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Catamaran or Trimaran?

Most multihull buyers have a subconscious preference for cats or tris.
Once you've made the decision that your cruising boat will be a multihull, the nextstep is to determine how many hulls it should have. Most prospectivemultihull buyers have a subconscious preference for catamarans or trimarans,but often this bias reflects a lack of experience or serious investigationof the other type of boat. My wife, for instance, instinctively preferscatamarans, yet it's fair to say she's never been cruising on a moderntrimaran, or for that matter that she knows anyone who has owned one. I feel youshould keep an open mind in your search for the ideal multihull. Althoughyour instincts may well be accurate, initial preferences can change aftercareful reflection and some hands-on research.

Catamarans are by far the most prevalent cruising multihull, formany good reasons which we'll discuss shortly. They are also the mostwidely available as a charter yacht. This means that most sailors new tomultihulls get their first taste on a cat—and first impressions,especially those on a well-appointed charter yacht, can be lasting. Mostof the cruising trimarans on the market are in fact trailerable sportcruisers—easily transported boats that can serve as racer, cruiser, orsome combination of the two. While catamarans seem to be the cruisingmultihull of choice, trimarans have some distinct advantages that make themwell worth consideration. Let's compare catamarans and trimarans usingvarious cruising considerations.

Accommodations and Storage Ability  By far the most impressive characteristic of a cruising catamaran is theamazing amount of space on board for the overall length of the boat. Thewide beam on most catamarans allows for truly outstanding cockpits,foredecks, living and sleeping accommodations, galleys, heads, and storagespaces.

Deck and storage space on most cruising multihulls make for easy living.
Sleeping accommodations are superb. On our 26-footcruising cat we had two double aft cabins with permanently made-up berthsand a salon seating area that converted to a queen-size berth. While thereare many different layouts, cats in the 34 to 38-footrange typically have staterooms in three of the four corners of the boatand a large head in the other corner. Longer cats, many of which are set up for chartering, can easily have four double staterooms and four heads. Versions outfitted forprivate ownership often have one entire hull dedicated as the owner'sstateroom, with two additional staterooms in the other hull.

The galley and living areas on a cruising cat can also be quiteastonishing. This is mainly due to the fact that the main salon on a catis level with the cockpit, affording panoramic views and the ability tointeract easily with people in the cockpit. The galley on a cat can bedown in a hull or up in the main salon area, and either option allows for aspacious, well-equipped food handling area.

Catamarans not only have more physical storage space, but theygenerally have a greater load-carrying ability for a given length of boat. The interior layout and accommodations on most modern trimarans aresimilar to those found on monohulls. There are a few trimaran designs withsolid wing decks where the interior accommodations (usually in the form ofberths) extend out toward the amas. These designs are the exception,however, and tend to be of an older vintage.

Large, light, and airy interiors set multis off in a class by themselves.
Sailing Performance and Safety  In general, trimarans have better sailing performance for the size of boatthan catamarans, especially cats with fixed low-aspect ratio keels ratherthan daggerboards. Trimarans with one or two daggerboards or a centerboardusually have a better ability to tack and to go to windward, and aregenerally faster for the same length of boat. For those who like toexperience a variety of cruising grounds, but don't have the time or desireto make long passages, a sport trimaran may be a good choice. And it'sbeen said that sport trimarans inherently have that ultimate designcharacteristic for speed enhancement, trailerability, which allows them togo at highway speeds.

Trimarans, and to a lesser extent catamarans, are often given a badrap concerning safety. This is almost exclusively due to two factors:

  1. The majority of trimarans out sailing are sport models whose skippers oftenpush the safety envelope in search of higher performance.
  2. The widelypublicized mishaps concerning high-speed ocean racing tris, and to a lesserextent cats.
Whether cat or tri, true cruising multihulls are a wholedifferent breed with impressive safety records. Safety on multihulls, aswith all sailboats, is related to knowing when to shorten sail and how tohandle the boat in heavy weather.

Initial Cost and Resale  The initial cost of multihulls is higher than monohulls of equivalentlength, with catamarans generally higher in cost per foot than trimarans.The high initial cost keeps many would-be multihull sailors out of the newboat market. Used boats can be a good option for those on a modest budget,but since the resale value of multihulls is excellent, you'll need to do somesearching to find a true bargain.

Maintenance and Ongoing Costs  Catamarans have two main hulls to maintain, while trimarans have one mainhull and much smaller outer hulls called amas. Cats also tend to have twoengines (one in each hull) and, therefore, twice the mechanical maintenance.

Trailerable sport tris offer great performance—right up to 65 mph!
Sport trimarans have the edge when it comes to docking, storage, andtransportation, since they fold to roughly the beam of a monohull and theirtrailerability allows for easy storage and road transport. When comparingnon-trailerable tris and cats, they both cost quite a bit more than monohullsfor dockage, storage, and transportation by road or ship because of their wide beam.

Making the Decision  The choice between catamaran and trimaran comes down to personal preferenceand finding the best boat for your needs. For thoroughbred performance andthe potential for trailerability, take a look at the trimarans on themarket. Many catamaran designs also offer superb performance, and a fewdesigns such as the Aquillon 26 and F-25 are trailerable. Most other catamarans onthe market offer a nice blend of performance and the opportunity forincredibly comfortable cruising. Remain flexible and you're sure to findyour ideal cruising multihull.


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