Catamaran vs. Monohull?
03 February 2010
This blog will attempt to explain why we purchased a catamaran over a comparable monohull. Comparing these two can be like comparing a PC to a Mac, both have their own benefits and cult like following. And like many, I was a die-hard monohull fan. Hopefully this explains why I switched...
CATAMARAN VS MONOHULL:
There is no perfect boat. This was my conclusion after months and months of searching for the best value cruising boat in the world. Some boats are built to win races and are a thrill to sail but are not safe cruisers. Some boats have beautiful lines that you are proud to point out in the harbor but have terrible interior space. Ultimately, regardless of performance, comfort or cost; a sailor needs to compromise somewhere. What is the perfect boat for you?
For us, we wanted a boat (mono or multi) that would fit the below criteria:
1) It must be safe
2) It must sail well but still be comfortable to live on
3) It must have a good resale value
1) IT MUST BE SAFE:
The first criteria was the most important one to us. If we were to sail around the world and expose ourselves to situations where we would be outside of coast guard rescue range, we would need to be in a boat that we were confident was safe. Initially, this lead me to look at monohulls as tradition dictates that a monohull is the safest boat. They have a long history of crossing oceans and weathering horrible storms. However, the more I looked into it the more I realized they also have a long history of sinking, losing a keel, getting de-masted when rolled or running aground in places they shouldn't.
I am sure this is going to upset many monohull readers, but I have come to believe a modern catamaran is just as safe (and possibly safer in anything but the worst weather imaginable) as a monohull. This is mostly due to the fact that catamaran designs include inherent redundancies that are very helpful in safety situations.
As cruising catamarans came of age, their design moved away from racing specs and became much beamier (wider) with heavier hulls, nearly eliminating the early problems with capsizing (flipping). In our experience it would be very difficult to capsize a cruising cat if you wait for weather windows and sail in the lower latitudes (as ~95% of most cruisers do).
Cats also tend to have crash lockers designed in their bows, which unlike a mono-hull are not used for living space but are instead devoted to storage in an effort to reduce forward weight. Since a large percentage of the floating objects out in the oceans will hit your bow as you sail forward and not your beam (think containers falling off cargo ships), having a water-tight crash locker up front makes a whole lot of sense. And further more, even if you do miraculously find yourself with a large hole in the beam of a cat, by comparison it would actually stay afloat far longer than a sinking monohull, allowing you to get to safety gear, food and life-rafts (if it even sinks at all!). Put a small hole in a monohull and the race is on to get out before it quickly heads to the bottom!
Another nice safety feature is the lack of heeling during passage making. By being far more comfortable, you sleep better and remain more rested for the day ahead. Less things fall off shelves and glasses stay on tables (usually). Sure a cat can get pushed around like a monohull and the motion through the water is somewhat different in feeling, but it sure is nice not to need lee-cloths to hot bunk at night with your (filthy) crew!
But perhaps more importantly, a catamaran also has so many back-ups I find it hard to believe that all sailors don't look into cats more seriously. By having two engines instead of one you are far less concerned about dirty fuel and engine problems (a huge relief when cruising). There are also two rudders, so if one breaks you can still steer your boat! Two props, so if one falls off or gets tangled you have a back up. Two hulls, so if one springs a leak, the other likely stays floating. It also goes without saying that a catamaran has a much shallower draft, thus reducing the chances of running aground. In fact, in our experience the shallow draft opens up significant portions of new cruising ground, including the most protected anchorage sites that a monohull typically cannot reach. And I don't need to mention what happens to a monohull that loses its keel!
While there will always be purists that debate this, the number of cruisers selecting catamarans for blue water voyages alone goes to show you that cats have become a safe option for open ocean sailing and I have to imagine that trend will only continue in the years to come as designs are improved upon even further.
2) IT MUST SAIL WELL BUT BE COMFORTABLE TO LIVE ON:
If the safety argument didn't persuade you already, then this is where a catamaran really takes off. Cats sail fast, have outstanding passage making performance and are far more comfortable to live on once you reach your destination. When compared to a monohull, cats are the only boats that truly offer both performance and comfort as skinny and sturdy mono-hulls are never all that comfortable.
When it comes to sailing performance, a catamaran performs like a much larger monohull. Sure there are some things you have to get used to, like the inevitable and well documented "hobby horsing" motion (get as long a cat as you can to avoid this) and the slamming of water on the bridge-deck (ensure your deck is as high as possible!), but most catamarans also sail really fast, particularly on a beam reach or downwind. Without a deep keel, a catamaran has far less drag in the water which results in impressive speed. And if you are up for the sensation, a cat can even surf down waves and exceed the dreaded "maximum hull speed" associated with a monohull. We regularly stayed up with 45-50 foot monos, particularly down-wind. And since most of our cruising routes around the world would be with the wind behind the mast we immediately felt happier sailing a catamaran and consistently doing 160 nautical mile days (sometimes more!). Particularly when you consider a quicker passage a safer passage (see #1 above). And going 10 knots with a glass of chardonnay standing by itself on the table is pretty darn fun too.
Second, we found that there are many undocumented advantages to cruising on a catamaran. For example, it is wonderful being able to sit inside during a squall and still be able to steer the boat with 360 degree visibility. Or being able to sleep with an engine on by running the engine in the opposite hull in order to keep the noise down. Docking is a breeze with the two engine, tank-like, maneuverability. Even flying a spinnaker becomes easier without the need to mess with a spinnaker pole. Hoisting the dingy on the rear davits is so easy we found ourselves pulling it out every night and still having access to the transom steps. It's also a great fishing boat, staying level while you bring a fish onto the perfect fillet table of the transom (complete with wash down shower!). The Lagoon's vertical windows allow us to keep them open even when it's raining - and in the sun they don't need sun-shades or curtains because of the vertical overhang. And the seats on the bow are a smart addition when dolphins decide to visit. These are all small differences, but they add up to a nicer experience on a cat.
And finally, the living space is outrageous! The Lagoon 380 has the comparable living and storage space of a 55 foot monohull. When we considered the price we were paying (see #3 below), that was an amazing comparison. We love being nominated as the "social gathering spot" in an anchorage as we can seat a combined 12 adults for dinner. Elizabeth has enough flat surface on the bow to do yoga and I have enough space for two 8' surf boards in the front crash locker. The boat has two queen sized beds and the salon has standing room over 6'7". These options simply cannot be found in any comparably priced monohull.
3) IT MUST HAVE A GOOD RESALE VALUE:
Cats are more expensive. There is no getting around this as you are basically buying two shorter monohulls and connecting them with a bridgedeck, so production costs are going to be considerably higher. So while a cat might be safer and more comfortable and faster than a comparable length monohull, the biggest downfall of a cat is the price.
That said, resale values are strong, and in our situation of only needing our boat for a couple of years before reselling it, this was more important than the overall cost. So long as we could recoup our "investment" (this might be the first time a boat has been referred to as an investment, but I digress), then we could "afford" a catamaran.
Catamarans are growing in popularity with cruisers, which is helping keep resale values strong, particularly on mass produced boats that have a global sales history and well understood values (much like ours). Catamarans may be more expensive, but certain makes are actually holding their values stronger than monohulls, which says a lot.
So long as you have plans to resell your boat and have access to capital (which is cheap these days if you need a loan), then the cost of a cat should not be a reason for you not to purchase one. As this was our plan, we moved ahead with the cat...
During our 18 months of sailing, we successfully, yet unknowingly, moved several of our friends on monohulls to the dark side of catamaran cruising. One cruiser even sold their beautiful Moody to purchase a Lagoon 44 (S/V Cinderella)! But we also witnessed several of our cruising buddies getting into trouble that could have been avoided in a cat. 'Follow You' (Hunter 45) lost a rudder on its way to New Zealand and was lucky to get a tow, while Imagine (Hallberg Rassy 46) lost its engine/alternator and had to enlist help to get pushed into shore. After seeing this first hand, yet sailing the same speed with more interior room, I would have a hard time going back to cruising on a monohull.
It was very hard for me to abandon two decades of sailing experience on monohulls, but in the end we decided on our owner's version Lagoon 380 based on safety, speed, comfort and resale value. And we still feel we purchased the perfect boat (or at least as "perfect" as is possible!).