June 30, 2011

Captain Nat and the cat

NOW THAT CATAMARANS are the chosen weapons for the America’s Cup skirmish, there seems to be a general impression that multihulls are new to the yachting scene, and especially to the racing scene. I don’t know much about multihulls, not half as much as I probably should, but I do know that’s wrong. They’ve been around an awfully long time.

My own experience with reasonably large cats is limited to a Caribbean cruise I did from Grenada a few years back, on a freelance assignment for Cruising World magazine. She was a 38-foot Lagoon, and wonderfully luxurious compared with anything I’ve ever owned; but I wasn’t taken with her performance under sail.

I readily admit I am biased. I grew up with small monohulls and I like the way they feel, the way they can tack on a dime, the way they respond to the helm when your jib starts telling you you’re pointing too high. In half a second the jib is quiet again and doing the work it is paid to do. I didn’t get that feeling on the Lagoon, which responded much more slowly. I also found it very strange that when a sudden gust came along, the Lagoon would simply sprint forward and not heel. Heeling is one of the parameters I use to judge when spilling wind, or reefing, is necessary. I get a very uneasy feeling when that parameter is removed. And I guess I was put off multihulls at an early age when I learned that they were building escape hatches in the bottom of the boats as a matter of course, so you could scramble out and wave your arms for help when you capsized.

As for racing cats, it was way back in 1870s that Nat Herreshoff designed, built, and raced a catamaran called Amaryllis. She easily won the second race of the 1876 Centennial Series against some of the fastest boats in the country. She had at least one of the faults still causing trouble for today’s America’s Cup contenders, though. In June, 1877, the Amaryllis drove her bows under at high speed, and pitchpoled during a match race.

Monohulls do that sometimes, too, of course, but perhaps not as often. And in any case an outside-ballasted monohull will tend to right herself promptly, whereas a multihull is more stable upside down than she is the right way up.

The multihull’s advantage is that, lacking the heavy keel, she will float until the cows come home, or at least at until some keen-eyed rescuer comes along. I personally wouldn’t like to try living in or on an inverted multihull. I was very glad I didn’t capsize the Lagoon, though I suppose Cruising World would have missed me after a few weeks and sent out the search-and-rescue troops. That’s what I like to think, anyhow — though I may be sadly misguided.

Today’s Thought
For the actual sailing, I enjoyed these craft more than any I ever owned.
— Nathanael C. Herreshoff
(He was talking about catamarans. But I can't believe he meant it. --JV)

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #216
Need to sterilize your drinking water? The old rule of thumb is to add ordinary household liquid chlorine bleach. Add one teaspoonful of 5.25 percent bleach to every 15 gallons of water. Wait for at least 30 minutes before drinking the water, which should be exposed to the air for that time.

“Hey I just realized why I keep winning at poker and losing on the horses.”
“So why is it?”
“They won’t let me shuffle the horses.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Aaron Headly said...

I took a look at Amaryllis (actually, Henry Ford's 1933 copy, Amaryllis II), and was struck by the sail-plan. It is very unusual to modern eyes — especially on a catamaran.

It has a very-low-aspect-ratio main, rigged as a gunter, and an even lower-aspect-ratio jib with a full boom (!) that sits further forward than the fore-stay of what I'd have to call a bowsprit. (The fore-stay creases the luff of the jib on half of the tacks.)

Here's a link to a sketch I made of it.

The amahs were, I'm told, 33 feet long. Striking.

Thanks for bringing my attention to this odd craft.

John Vigor said...

Thanks for the sketch, Aaron. It is indeed a strange-looking sail plan, particularly as the width of a multihull makes a very strong base for a taller mast with a more efficient aspect ratio. Still, I expect the competition was rigged in much the same way, so Capt. Nat didn't have much to lose.


John V.

Oded Kishony said...

How is the 'comfort index' calculated for a catamaran? Does it apply in the same way? I've read that Cats have a more jerky motion in the water.