Multihull Cruising: Space, Stability and Sightseeing

Multihulls – once the preserve of strange wild-eyed sailors and South Pacific islanders – have become mainstream. So if you want to go sailing, do you need one hull or two? And what are the differences in practical terms?

A monohull sailing yacht depends for its stability on the weight of its keel, hanging down below the boat and resisting the sideways force of the wind in the sails. As long as there is some wind, the boat will lean over (‘heel’) at a greater or lesser angle. Experienced sailors are accustomed to it, but newcomers to the nautical lifestyle often find it alarming. A monohull motor yacht gains stability by keeping its centre of gravity as low down as possible, which is one reason the engines are in the bottom of the boat, but it can still roll from side to side in a rough sea.

On the other hand, catamarans are stable because they are wide. In the case of a 62ft cat will be almost 30ft wide, making it very resistant to leaning over at all. Whether at sea or at anchor, catamarans provide a massively stable platform for sailing, partying, living aboard or just plain lazing about.

That’s just the beginning: the accommodation on a multihull gets nicely tucked away in the hulls, to the sides, leaving all the space across the middle free for living and entertainment space, both indoors and out. The ‘bridge’ deck between the hulls provides the area for the saloon and affords all-round views from an elevated position. The cockpit area is always going to be very much bigger than you find on a monohull, not to mention the trampoline area, forward - that’s pure sunbathing territory.

The lack of a deep keel means a greatly reduced draught, and that means the ability to access shallower anchorages denied to the monohulls. Is this sounding like a win-win all round?

“Catamarans are the perfect way to start one’s experience with yachting,” says Francis Lapp of Sunreef Yachts. “Navigating in a non-heel environment allows sailors to gain confidence more quickly. More and more newcomers are starting their boating adventure with a catamaran experience.”

This trend is not restricted to sailing yachts. Power cats enjoy all the same advantages as sailing catamarans, with the two narrow hulls providing less resistance to the water than a (relatively) fat single hull, which means greater hydrodynamic efficiency, less drag, smaller engines for a given size of the boat, greater fuel efficiency and more manoeuvrability from two engines positioned a fair distance apart. Sunreef Yachts build both sailing and power catamarans and report that many people associate multihulls with out-and-out racing machines and are pleasantly surprised to find that a catamaran can be tricked out just as luxuriously as any apartment. They also report that their power yachts are so fuel-efficient that they can happily cross the Atlantic (if you must) on just one tank of fuel. Want numbers? A 70ft power cat with a pair of 800hp engines can reach speeds of up to 25 knots, while a typical monohull motor yacht will need 1,200hp engines to compete – and burn a lot more fuel in the process.

More numbers: if you are measuring dollars per foot (length) you’ll probably find that the multihull costs more than the monohull, both the sailing and the power versions. Nick Stratton, Country Manager for Simpson Marine Singapore, acknowledges that, yes, “foot for foot in length, a multihull is going to cost a little more, but you’re getting almost double the amount of boat, meaning that actually the price stacks up in favour of the multihull.” Simpson Marine are dealers for the immensely popular Lagoon catamarans.

Happily, double the boat does not necessarily mean double the maintenance. Engines are smaller and less powerful, less stressed, and the duplication of all the power and electrical systems means that there’s a ‘back up’ for everything. Two engines, two propellers and two rudders go a long way towards delivering a feeling of security to someone new to the boating lifestyle.

The downside of ‘more boat’ is that some (but not all) marinas charge extra to moor a catamaran. It may only be possible to tie up one multihull where it would be feasible to park two monohulls, and the landlords do like their rent. On the other hand, it costs absolutely nothing at all to moor your nice stable catamaran in a peaceful bay, so why not take advantage of your boat’s natural assets?

Multihulls are infinitely flexible in their interior layout. More cabins, or less, is the basic choice. ‘Less’ generally suits owners looking for a boat for strictly personal use, and ‘more’ is better suited to charter vessels. Multihull Solutions, agents for best selling brands Fountaine-Pajot and Privilège Catamarans, point out that the increasing popularity of cruising multihulls in Asia opens up the possibility of chartering your boat when you are not using it yourself – they even provide a charter brokerage service.

Andrew de Bruin, General Manager of Multihull Solutions Phuket, believes that multihulls are “the ideal choice for sailing and cruising around Asia. They are incredibly safe and secure, easy to operate, and have the added advantage of needing less water in which to float. This gives them far more access to some of South East Asia’s very best cruising areas. Catamarans really are the perfect pick for this part of the world.” Think of the glorious land and seascapes of Phang Nga Bay, or the convoluted geography of the Philippine archipelago – thousands upon thousands of islands just waiting to be visited by a boat that will take you almost (but not quite!) on to the beach.

The very best way to get to grips with all the myriad possibilities is to talk to a number of dealers at the Singapore Yacht Show. They will be able to answer all and any questions and take you through the finer points of how a multihull works and what actually suits you – which may not be what you were thinking of. A proper and professional dealer won’t try to sell you a boat that is inappropriate for your needs, or for the sort of usage that you intend. When you are tucked away in a secluded bay fringed by the sugar-white sand beach of a dreamy tropical island after an exhilarating day’s voyaging, enjoying the sunset with a cold refreshing drink in hand (and you can put it down on the table – it won’t spill!) you’ll be happy that you chose two hulls instead of one.

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