by Kathy Mak
Some may say that the sailing experience of monohulls versus catamarans is as different as chalk and cheese. Until recently, Frank (my husband) and I never gave much thought to catamarans. We rarely saw them over the years of monohull sailing on the West Coast. However, they’re very popular in warmer water destinations, especially the Caribbean.
When we were presented with the option to sail on a catamaran for an autumn Desolation Sound Flotilla (organized by Cooper Boating, Vancouver), it intrigued us – What is catamaran sailing all about? We wanted to find out for ourselves. Our curiosity peaked further when we learned the catamaran or ‘cat’ was a luxurious 40’ Lagoon 400!
In the warmth of fall’s last sun, we set sail on the cat named Amritha with her owner/skipper Bruce and his wife, plus another couple. At first, we were instantly impressed with the enormity of her space, cozy layout and deluxe features. She embodies the best of cruising comfort. For seven days, we were treated to another world of sailing. Bruce had warned us - 'once you’ve sailed a cat, you can’t go back'. After this trip, we got it - hook, line and sinker!
Maybe it was the lounge-luring cockpit, or the sprawling bow trampolines for sunning/snoozing, or our double cabin with large profile windows, full standing height, and an en-suite head/shower. But most likely it was the spacious sun-soaked salon integrated galley on the bridge deck, with 360 panoramic views, that beckoned us to be enamoured with cats. As we experienced first-hand, there are many more advantages.
The obvious benefits are the gains in liveable space and number of creature comforts. A 40 foot cat has the roominess of a 70 foot monohull, as pointed out by Skipper Bruce. With ample space to socialize, spread out or slip away for privacy – we rarely felt crowded.
It was easy to understand why cats are great sailboats for groups of friends or a family, and particularly to share sailing with people who are reluctant to go on a monohull because of motion or tight quarters.
When it comes to entertaining on a sailboat, a cat makes it easy. The aft cockpit, like an expansive covered patio, can comfortably seat eight to ten people and many more standing. This open space flows into an airy salon/galley (with generous dinette seating), joining two areas together to form a convivial setting for our group and for company. Our ‘dream’ flotilla, aptly named and led by Anne and Laurence Yeadon-Jones (authors of the well-known Dreamspeaker Guides), consisted of twenty sailors on four monohulls and our cat. It was hardly a surprise then that the cat was often a fun central gathering point for mingling over après-sailing sundowners and appetizers.
But, more impressive perhaps, a catamaran rules when it comes to cooking and dining. With the cat’s well laid-out and equipped galley, meals aboard can be grand affairs.
For us, enjoying great food and wine is an essential part of sailing; therefore, we felt right at home and were thrilled to have a regular kitchen-size galley, including a front-load fridge and separate freezer. From elaborate to simple meals, every evening was a quaint dinner party with our ensemble of six sailors. Whether it was alfresco or indoor dining, our onboard meals were delightful events that lingered into the wee hours and culminated with us reclining on trampolines to gaze at the stars. Naturally, it helped that we had plenty of great wines, scotches, rums, and liqueurs over the course of seven days!
Above all, a big advantage of cooking or entertaining on a cat is that it allows the crew on chef duty to carry on socializing with the rest of the group because the galley/salon and cockpit are at the same level. Cooking on a sailboat has never been easier and our cooks didn’t have to miss a beat in the conversation or the gorgeous sunsets. Frank appreciated this the most since he never liked being stuck cooking in the cavity of a monohull. With the BBQ only steps away from the galley, it was handy for him to make our favourite dish – Pan seared beef tenderloin with blue cheese butter sauce, married with grilled Caesar salad. A galley up format was also a perk when sailing on chilly days, making hot food at lunch a cinch.
Whether for breakfast or lunch, we stayed warm and dry socializing in the cheery salon bathed in bright daylight, all the while enjoying the views or staying on watch. And, thanks to the cat’s wide beam, it is more stable and heels less. Therefore, we had the pleasure of many daytime sit down meals, even under sail.
At times, it felt much more like hanging out at a waterfront cottage with friends than being on a sailboat. A laid-back vibe often prevailed on the cat, and when we weren’t sailing or eating there were plenty of other leisure pursuits. I enjoyed tucking into the various sunny nooks of the boat for reading. Bruce’s wife, Marina, retreated to the shade of the covered hard top Bimini for napping, while Frank snoozed on the trampoline. The other couple brought two single kayaks for exploring tranquil bays. The men attempted to fish and set crab traps; but, alas, no fresh catch for suppers.
The thrill of sailing, however, was not sacrificed with all the extra comforts and conveniences. We were pleasantly surprised how easy it was to sail Amritha. I found it convenient that all the lines lead to the helm station, which was raised to provide good views of all four corners of the boat. In bad weather, the helm could be enclosed. Despite not sailing as close to the wind, Frank liked that the cat was faster than the other boats. Not having to drag the dinghy (safely stowed on a dinghy davit at the transom) may have helped. Accessing shallow areas and stern tying closer to shore were other added benefits that we found useful. Even better, two engines made maneuvering and docking a breeze!
In the end, our first trip on a cat was exactly what we wanted. From our perspective, it was the ideal union and balance of high comfort, abundant space, sociable meals, exceptional food and wine, relaxed pace, wonderful scenery, group camaraderie, and easy sailing. Without even saying it aloud, we knew Skipper Bruce was right. Embracing the catamaran cruising style is not hard, but going back to a monohull will be.
Additional information about the Amritha catamaran and catamaran sailing can be found here.
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