Everyone can see the advantages of a large, stable platform over a smaller heeling one. Still, outside of tropic anchorages, catamarans have spent 30 years in the shade. Now they’re finally coming out to shine.
If you have been sailing for a few years, you probably know the almost religious zeal with which sailors discuss the pros and cons of multihulls versus monohulls. But let’s try a little thought experiment: imagine you walked into the sailing community with absolutely no prior knowledge, experience or inherited stereotypes. All you see is two different boats sailing along.
The multihull concept has slowly gained momentum year by year.
One is heeling over to the side, the other one is sailing straight. One has a small interior space down in the basement, the other one has a large interior space, most of it on deck level with large windows all around. One has a small cockpit and not much usable deck space, the other one has a huge cockpit and open deck spaces. One is slow, the other is fast. Which one would you prefer?
Yet, keelboats have been totally dominating the marketplace since the birth of leisure sailing. But this is finally changing. Catamaran numbers are growing. This growth has actually been going on for many years, but until now it has been small and slow. Tropical cruising grounds are the exception, primarily in the Caribbean, where chartering and easy life on anchorages are the focus. One of the leading charter operators, Moorings, even has its own line of catamarans—Leopard—built by Robertson & Caine in South Africa.
In spite of their place in the shade, the multihull concept has slowly gained momentum year by year in an extremely conservative environment. Now, after maybe 30 years of production and development, the idea finally seems to be catching on in a bigger way. This is mainly thanks to the vibrant sailing environment in France, where most of the leading catamaran yards are based.
The most obvious sign of this development is the fact that several leading monohull producers now have their own line of catamarans. Beneteau, the biggest player on the market, owns Lagoon, the biggest catamaran brand. Now they are developing yet another line of catamarans. Little is known at this point but this line will target a different group of buyers than Lagoon. A guess would be that they move towards a more performance-oriented line of boats, or a more luxurious one. Or both. This is actually possible in a big cat, as has been proven by Outremer and even more so by Gunboat.
Buying Them Up!
Hanse is another major player on the market, with several acquired brands under their roof. They recently took over Privilège, a well-known line of quality cruising cats. Bavaria acquired Nautitech and have already launched a few interesting models. Two other players have started producing multihulls for the first time. Dufour is building its first catamaran called Catamaran 48. And Garcia, an even smaller yard, well-known for aluminum monohulls built for expeditions to distant and harsh locations, now has a big cat in its program—the Garcia Explocat 62.
According to the Global Catamaran Market Report, the annual growth over the last four years has been just short of 5%, and financial expectations are that the market will expand even further in the coming years.
Cats and Keelboats: Pros and Cons
>>> Pros: Little or no heeling. Great initial stability. Low draft/access to shallow waters. Large space both below and on deck. High speed potential in certain conditions.
>>> Cons: Can capsize and will not recover (very small risk for cruising cats). Takes up a lot of space in harbors. High purchase and maintenance costs. Often not very pleasing design. Not great feeling of connection to rudders and sails, and therefore a less pleasurable sailing experience.
>>> Pros: Can only be capsized by extreme waves, and will in most cases recover. Easier and cheaper to find docking. Lower purchase and maintenance costs. Compared to most cruising cats, a more pleasurable sailing experience. Can look really good.
>>> Cons: Heeling, low initial stability. Deep draft/reduced access to shallow waters. Less space both below and on deck. Most often lower speed.
Read more about cats on NauticExpo website.