If you’re looking for a decent sub-40ft cruising cat, you have few choices when it comes to new-boat offerings. It is a well-known fact that the multihull market has taken off in a way very few could have predicted. Despite Hurricane Irma’s recent destruction of a large part of the Caribbean catamaran fleet, the ensuing restocking of thousands of boats seems to have catalyzed this fact even more. Today, builders are focusing on the 45-50ft size range. This means that looking for a cruising cat under 40ft will likely have you considering some compelling pre-owned candidates.
This must be one of the most successful catamarans of the modern era. Fountaine Pajot really hit the target with this classic 38ft design, which replaced the smaller and more frugal Tobago 35 in 1998. If you can get over the “mouse fur” that was used in that era to cover the interior liners of the hulls and look beyond the baroque transoms and plastic helm seat, the Athena 38 represents a tremendous amount of bang for the buck.
Although the boom seems to have a radical up-angle, the sailplan works very well. The mast is a hefty Z-Spar section, and sail area is adequate, yet perfectly manageable for a solo sailor. I like the anchor stowage at the end of the trampoline, keeping the weight aft and strain off the forward crossbeam. Also really neat is the way the anchor windlass gypsy can be used to raise the main halyard.
Watch out when entering the saloon, as you must step down and at the same time crouch to avoid hitting your head on the sliding door opening. The engines are located under the aft berths and are very easy to access. Be aware, however, that this means your hulls may flood if a saildrive collides with an underwater object.
The best part is that the Athena 38 is still from the generation where foam was used as a core and much was done by hand, eliminating some of the worries of balsa-core degradation. Joubert Nivelt drew up a beautiful little boat in the Athena 38. She is perfect for coastal adventures and even world circling aspirations. If you look around, you can find one for $130-$170,000.
LOA 38ft Beam 20ft 8in Draft 3ft 1n Displacement 12,320lb Engines 2 x 20hp
The Catana 38 was a collaboration between Lock Crowther and Christophe Barreau. She can be classified as a performance catamaran, as she sports twin daggerboards, buoyant hulls and strong, yet lightweight construction.
The boat was conceived in the mid-‘90s and has many luxurious touches that you would not find in other catamarans of this size and vintage. Thanks to her high and flat decks, standing headroom in the hulls is excellent at 6ft 3in. The saloon centers around a semicircular dinette that opens to a utopian all-molded galley on one end and a forward-facing nav station on the other. Space-saving head/shower modules amidships in the hulls are flanked by double staterooms.
For people who love sailing, there are few boats like the Catana 38. Her twin helms are positioned aft, offering a perfect view of the sails, and the helmsman is always within easy reach of the dock when tying up solo. Another great advantage of aft helms is that the mechanical linkage to the steering arm transfers the steering sensations directly to the helmsman, something that is completely absent with the classical bulkhead mounted hydraulic steering stations.
Watch for a lot of solar radiation in the saloon, as the roof is steeply raked and has no overhang, although Textilene covers should alleviate this somewhat. The Catana 38 is a capable boat and many have voyaged far with her. Prices for used boats, if you can find a good one, are higher than the average boat of similar size at $160-$240,000.
LOA 39ft LWL 39ft Beam 21ft 8in Draft 3ft/6ft (boards down) Displacement 11,200lb Engines 2 x 20hp
The Gemini must be included in this list, as it is the most popular U.S.-built catamaran ever. More than 1,100 units were built from the early ‘80s to this day, and her designer, Tony Smith, applied his legendary enthusiasm and skill to create a fantastic entry-level family cruising catamaran. Some might argue that the narrow beam would be a detriment for offshore voyaging, but Smith crossed the Atlantic with one of his Geminis just to prove her safety.
The 14ft beam of this unconventionally narrow cat is probably one of the major reasons for its popularity and success, as the boat fits into a standard marina berth. Like the PDQ 36, the Gemini sports a masthead rig that hints at the design philosophy of British cats such as the Prout and Iroquois cats of McAlpine Downie vintage. Smith’s British origins probably explain his preference toward this rig type. The Gemini 105 is also one of the very few catamarans with centerboards, a nice feature when cruising in shallow waters, as they will retract on impact.
The interior configuration is similar to that of the PDQ 36, with a low-slung saloon and the galley down in one of the hulls. Through the many decades of production of the Gemini, Smith constantly tinkered and upgraded the design. At one point he even added an optional semicircular gennaker track to the forward beam to increase performance. If there ever was a sub-40ft cat that should be included in an imaginary “Catamaran Hall of Fame,” it would have to be the Gemini 105. Prices are all over the place for used boats, depending on condition and the build decade, with asking prices range from $40-$240,000. The Gemini 105, now with twin engines, is still in production.
LOA 32ft LWL 27ft 6in Beam 14ft Draft 1ft 6in/4ft 6in (boards down) Displacement 7,000lb Engine single diesel/saildrive
If you had to name the most popular catamarans ever built, the Lagoon 38 would inevitably be at the top of the list. At only 38ft in length, this boat packs in as much interior as a 50ft monohull, which seems to have been the perfect formula for success.
The Lagoon 38 was introduced in 1999 and has been in continuous production ever since. I would guess that more than 800 units have been built. This means that at any given time you will find about 50 boats for sale, making it the “buyers’ market” catamaran of all time.
Significant features of the Lagoon 38 include the separate access to the engine compartments, making it a safer boat than many of those that place the engines under the aft stateroom berths. Construction is hand-laid solid fiberglass below the waterline and a balsa/foam sandwich on the topsides. The deck is all balsa, so watch out for delamination around heavy traffic areas, such as the steps and hatches.
At close to 8 tons of displacement, the Lagoon 38 is not a lightweight, and if you’re looking for a swift cruiser there are better choices. For example, it will sail adequately on a beam reach in fresh conditions, but as soon as the wind drops or you want to sail close to the wind, you will feel challenged. It is not only the boat’s weight, but the hulls’ wide waterline beam that hampers performance. On the other hand, it is the wide cabin sole and copious amounts of volume that has made the Lagoon 38 so attractive to both first-time buyers or liveaboards. Typical prices range from $120-$330,000.
LOA 37ft 11in LWL 36ft 1in Beam 21ft 5in Draft 3ft 9in Displacement 13,010 lb (light ship) Engines 2 x 20hp
Introduced by Dufour in 1996, the Nautitech 395 was an innovative catamaran for its time. Its overall look is well proportioned, and the profile is nicely streamlined thanks to a roof extension that covers part of the cockpit. This rigid bimini can then be even further extended with the addition of a Sunbrella panel. This was the first catamaran design ever to extend the roof over the cockpit. Now, almost every catamaran includes this ingenious feature, which protects crew from the elements.
Epoxy laminates were used in the crossbeams to allow for sufficient stiffness, and the entire boat includes a vacuum-bagged foam sandwich construction. The large owner’s hull that can be closed off for privacy is unusual for a catamaran of this vintage.
As on most Nautitech catamarans (now Bavaria-Nautitech), the helm stations are placed far aft to open up the cockpit to socializing and to allow you to completely seal the saloon entrance from rain. Take care not to overload the hulls, as the bows are on the slender side. The sailplan is modern with a very generously sized mainsail. Kept light, this boat should be a joy to sail, even in areas that don’t have much breeze.
Most Nautitechs were delivered as four-cabin versions that were probably employed in the charter market, so expect high engine hours on these models. If you have the patience and a bit of luck, you may also be able to find a nice three-stateroom owner-model boat. The Nautitech 395 is a perfect catamaran for a liveaboard couple who welcome occasional guests. Prices range from $170-$260,000.
LOA 39ft LWL 37ft Beam 21ft Draft 3ft 11in Displacement 13,200 lb (light ship) Engines 2 x 30hp
There are a few lucky guys out there who owned an older Outremer 40, and I was one of them. Originally designed by the company’s founder, Gerard Danson, the Outremer 40 was as fast as she was sleek. Twin daggerboards helped her point, and she was steered by twin tillers. Several versions had small and lightweight Lombardini diesels. Mine had a centrally mounted 25hp outboard, which made for fun docking when sailing solo.
Several dozen of these Outremers were built in the early ‘90s, and most were customized by the yard to owner’s specifications. Coachroofs were of different sizes (lucky me, I had the smallest one) and many molds were borrowed from the larger models, such as the Outremer 45. This means that you could find a pre-owned Outremer 40 with the coachroof of an older 45. These had lot more space, as the smaller “doghouse” structures only allowed access into the hulls via the outside.
Construction was in solid fiberglass with no core, as the hulls were so fine that the stiffness of the core material hardly would have added rigidity. Most furniture was solidly tabbed into the hull, greatly contributing to the boat’s stiffness. One feature to examine closely is the solid-wood mast compression post located forward of the coachroof, between the chain lockers. These highly loaded and critical structures often become waterlogged over decades of use and need attention.
The Outremer 40 was a simple boat from an era when space and volume were not yet among the most important parameters in catamaran design. This resulted in a sleek and seakindly sailing machine. This boat is a great choice for the performance enthusiast who does not mind a bit of the camper mindset. If you are lucky enough to find a good one used, prices range from $100-$150,000.
LOA 39ft 7in Beam 22ft 4in Draft 2ft 5in/7ft 6in Displacement 9,920lb (light ship) Engines 2 x 18hp
If there ever was an ingenious layout alternative for a sub-40ft catamaran, the PDQ 36 would clearly be the winner. With her cozy, central cockpit, which can be fully enclosed, this Alan Slater design is very cleverly laid out. The PDQ was originally built in Canada and enjoyed great success.
She was offered with either twin outboards that sat in cockpit wells or a small diesel, depending on the year and option ordered by her original owner. You can, therefore, choose the engine configuration that best fits your needs. Both engine alternatives have their pros and cons. If you are a near-coastal sailor with only occasional daysails, nothing beats the simplicity, low weight and lack of maintenance of the outboards.
In terms of accommodations, headroom in the saloon is a challenge for tall folks, but the spacious, well-laid-out galley in the starboard hull should get any chef smiling. While most catamarans have a fractional rig with conventional side shrouds just aft of the mast, the PDQ 36 had an interesting masthead rig with shrouds as well as twin backstays. Some might argue that this is safer and supports the rig better. The PDQ is a fantastic boat, well-built with topsides cored with Corecell foam. She packs a lot of interior into a mere 36ft while still keeping a low silhouette. Good examples can be found for less than $160,000.
LOA 36ft 5in LWL 34ft 4in Beam 18ft 3in Draft 2ft 10in Displacement 8,000lb (light ship) Engines 2 x outboard/2 x inboard
The Prout line of catamarans is in a special category. More oceanic voyages from the ’50s to the mid-’70s were accomplished in Prouts than aboard any other production catamaran. From the mid-’40s, more than 2,500 catamarans were built by this illustrious British company.
The Prout 37, also called the Snowgoose 37 Elite, was the mainstay of the yard, and she was developed and improved over many decades. As with most Prouts, she needs a fair amount of wind to move well under sail, in part because of a central nacelle that runs fore and aft along the entire bridge deck, adding interior volume and headroom as well as buoyancy. Unfortunately, like anything else that creates buoyancy, it also creates drag, so speed hunters be aware.
Another unique aspect of the Prout 37 is its rig, which is placed well aft. There are some advantages to this design, such as smaller, more manageable sails and close access to critical sail controls. Note that most older Prouts do not have fully battened sails because of this mast-aft configuration. Since the boat had permanent backstays, the roach had to be kept to a minimum.
Unlike French catamarans, Prouts are not very beamy, a typical trait of the British design school. This, however, is a great feature if you are looking for berth space. If you do not have the urge to load the boat up too much, the double-ended, canoe shaped hulls will also glide nicely through the water. The Prout offers plenty of room for a 37ft catamaran, and her bluewater safety record is one of the best in the industry.
Elites were available in either twin outboard or single engine and saildrive configurations. You will have many to choose from on the used boat market. Prices range from $40-$240,000.
LOA 37ft LWL 33ft Beam 15ft Draft 2ft 1in Displacement 12,125lb (light ship) Engines 1 x 40hp
I am a little embarrassed to admit that although I have sailed all of the other nine boats in this article, I have never sailed a Seawind. That said, I’ve talked to countless owners and stepped aboard many of these boats at various shows, and they have always impressed me. With similar proportions to the TomCat 9.8, the Seawind 1000 carries a generous beam and offers standing headroom in her saloon.
From the reports I have read, she is a fast and responsive boat that many have taken far offshore. The most striking feature is the aft saloon bulkhead, which can be raised up in its entirety, thereby transforming the character of the boat as the cockpit and saloon become a unified living space; she is probably the smallest boat to have this unique feature.
Originally built in Australia, she was the first catamaran ever to be awarded “Australian Cruising Sailboat of the Year” in 1994. There are many iterations of the boat, and you can find them with both inboard or outboard engines, aft steering or bulkhead helms. There are even open-bridgedeck versions with a rigid hardtop.
Later models of the Seawind have a more pleasing-looking coachroof and offer greater bridge deck space. However, the basic hull shape is the same as in the original. Often you will find some with gigantic fiberglass arches abaft the cockpit that cruisers love to embellish with all kinds of equipment. The arch structure is also a great way to mount the mainsheet, create more seating area or engineer a clever dinghy lift system, although be careful not to add too much weight to this small cat.
Seawind is currently building the 1190 and 1260, which are larger variations of the original 1000. Good used examples of the 1000 can be found for between $150-$250,000.
LOA 32ft 9in LWL 31ft Beam 19ft 4in Draft 3ft 3in Displacement 8,818lb (light ship)
I really like the little TomCat 32. It seems to take the best from many different designs in this size range, and the result is a unique, practical and aesthetically pleasing catamaran. The boat was initially offered with outboards, but you can also find them with small inboard diesels.
The multitude of design features in this 32ft cruiser culminate in a synergy of form and function that is hard to beat. Among the things I love about the TomCat are its proportions—just the right amount of beam to sail beyond the sight of land and a silhouette that’s pleasing to the eyes. There is also plenty of lounging space, and you will find a comfortable settee along the aft end of the cockpit.
A cool feature is her overhanging saloon coachroof, which protects the helmsman. The Tomcat has twin companionways, one on each side of the central, bulkhead-mounted helm. By removing some companionway panels part of the saloon can also be merged with the cockpit. Consequently, the little rigid dodger that forms the coachroof turns into a doghouse in rough conditions, providing perfect 360-degree visibility with full protection. No other cat (or monohull) that I have ever seen has this feature. To create this “open” concept, the main structural beam is a strong athwartships member of solid fiberglass.
Other innovations are the kick-up rudders and the single central centerboard—perfect for exploring shallow bays. At just under 32ft, the TomCat is the smallest catamaran on this list, but probably the most innovative and handsome. TomCats have a good resale value and are rare if you are looking to purchase a pre-owned model. You may be able to find one in the $130,000 range; a new one costs around $220,000.
LOA 32ft LWL 31ft Beam 16ft Draft 5ft (max) Displacement 4,800lb (light ship) Engine 2 x 10hp outboards
Today’s new designs tend to focus on space and luxury, causing many of us feel left behind by not being able to find a multihull that is both under 40ft and still affordable. Luckily, there remain all of these “classic fantastic” cruising catamarans. Multihulls have become mainstream, a fact that many could not have imagined 20 years ago. This has created a pool of older vessels with low price tags. Sailors who are searching for an offshore-capable catamaran need not become discouraged and turn to monohull alternatives. We are lucky to be able to find the catamaran that is just right for us—even if don’t have a fortune to spend. Hopefully, these 10 classic designs will be an inspiration for you to go out and not allow the budget to stop you—but simply “do it.”
Gregor Tarjan is founder and owner of Aeroyacht Ltd.—a Long Island, NY based multihull dealership and brokerage. He is the author of Catamarans, The Complete Guide for Cruising Sailors