Thursday, February 22, 2007

What You Really Need to Know to Charter a Catamaran

Lagoon 500 Layout
Catamaran Sailing a catamaran charter company
A catamaran isn't like a normal boat. In fact, I have a monohull captain friend who insists it isn't a boat at all. Actually, he calls it a French, production, plastic catamaran. If we break that down, it's clear that all four words are – in his experience and deeply held opinion – highly insulting terms. The opposite would possibly be a New England, hand built, wooden, deep keeled, big butted, fat beamed, cramp quartered, dark tube leaner.

I tried. I really did. But I lost it there toward the end.

The point is that a catamaran does not behave the way a standard monohull sail boat behaves. And while you experienced single-hull sailors expect this when you charter a catamaran for yourself and your fifty in-laws out of Tortuga for a week, it can be deeply surprising when you turn the boat to port and the boat doesn't actually turn -- or more entertainingly, it turns to starboard. The good news on our sailing vessel is that I have not the slightest clue how to sail a monohull and that my husband learns quickly.

Actually, neither statement is strictly accurate, but it stands as a good starting point for a discussion of the principle 'gotchas' that will getcha when you scramble aboard the deck of your average charter cat for the first time. And while I am certain that many of you are interested in points of sail, safety, and performance, I think we should focus on the really salient issue: space.

Probably the single most important difference between a catamaran and a monohull of similar length is that on the former you can lose your children and on the later it quickly becomes necessary to drown them to preserve your sanity. I recommend a strategy of divide and conquer. Some people prefer to put the brother–in-law and his children in the port hull while you and your family take the starboard. Instead, let me suggest this alternative.

Despite the fact that your brother-in-law is a pompous ass whose sexual antics with your sister make you want to vomit and whose standards for personal hygiene leave something to be desired, he is still a better companion on an extended boat trip than your own offspring. Put him in the forward starboard cabin and throw all the children over into the opposite side of the boat. On most charter configurations there are two heads and a long companionway between you and your in-law which is a sufficient buffer for an adult. Children, however, are capable of penetrating shrieks that can stun a dolphin. Placing a dead air zone and fifteen feet of water between you and the younger generation goes a long ways toward saving your vacation.

Another tip for traveling with children aboard a catamaran is to avoid 'their hull' for the duration. Of course, you'll need to turn on the batteries and open the through hulls and check to make sure nothing is leaking before you leave the dock on Day One. After that, however, simply abandon that hull to the under-15 set. Think about it, Monohull Man. You have TWO. You don't need that one. Just let them have it. Don't even try to get them to divide the rooms along any principle of fairness. Just allow that hull to descend into Lord of the Flies chaos while you sip Mai Tais in the cockpit. On your return, hire some teenagers to swill out that hull with buckets of sea water and disinfectant.

A far more serious concern is displacing the rum. On a traditional leaner there are only so many places your family can stow gallon jugs of premium island rum. Generally, they end up under the seats in the central cabin. Occasionally you'll find one stowed under the sink. And once I found one tucked into the magazine rack next to the navigation station, bringing an entirely new dimension to the phrase “drink and drive.”

On your charter cat, however, you've got a considerably bigger problem. In addition to the above-mentioned locations, you have pantry shelves, cabin closets, the laundry room, the starboard recreation room, and, in those monster 50 footers, the upper-deck seating area. We once lost two half–gallon jugs of tequila and a bag of tortilla chips in a pantry closet for nearly three months.

My recommendation is to store your liquor with something that rots. My personal candidate is a lime, as the logical synergy between limes and alcohol make for imaginative drinks when I do find the bottles. The problem with limes is they really do keep well in a cool dark spot. So you would perhaps be better served by stashing the booze with something that both rots faster and smells really bad when it does so. Suggestions include onions, fish sticks, or oranges. Note: Unlike their green counterparts, oranges do not keep and when they go, the smell will knock you flat.

The point is, you can never lose the bottles for long as long as you have a good sniffer. In the end, you can always follow the trail of fruit flies. Just make sure they don't lead you into the children's hull.

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