When you say “sailboat,” most people envision a lovely sloop with a tall mast and single hull. Say charter, though, and people think colorful brochures with catamarans anchored off some tropical island. Here’s why.
Conventional wisdom says a catamaran has about 1.25 times the space of a monohull for a given LOA. Beyond that, the way this space is used also gives a point to the cats, especially with large groups. Cats, for example, typically have much bigger cockpits, which quickly become social hubs. Some cats even have a second cockpit forward, so that as you swing in the trade winds with your bows facing east at happy hour, you can tuck up in the shade of the cabintrunk rather than burning up in the direct sunshine aft.
Many larger cats also have flybridges, adding yet more lounging space out on deck. Equally important, most charter cats are equipped with expansive hard Biminis, which mean the boats’ large main cockpit are well protected from both rain and sun, an important consideration when trying to maintain a happier crew in the tropics, where you’re often either doused by afternoon storms or baked to a crisp.
Of course, all this extra deck space isn’t just good for hanging out in, it’s also good for packing toys. It’s not unusual, for example, to see a cat with a kayak carried on one hull and a SUP on the other. That’s hard to do on a monohull. Additionally, there’s more room to get kids ready for snorkeling and the water access is easier because you have two transoms to work with.
Finally, cats almost inevitably have more interior space belowdecks, with four cabins typically found aboard a boat with an LOA of as little as 40ft. These large cabins usually provide easier berth access and have hull windows with opening portlights to let in light and fresh air, which can be a huge help for any crew suffering from claustrophobia or seasickness. Also, on a cat the cabins are usually better separated for enhanced privacy, and there are typically at least two if not four heads for the ultimate in convenience.
On the flip side, of course, even small cats are big, and so is their gear. Hoisting the mainsail on a cat without an electric winch can be a job for two big guys while pretty much anyone can raise the main solo on a 40ft monohull. The pressures on a cat’s big sails can also be intimidating and even dangerous. Once you’re safely underway, though, or tucked away for the night in some anchorage, the catamaran shines again.
Motion on the Ocean
Some people love the motion of a monohull. Others, though, will quickly turn green. Cats, of course, have a different motion entirely. On the one hand, it can be faster and a bit herky-jerky. On the other, it usually leads to a good deal less seasickness.
This is key if you’re chartering with friends and family who are new to boating or have delicate stomachs. The motion of a cat can also be easier on kids and older folks who may not be quite so steady on their feet, especially when walking at an angle. Chartering a cat, therefore, opens up the opportunity to bring alone everyone from toddlers to grandma.
As an added benefit, you also don’t need to be so vigilant about stowage. Inevitably, someone will forget to secure their camera, phone or drink, which on a monohull in a stiff breeze will cause these kinds of items to go flying. On a cat, though, they’re more likely to stay put. For people who aren’t used to stowing provisions and gear mindfully, this will be a blessing.
Yet another advantage to cats is the fact they remain relatively steady in even the rolliest anchorage. Stability at rest equals dishes staying put and a better night’s sleep, meaning the whole family will be well-rested (and less cranky).
Pure Sailing Pleasure
Cats sail beautifully downwind or on a beam reach. They also stay on their feet in a blow. Be warned, though, most cruising cats aren’t known for either their snappy tacks or their ability to sail close-hauled. Keep this in mind when choosing a charter destination and/or deciding on your itinerary after you get there. Will the legs be long and upwind? If so, you might want to plan on making your way from place to place in a series of short hops, as opposed to having to beat your brains out for hours on end. Similarly, is your crew looking forward to short-tacking its way around like they’re on some kind of racecourse, they may come away disappointed.
Finally, you generally don’t need to reef a cat quite as early as a monohull, since they can typically take more breeze before needing to shorten sail. That said, if you do start feeling overpowered, better to reef down sooner rather than later. Again, the sails aboard even the most placid cruising cat can be pretty big, a situation that is only going to become that much more challenging in a stiff breeze.
Anchoring, Docking and Maneuvering
If you venture into the skinny charter cruising grounds of the Chesapeake, Caribbean or South Pacific, you may be glad to have a cat with a shallower draft. Cats can also venture closer to shore and into bays that are off-limits to deep-draft keels. Every foot you save below the waterline means more places to explore.
Docking is a toss-up between one hull and two. Monohulls have some advantage in Med mooring situations, where you have to back up to a dock, since they require substantially less space on a quay.
However, if you ever find yourself backing up into a tight space with a cross breeze, there’s nothing like a cat with its twin screws set 20ft apart or more. There’s no need for a bow thruster, and you’ll look like a pro, whether you’re pulling up to a fuel dock, angling in toward a crowded quay in front of and equally large crowd, or simply keeping station in a blow while picking up a mooring.
Just remember to go easy on the throttles, as opposed to jamming them back and forth. When pivoting in place, using a single-engine at a time is also often more effective than simply putting one in forward and one in reverse and then bubbling in your cavitation.
Systems and Availability
Part of marine safety is redundancy, and when it comes to this kind of belt-and-braces approach, a cat is better simply as a result of its many natural backups. If the freshwater pump fails in one hull, for example, you can still take a shower by going with the pump in the other. Similarly, if an engine fails, you still have the other to get you home. Same thing if, say, a prop falls off.
Because cats have more room, they also tend to have more systems in general. Think genset, watermaker, bigger house battery banks and larger water tanks, just to name a few. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, especially with respect to some of the monohulls now coming into charter. Nonetheless, you’ll typically have more goodies on a cat, which can’t help but make things more comfortable.
In terms of availability, in many ways, it comes down by destination. In Europe, for example, there are still plenty of monohulls on offer due to the fact Europeans tend to be purists, and most learned on, and continue to be devotees of, single hull sailing. Also, as mentioned above, there’s simply less room in small European towns and marinas to dock the number of boats that are plying Mediterranean waters. This, however, is changing quickly.
In the Caribbean and the South Pacific cats have dominated for years, due to their warm-weather appeal and shallow draft. Since there are few docks in these areas, it’s mostly moorings and anchoring as well, with little if any Med mooring. Bottom line, in the end, your choice may be somewhat dictated by where you plan to charter.
Finally, with respect to price, be warned that cats are usually more expensive to charter for the simple reason that cats cost the charter company more to buy, so they’re rented out at higher rates. Beyond that, since you’ll be running two engines rather than one, you’ll usually burn more fuel.
MHS Winter 2021