This informative article outlines why one multihull owner chose the Fountaine Pajot Mahe 36 Evolution after much research. Read on to gain his first hand knowledge and findings and the reasons why he chose this catamaran over its competitors. Written by Geoffrey Chia – owner of Fountaine Pajot Mahe 36 Evolution.
Multi vs Mono:
As a live-aboard boat, a catamaran is superior to a monohull due to the greater living space and larger coach roof space (to install solar photovoltaic and hot water panels, as well as for rainwater capture). Furthermore, a cat is more stable and does not significantly roll at anchor. Notwithstanding old chestnuts such as: “the most stable position for a catamaran is floating upside down” vs “the most stable position for a monohull is on the ocean bottom”, I will not flog the argument about whether monohulls or multihulls are more seaworthy. A conservatively sailed modern cruising cat is safe to cross oceans. Unless the boat burns down, a life raft is unnecessary.
These were my personal criteria to decide which cruising catamaran to choose for my project*:
- Ten to 12 metres in length, the minimum size for an ocean going cat.
- Must be a production yacht or professionally built from factory made kit components, to guarantee structural integrity and quality of construction. Many home built jobs may well be excellent, but my impression is that it is very much a “buyer beware” market. Resale value is also better for production yachts.
- If second hand, not an ex-charter yacht (unless near new with no previous damage).
- Certified ocean going yacht. Even if I do not intend to cross oceans, this certification testifies to its sea worthiness. In particular the Mahe 36 Evolution is made to be unsinkable, which may not necessarily the case with other catamarans with insufficient built-in sealed-off buoyancy chambers. Escape hatches are also included, which is not the case with all catamarans.
- With respect to production yachts: the greater the number that have been produced to date, the more likely that previous “bugs” in manufacture will have been ironed out and that more improvements will have been made. The name “evolution” itself implies this process. Mine is hull #133.
- Foam sandwich core. Having read Derek Kelsall’s articles, this seems the best way to go rather than balsa core or strip planking. Together with vacuum bagging and resin infusion, these methods seem to produce the best combination of strength, light weigh tand long term durability.
- Mini keels rather than dagger boards. Better for beaching and no risk of smashing a dagger-board case if a deep submerged object is struck. Ability to side-slip across the face of a large wave in a storm minimises the risk of capsize. True, dagger-boards can be retracted, but things can happen very quickly as weather/waves change and dagger-boards can get stuck. With regard to pointing ability, as an old salt once said to me: “a gentleman does not sail to windward”.
- Positive reviews (including good sailing characteristics) from various magazines and websites.
- Specific thoughtful liveaboard design features: vertical windows (minimise greenhouse warming of the cabin), hardtop bimini over cockpit, mainsheet traveller located on hard top rather than on transom (hence mainsheet does not blight the view astern from the cockpit nor impede stern access to the dinghy tender), coachroof guttering for rainwater collection, ample natural ventilation.
- Probably the best value for money of any cruising catamaran.
- Engines: I was initially keen on twin outboards in wells. The idea that the propellers can be tilted out of the water (and hence not collect marine growth when at anchor nor cause drag during sailing passages) is very appealing. Inboard saildrives have a bad reputation for losing their props if tangled by rope or if they hit underwater obstructions unless skeg protected. If an outboard engine causes too much trouble, one can remove it and simply drop a new one in the well. The main disadvantage of diesel engines is the weight, but when I discovered that the Mahe 36 was in fact overall lighter than the Seawind 1000XL** (despite the Mahe being larger), this was no longer an issue.Advantages of diesel engines:
(a) Greater power to claw off a lee shore (my Mahe 36 has 30hp x 2 diesel engines vs the Seawind 1000XL which has 9.9hp x 2 petrol outboards).
(b) Greater reliability, fuel economy and range.
(c) Carrying diesel rather than petrol is less of an explosion/fire hazard.
(d) Diesel engines can run good sized alternators and can top up the batteries if solar/wind sources have been sparse. A boat with petrol outboards (which carry puny alternators) will require an extra generator to be carried aboard.
- Having diesel engines opens up an intriguing possibility for the future: to turn hybrid. Most hybrid cats have a diesel electric generator weighing 150 to 200kg or more, with two electric stern motors. One interesting option would be to keep one stern diesel engine which doubles as the generator and to replace the other diesel engine with an electric motor. In this respect, having a larger diesel engine (30hp vs the standard 20hp) is a major advantage. Hybrids are only practical with greater and lighter electricity storage, namely with lithium rather than lead acid batteries. Lithium batteries are not yet fully mature nor affordable for the mass market but as as the electric car industry develops, so will lithium technology. Why hybrid? Because properly configured, it can further reduce one’s fossil fuel emissions and may increase the boat’s range for the same amount of fuel. Short passages can be completely powered by renewable electricity on silent running. Catamarans tend to track straight even when running only one engine.
- Bridge-deck clearance: it was almost impossible to obtain this specific piece of information for most catamarans despite extensive research. For some reason the manufacturers seemed a bit coy about revealing their measurments. The Seawind 1000XL website however was happy to disclose that their bridgedeck clearance was a healthy 0.77m, even more than the Seawind 1160. From general perusal of cruisers’ forums my impression was the South African boats tended to have lower clearances than the French models, nevertheless the SA boats were delivered across oceans on their own hulls, which no doubt represented robust shakedown cruises. Hence BDC seems more a matter of cruising comfort than seaworthiness. The higher the clearance however, the higher the freeboard and windage, with other attendant disadvantages.
The above are obviously just personal preferences and the debate about the ideal boat continues to rage on endlessly at many a yacht club watering hole. For those who love a bouncy wet ride to windward and rolling about in anchorages, then a monohull is the way to go. For those speed demons who are not bothered about accomodation, the trimaran is their choice. The bottom line is this: there is no such thing as the “best” boat, just one’s best personal compromise.
By Geoffrey Chia
*See article “A low consumption, low waste, low carbon footprint project (to be based on a catamaran moored on the Brisbane river)”
**The new Seawind 1000 XLS has apparently shaved 500kg off the old weight while producing a stronger hull by (finally) adopting resin infusion and vacuum bagging techniques. One might argue this may not have happened if it were not for the stiff competition to the Australian market posed by imported Cats such as Fountaine Pajot.