Some dyed-in-the-wool purists have been known to demonstrate a little "sailing snobbery" from time to time. A good friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) often mutters things such as, "sailing a catamaran is like to riding a bicycle with training wheels". Well maybe, but I would counter that the sailing experience is just "different" aboard a catamaran than it is on a monohull. In fact, skippering a catamaran can often be more challenging than a monohull, particularly when sailing upwind.
For instance, an intuitive feel for the helm is much more critical when tacking a cat. A clumsy tack on a monohull that brings the boat into irons, is relatively easy to overcome. Fall off the wind, power up your sails ... and try again.
A clumsy tack on a cat that brings the boat into irons can be disastrous! Getting a cat moving from a dead stop (or worse - sailing backwards) can be quite difficult. They just don't recover as quickly as a monohull. If close to shore or another yacht, a cat in irons could spell disaster. So, the argument could be made that the skill set required for catamaran sailing needs to be somewhat more advanced.
Putting sailing snobbery aside ... if planning a sailing vacation and you aren't sure whether you want a catamaran
or a monohull
, you need to weigh the pros and cons of each to see what makes more sense for your purposes. Personally, I quite like both ... for different reasons!
One of the major advantages of a catamaran versus a monohull is their inherent stability. A monohull simply can't be compared to a cat in this regard.
- Stability is a big plus for families with young children or seniors who are not particularly steady on their feet. Because the boat is not as susceptible to the affects of wave action and does not heal the way a monohull does, it is much easier to walk around on deck and within the interior of the yacht while underway.
- Anyone who may be prone to seasickness will feel the effects of motion much less aboard a cat than they might on a mono.
- The added stability on a cat makes the cook's job a lot less challenging both while underway and at anchor. Catamarans don't rock and roll the way monohulls do.
More Bonus Points for Cats...
- Catamarans generally provide far more living space in the main salon, galley and cockpit, than the space found aboard similarly priced monohulls. Their cabins are often more spacious too and even the smallest cat in the fleet has stand up headroom in each cabin.
- Because of the layout, there is usually more privacy on a cat than on a mono and if you have children aboard, there is greater separation from the main living space and the cabins, making it easier for the kids to fall asleep at a reasonable hour.
- The shallow draft of a cat allows you to anchor in shallower water which means you can be closer to the beach than almost all monohulls.
- Many of the newer catamarans have raised or flybridge helms. No monohull can beat the visibility from the helm provided on most modern catamarans.
- The galley, main salon and cockpit are all on one level, above the water line ... making life aboard as well as your view much more enjoyable.
- Because the majority of living space is above the waterline, you get much better flow through ventilation on a cat making the need for air conditioning somewhat less important during the daylight hours.
- In almost all cases, you do not have to race around stowing things or using bungee cords to keep things in place, the moment you decide to set sail. Most things stay put even in moderately rough seas.
- Because catamarans don't have a big heavy keel loaded with lead, even if you hole the boat, it will float. Production cats have so much buoyancy built in that they are next to impossible to sink.
- Cats are usually pretty easy to dock because you have two motors and two rudders. No need for a bow thruster.
- Most catamarans can turn 360 degrees within their own length. No monohull I know of can do that.
- Catamarans are usually faster than monohulls, particularly on downwind runs, reaches and broad reaches.
- It's less tiring to sail a catamaran than it is to sail a monohull. Sailing flat has definite advantages.
- If you are into SCUBA diving, carrying tanks and all the assorted equipment is much easier on a cat. It's also a lot easier in many cases to board a cat on the sugar scoops than it is on many monohulls. Although many modern monohulls do have huge swim platforms that raise and lower electronically ... so in that case, it's a wash.
- I have yet to see a monohull with a trampoline for sunbathing or lounging in the moonlight, while stargazing ... with your sweetheart by your side! How much more romantic does it get than that? :)
- Because a wide bridge deck is strapped between two hulls, there can be slapping or pounding while underway in heavier seas. The slapping can become annoying, but is easily resolved by reducing sail. Unfortunately, that means reducing speed as well.
- You won't get the same amount of feedback from the wheel of a cat as from a monohull. This means you must be vigilant in rough seas and high winds and know when to reduce sail. The last thing you want to have happen is to find yourself surfing down a wave, burying the bows and pitch polling. Having said that, pitch polling a cruising cat would take some doing ... particularly when sailing in the British Virgin Islands!
- Cruising catamarans don't really heal, so the feeling of "sailing" is quite different from that aboard a monohull. Note: I'm not convinced this is really a con ... but I am trying to dig up as many cons as I possibly can.
- Cats take double the space to dock and often cost double to dock too.
- Cats can't sail as close to the wind as a monohull ... but, most sail faster than a monohull on a reach, so if you fall off a few degrees and sail fast, you can usually get to the same place at the same time and sometimes faster, even though you will have to cover more ground.
- Tacking a catamaran is not the same as tacking a monohull. You have to have sufficient speed to carry you through a tack without losing too much forward momentum. Square foot for square foot, a catamaran is much lighter than a monohull and for that reason, they slow down much more quickly. You basically carve through the tack rather than making a sharp directional turn as you would in a monohull. If concerned about tacking, in light winds or heavily trafficked areas, turn on the motor as an assist to get you through the tack or douse the sails altogether. You're on vacation! Why sweat it?
- Catamarans with similar sleeping capacity and equipment are usually (but not always) more expensive to charter than monohulls.
- You can't beat a monohull sailboat for good looks. Well most of them anyway. There are some pretty homely monos out there, but in comparison to most catamarans, even the homely monos come out ahead of the cats. Monohulls are just a whole lot better looking ... at least in my opinion.
- A Monohull will tack quickly, is much more maneuverable and is faster to respond to the helm than a catamaran.
- Monohulls slice through the water effortlessly ... and without the slapping that some catamarans (with low bridge decks) often produce.
- As much as some claim sailing "flat", as you will on a catamaran has major advantages, healing is great fun. Not much can match the exhilaration of sailing a monohull ... and that's a fact!
- In an anchorage, a monohull usually swings much less than a cat if placed side by side.
- Monohulls of equal sleeping capacity and equipment are generally less expensive to charter than a catamaran.
- All main living spaces (with the exception of the cockpit) are situated below the waterline. After an extended period aboard, one can begin to feel a bit like a mole person. However, that's something most sailors are used to. For non-sailors, or those who suffer from claustrophobia, it can be quite disconcerting.
- Ventilation throughout the boat can present some challenges on still nights if you don't have air conditioning. Breeze boosters don't do a whole lot if there is no breeze!
- Monohulls are definitely less stable than catamarans both under sail and at anchor.
- If you hole a monohull, you will sink, eventually. No question about it.
- Square foot for square foot, each area of a monohull tends to be smaller than its counterpart on a catamaran, simply due to the shape of the boat and the usable space each design permits.
I spent the better part of two days thinking up these lists and was probably more surprised than anyone at the number of pros I was able to dream up for catamarans over monohulls. I have always considered myself more of a monohull sailor! Who knew?
Clearly, catamarans offer several advantages ... but in the end, yacht selection boils down to four major qualifiers:
- Personal preference.
- What suits your group best.
- Your holiday budget.
- Yacht availability for your chosen dates.
The fact remains that if any one of the above qualifiers is out of alignment, you may have to consider your alternatives.
Regardless of yacht selection, you will still get to go to the same places, do most of the same things and enjoy all the BVI have to offer ... just like the millionaires and billionaires aboard the yachts anchored all around you!