Sailing a Catamaran
So you booked a cat for your next charter cruise. Problem is, you are a monohull sailor... Here is a quick guide, with all you need to know.
The main difference with a monohull is that a cat has TWO engines, one in each hull. Because the engines are located very far apart from each other, it makes maneuvering extremely easy - much, much easier than a single engine sailboat. A cat can literally pivot around its vertical center axis, i.e. turn on a dime, regardless of its size. I have maneuvered a 47ft. cat in very, very tight quarters... did not hit a thing around the boat, whereas I would certainly have chipped some little gelcoat with a mono. Here is a quick guide to maneuvering at slow speed:
- Forward in straight line: both engines forward - wheel centered
- Back in straight line: both engines back - wheel centered
- Steer to starboard: PORT engine forward, STARBOARD engine back -wheel centered or to starboard.
- Steer to port: STARBOARD engine forward, PORT engine back - wheel centered or to port.
Points of Sail
Cats do not go upwind as well as monohulls, although they have much improved lately in that department. You won't get much closer than 45/50¾ to the wind, going upwind. If the sea is choppy and you are on a smaller cat, like a 38ft. the yawing will be a little difficult - which is why you see so many charter cats simply motoring upwind. If you still decide to sail, bearing off a couple of degrees will usually alleviate the motion.
Now, going off the wind is what the cats are all about. Do not necessarily try to go dead downwind, but if you do, you probably want to be under jib or genoa only. A more efficient point of sail is between 120¾ and 150¾ at which you should sail at a speed of about 50% of the true wind. Needless to say, you will smoke quite a few monohulls there!
One of the cats' problems is that there is no heeling to give a feel that the boat is over-canvassed (the good news is that the bowl of fruits you left on the table won't go flying and smash against the stove!). If it becomes very windy, things can become a little hairy. So you have to be careful and stick with the information given by the charter company's briefer.
The rule on a cat is that one starts de-powering the main sail using the traveler, because it has a very wide span, and it can be let go very quickly. Other than that, usually, on a 40ft., you should put the first reef at around 20kts. of wind, and the 2nd. reef at 25kts., and the headsail should be completely furled, to be on the safe side. Reefing has the same procedure as a monohull.
Jibing is the same procedure as a monohull... but tacking is different and can be frustrating. Here are the secrets to an efficient tack on a cat:
1. Speed. Without sufficient speed, you simply will not tack... unless you start the engine! So get enough of it, just before tacking.
2. Start bringing the main sail in close.
3. Tack the boat decisively but smoothly through the wind without losing too much speed.
4. Some sailors let the jib get backwinded before releasing it to the other tack, in order to help the bows to turn better through the wind.
5. Once the bows are on the other side of the wind, bear off a little more than necessary until you get your original speed back.
6. Get back on course once you have re-established you speed.
Here are some more secrets:
1. Because a cat offers less resistance to the water than a monohull, it takes more time to slow down than a monohull. So make sure the boat has completely stopped.
2. Keep the boat straight into the wind, using the engines at idle speed. Do not let the boat go sideways.
3. As soon as the anchor is set, back the boat straight with both engines.
4. You need to set the snubber with the bridle that is all cats are equipped with. Keep the boat into the wind as you're doing this.
5. If you choose to use a mooring ball, you imperatively need to set a bridle. Do not cleat the ball line only on one hull.