I understand that all boats are design compromises. To gain one desirable quality, you will likely have to sacrifice another. Nevertheless, I am in search of the perfect, live-aboard, cruising sailboat (if there is such a thing). Having spent most of my life on mono hulls of one sort or another (except for a spell of Hobie 18 sailing off the beaches in Florida), I began to be intrigued by the seeming apparent advantages of a catamaran. After reading Chris White’s excellent book, The Cruising Multihull, I suspected that cruising catamarans might possess the qualities that I felt were most desirable in a live aboard cruising boat…“spacious” accommodations, sailing speed, and stability/seaworthiness. I needed to find out for myself if my suspicions were correct.
With the goal to experience what a cruising catamaran was like at sea, a friend and I chartered Mike Hyland’s Atlantic 42 catamaran Windsong out of South Dartmouth, Massachusetts for an afternoon on Buzzard’s Bay. We got lucky when we scheduled the charter to have a day with a smoking southwesterly breeze. Not only was this a chance to get the feel for the boat, but also we had the benefit of learning even more via Mike Hyland’s experienced perspectives.
When the relative wind angle opened up, the boat really started to accelerate, but at the cost of the apparent wind speed excessively increasing, which loaded up the rig to a point of concern. When the boat was sailed too close to the wind, the speed dropped way off and the pitching action of the waves further depressed our forward momentum. As a result, the cat was difficult to steer in the groove. I mistakenly expected a quick and lively upwind boat.
Off the Wind
Like every other boat I have sailed, the cat was best off the wind. Mike offered the following typical cruising sailor sage advice, “Wait for the wind direction to turn favorably, then go.”
On the mooring the A-42 seemed like a roomy platform with the beamy deck spanned over the two hulls. Once we left the harbor and began sailing in open water though, the apparent spaciousness of the boat shrunk. The A-42 seemed much smaller offshore. This shrinking condition is typical of any boat regardless of size…they always seem smaller at sea. It reminds me of a well-known mariner’s prayer, “Oh Lord, the sea is so great and my boat is so small.”
The big cat was far more stable underway than any mono hull of similar size.
In retrospect, my observations here do not offer anything earth shattering. Little did we know setting out that owner/captain Mike Hyland’s company would be the greatest aspect of our afternoon on Windsong. Mike has sailed this boat, which was custom-built for him in South Africa, all over including from South Africa to the Bahamas when he picked it up upon completion. He generously shared his experiences and insights about the boat and the cruising lifestyle. Mike was very good-natured, had a great sense of humor, and was just plain fun to be with as he enthusiastically accommodated our questions and answered them adding his own personal anecdotes. His inside view at cruising on catamarans and living aboard them painted a picture for us that would have been difficult to get otherwise.
Our afternoon sailing on an Atlantic 42 catamaran in a big Buzzard’s Bay southwester was a fun and educational experience. Certainly it was the case of “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” In our case it was more like “if you want to know what a boat is like, sail it.” The jury is still out as to the perfect cruising boat for me. I’ll simply have to do more research.