Skip Novak: why a catamaran wins out if destination is more important than sailing

Even if you don’t believe your own eyes, there is no doubt – if the statistics are to be trusted – that catamarans are taking the sailing world by storm in both racing and cruising offshore, and certainly inshore in stadium events. Having raced and made long passages on high-performance maxi cats, I can certainly attest to their allure. They are faster, safer and more comfortable than anything with a single hull. Faster is easily understood, but it is justifiable to question the safety aspect. An offshore catamaran or trimaran can turn upside-down with a moment’s lack of concentration. Up until that point, consider that, compared with a monohull, you are much higher above the water and by and large waves pass under the net and the cross beams. Sail handling is a dream, compared with grappling with sails tangled up in the lifelines on the foredeck of a monohull heeled at 20°. Drop the foresail halyard and the sail falls onto the net. Reefing the main is also easy by comparison, as you stroll around on a flat platform tweaking this and that. Look at the images from the Volvo Ocean Race and then compare them to the pictures from any offshore multihull where the crew are riding above the water rather than in it. And if the whole shebang does go upside-down the crew can still live in the hulls, and in fact plans for communication, power generation, cooking, watermaking and all else are taken into account in the inverted configuration. Survival upside-down Monohull keel failures, which seem to occur with alarming frequency, often leave holes in the boat – she floats, but survival until rescue can be a more desperate situation. In ocean racing terms at least, when you add up speed, safety and comfort it seems multihulls are a more intelligent approach. I have less experience of cruising catamarans. One holiday in the Seychelles, though, was enough to convince me that this is the only way to go, at least for the tropics. We had two families of four on a 43ft cat, each to their own hull, with two heads in each. The other family were non-sailors, which made absolutely no difference to managing the holiday nor to their enjoyment, as it was, as some readers have pointed out, like living on a floating caravan. Testing the theory We were there to enjoy the islands, to do so by sail, but the sailing was secondary. By contrast, just to test this conclusion, our family is cruising the Falkland Islands and Tierra del Fuego with another family, eight all-up, this December/January. Pelagic is an old-style, narrow 54-footer. If you don’t see my next column you can assume we have all killed each other. Is it the sailing or the destination that is of prime interest? If the latter, the catamaran formula wins hands down. Granted, most charter cats sail like dogs, are in the main chartered by less experienced sailors and ultimately very safe inter-island. It … Continue reading Skip Novak: why a catamaran wins out if destination is more important than sailing