The organisers of the International Multihull Boat Show in La Grande Motte, estimate that somewhere between 900 and 1,100 catamarans were built last year.
Demand is raging, leaving manufacturers scrambling to increase capacity to meet it.
The benefits of catamarans are obvious: more living space, faster performance off the wind (and sometimes on it) and a stable platform for a more family-friendly experience.
Sailors the world over were also thrilled by the performance of the boats in the last two America’s Cups, while the circumnavigation endeavours of Thomas Coville, François Gabart et al have shown that multihulls are up to the rigours of the oceans.
Charter has been one of the catalysts for demand: the facility to pick a new or favourite cruising ground from Tahiti to the Med and try out a catamaran there.
“In our time we have seen the standard go from pretty basic 27ft monohulls to an expectation of 40ft+ monos and cats, with air-con and many more comforts,” says Julian Adams, yacht sales consultant for Sunsail and The Moorings.
“Today’s charterer can now enjoy the thrills of a performance sailing boat without having to compromise on comfort. The added stability of achieving great performance while remaining upright also opens a door to bringing non-sailing friends on trips, without the anxiety of a white knuckle ride.
“Our fleet has approximately 40 per cent catamarans currently, and the demand for catamaran purchase is now equal or greater than for that of monohulls,” he adds.
Charter ownership is attractive because you’re not responsible for the boat’s upkeep, and you can typically spread the costs of ownership more widely than you can with an outright purchase.
As first-time charter boat owner Julie Boyd explains below, you can swap weeks on your own boat for weeks anywhere the company has a charter base: “We can now sail in places that we would never have taken our previous boat.”
Location, location, location
Pick a location where you are interested in sailing, not one that you think will charter well. And don’t be put off by that old story about the Med being unsuitable for catamarans because of tight berths. Adams says: “Those smaller spots where space is at a premium are often as easily accessed by berthing your cat on a buoy or anchor and using your larger RIB to access the dock. With berthing fees as they are today, this has more advantages than one.”
The best advice is to charter with the company before you join their ownership programme – you’ll quickly see how well they take care of the boats and of their customers.
“Looking around their fleet of boats will tell a story about the level of damage they suffer and the standards of day-to-day maintenance,” says Neil Bingham of Sail Grenadines. “I would strongly recommend viewing a five-year-old boat as well as the new ones.”
Maintenance is the crucial factor here. Of course, accidents happen sometimes, but a company with a good feel for its customers and a decent repair programme should be able to keep its boats in tip-top condition. Also, check who bears the upfront cost of maintenance – usually it’s the charter firm.
Most charter companies offer different ways of paying for your boat. At one end of the spectrum you buy the boat outright and take an annual income (often guaranteed at between 7–9 per cent). You must have the capital available and commit to a four- to five-year contract. On the other hand, you can opt to pay a smaller proportion of the boat’s cost – typically 30-45 per cent – upfront, receive no income, then buy out the remaining value of the boat when the contract reaches term. This works out more costly in the end, but it is less capital intensive.
Sunsail and The Moorings even offer their owners a buyback option at the end of the contract, where the company pays you 20 per cent of the value to surrender the boat. “It’s popular because it avoids the final cash outlay, uncertainty of costs until sale and, in the EU, hefty VAT payment,” said Adams.
Dream Yacht Charter is another big operator with bases across the globe, including some less common destinations such as Baja California, Fort Lauderdale and Mauritius. As well as the more standard contracts, it offers a Performance programme, which gives boat owners exposure to two-thirds of charter income and access to tax benefits.
The downside is that you have to pay maintenance expenses. Dream also has a Crewed Yacht programme, suitable for boats over 45ft, where it will source the crew for you.
Does it pay?
Don’t expect ‘free’ sailing, but if you have the time to make full use of your 8-12 weeks of sailing each year, it should be much cheaper than chartering. And as you can see from the figures above, the cost of ownership is substantially lower than the upfront price of the boat.
Comparing the figures is useful – up to a point, but charter ownership is no commodity, and perhaps the best advice comes from Neil Bingham at Sail Grenadines: “It is important to choose a yacht or catamaran that suits you. This is an investment in leisure; the financial return is often not the most important thing you will get from a yacht partnership arrangement.”
Ocean Cat Sailors
Lucy Van Hove, La Cigale, Nautitech Open 40Sailors
Cruising round the world as a family has been a dream of Xavier and mine for decades – even before the kids came along! When we first started going out, we enjoyed sailing holidays in Europe on monohulls, but it was on honeymoon in the Grenadines that we fell in love with catamarans, chartering a Leopard, aptly named Two Purrfect.
When the opportunity came along to take a two-year sabbatical and follow this dream, the space that a catamaran afforded a family of five made it a logical choice. We wanted each child to have their own cabin, and there were also the other advantages, like the view from the galley when cooking, no roll and not having a keel trying to sink you in the case of a hull breach.
We also knew that we wanted a boat that paired aesthetics with performance rather than a floating caravan, which quickly narrowed the field for our selection. The Nautitech Open 40, with its sleek lines and good sailing record, was our preferred option. We had lusted after the Outremer, when looking round La Grande-Motte in 2016, but the maths of the Nautitech (80 per cent of the performance, 50 per cent of the price) made the choice a no-brainer.
We bought La Cigale in La Rochelle in September 2017, and set sail for the Canaries in October, negotiating fishing nets and tankers hugging the Iberian Peninsula.
In Las Palmas we joined the ARC Atlantic Rally. The seminars, support and tracking devices set us up for the ocean crossing, while the open cockpit of the Nautitech came into its own as a social hub, hosting impromptu parties that sometimes numbered more than 30 adults and children.
Since then we have taken on board that sailing around the world often just means fixing our boat in exotic locations. Some of this may be due to wear and tear, but in a new boat like ours it tends to be due to manufacturing faults. The scariest moment came on a night sail past St Vincent, when, in 30 knots of wind, we turned to take in another reef only to discover the wheel had totally stopped responding – the steering cable had snapped. We couldn’t open the engine compartment for repairs for fear of flooding from waves over the stern, and our Garmin autopilot was finding it impossible to cope on just one rudder.
On top of this we discovered that the handle of our emergency rudder was too long and was blocked by the helm seat. Luckily, our secondary Raymarine autopilot managed to cope on a single rudder, and we were able to steer safely into Rodney Bay, St Lucia, eight hours later, using our port and starboard engines.
We have had a couple more dramatic lessons along the way, such as don’t try to get wind by edging a gale; cats really don’t like it! Otherwise, it has been pretty much a case of plain, downwind sailing. In March we headed to Panama, crossing the Canal and the Equator in April – both epic maritime milestones, which we celebrated accordingly!
We are still pinching ourselves now to be in the Galápagos, preparing for our hop across the Pacific with a couple of other ARC families. Ultimately, we are heading to the Antipodes, where we plan to sell our boat before our sabbatical is over and we return to the UK. But the wind may change. Who knows?
Julie Boyd, Ciceron, Lagoon 39, Dream Yacht Charter
We have been catamaran owners for the past 25 years. We kept an Edel 35 in Neyland, west Wales, sailing her to the Med after we retired, before we bought Ciceron, a Lagoon 39, last July.
The Edel was fun to sail, but we decided to upgrade to a more comfortable boat with extra room for family and friends.
We were looking to buy a used Lagoon 380. We also decided that we were going to cut down on our time away from months to weeks. This would mean that the boat would sit unused in a marina for most of the year.
While we were discussing all this, we were offered London Boat Show tickets by Dream Yacht Charter, who kept in touch with us after we’d made inquiries some years before. Looking more closely at the owner-charter option, we decided that this would be an ideal way for us to fulfil our sailing desires.
We opted to buy Ciceron, based in Calanova, Mallorca, via the Dream Easy programme over five years. We paid 35 per cent of the cost of the yacht at the start and will pay another 25 per cent at the end. At that point we will either keep the boat, sell it, or put it into a charter programme and receive an income.
It is worth mentioning that the boat is of much higher specification than standard, including Yanmar 45hp diesels, 2,000W inverter, B&G touchscreen electronics, gel batteries and additional storage in the galley. We don’t receive an income with this programme, but nor do we pay any fees for berthing or management. We just pay a small turnaround fee when we use a boat.
During the five years, we get to sail our own yacht for 8–10 weeks per year in any of Dream’s bases across the world, such as Sardinia, Stockholm and the Seychelles. Being able to walk on board with a small bag to start our holiday, then walk away at the end without any maintenance or cleaning makes a pleasant change. We are very happy with our choice.
Report by Sam Fortescue