I am a monohull sailor now, but I am thinking of buying a catamaran to live and cruise on. I am interested in the difference in stability in high winds, heavy seas, and capsize characteristics between a monohull and a cat. Can you help?
Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your question. Without knowing it, you're tapping into a classic debate that divides the sailing populace as much as the old Miller Lite commercials did with advertising spokespeople ("Tastes great;" "Less filling"). Yes, catamarans and trimarans can capsize given the right combination of wind and waves, and you're correct to be wary of that. However, monohulls can capsize too in similar situations, so you're really not immune to a capsizing incident by virtue of the kind of boat you sail. The big difference between these two design styles is that, once capsized, multihulls are exceedingly difficult to reright, whereas monohulls most often come back upright. Nonetheless, capsizing is a relatively rare occurence, and if you're a vigilant navigator and take the necessary precautions to avoid the most serious weather on your open-ocean passages, you can significantly reduce the chances that any boat you own will capsize.
No, to the other considerations for your decision. Multihulls will usually afford you enhanced performance and space on deck, but often interior volume will be sacrificed, and that's not a great tradeoff for a liveaboard vessel. And, if you're living in the northern regions where the climate can be severe in the winter, I'm not sure that I'd recommend a multihull due to the reduced interior volume. (Also, keep in mind that some modern cruising catamarans and trimarans are so loaded down with furniture and amenities that they actually don't live up to the performance potential of a multihull, so be aware of that.)
However, for cruising it's hard to beat multihulls because they generally draw less water than their monohull counterparts, allowing you to explore additional areas, and they ordinarily offer an abundance of deck space, which is where you characteristically spend a lot of time while in a cruising mode. And if the boat has been designed, built, and fitted out properly, the chances are a multihull will save you a lot of time between destinations.
Here's hoping that this has helped you move closer to a decision.