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The Joys of a Life Lived On Board a Catamaran

For five years, Marlene and I have left Kansas City each May to board Different Drummer, our 39-foot Prout Escale catamaran, at the River Dunes, North Carolina, and set out for six months of sailing. It’s not always blueberries and chocolate ice cream, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

For five years, Marlene and I have left Kansas City each May to board Different Drummer, our 39-foot Prout Escale catamaran, at the River Dunes, North Carolina, and set out for six months of sailing. It’s not always blueberries and chocolate ice cream, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Along the way, we’ve discovered great people, places and ports of call. We’ve also discovered many other joys that come with living on a catamaran.

The Joys of Space

Let’s get the joy-of-space issue out of the way first. This seems to be a biggie among both mono- and multihull sailors. Yes, there is an abundance of space on a catamaran. How much? About 60 to 70 percent more than aboard a monohull of the same length. Sixty to 70 percent!

There’s stowage space, there’s living space, there’s space on the foredeck (over 90 square feet) to stretch out and get a suntan while under full sail. There’s space in the galley, and there’s space in the heads. Marlene has her space, and I have mine. We can comfortably serve dinner for eight in Different Drummer’s main saloon. There’s an absolute embarrassment of space on a catamaran.

That having been said, I make no apologies to visitors from monohulls who cry and tell me they hate me when they see our unused lockers, because along with all that space comes 60 to 70 percent more cleaning and maintenance, usually performed by me, the captain. For example, by the time Johnny Monohull has finished scrubbing his hull and is sipping a cold one in his narrow cockpit, I still have another hull to go— although when I finish scrubbing my hulls and sit down for a cold one in my cockpit, I might just have a square dance, too.

The Joys of 3 and a half 

Different Drummer, like most cats, has a shallow draft. We draw just 3 feet 6 inches, which doesn’t give us a free pass to go anywhere (we won’t get into the details of our occasional groundings), but it does allow us “back-door” access to places like St. Michaels, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. 

St. Michaels, on the Miles River, is a very pretty, very trendy weekend destination for many day-sailors from the Chesapeake’s Western Shore. Sadly, it’s also very expensive to dock in St. Michaels, and anchoring overnight in the Miles River current can lead to a poor night’s rest. If you draw less than four feet, however, you can go north a short distance on San Domingo Creek from the Choptank River and anchor for free within sight of the house where James Michener spent two years writing Chesapeake. From there you can take a short dinghy ride to the fisherman’s dock on the “back side” of town, and walk two blocks to St. Michaels’ main street. Be sure to raise your dinghy’s outboard, though, because if the tide goes out while you’re in town, you might get stuck like we did, and St. Michaels mud stinks as bad as anyone’s, no matter how much they charge to dock there.

Different Drummer’s shallow draft also allowed us access to a number of safe harbors on both sides of the Potomac River during a three-week trip to Washington, D.C. for the Fourth of July. One night, for example, we anchored in a secluded deep-water hole on Nomini Creek, on the Virginia side of the Potomac, after clearing a five-foot bar in the Nomini River to get in. It was absolutely gorgeous: we barbecued chicken for dinner, drank wine while watching a perfect sunset, and went skinny-dipping in the moonlight. It was the kind of night people back home think we have all the time. Later, at around 0300, an unexpected 75mph wind came blasting through, scaring us half to death, and pushing us into four feet of water, but leaving us unharmed. 

Without the shallow draft, we might still be there.

It was the same thing heading back downriver to the Chesapeake Bay from D.C. When we needed to hide from several storms along the way, we were able to do so in the skinny waters and safe harbors of Cobb Island and St. Mary’s City, on the Maryland side, while deeper-draft vessels had to slug it out on the Potomac. I will trade a safe harbor, when it’s needed, for almost anything.

The Joy of Two

I am a retired truck mechanic and am therefore suspicious of all things mechanical. I distrust new parts that haven’t been installed and tested, because I have seen them fail right out of the box. Like most catamarans over 35 feet, Different Drummer has two engines and two separate fuel tanks. It also has two water systems and two heads. There’s two of almost everything, and they all work independently, so when one system fails, we have a backup in place. Of course, we also have twice the number of things that can (and will) break down and must then be fixed.

When Sam, our port engine, spun a rod bearing while underway on the Intracoastal Waterway, Dave, our starboard engine, safely returned us to the River Dunes where I changed engines. A month later, when Sam II, our newly rebuilt port engine (53 hours), broke a crankshaft halfway across the Pamlico Sound, Dave, again, safely returned us home to the River Dunes for yet another engine change. Sam and Dave. Soul men. As a side note: having the use of two engines when docking a 20,000 pound vessel with no brakes can make you appear much more accomplished then you really are. That’s sweet.

We can carry 75 gallons of fresh water under the sole of each hull, and each tank has its own pump and electrical circuit. We have never been without water, because if one breaks, I simply switch tanks, make the repair and then switch back.

Still, the best “joy of two” is the joy of two heads. Believe me. Marlene’s head is in the port hull, mine is in the starboard. If we have guests on board, we share her head (much to her dismay), but otherwise, hers is hers and his is mine. Unless, of course, hers needs to be fixed, in which case we simply switch.

Marlene and I grew up in families with multiple siblings and one bathroom, and neither of us thought two heads on a sailboat would be necessary. After five years of living on board for six months at a time, we both agree that having two heads is one of Different Drummer’s greatest joys.

The Joys of Working on a Catamaran

I was told long ago that if I kept telling myself over and over again how lucky I am to have a catamaran to work on, no matter how lousy the job is, I will start to enjoy it. So now I’m telling you: it’s a joy!

Dennis Mullen and Marlene
live and cruise aboard Different Drummer,
a 39-foot Prout catamaran

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