Looking at today’s cruising catamarans, a landlubber could easily be forgiven for not knowing that the original appeal of multihulls was their blistering speed: not just on a reach, but close to the wind as well. Exceptions do, however, exist, and some of them even carry a price tag that is within reach of mere mortals. Among the best of these is the new Maine Cat 38.
DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION
A product of the Maine Cat boatyard run by Dick Vermeulen up in Bremen, Maine, the Maine Cat 38 is one of those boats aboard which nothing—and I mean nothing—exists without a reason: boats where even seemingly tiny details are in fact the result of a great deal of thought and planning.
This attention to detail can even be found in places you’ll never see: like in the use of a thermo-formed Core-Cell PH core, around which the rest of the hull and deck layups are infused using 100 percent vinylester resin. The advantage to this approach is that it allows you to reduce the weight of the excess resin found in a typical PVC core as well as allow a tighter, more accurate fit of the laminate as a whole. The result is a lightweight structure that not only serves as the basis for all the boat has to offer in terms of performance (weight being the kiss of death when it comes to multihulls) but also allowed Vermeulen—who designs the boats that he builds—to spec a smaller, easier-to-handle rig.
Beyond that, the Maine Cat features an “open bridgedeck” design, in which the cockpit and saloon are essentially one and the same, with all accommodations and even the galley placed down in the two hulls. The two hulls, in turn, sport daggerboards, a pair of sharp, tumblehome bows and a dramatic reverse sheer in the interest of maximizing accommodation space below. Flared chines and radiused topsides provide 6ft of maximum beam in each hull, which serves to create yet more interior space at the same time the hull’s maximum waterline beam remains a mere 3ft 2in. This, in turn, provides a 12:1 length-to-beam ratio (assuming you keep the boat light). Yeah, we’re talking raceboat proportions here. In the event you do choose to overload your boat, that flare will also provide plenty of reserve buoyancy.
The rig is built around a double-spreader Seldén aluminum mast supported by wire rigging with a self-tacking jib flying off a Seldén furler. Winches are Harken. Standard auxiliary power is provided by a pair of 9.9hp long-shaft outboards with power trim and tilt operated via throttles at the helm. As an added benefit, these outboards retract when not in use, reducing drag. Torqeedo electric pod drives are also available.
Topside, the Maine Cat 38’s open-bridgedeck area includes huge windows in the saloon and a single helm station with an Edson wheel immediately aft of the saloon’s forward bulkhead. The latter is well thought out, with a pair of winches and a battery of clutches (Lewmar on our test boat; Spinlocks in the future) close at hand for controlling the halyards, the headsail and even the daggerboards. The mainsheet is tended alongside where the main traveler spans the width of the cockpit aft.
Forward, the chainplates are outboard of the arched side decks, providing a clear path forward. Not only are there teak toerails outboard in the interest of security, but Vermeulen has also included sturdy stainless steel handrails running the length of the pilothouse and along its aft edge to give you something to hang on to when first leaving the cockpit. If only the rest of the multihull builders of the world could be half so conscientious.
A removable sprit for flying an A-sail is available as an option, and our test boat was equipped with a pair of solar panels on top of the pilothouse. The combination of the tall, angular cabintrunk and the complex curves of the two hulls makes for an unusual look aesthetically. But I very much liked it for its clean sense of purpose.
The belowdecks space is as well executed as anything and everything topside. Large windows in the hulls-cum-cabintrunks projecting above the sheerline admit as much ambient light as you could ever hope for, while opening hatches fore and aft provide excellent ventilation.
Access to the accommodations spaces in the two hulls is via a pair of sliding hatchways. An inline galley is to port, and there is a double berth aft in each hull, a narrow double berth forward of the galley and a head forward of the open space amidships to starboard. I loved the combination of white gelcoat and cherry veneer throughout the accommodations area. It reminded me a lot of the old Herreshoff look. In fact, come to think of it, I suspect Capt. Nat would have not only loved the Maine Cat 38’s accommodations, but the boat in general. An “LS” version of the boat, which eliminates some of the woodwork, thereby also trimming 600lb of weight, is also available.
There are many cruising cats out there, but few, if any, sail like a Maine Cat 38. For our test sail on Miami’s Biscayne Bay we had a beautiful little breeze wobbling between 9 and 14 knots, and the boat absolutely ate it up. With a true wind speed of 12 knots, we easily notched 7.8 knots under working sail alone with the true wind just aft of abeam. Moments later a 14-knot gust immediately popped us over 8. In the light chop, the boat’s motion was easy and predictable, thanks in no small part to the boat’s fine entry.
Later as the wind dropped to around 9 knots, we hardened up to a 35 degree apparent wind angle, where the boat walked along at around 5.5 knots. Yes, 5.5 knots. At a 35 degree angle. When I remarked on how the boat went to windward “as well as a monohull” I was immediately reprimanded for my comparison. To paraphrase Vermeulen (like any good builder/designer, a very passionate guy!) the problem is not that “multihulls” can’t sail hard on the wind, it’s that today’s “multihulls” are so overloaded they no longer sail like true multihulls—fair enough.
Vermeulen then went on to tell me how on a delivery off New Jersey with the wind aft and blowing in the 20s, the boat maxed out at 16.4 knots and kept up a steady SOG of 11-14 knots under jib and reefed main. It really is amazing what you can accomplish with light weight and a couple of skinny hulls. Actually, it isn’t. You just don’t find that combination in a boat of this kind very often anymore.
Suffice it to say, the Maine Cat is as nimble under power as it is under sail. Revving up our test boat’s optional 15hp outboards to 3,700rpm the speedo quickly shot up to 7.3 knots. Increasing revolutions to 4,400 yielded 8-plus knots.
I confess this is one of those boat reviews where I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of all this boat has to offer. Bottom line: If you’re a sailor, if you like multihulls and if you like boats that are truly meant to sail, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the Maine Cat 38.
LOA 38ft LWL 36ft 5in BEAM 21ft DRAFT 6ft 6in (boards down); 29in (boards up) DISPLACEMENT 12,400lb (DWL displacement) SAIL AREA 844ft (mainsail and self-tacking jib) AIR DRAFT 58ft FUEL/WATER (GAL) 40/82 ENGINE Twin 9.9hp outboards SA/D Ratio 25 D/L 115 DESIGNER Dick Vermeulen BUILDER Maine Cat Catamarans, Bremen, ME, 888-832-CATS, mecat.com PRICE $349,000 (sailaway)
MHS Fall 2017