than 12 knots, and not just surfing.
Many cruising cats can do this on a pure beam reach in a lot of wind. But what about downwind? Heavy cruising cats are very slow when deep off the wind. And, let’s not even discuss upwind work. Without daggerboards, no chance. Even with them, the boat needs to be designed very well.
So, what design criteria do we need to see to have any chance of making these numbers?
1. waterline 2. rig size and tune 3. daggers 4. great sails
The likelihood of averaging 200 miles a day on a cruising cat less than 40 feet is almost zero. Between 40 and 47 feet, some really well designed boats might do it. Over that, and with a bit of attention paid to carrying less stuff, keeping it light, yes, good chance. Trimarans, generally yes.
It is an interesting and sobering discussion. Also, consider this same discussion with a monohull? Hmm…
The sticker shock for a performance-oriented cruising catamaran is sobering to say the least! To buy a boat that can really sail fast is going to be expensive, period.
So, what about a trimaran? Well, for a number of people, this is a very real and viable option. Here are the salient points for, and against.
1. If you are a creature of dock life, then a trimaran is a bad idea. Docking a tri is expensive, even if you can find space.
2. If your mooring is in a crowded field, again a tri is less ideal. However, if you have room, and like having your boat on a mooring, this begins to work.
3. You need to have a plan for getting the boat out of the water if need be, and that isn’t that simple. Most travel lifts won’t lift a trimaran. So, you need to know where there is a truck, train car or crane that can get you out.
4. Trimarans offer about half the same interior volume as comparably-sized catamarans, and a little less than comparable monohulls. So your 40-foot trimaran is really small inside.
World cruising on a big trimaran has some great advantages, especially the performance. But there is a lot to overcome.
Foldable trailer trimarans are one of the great pleasures in sailing though. The are easy to deal with, fast, have great racing potential, and provide a super alternative to dockage issues, storage issues, etc. So consider a Corsair or a Dragonfly, or similar boats. I am absolutely sold on the idea of a few weeks in the Bahamas in the winter, and a week or two on Moosehead Lake in Northern Maine in the late summer. That idea has “cool” written all over it!
I just looked at the Euro/US Dollar conversion, which I need to do frequently these days. The dollar is really weak, at 1.45 to the Euro. How does that affect the boat buying market in the U.S.? Very strongly, I am afraid.
If you are in the market to buy a boat, you can still find great deals on boats that are dealing in dollars. The market has been depressed for several years now, and there are motivated sellers everywhere. The best market is in ex-charter boats, and projects here.
Really nice, high quality boats that are in the U.S. market are likely to attract European buyers more and more, and often Australian or other people whose currency is strong. This is scary, because any inventory that you see in US markets is likely to sell off, and not be replaced until the dollar improves, which may not happen for a while. So if you have been waiting, your best bet is to grab something in our market soon, prepare yourself to wait some more, or pay a lot for a boat that is trading in Euros.
If you are selling a boat, make sure to differentiate your boat from others, but you are looking pretty good in the U.S. market. Your boat, bought in dollars, is valuable. If it is a higher end boat, even better for you. Of course, if you are selling to upgrade, be prepared for the fact that your sales windfall will become your buying ulcer on the other end. Hard times indeed. But remember, if you want to go sailing, don’t wait too long. History is sadly filed with stories of people who wait and wait and wait for things to be just right, and too often, that never happens, and you miss the boat altogether!
One of my favorite causes to stir up is the whole notion of “going green” on sailboats. I will spend considerable time on this topic in the future when allowed. I have argued this one a lot, compared notes forever with Dave Tether (E Motion)) and Nigel Calder (recently). I am wide open to being corrected, so bring it on if you are a fan of these “green” systems!
Lagoon 500 offers an electric version
Here is the thing. The idea of a catamaran that has an elaborate system of diesel generators, powering separate electric motors, with gadgets and gizmos attached to make it charge the huge battery bank, and with redundancy, to assure safety in the high seas is kind of goofy. Catamarans have the chance to be really great sailboats. So my answer to all this is, you don’t burn any fuel if you sail, and your fridge and stereo work just as well when charged by solar panels. It is a very simple concept, but in our sometimes frantic rush to get our engines and fossil fuel driven transportation mentality greener, maybe we are missing the really obvious, right?
We are talking sailboats. Cats work really well when they are kept light, have proper bridgedeck clearance, have a nice rig, and daggerboards help a lot too. I know this isn’t for everyone, but if your idea of cruising is to own more machines, more electricity, more engines, more toys, and be continuously buying more fuel, that is all fine. But you aren’t getting “green” there mate! And then, maybe one day these electric boats make all sorts of sense. What they really are good for is power boats. That is a totally different discussion.
Being green on a sailboat is a very simple concept. Make a better sailboat. Power it with the smallest, simplest engines you can, and keep it light. Use those engines to get off the dock, and once in a while when you are in trouble. Generate electricity as much as possible with solar panels, wind gens, etc. Really, isn’t that what “green” is supposed to mean?
Have a look at this. Great strides. I get it for power boats. Not sure about sailboats, but I am listening.