- Is Bigger Best?
- Shedding a Bit of Light on the Confusion
- The 40ft Myth
- Risk of Capsize
- Reefing Speeds Based on Design Stability
- Very Low Risk of Capsize
- Many 40 ft Catamarans Are Not 40 ft Boats
- What Cruisers End Up Buying
- Fear of The Big Boat
- Cost of Outfitting a Boat For Cruising
- Financing a New Boat To Go Cruising On
- Cruising Catamaran Realities
Is Bigger Best?
Barely a week goes by that I don’t receive an email from someone just starting their planning journey to become a cruiser, wanting to know my thoughts on buying a catamaran for cruising. The question always goes along the lines of “I like the new Leopard 45 and 50 however, I am concerned the 45 will be too small for my wife and I to liveaboard and cruise full time.”
It’s a classic question from anyone who has never owned a boat, let alone a catamaran before. We were the same. Ten years ago when we started planning to go cruising, we were dead set on buying a brand new factory delivered Lagoon 450. What we ended up with was a ten-year-old ex-charter Lagoon 380.
Your Needs and Wants Will Change
As you learn more and more about sailing, cruising, and various catamarans your needs and wants change. What you initially thought you absolutely had to have no longer seems important when you learn of another must-have feature or negative of a particular boat.
Do I regret our boat choice? No not for a moment. I still love the 450. The space is incredible and she certainly looks impressive at anchor. I love that our 380 is perfectly manageable by one person. Especially when things go wrong at 2 am on a passage. I love our 380 more when it comes to paying for big-ticket items. A new set of sails or rigging for the 450 comes in at about 3-4x the cost of the same for a 380.
For us, the ease of handling and low cost of operation exceeds the big boat need. Right up until we throw a crazy boat party with dozens of cruisers, then I wish we’d gone for the 450. 98% of the time we’re over the moon with our decision, and I think that’s how it goes for most people once you have found the perfect boat that works for you and your cruising style.
Shedding a Bit of Light on the Confusion
When I ask the wanna-be cruisers who sent me the 50 vs 45ft question “Why not a new Leopard 42?” Which at 42 ft I coincidentally think to be the sweet spot for cruising catamaran size. “Or an older 40.” The reply always comes back along the lines of “Shouldn’t I buy the biggest boat I can afford?” or “Isn’t it best to buy a new boat vs. used?”
I would like to clear up why the newest biggest boat you can afford, might not be the best strategy for choosing a cruising catamaran.
The 40ft Myth
There is an urban legend circulating in sailing circles that smaller catamarans are at great risk of capsizing. As a result, anyone unfamiliar with sailing catamaran first looking into buying a cruising catamaran is under the impression that bigger must be safer.
Thirty years ago this was true. When most catamarans were home built. Before the introduction of the EU Regional Craft Directive, which has specific stability requirements for catamarans.
Risk of Capsize
At the risk of oversimplifying the explanation for the reasoning why catamarans capsize:
The majority of catamarans that capsize end up inverted by Pitch-Polling. Tripping over their bows and going ass over teakettle. The bows dig in (normally after surfing far too fast down a wave and driving bow into the wave ahead) and immediately slow down. And the aft end of the boat goes over. This is pitch-polling.
Sounds like a truly horrible experience. Fortunately for us on modern cruising catamarans, the risk of pitch polling has all but been eliminated by virtue of design and education.
Reefing Speeds Based on Design Stability
The first line of defense to prevent modern catamarans from pitch polling is conservative specific reefing speeds for various points of wind and sail configurations. The reefing speeds are based on design stability requirements.
A further safety measure designed into modern cruising catamarans is reserve buoyancy designed into the bows. Either by having large forward crash lockers, high freeboard, and/or flared hulls. This reserve buoyancy and design of the bows help prevent the bows from being driven too far into the trough of the wave ahead. This is the reason most catamaran owners’ manuals specify that only lightweight items be stored in these massive lockers.
The next line of defense is education. Catamaran manufacturers are getting better at explaining, along with reefing speeds, that it is important to keep the boat speed down at around 20kts maximum for most cruising cats. If you’re surfing down waves it’s best to try to drop this to 8-10kts to keep the forces on the boat down. This is accomplished by deep reefing, sailing bare poles, or towing a drogue.
Should the ham-fisted sailor neglect to reef by the speed laid out in the owner’s manual and continue sailing well past the specified reefing speed, on some designs, a final line of defense will kick in, intentional or not. The rigging will fail before the point where the catamaran will become unstable (Every time I meet a rigger I ask this question, and the consensus seems to be yes, the rig will fail before capsize should the reefing speeds be grossly exceeded).
Very Low Risk of Capsize
The bottom line is in wind speeds less than hurricane force at normal cruising latitudes the risk of pitch-polling a modern cruising catamaran is very low. There is no need to confine your catamaran shopping to boats over 40ft.
Coincidentally for those who feel they must have at minimum a 40 ft catamaran. Many boats on the market in recent years have branded themselves as 40 ft boats when they are in-fact 38 ft or smaller models.
Many 40 ft Catamarans Are Not 40 ft Boats
If the 40 ft myth were to hold true it would relate to length on the water line LWL. As you can see from the table below, most catamaran manufacturers are guilty of pushing the 40ft myth by ensuring they have a 40ft model to market.
|Fountaine Pajot – Lavezzi 41||39.1″||39″|
|Leopard 40 – Previous Model||39.25″||37.5″|
|Nautitech open 40||39.4″||39.2″|
What Cruisers End Up Buying
When sitting having sundowners with new friends, the topic of planning to go cruising always seems to come up. After all, that is how the concept of this website came about. An honest source of information clear of any marketing BS, dealing with the nitty-gritty of planning to go cruising. Calling out the misconceptions and avoiding the PC crap of pussyfooting around the difficult discussions. The content of this article is one such topic.
Future catamaran owners, when they first start exploring the idea of buying a cruising catamaran, seem to need new boats, discounting older used models. This isn’t seen as often with monohull cruisers, who, for the most part, seem to prefer the idea of older, more ‘classic’ boats vs. new production boats.
What seems to be true for the vast majority of catamaran owners that we’ve met, is that we were all convinced at the outset of our planning that we all ‘needed’ factory-new catamarans. Most of us, interestingly, ended up going with a used boat. We also ended up with a boat 4-6 ft smaller than we thought we needed initially.
I’m not saying by any means that buying a large new catamaran is the wrong decision. Not at all! For many cruisers, a large catamaran suits them perfectly. But, for the majority of cruisers, a large new catamaran just does not make sense. Be it from a financial point of view or comfort at sea with a large boat.
Fear of The Big Boat
We have met a handful of cruisers with big catamarans who ended up giving up cruising after a few hundred miles and a year or two living on board. One or both partners didn’t feel they could manage the large catamaran in big seas should something go wrong.
I’ve often been pulled aside by the wife; while getting a boat tour; and been told that she wished her husband hadn’t talked her into such a large catamaran. She’s not as comfortable sailing as she used to be on their previous monohull and hates every passage. I’ve also often heard “If something happens to him (or her) I’m screwed. I can’t sail this boat alone.”
As a result, these couples never end up crossing the oceans they dreamed they would. Instead, the boat gets sold, and they give up the whole idea of cruising.
Cost of Outfitting a Boat For Cruising
Another reason why we see people cruising on smaller boats than they first started looking at is the cost of getting the boat ready to go cruising. Don’t discount that even after buying what looks like a well-equipped catamaran from the factory, you’ll still be looking at having to spend anywhere from twenty to eighty thousand dollars to turn the boat into a cruise ready liveaboard vessel.
This extra expenditure is often not discovered until later in the cruising planning cycle. It’s the catalyst to downgrade one or two boat sizes or go for used vs new.
Financing a New Boat To Go Cruising On
I can’t stress this enough. If you are planning on going cruising on a heavily financed boat, Don’t! Unless you’ll only be going on a one or two-year sailing sabbatical and/ or are retired with a guaranteed fixed income.
It’s often said that cruising plans are written in the sand at low tide. This applies to the overall cruising plan as much as it does to the day to day cruising. Unless you have a rock-solid income stream to service the loan, financing a cruising boat is a recipe for heartbreak. I can’t count the number of cruisers we have met who have had to abandon their cruising plans and new boats, at great financial expense, after a small hiccup in cruising plans occurs.
Tennants stop paying the rents. A business partner falls ill. A fire at a factory. You name it. Shit happens! Of the friends, we know who had financed their boats and been forced to give up cruising, the story was always the same. ‘If only we had bought a five-year-old boat one or two feet smaller, we could have paid cash and had a cruising kitty to fall back on’.
Plans Change Having to Sell
This year is a prime example. We dinghied in to the Marina in Papeete, Tahiti two days ago. The first two boats we recognized were owned by cruiser friends who had to abandon their cruising plans due to income streams drying up. These cruisers had to return to land to find work, to service the boat loan on their new catamarans.
Now their boats sit in a marina thousands of miles away from home. Up for sale in a crowded market with dozens of competing boats whose owners have found themselves in similar predicaments. Boats aren’t selling as fast as expected. Yet the finance payments continue.
It is depressing to walk the docks and see all the new boats with ‘For Sale’ signs on them. One or two-year-old boats with moldy stack packs, growing an artificial reef under their hulls. Now travel to French Polynesia has all but come to a grinding halt as a result of home countries quarantine requirements. These boats will sit here for years or will be sold at massive discounts or both.
Finance companies require proof of insurance on an annual basis. Often requiring specific coverage. Items such as an unrestricted cyclone or hurricane cover may make getting coverage in certain parts of the world all but impossible. Many finance companies also impose restrictions on visiting certain countries. We know of boats that were forced to sail past Colombia on the way to Panama as their finance contract prohibited them from visiting Colombia.
Cruising Catamaran Realities
An interesting and not very scientific survey of cruising catamarans in general, based purely on me running through my book of cruisers names. I add names to the book after we have met and had sundowners/dinner gone for a hike together, etc. Something more than just a casual encounter. My list sits at 197 boat names as of this morning. Of the 197 cruiser friends we have, 59 are cruising or cruised on catamarans.
Of the 59 catamarans, 39 are ex-charter boats. Of which I can only recall one boat saying they would never purchase an ex-charter catamaran again. The consensus has been, purchasing an ex-charter catamaran has enabled them to either cruise on a much bigger boat than they could have normally afforded, or that by buying an ex-charter boat they were able to buy a newer catamaran vs. an older monohull.
Out of the group of 59 cruisers on catamarans, 5 cruisers bought their boats new from the factory.
|Length of Catamaran||Number of Friends Who Own/ed These|
|45ft and over||9|
|42ft to 44ft||22|
|36ft to 42ft||28|
In the group of 36ft to 42ft catamarans, 12 cruisers are on boats 40ft and under. With 5 in the 36-38ft group.
Of the 14 ‘Kid boats’ in the group, 9 are or were on catamarans less than 40ft in length. In the ‘Kid Boat’ group, the catamaran with the second-highest accrued amount of accrued sea miles is an ex-charter 38ft Leopard 38, SV Maple. Take a look at their blog for more of their adventures.
For more info on buying an ex-charter catamaran check out my article ‘Is Buying an Ex-Charter Catamaran a Good Idea‘
I hope some of these thoughts and perspectives give you something to think about when fretting about buying a cruising catamaran. The newest, biggest isn’t always the solution. Especially if the alternative is cruising on a slightly smaller boat, mortgage-free.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to share your questions and opinions in the comments section below.