Written by Suellen Tomkins, owner of FP Helia 44 Wild Heart
If you’re a monohull sailor, or even a new sailor, considering a move to a multihull, you are not alone. With catamarans offering spacious, comfortable living areas, modern design and stable sailing, it’s no wonder their popularity surged as a cruising yacht in recent years. Twenty percent of the ARC rally entries crossing the Atlantic are multihulls compared with fifteen percent two years prior. Recently, even traditional monohull yacht manufacturers have launched their catamaran range. All evidence that the multihull has come of age in the cruising world.
However, as a sailor entering a new world of catamarans, everything can appear confusing initially. It’s full of unfamiliar brands and terminology. So, you start your boat research and education all over again, with lots of questions. Which features are essential in a multihull? What brands and models are available? Which are better? What should a buyer look out for? With all the choices available, it helps to have a starting place to quickly narrow the search for your ideal multihull.
While there are many opinions about what catamaran is “the best”, your cruising plans, budget and lifestyle will determine what yacht suits your needs. Always remember, safety, yacht build quality and manufacturer reputation, remain paramount considerations when making your choice of a cruising catamaran. Here are five features which can help minimise the initial confusion and focus your search.
- Galley Location
It may seem surprising to include galley location as an essential feature, but food is central to any life on board. Relaxing at anchor at sunset over a meal is the perfect way to end the day with family and friends. Preparing healthy food underway is also integral for staying healthy and maintaining a happy crew; so, it’s hardly surprising that the galley is a key feature for any cruising yacht.Catamarans have two galley location options, each with their benefits:
- “Galley up”; where the galley sits next to the saloon area. The cook can enjoy the company of the crew while preparing meals. There’s also the huge advantage of being able to see the horizon in heavy seas. Anyone suffering seasickness does not want to go below to prepare food especially when the conditions aren’t the best.
- “Galley down”; in this case the galley is situated in a hull. As the galley is not positioned next to the saloon, there is a dedicated galley area which is potentially larger and leaving more space in the saloon.
- Helm Position
The helm is the heart and control centre of the boat. From here you keep watch, navigate, monitor the sails and manage the course. Having clear visibility of the boat and close contact with the crew is ideal for any helm. The main choices for helm position are:
- Flybridge; which is usually highest location giving the best visibility, often located midships
- Offset mid-level helm; this still has excellent visibility but with closer contact to the rest of the crew and the deck
- Bulkhead or aft helm at cockpit level; which have steering on both port and starboard for a sportier feel and close touch with saloon and sailing team.
With the bulkhead and aft helm location, the sail handling controls are to port and starboard, meaning moving from one side of the deck to the other when tacking or gybing. In contrast, the flybridge helm and mid-level helm have the added advantage of the sail handling controls bought to a single location at the helm, facilitating shorthanded sailing and eliminating the need to move across the boat during direction changes.
3. Ease of Sail Handling
Anyone who’s sailed shorthanded knows how critical easy access to sails and to sail handling controls is for managing a yacht underway. Raising and lowering sails, tacking and gybing is made more straightforward when the sails, sheets and winches are within reach of the helmsperson.
Two key aspects to look out for when assessing the ease of sailing handling are:
- That the mainsail is within reach of all crew. Ideally no one has to stand on tiptoes or to climb up onto the mast to reach the mainsail or the sail bag, which risks an accident or “man overboard”.
- That sheets and winches return to the helm minimising the need to go forward or cross to the other side of the boat during sail manoeuvres.
- Ease of Moving Around the Boat
The last thing you want when moving quickly around a boat are sloped services, trip hazards and lots of steps. Often, you’re rushing around the deck during a high-stress situation such as docking, bad weather or mechanical failure. In these circumstances, you need to move surefootedly around the boat without thinking; so, look for:
- Any sloped areas and decide whether they could make footing unstable
- Flat and wide weather decks allowing ease of movement from aft to forward
- Number and steepness of any steps
- Possible trip hazards, eg. From the cockpit to saloon, and
- Convenient engine access
- Bridgedeck Clearance
So, what is the bridgedeck clearance, and why is this important? Bridgedeck clearance is the height of the bridge deck from the water. A low bridgedeck can cause unnerving slamming from waves between the hulls. Waves pounding on hulls can slow the yacht and cause unnecessary stress on the boat, not to mention the discomfort and jangled nerves of the crew.
There are varied opinions about the ideal clearance height, and many factors, such as the design of the underside of the bridgedeck, also come into play. However, a general guide for a suitable bridgedeck clearance is considered to be 5-7% of the catamaran’s length overall. So, for a 12m catamaran, that height should be in the range 600 – 840 mm from the water to the underside of the bridgedeck.
Starting Your Search
Many other considerations will of course come into play as you start your cruising multihull search, such as; new vs used boat, coastal or blue water cruising, number of family/crew to be accommodated and your aesthetic preferences. All these elements will form part of your final decision. However, these five features and questions can help narrow the initial search for your ideal cruising catamaran:
- Galley location: Do you want “galley up” or galley down”?
- Helm location: Where would you prefer the helm to be; flybridge, mid-level or cockpit level?
- Ease of sail handling: Is it easy to manage sail manoeuvres, especially if short handed sailing?
- Ease of moving around the boat: Is it effortless to move around the boat?
- Bridgedeck clearance: Is there sufficient bridgedeck clearance?
You can read more about our travels, and sailing experiences in the Mediterranean at www.wildheartgypsyspirit.com, including a map of our anchorages and marina stops. Please leave a comment if you have any questions or connect on Instagram: @wildheartgypsyspirit and Facebook: Travel Sail Explore with SV Wild Heart