Alvah Simon - The Great Divide

ALVAH SIMON
Last updated 10:57 21/11/2012
Multi v Mono
Modern cruising catamarans eat up the miles in the right conditions, providing they are not overloaded.
Multi v Monos
Alvah Simon
Although the motion at sea is different and somewhat jerky with multihulls, they do not heel, and that translates into easier living, especially at anchor where, frankly, we spend the majority of our time.

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The first time I was invited to be a judge in the US Boat of the Year Contest in Annapolis, Maryland, I sailed 32 different boats, only twoof which were multihulls.

Each time I have returned as a judge the number of multihulls has increased until, last year, that ratio had grown to five of the 23 vessels entered. Seawinds, Moorings, Leopards, Nexus, Outremers, Lagoons, Catanas,and Gunboats compete against each other in their own category, but some have gone on to win Boat of the Year overall, Most Innovative and several other awards.

Today's multihulls, especially the catamarans, are setting newstandards for stability, speed, space, and luxury. If you're stuck in analysis paralysis on this issue, do not expect a rational discussion with most sailors, for opinions are polarised as witnessed by this admonishment from a popular sailing forum: "One (monohulls) represents the zenith of thousands of years of maritime tradition and expertise, offering it's skipper and crew a safe, sturdy platform on which to sail forth and experience all that is truly beautiful in this world of ours. The other... well the other cannot honestly be termed anything more than an abomination. Crimes against nature, and each and every one of them a futile floating attempt to defy the laws of physics and common sense. True sailors avoid them."

And here I always thought of the Polynesians, who explored the unknown expanses of the mighty Pacific, as true sailors. So, at the risk of being hung from the pilings as a heretic, I would like to offer a few observations on the subject. First and most importantly, you will have to make an honest assessment of how and where you intend you use your vessel, because each have their strengths and weaknesses.

I have owned a series of monohulls, but not because I am a traditionalist per se. Rather it is because I have sought many of my adventures in the higher latitudes; latitudes that served up some horrifying conditions - mountainous graybeards of the Southern Ocean, crushing ice of the High Arctic, and gale upon gale in the North Pacific. When one wanders into these zones, they can reasonably expect to be turned up-side-down if not inside-out. It is here that you might want a vessel that is compact, robust, and at least somewhat likely to come back up.

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But also, I have spent years wandering through tropical paradises, exploring balmy bays and lost lagoons. And always in these areas I wished I had more living area, less draft, better ventilation, improved light air performance, ie. all traits that multihulls serve up in spades.

So, get out the proverbial blank sheet of paper and draw that line down the middle. You know the drill - Pro on one side - Con on the other. First the bad news regarding multihulls - they are expensive. This is not just because of the extra materials required for multiple hulls, but because they are weight sensitive enough to demand the use of lighter, stronger and therefore more costly materials.

Next, because of that sensitivity, they carry a limited payload, and if exceeded suffer in terms of performance and safety. All the hype aside, the cruising versions are not overall that much faster than their singled-hulled cousins and are certainly not as weatherly. They are more costly to maintain, berth, and haul. Now for the good news- they are seriously fun to sail.

They can be very responsive to trimming and tweeking, and that feels like sailing to me. Their overall daily averages aside, in the right conditions they variably fly over the water. Although the motion at sea is different and somewhat jerky, they do not heel, and that translates into easier living, especially at anchor where, frankly, we spend the majority of our time. They offer acres of deckspace, enormous protected cockpits, great dinghy stowage, convenient spans for solar panels, spacious and bright elevated main salons, and private quarters in separate hulls.

In spite of their beam and windage, the twin engines make maneuvering a breeze. Because of minimal draft, they can slink around skinny waters where the keelboats dare not tread, and can be safely grounded for inspection and maintenance. And apparently, because I have never seen a multihull advertisement without this, they come equipped with bikini-clad beauties lounging on the foredeck.

So perhaps that's the real debate between the traditionalist and modernists - should proper sea-nymphs have fins or legs?

 

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