Cruising

One Hull or Two?

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What we love about cats: deck space, and lots of it (right), although our monohull (left) still has plenty of room on deck for the kids to play

 

Cats vs. monos. This subject has never been addressed before, right? No? Good, then I’ll be the first to cover it.

My wife, Ali, and I sailed around the world on Bumfuzzle, a 35-foot catamaran. We returned, sold the boat, drove around for a couple of years in a ‘58 VW bus, and then had a baby. Then the question arose: how to raise this baby? In suburbia? Yeah, right. In the VW? Yeah, right. In a boat? Yeah, right...wait, that sounded pretty good. Now the real question arose: would we sail with our newborn on a catamaran or on a monohull?

Cost

For us, price was a major consideration. At the time we’d been traveling around the world for seven years or so, and that big stack of money we’d left with had dwindled considerably. We could have bought another catamaran, but that would have limited the time we could afford to cruise. So instead we bought a monohull for a third of the price—thankfully, as another baby came along a year later.

We’d paid $157,000 for our original Wildcat 35 catamaran, and our 30-year-old, 43-foot monohull was $48,000. Extensive refits brought the costs up to $177,000 for the cat and $88,000 for the monohull, so we saved almost $100,000 by not buying a catamaran the second time around. That’s a sizable difference that translates to many years of cruising in the bank.

 
Sailing
 
For most of us, money is the No. 1 issue, but it isn’t the only consideration. How about the sailing itself?
 
Aboard our Wildcat 35, all lines were led to the cockpit, two winches ran the entire boat, and reefing was simple. It was an easy boat to handle, and Ali and I could both single-hand her without the other’s help. The cat didn’t sail to windward well, but this was rarely a problem on our tradewind route. It excelled at downwind sailing in any conditions, even with the wind coming from directly astern. Sailing wing-and-wing was a cause for celebration.
 
The mono? Not to much. Our lines are all over the place, and it would take some expensive gear to re-run them all to the cockpit. And there are eight winches! I’m still confused by it all, to be perfectly honest.

The boat points pretty well, though sailing downwind has been a challenge, and without a whisker pole it’s difficult to keep wind in the headsail. I have a feeling that even if I had a pole, I wouldn’t be especially motivated to set it up. Cruising isn’t meant to be hard work, after all.
 

The mono under sailHeeling

Cat sailors like to argue that their boats don’t heel. That’s a big one, and there’s no denying it. Even in the roughest of weather we could keep a drink sitting on the cat’s saloon table. Seasickness? What’s that?

With the monohull, just 15 knots is enough to cause her to heel. Pass the Dramamine, please.

We are all capable of dealing with heeling while sailing. The real issue is at anchor when you encounter the curse of the rolly anchorage. It’s amazing how little swell it can take to turn an otherwise idyllic harbor into a roller-coaster. There isn’t a monohull sailor out there who isn’t familiar with this situation.

Engines and Maintenance

One engine versus two? There are plenty of pluses and minuses here. On the cat there were a couple of instances where having only one engine would have put us in a tough spot: like the time we were cruising along the coast of Sudan and our prop fell off in 200 feet of water. For four days we motored north to Egypt in calm seas using the other engine. That would have been a bummer of a time on the monohull. Redundancy is nice.

On the other hand, of course, there is challenge of having to maintain two engines. The engines on the cat were Volvo 20 saildrives, and to change the oil I had to suck it out with a hand pump through the dipstick hole. That job sucked. Twice. The fact that I can now throw a 5-gallon pail under the oil pan of my Ford Lehman 80 on the mono makes me smile every time.

What about maintenance costs? Mono sailors like to say “double the hulls, double the maintenance,” but that’s not exactly true. Both boats have one set of sails, running rigging and standing rigging. Two small engine oil changes require the same amount of oil as one big engine. I also find that I use about the same amount of duct tape, super glue and bailing wire on the monohull as I did on our cat. Maybe even a bit more. Bottom paint? Surely two hulls are more expensive. Wrong again. Two 3ft 6in fin-keel hulls versus a 6ft 6in full-keel hull? Call it a wash.

Under power, our cat was either underpowered or overloaded. Running the cat on one engine got us 3.9 to 4.3 knots. It took forever to get anywhere. With both engines running we made 5.2 knots. Throw some waves on the nose, and you can forget those numbers. Twenty horsepower just wasn’t enough to push that boat through the water. Nor was 40. On the mono we motor 7 knots at the same rpm. Fuel consumption is a bit higher, but the difference between motoring 96 miles a day versus 168 is life-changing.

The maneuverability of a cat is extraordinary. I could dock our old boat in any current and any wind, slowly and under control. The mono? Well, things can get a little dicey on occasion. Who among us hasn’t seen a monohull hit another boat while docking? Dockside restaurants all over the world arrange their seating so that their customers can enjoy these spectacles.

Tankage

Catamaran? Two 35-gallon fuel tanks. Monohull? Two 125-gallon tanks. That’s a hell of a lot of motoring. And as any cruiser knows, you can never have too much diesel. Don’t think that’s true? Take a look at cruising boats that have been out for a few thousand miles and count how many yellow five-gallon jugs of fuel are strapped to their lifelines.

How about water tankage? Our cat had two 70-gallon tanks. Our mono has two tanks with a total capacity of 250 gallons. Monos can take the weight.

Despite its overall size, the galley on our cat was not especially large (left); however, when it comes to space abovedecks, nothing beats a multihull!

Indoors

What about living accommodations? Surprise! The monohull wins, hands down. Our mono is 43 feet long with a 13-foot beam. Our cat was 35 feet with a 22-foot beam. Yet to us the monohull feels roomier, more comfortable and more homey. Our cat was a poor example of a home. It had four bedrooms, two baths and an eat-in kitchen, but no living room.

The cat had two-foot-wide cabin soles running the length of each hull and across the saloon. Our monohull has an actual living room floor; a whopping 30 square feet of cabin sole for my family to lounge around in, spread toys out on, and generally act as if we live in a home instead of a hotel room.

The galley is similar: our catamaran galley was a mini-kitchen built for dolls to play in. Our mono galley is expansive, with real people-sized appliances and counter space. While I’ve never actually cooked anything in either of them, I can still appreciate how this may be beneficial to those that do.

Our mono also has tons of storage. To this day we’re still discovering large compartments. I half expect to find the bones of a stowaway in one of them: there’s that much space. Although the cat had a lot of storage as well, it was in plastic containers that had to sit on the beds in the cabins we weren’t using. On the plus side, we didn’t have to bother with securing those plastic bins on the beds. Because they were aboard a stable cat, they never once fell off.

There really is no substitute for the beauty of a varnished teak interior. Our monohull feels like a home, whereas the catamaran’s all-white plastic-looking interior felt as if it was designed so that blood spatter could be wiped off any surface with nothing more than a wet paper towel. Just bleach away the crime scene.

Our mono's galley is huge compared to the cat's (above); the saloon also serves as a great "living room" for the kids to play in (right)



On Deck

Deck space for lounging and platforms from which to take a swim are things sailors rarely give enough thought to. Going swimming off our mono, though, is a giant pain in the butt. Climbing up a sketchy swim ladders, in particular, can be a challenge, especially with a 2-year-old. The cat’s transoms, on the other hand, were pretty amazing. They were also great places to clean the dishes and fishes—something to think about next time you’re in the market for a new boat.

What about safety?

Falling off a catamaran would be akin to falling off your living room floor and landing in your front yard. Falling off a monohull is more like falling off a unicycle. It almost feels inevitable.

Sinking?

Who really sinks? I’ve never met a cruiser who has sunk his boat. I know it happens, because whenever it does the sailing press goes on high alert. But seriously, consider the odds, then decide if it is worth choosing a boat over. Spoiler alert: It’s not.

“Yeah, but I can sail into places a monohull could never get to,” says Joe Catamaran. Joe read this somewhere. He’s never actually put it into practice. In 99 percent of anchorages worldwide, drawing 3ft 5in is not going to get you any special privileges over a boat drawing 6ft 5in. Silly argument. It ranks right up there with the one about how you can beach a cat to clean the bottom. Uh-huh.

The Verdict

So, multi or mono? If you take all of these things into consideration, the catamaran rules the high seas, while the monohull comes in a respectable second place. Out of two. Catamarans are more stable by a factor of roughly 10,000 to 1, and they’re more comfortable on deck and at anchor. When it comes to selecting a cruising boat, nothing ranks higher than comfort and stability. Those factors alone were the most important contributors to the enjoyment and success of my own circumnavigation.

That doesn’t mean monohulls don’t have a lot going for them. They are a great value. They’re graceful and beautiful—probably more beautiful than cats­­—and they’re as strong as bulldozers (the old ones at least). They’re nostaligic, too, and we’re still about a generation away from having sailors with catamaran nostalgia.

There is one caveat: if going cruising now means buying a monohull, and buying a catamaran would require three more years of working and saving, then buy the monohull. And go. The whole debate is quicky irrelevant when you are at anchor on a Sunday night with no job to go to the next morning.

At the end of the day, cruising any boat is preferable to not cruising at all. Despite all of the advantages we came to love on our catamaran, we love our monohull, too. We don’t love rolling around at sea or at anchor. In fact, we hate it. We don’t love our tiny cockpit or our flimsy swim ladder. But we do love being out here in Mexico cruising with our two kids, while they’re the perfect age to enjoy it. In the end, in the great number-of-hulls debate, simply doing it, whether aboard a multi or a mono, is what matters most. 

Where do you stand on the cat vs. mono debate? Tell us your opinions by emailing sailmail@sailmagazine.com



Since quitting their day jobs, Pat and Ali Schulte have "cruised" in everything from their boats to a '53 VW bus; you can follow their adventures at bumfuzzle.com

 

 

Photos by Pat Schulte


 

take two, they're expensive

What an elegantly simple and accurate description of the issues in a choice between monohulls and catamarans! I commend the authors, and feel I need expand on only a few points. I agree with the majority of their points, first being price. Catamarans cost more. They are more complicated to engineer with two hulls that want to point in different directions, but have to support a mast between them. And there are more hatches and windows. That's why a catamaran selling for the same price as a monomaran will be shorter but offer about the same cubic feet of interior space minus the price of extra heads and stuff. It will, however cost more to dock and insure. Cats need heavier rigging because they resist healing. They have shorter masts to increase the margin of safety against sudden 65 knot gusts from an adverse direction. So much so that more monohulls have broached and sank than cats have flipped and floated. Some cats sail to weather better than most monohulls, others don't. Some are no better than fat old charter-trade Ketches, for essentially the same reasons. Two engines? yes. and one set of spares, maybe. That depends on where you're sailing, how hard it is to get parts. Water tanks? If you are away from a potable source of water, you need big tanks, and a way to keep them clean. Or you need a watermaker, the bane of any sailor's existance. You will also need to know how to do emergency surgery on it. Storage: Here is my big surprise. Cats do not have many hidey-holes. There's no room under the floor boards, the interior of the the hull doesn't have much space-creating curves, and its a long way to get to stuff in the corners, especially if there are foam filled crush zones. Not only that, you don't WANT to take a lot of weight aboard because it affects performance far more than a single round or wine-glass shaped monohull. There are those who claim that having wider individual hulls on a cat allows them to carry more weight. They fail to mention that they do so at the cost of speed and maneuverability. EVERYTHING is a trade off. Multihull performance, is much overstated, especially by the fat hull crown. Mother Nature (and Brother Physics) state that "If you want to go faster, START with narrower hulls. If not, get one with pretty window treatments." The same applies to those masterfully crafted teak interiors, corian countertops, washing machines, and airconditioners. See the maintenance note above. Go smaller, go sooner. Go monohull first. You can go as far with a 36 foot monohull as you can with a 30 foot catamaran. The market is better defined for that monohull because there were a lot more made. You can trade up in either direction after you have a thousand mile under your belt, with pretty firm answers to the compromise questions. "Nobody buys their last boat first." Well someone did, and more power to them. Call it a once in ten thousand win. More often, some people buy what the internet tells them is a world-girdling boat, only to be overwhelmed by the necessities of ownership. Or by the number of trained crew required to handle it. Then, for lack of another starry eyed wannabee, the poor soul loses a bucket full. A more rational path is to start with a boat, mono or cat, that is light enouth for one person to sail, launch, and maintain by himself well enough to carry a non-sailor passenger on an uneventful ride. Take a summer to master it as well as the average kid has mastered his skateboard, then get something bigger with complete overnight accomodations. With a little sweat equity, each of these boats could be sold for a bit more money, and then move up again, and travel for two weeks. Then you will know what the next right size is. If you get vacation time, charter at a first or second tier Company, like Moorings, Sunsail, and others. Resist the temptation to snap up a boat fresh out of First Tier Charter until you have a firm grasp of how much it will cost YOU at YOUR LOCATION to refurb it cruisable shape. No matter what, don't buy anything you haven't sailed in brisk weather. This may be the most important thing we can tell you. Then fill up a bank account, stop your mail, and GO! p.s. It will take twenty years for America's Cup multihull foiler technology to filter down to my economic home turf. I'll be 90. Bet me I won't get a ride at least! Sandy Daugherty is a retired Naval Officer, NTSB Accident Investigator, Naval Academy Sailing Coach, owner of a PDQ 36 and a Chris White Atlantic 42, and an experienced off-shore and Caribbean sailor. He does sail monohulls on a dare..

Sandy Daugherty
 

cat vs mono

I'm a 35 year monohull sailor but spent two weeks in the BVI on a 40 foot Lagoon. I must say Cats are very stable and unlike the article it motored great, easily 9 knots. In fact the sails just get in the way, since they really dont go upwind.  I really enjoyed the cat a lot it just wasn't really sailing. One thing not mentioned in the article was that marina space is harder to find for cats.

Capt. Mike

cats vs monos

Enjoyed the article, but having sailed both cats and monos, I feel you left out one important factor: personal comfort from the amount of breeze you get in the "cockpit."  On a cat the breeze is usually blocked by the cabin structure both at sail and on anchor, leaving the cockpit quite warm and stagnant if you are sailing the Caribbean, Central America, the Med or in any other "warm" climate.  Nonetheless, I agree that cruising in any boat is better than not cruising at all!
Sailorphil

Sailorphil

Cats .v. monos

If stability is better why are cats equipped with escape hatches on underside of hulls? 
I find my 1984 35ft Wauquiez Pretorien to be a joy in rough weather and will happily go under unreafed mainsail and fully unfurled 110 Genoa upto 17 knots apparent. It slices through 6ft chops like a knife through butter, goes wing on wing without a pole and looks after me like a loving mother. I can practically do no wrong, except occasionally on docking in a crowded Marina.

G.L.Rogg

Or move on to 4 wheels!

Bumfuzzle's moved back to 4 wheels.

Good points, but more to consider

I really enjoyed the article and the conclusion.  But there are more factors.  When we compare cats and monos we need to take into account variouse features that could work on either.  For instance a PDQ36 can have outboards, a stall shower in the head, and draws less than 3 of water.  So no diesel smell inside, and many 'beach house' like features.  But its slides sideways more and has less bridge deck headroom.  It would take a spreadsheet and a look at lots of specfic features to really make the decision. 

Eric
s/v Desert Star
PDQ36

Shed good light on subject of interest for sometime.

Thanks for shedding some light on the subject,  I've long considered the prospects of distance cruising and generally preferred the catamaran, but I agree that doing it takes precedence over craft.  As someone whose chosen coastal cruising aboard various mono's and a tri, I have ultimately resolved to live shoreside on the local waterfront and cruise less, but admire your choices.  Your children will never forget the unique experiences you have given them.  Bravo!
 

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