Sunday, December 06, 2009

Guide to Reviewing a Catamaran

Which Lagoon Do You Want?
Which Lagoon Do You Want?
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I just completed a totally inadequate review of the Seawind 1160 in a popular cruising magazine and must now rant. Like just about every article written in recent memory about a cruising catamaran, this one told me nothing useful. 

Let me first note what is consistently wrong with these articles which appear in everything from local free circulars and web sites to glossy, expensive sail publications: The author is probably an expert on monohulls with little to no expertise in multihulls in general and cruising catamarans in particular. He will be impressed by/happy with/surprised by the following:
- the spaciousness and comfort of the living quarters
- the speed with which the vessel accelerates to the wind
- the downwind performance
- the stability and comfort at anchor even in considerable ocean swell
- the excellent maneuverability in docking situations with two widely separated motors

He will be disturbed by/unhappy with/dissatisfied with the following:
- the poor upwind performance
- the loud boom or slap when water hits the bridge deck while underway
- the uneven, “hobby horse” motion in choppy seas
- the tendency to “sail around” at anchor
- the poor visibility of the far side of the boat during docking maneuvers

The only thing you have learned thus far is that the author was on a catamaran. Every single cruising catamaran -- ALL of them -- have the above listed advantages and disadvantages when contrasted with their cruising monohull brethren. Without exception. If the author is now done with his 3,000 word review, he shouldn’t get paid.

I am not the catamaran bigot I was two years ago. Years out here have shown clearly why reasonable people can look at multihulls versus monohulls and choose to purchase the later. There are benefits and disadvantages to every style of boat, every model, and category. Catamarans have issues just like ketches, schooners, sloops, fractional rigs, etc. But if you are going to review a catamaran, I need you to describe the performance characteristics of the specific catamaran you are looking at. Don’t tell me what I already know simply because the vessel you are looking at has two hulls.

I recommend that all reviewers of multihull craft -- including individuals considering a catamaran purchase -- ask and make sure you get answered these questions:

  1. Fully loaded, at what wind speed does this catamaran finally start moving?
  2. What is the standard sail package and is it sufficient for the vessel? For example, does it come equipped with a functional light air sail? A bow sprit?
  3. What is the boat’s predicted performance at various points of sail? There is “not going to weather”, and then there is never sailing very well forward of the beam.
  4. Are there dagger boards, and do they improve the performance of the craft?
  5. What provision for bulkhead isolation is standard? Some production catamarans have no sealable bulkheads from stem to stern while others do a very fine job of breaking the boat into discrete, secure chunks improving safety in the event of hull breech or turning turtle.
  6. Are there escape hatches?
  7. Is the galley up or down?
  8. What is the head room in the salon and in the cabins?
  9. What is the ratio of the length to the beam, and what is the beam of the individual hulls?
  10. What is the bridge deck clearance?
  11. Where are the water tanks, and what is their capacity? Ditto fuel tanks. Trim and weight load is a serious consideration on a catamaran.
  12. What is the forward visibility while seated at the helm?
  13. Describe the access to key systems such as the engines, the rudder and throttle controls, and the head plumbing.
  14. What is the theoretical hull speed?
  15. During your sea trial, what fraction of wind speed did you feel you could push the boat to with a strong degree of consistency?
  16. How challenging would it be to single-hand the boat? If the default rig is not configured to easily single-hand, how much would you need to invest to get it there?
* * *

There are many more details I could add. However, even answering this short set of questions would go a long way towards improving the quality and utility of catamaran reviews. It would certainly assist a potential buyer with comparing catamarans across brands, models and years. If you are a catamaran owner seeking to sell your craft, a dealer or a manufacturer, I encourage you to immediately sit down and figure out how to answer these questions yourself. I assure you, DrC and I at least will insist on the answers before we purchase our next boat.
Cat or Mouse?
Cat or Mouse?
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.


Stefan Decuypere said...

Hi Toast,
I enjoy your posts a great deal! I read each and every one of them and you are an outstanding writer! Congrats.
This is my first post/comment, and it is because I am in the market for a cat (either Moorings/Leopard 40 or Sunsail 384), hence my more than passing interest in this post. Can you attempt to add to these questions with your own answers/remarks? Like what would be good in your book or why you ask a particular question? Can you contrast your answer with your own vessel?
Thanks so much for your work, I hope I will be able to do the same when my time on the seas comes around ....
Fair Winds,
Stefan from Belgium

Positively Orphaned said...

That makes ME crazy, too, when reading reviews. I'm bookmarking this post to review when we get closer to purchase time. Thanks a million.