June 13, 2016

Captain Nat and his cat

EVERY NOW AND THEN somebody new to sailing will try to assure me that catamarans are the latest, fastest things in the yachting world. Now, I don’t know much about multihulls, not half as much as I probably should, but I do know that’s wrong with that statement. Multihulls have been around an awfully long time.

My own experience with reasonably large cats is limited to a Caribbean cruise I did from Grenada years ago on 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 much 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 multihulls, though. In June, 1877, 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 seacows 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 [catamarans] more than any I ever owned.
— Nathanael C. Herreshoff

“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.)

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