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Old 02-28-2000
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Monohulls and Catamarans

Can you compare monohulls and catamarans? Why don't you see more cats in the hardcore cruising circuit? Are they not as seaworthy and able to hold during a storm?


Tyson Hungerford

Sue and Larry respond:

Dear Tyson,

Comparing cruising catamarans and cruising monohulls is a popular subject these days. Over the past six or seven years, catamaran sales have skyrocketed in North America, but these boats have been very popular in countries like France and South Africa for much longer.

Most catamaran owners will give you several reasons for their choice of boat. The fact that they don't heel much is usually at the top of the list. The overall speed of a well-designed cruising catamaran is greater than similar-sized monohulls, so passages are quicker (around 20 percent faster on average). The space on a 42-foot catamaran would be similar to a 52-foot monohull, being generally brighter and airier, with the main salon being positioned higher in the boat than on traditional monohulls. The shallower draft is also popular because it allows exploration of more cruising grounds.

Catamarans don't sail to weather as close to the wind as monohulls do, but they generally sail faster on the track they must take, and end up arriving about the same time, if not ahead anyway. Catamarans don't tack as easily as monohulls, since they don’t have as much displacement to carry the boat through the wind.

The very large beam of a cat can make it more expensive and harder to find space in a marina, and haulouts are not always possible at every yard. You can't load a cat down with as much gear as a monohull, or the performance will suffer.

The seaworthiness of a catamaran versus a monohull is one of those questions that are relative to the design. Catamarans designed for offshore sailing today are out on the high seas as successfully as their monohull counterparts. With every design, whether it's a monohull or catamaran, there are certain trade-offs. You need to consider the factors that make them so different and decide what you are comfortable with. A good monohull, with displacement and ballast, is designed to right itself, should it capsize. A catamaran relies on its beam for form stability and will not right itself should it capsize. In general, the wider a cat, the more stable it is in seas providing the bridge deck is built of adequate height. Catamaran proponents proclaim that their boats are unsinkable. If holed at sea, they say the other hull will keep them floating, plus there are dead air spaces built into the bow compartments of each hull. The main reason there are fewer "hard core" cruisers choosing catamarans over monohulls is probably cost, along with a predisposition to traditional looks and thoughts of what a boat is supposed to be like. Catamarans tend to be more expensive when comparing similar boats. You'll probably see more out cruising soon with so many of the charter companies including cats in their line-ups, and the resulting "ex-charter" boats that will come on the market at lower prices.

We both enjoy the sailing experience on a monohull but are watching several of our cruising friends switching to cats. Good luck with your decision


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