Sailing at its level best – monohull or multihull?

Mono or multi? What’s the best boat for you? Caroline Strainig delves into just a few of the reasons why multihulls are becoming the vessel of choice for more and more boat owners.

Buying a boat is something that’s a very personal decision, with everything a balancing act and compromise, depending on your wish-list. However, a multihull comes out on top in many categories. Here are just my top seven.

  1. Draught

Okay, so most of us know multihulls draw less than most monohulls, but think through what this means in reality. The shallower draught enables you to anchor closer in, in more sheltered places, which can make for a safer and more peaceful night. In strong winds, I love to motor in past the monohulls, find a nice spot in the lee of an island, drop anchor and then sit back and relax as I watch the monohull people bouncing up and down anchored further out. I know, it’s mean, but I just cannot help it.

Multihulls can also access other places a deep-keel monohull cannot, such as the shallow entrance to a coral lagoon. You can even beach some multihulls which have been designed to do so, which is a bonus for maintenance. Being able to anchor closer in or beach your boat also means you don’t always need to take a dinghy if you want to go ashore. Some catamaran owners I know love beaching their boats and letting their children run wild on the beach nearby while they relax on deck. It’s a win-win for everyone. The children can make as much noise as they want, and the adults can relax in peace and quiet, while still able to keep an eye on their offspring.

  1. Space and comfort

Over the years manufacturers of all types of vessels have responded to the ever-increasing demand for “space, space, and more space”, but monohulls still lag far behind multihulls in this respect because of the bigger building platform multihulls offer. You just cannot go past a multihull if you want the on-water equivalent of an apartment. In fact, one couple who bought a Fusion 40 from Multihull Solutions, Gary and Joey Angove, were going to buy a waterfront unit overlooking the marina where they kept the boat, but decided not to after living aboard the boat for a short time. “Why would you,” Joey said, as she relaxed in the saloon. “I cannot think of a more perfect setting than here.”

New multihulls like the Fountaine Pajot Helia 44 catamaran are pushing that comfort envelope still further again, with a comfy lounge area on the cabin top adjacent to the helm in addition to unequalled space in the saloon and cabins.

  1. Speed

As we saw in the America’s Cup, sailing a racing multihull can be exhilarating, sailing right on the edge. Who wasn’t screaming “Go, go, go!” as New Zealand raced America, with both boats full of Aussie crew. A cruising multihull might be a little more sedate, but a modern catamaran built with a good compromise of space and sailing performance and not overloaded still has a tidy turn of foot, enough to leave many cruising monohulls in her wake. Fast passages also make for safer passages because you can outrun bad weather more easily.

  1. Flatter

Multihulls sail flatter than a monohull. It’s an irrefutable fact of life. One delivery skipper I know loves telling the story of how a rose bowl left on the table survived an offshore voyage intact. However, before you start dreaming of sailing along in pancake-like conditions while you paint your toenails and sip a glass of sauvignon blanc, pause a moment. Yes, they do sail flatter, but let’s not pretend they don’t have any motion, and if you get seasick in rough conditions you might well still get seasick. I’d be silly to try and pretend otherwise. However, flatter is better, most of the time. Luckily, there are some great products out there like seasickness relief bands that are helping more and more people conquer their mal de mere.

  1. Sailing

You know how they tell you in Thailand that everything is “Same, same but different?” Well it’s the same when it comes to sailing monohulls and multihulls. Some multihulls can have a fractional time lag in answering the helm compared to a monohull, but one quickly adapts, and after a few hours on the helm, you won’t even notice it. And, while “that heeling feeling” is absent, you still get the thrill of sailing fast, which can be deceptive. We were cruising along on a Helia 44 Evolution in light winds, and it was only when I looked out over the stern and saw the water rushing past I realised just how fast we were going. Within seconds of commenting on this, we were having fun trimming sheets to see if we could get the boat to go even faster, which we did. Even the gung-ho racers on board were happy.

Some monohull sailors complain the signs the boat is overpowered are not so obvious. However, the signs are there, and they are obvious – just subtler. Monohulls will show they are overpowered by heeling excessively, rounding up, and generally telling you off in no uncertain terms. Multihulls have very high initial stability by comparison, so complain less until they are very overpowered. But they do still heel slightly and start to bury a bow and the steering will become heavier. You just need to get to know your boat and listen to her own unmistakable warning signs.

  1. Cost

Let’s get this one out of the way. Yes, as any monohull devotee is quick to tell you, multihulls are more expensive foot for foot waterline length. They can also cost more to berth in a marina because they take up more space. No bones about that. But change that equation to interior volume and deck space and the difference fades away. And, if you can afford more space and comfort, why shouldn’t you have it? With some sailing couples, one partner is joining in the other’s dream, so giving them a floating home that doesn’t feel cramped and is more like the home they are leaving behind increases the chances that your dream will become theirs.

  1. Safety

Devout monohullers like to think their boats are the safest thing afloat, but the cruising cat of today bears no resemblance to those high-speed racing cats we see on the TV coming a cropper when pushed to the extreme. It would be extremely rare for a cruising cat to overturn nowadays.

Yes, you can have more windage than a multihull, but the twin engines counter that with unequalled manoeuvrability.

Oh, and if the proverbial does hit the fan and you hit something or something hits you and you are holed, you have two or even three independent watertight flotation areas instead of one. That’s comforting to know, as the water gurgles in.

So, there you have it, just a few of the many reasons multihulls are becoming the number one choice for more and more sailors, and why more and more monohull sailors like me are crossing over to enjoy what multihull owners claim is “sailing at its level best”.




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