by Jeni Bone
Multihulls are enjoying record sales and popularity at all levels of the market, thanks in part to acceptance in the 34th America’s Cup which has added to their reputation as performance craft, and the rise of the affluent Chinese consumer whose preference is for their stability, space and comfort.
In Australia, Seawind catamarans have a unique way of gauging consumer feedback, during their boat show presentations.
Says Brent Vaughan, sales and marketing manager: 'Interestingly, we have found that multihulls appeal to a very broad audience. They do not necessarily have years of sail training under their belts, they might be new to boating, or coming back after many years absence, and they see them as the accessible option.'
The advantages of the catamaran are myriad, according to Vaughan. 'They are stable, comfortable, offer extra space. People with powerboat experience can easily handle a catamaran, they are very family-friendly, accommodate larger groups, and couples find them ideal to go cruising around the world, providing they’re set up right.'
Entry in to the America’s Cup 'is having a huge influence on the traditional sailors', says Vaughan. 'Suddenly, hard core sailors are looking at racing cats and going ‘wow, that is fun’. They are seeing them as a challenge and something new to get in to. That side of the market is expanding dramatically and in turn, influencing the other side of the market, the recreational and cruising sailor.'
All multihulls are not created equal. There are options for the sail enthusiast and power cats as well, and then some that do both – each with a range to suit every application, whether competing, short jaunts or blue water cruising.
Mark Elkington, MD at Multihull Solutions, has observed a shift from monohulls in response to the trend towards spending 'extended periods of time onboard'.
'A multihull’s speed, stability and space aboard are major advantages for clients looking to purchase a boat,' he says.
'We have been in this business for more than 15 years, introducing a huge range of sail and power brands and models to the Australian market. In this very difficult economic environment, Multihull Solutions has defied the downturn and instead experienced an incredible growth with our sales are up $10m annually from the boom time in 2007/08. I think this is a clear indication of the growing popularity of multihulls.'
For his part, Elkington says 'there are so many features to appreciate in our multihulls, it’s incredible'.
'There’s the immense choice available, style, livability, amazing space, safety, performance, ability to anchor in shallow waters, the fact you don’t have to pack up and secure every item on board when moving on to a new anchorage.'
The new generation of power catamarans is winning over a new market. 'During sea trials, clients are appreciating just how much more comfortable they are at sea than a monohull powerboat. They have less roll and deliver a much drier and more stable ride. But that is just the start: with just one third of the running cost of most clients’ current boats, a power catamaran is making sense to more people as a sensible change.'
The America’s Cup, observes Elkington, has added the 'wow factor' to multihulls’ long list of virtues.
'People are certainly seeing the speeds they capable of achieving, but the Cup has not had any significant impact on our enquiry rate or sales,' he admits. 'The Racing multihulls are so different in their design to Cruising multihulls, for example, the designs represented by Multihull Solutions will not lift a hull in strong blustery conditions, which is an essential requirement for racing multihulls. Racing multihulls have high ‘power-to-weight ratios’ where cruising multihulls have a much lower power-to-weight ratio.
'Our designs, however, are still exciting to sail. Our new Catana 47, for example, will cruise at speeds of 15+ knots under sail, in a moderate to strong sea breeze.'
According to Elkington, the Multihull Solution market can be classified into three general groups: 'Blue water cruisers, who include couples and families taking off on coastal cruising adventures or out to the Pacific for a season. It is surprising the increase of clients also taking delivery in Europe from the builders. Then there are Families who use them for weekend and occasional few weeks coastal cruising. And finally, Commercial operators who choose them for charter investment.'
One of the attributes their clients have in common is an emphasis on safety. 'This is the primary reason for multihulls being their first choice of boat,' explains Elkington. 'Most models we sell in our new range are unsinkable due to the latest in construction technology. Secondly, buyers are after level platforms upon which to cruise and work comfortably, and multihulls offer this distinct advantage over monohulls.'
Along with space and comfort, there is an 'overlooked feature' that clients have come to appreciate, says Elkington. 'It’s the ‘beachability’ of most of our designs,' he asserts.
'You can drive your multihull onto a beach (tide and weather permitting) if you need to deal with anything urgently under the hull, or if you’re in some of our big tidal cruising areas, you can use this feature to explore those more remote regions.'
Multihull Solutions represents designs from more than five of the world’s leading boat yards in order to offer genuine choice to clients.
'Some multihull brands (Catana, for example) are geared for speed with dagger boards, carbon used throughout the construction to keep the boat light, carbon masts and exotic sails/rigging. This, of course, does add to the cost of these type of catamarans, but if you want to achieve speed of 15+ knots in a 25 knot breeze, then the options are there.'
For more conservative sailors who are after the best value for money, Elkington says the company stocks around 10 models from Fountaine Pajot.
'Then we have custom built offers with Sunreef Yachts, where you can sit with naval architects and interior designers to create your dream multihull. The choice is yours!'
For the future, Elkington predicts multihulls will continue to become faster while still retaining all of their renowned safety features.
'Multihull design is very progressive and we enjoy working with the world’s leading multihull designers and builders for this reason. We have seen an evolution in the motor vehicle and other industries, so it is obvious in today’s market, multihull boatyards with regular new design releases are leading the internationals market. As these multihull companies’ designs are increasing in sales and market penetration, they are making profits for continued reinvestment in future R&D.'
Steve Austin, in charge of Lagoon sales at Vicsail has worked with multihulls for a decade and by his reckoning, 'has sold as many as any other individual in the country'.
Lagoon has been represented by Vicsail for 12 years and is the largest manufacturer of the type in the world.
On 24 November in France, the Lagoon teams celebrated the 200th vessel in the 400 model (launched 2009 in Cannes) and the 100th vessel in the 450 model (launched in 2010 in Cannes).
'Then we have just heard that the 560, which also launched in 2010, has two boats coming first and third in the ARC Rally,' he says proudly.
Multihulls, says Austin, have been the popular cruising boat of choice 'for quite some time'.
'The America’s Cup has given the multihull a new level of endorsement,' he observes. 'People are now realising the future of sailing. The French have been thinking outside the square for many years,' he continues. 'They have been competing with the large, fast multihulls for 20 years.'
China too is recognising the appeal of the 'stable, sturdy and stylish' vessels. 'China was Dealer of the Year this year outside France,' says Austin.
Characteristics of Lagoon which set the brand apart include 'square window, which keep out the heat and add volume to the interior and added attention to the owner’s version in the 30 to 450 models'.
'When you get onboard you notice one whole side is devoted to the owner’s bedroom, office, separate bathroom and shower – it’s impressive. And if you’re going to live aboard, you appreciate that extra space.'
Also characteristic of Lagoon, says Austin, is the international warranty service and dealer network. 'The company has an exceptional design team too, working on a 10 year plan for designs.'
The main customers of the brand are '55+, winding down in business and looking to sail more', says Austin.
'They buy them, get to know them, then cruise the world for a few years,' he adds. 'Then there’s the older market who are planning to enjoy a lot of sailing in their retirement, perhaps instead of a holiday house.'
Also popular among Lagoon owners, visiting the factories in France – in Belleville for the 38-45ft models and in Bordeaux 50-62ft – before sailing them back from Europe, unaccompanied or with a skipper.
In 2012, Lagoon will be on show at Melbourne Summer Boat Show at Docklands in February, then Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show in May, Sydney in July and Mandurah October 2012.
Next in the pipeline for Lagoon is the imminent arrival of the 500 and 620 models, due for our shores 14 January.