We are frequently asked for advice by people who are new to sailing and will be buying a catamaran to cruise on as their first boat. One of the most common questions is, how can we get some sailing instruction for new catamaran owners? Is it possible to get an instructor to teach us to sail a catamaran, on our own boat?
For new catamaran sailors getting an instructor who is familiar with catamarans is invaluable. There are a few monohull techniques and philosophies that don’t transfer well to cats, so why learn something you need to unlearn.
Learning to Sail a Catamaran vs. a Monohull
The fundamental difference in sailing on Catamarans vs. Monohulls is that catamarans are sailed by the numbers. Take reefing on a monohull as an example. On a monohull, when the wind picks up and the boat has too much sail up, the boat will heal over spilling the extra wind.
A catamaran does not have the ability to heal over and spill wind. The forces acting on the sails will soon exceed the design limits of the rig, and bang. Down comes the mast.
An instructor who knows catamarans will hammer into her students that if the book says the first reef is at 20 kts apparent wind. The reef needs to be in at 20 kts, not 21 kts, 20kts!
Where a monohull instructor unfamiliar with catamarans may miss this point and suggest things such as reefing before your crew becomes uncomfortable. This is great advice on a mono but does not translate to catamarans.
Watch Out For Instructors Who Do Not Like Catamarans
We have heard from many new catamaran owners, who had hired monohull instructors, say that they spent a week with an instructor, who constantly told them how unsuitable their boat was for passage making. How much he hated catamarans. And that they really should have gone with a mono.
This is counterproductive and brings in doubts from day one. The new sailors immediately begin to think of their vessel as substandard. This translates to a fear of big seas and heavy weather. Which weighs heavily on the new owner’s minds. To the extent that every time the wind picks up, they become nervous. And focus more on their fear than making smart sailing decisions.
What To Look For in a Catamaran Instructor
When searching for an instructor to give sailing instruction for new catamaran owners on your own boat, given the choice, I would look for someone who is RYA certified, and preferably examiner qualified.
You may well be able to find a delivery skipper or another owner who can give you some instruction for free or a slightly lower rate. I would like to point out that If you’re paying a delivery skipper, the daily rate you will likely be looking at will be very near what you would pay a qualified instructor.
Again, given the choice, I would still opt for an instructor. However, it is very likely that an experienced delivery skipper may also be a qualified instructor. So it is worth checking if the delivery skipper is instructor qualified.
This would give you the best of both worlds. Broad experience and real-world advice, particularly regarding heavy weather sailing tactics for catamarans. Along with formal instruction, discipline to make sure you cover everything you need to during his time onboard.
A delivery skipper who is not instructor qualified or comfortable giving instruction on a delivery, may be very reluctant to take new sailors along on the delivery voyage home. We have even heard of some delivery captains charging twice their daily rate if the owner wants to go along on the trip.
Whatever instructor you get, make sure that they intend to spend at least 4-6 hours with you each day. Teaching you more about sailing than just how your boat works. If they are not hard on you, and challenging you the whole time they are on board teaching you how to sail your catamaran, they are doing you a disservice.
Note: If you are going along on a delivery trip for some experience, this this will be a passage with a normal rotation schedule, the Captain will have very little time to sit working with you. You will learn about your boat but there will be no extra time to give sailing instruction.
We Needed Someone To Certify We Could Sail Our Catamaran
When we first bought our Lagoon 380. It had been twenty years since we had sailed a boat. And even that sailing was limited to crewing on other people’s boats during school. Understandably, our insurance company required someone to verify our experience.
We hired John Sharratt from Sail Bequia. He was hard on us and his training was excellent. He made us do things we were uncomfortable doing. Such as entering difficult anchorages in the dark. To drive it home that we wanted to have the hook down before sundown.
During the day he pounded us with questions and what-if scenarios. Once the sun went down. It was social time and he easily switched gears from captain and instructor/ examiner to a good mate crew member.
Pre-covid he was happy to fly to meet the boat anywhere. We flew him from Bequia to Martinique. We then sailed down to the Grenadines where he signed our insurance certificate, and jumped ship, setting us off on our own.