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Monohulls Versus Multihulls Versus Cattlemarans

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Whichever of the above you prefer, I agree with you. Both of the other vessel types are for idiots, plain and simple. Take monohullers, for example. Multihullers call monohulls monomarans—because of the notorious debilitating psychological condition of their skippers known as ‘pathological hull envy.’ Sad, right?  I mean, seriously, what else is intentionally made heavy other than steamrollers and traditional sailboats… both of which can barely get out of their own way in terms of speed. My monohull is so slow I have to factor in continental drift on ocean passages—because the continents have moved so damn much. Jelly fish pass me. I’ve had sandbars silt in faster. Mine tacks s-l-o-w. I throw over the helm, cast off the jib sheet, have a leisurely cockpit lunch, straighten the wheel and sheet back in. 

That’s right, I’ve been passed by glaciers, for gosh sakes!

On the positive side, most monohullers don’t toss their garbage overboard offshore—who wants to stare at their own trash for days? 

Yes, I anchor often—no, it hardly affects my hull speed at all. 

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In the Bahamas, of course, I love to race the conks. And while reefs don’t grow fast, I’ve had a couple outpace me to windward. 

Speaking of windward—is anyone else fed up with all this zigzagging business? I mean, really, in this day and age? All my life I’ve been tacking this way and that—never actually going where I want to go… just eventually getting so bored that I claim that wherever I am is where I want to be; and, of course, that I’m a Zen Master!

Multihulls can be a good family/race option— especially foldable ones like F27 by Corsair.
Multihulls can be a good family/race option—
especially foldable ones like F27 by Corsair.

Leeway is another concept I’m soooooooo over! Trains don’t make leeway—why boats? Ditto cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Only sailboats and perverts on benches slide sideways towards you—while pretending they don’t. 

Then there’s the whole heeling thingie, which also includes everything sliding off the counters below. This makes no sense. Some monohullers have bio-adapted by having their windward leg shorten and their leeward leg slowly lengthen. 

Ah, Darwin would be proud!

Which brings us to the heavy subject of keels. When I was a child—when me and my caveman friends were making the move away from logs to ballasted craft—we stupidly attempted to firmly attach our keels. Nowadays, we know better and attach our keels with Velcro so that, in the event of grounding on a sandbar, the keels give us an audio ‘shallow water’ warning as they snap off. 

They don’t call ‘em Bendy Toes for no reason!

Donald Street: Father & Founder of the Modern Cruising Guide

The bottom line—I like being a monohuller who refuses to learn or advance! True, we tend to have low IQ—so what? Frankly, I’m not convinced we should have left our logs behind!

This brings us to the subject of modern cattlemarans—speedy craft that are loaded down with so much ‘convenience’ that they, too, can barely limp along. 

On a positive note, their hull speed in both modes are fairly close—although upright has a slight edge to windward; upside down is better able to take advantages of offshore ocean currents while off the wind. Most manufacturers these days include word HELP! written in huge letters on the underside of the cabin—all the better for the USCG SAR helicopters to find the once-wealthy owners. 

True, cats hobby-horse worse than tris. But the multihull industry can ignore this inconvenient fact since they only sell their crafts to buyers who aren’t into the heavy jargon left over from square-rigger days—words like cleat, transom, or stern. 

Why not demystify sailing, right? Why not have a dozen people on a cattlemaran all standing at different angles on its tennis-court sized deck, loudly yelling, “Left, left!” at each other. 

I personally believe that a lot of the resentment against multihulls is just picky. I mean, packing crates have arrows and the words THIS SIDE UP, why not yachts?

And even I will admit that cats have certain innate advantages—as my Kiwi friend with a circular saw will attest. When the divorce judge ruled that he’d have to split Two Peas in a Pod with his wife… he did exactly that. 

What a clever bloke! (He’s currently crossing the Indian Ocean on proa named Sweet Revenge.)

Green Cruising

Which brings us to the subject of trimarans. These sea spiders are mostly built for speed—and their owners are none-too-bright. Why? Because they think zooming up to monohulls and circling them at 20 knots while asking, “You aground?” is going to make ‘em friends—NOT!

Cap’n Fatty races aboard ADRENALIN, a Formula 40 in Lake Garda, Italy, in 1988. She had articulating amas which were ‘decoupled’ from the single main aka—and was very fast. On the day this photo was taken, she reached 30+ knots on the official race course clock—which, in those days, was mighty quick.
Cap’n Fatty races aboard ADRENALIN, a Formula 40 in Lake Garda, Italy, in 1988. She had articulating amas which were ‘decoupled’ from the single main aka—and was very fast. On the day this photo was taken, she reached 30+ knots on the official race course clock—which, in those days, was mighty quick.

Another reason: to find the intelligence of a boater, the standard rule is to take the skipper’s IQ and divide it by the number of hulls he sails on. 

I do a lot of sailing on 26-foot Corsair’s—foldable trimarans which, alas, attempt to fold when hit by any sea over one-foot! On the positive side, they are easy to take out of the water. It’s only when the owner puts them back in that there’s trouble. 

Of course, a multihull advantage that you often hear discussed is how multihulls are able to easily outrun storms with their superior speed. I’ve witnessed this exactly once in my lifetime—a speedy, narrow-hulled trimaran named Redwood Coast outran a gale that overtook us off New Caledonia.

Of course, Donald Crowhurst is the revered poster boy of all multihullers. He was a typical member of the brethren who, in the late 1960s, elaborately ‘pretended’ to sail around the world during the Golden Globe race—while actually chilling out in the South Atlantic, polishing his nails, fantasizing what he’d do with the prize money, and calling in faster and faster runs (by listening to distant weather forecasts on his SSB radio and working his celestial sights backwards) to his waiting wife and their brood of children. 

Alas, just as his family were being driven down to the quay to welcome him home from the deck of a press boat, Donald conferred with another loony sailor named Al Einstein, who suggested he step off the transom while cradling his beloved chronometer in his arms. 

…end of Donald but, hey, no wonder people who buy boats sans keels revere him! 

His boat, Teignmouth Electron, was designed by Arthur Piver—another famous multihuller who was proudly lost at sea on one of his designs. No wonder Don picked Piver—who, in an effort to save weight, carried a piano aboard! 

Martinique to Windward

Of course, Don was a smart cookie and made (or tried to make) many improvements on his boat. For example, he had large bag at the top of the mast to inflate so he wouldn’t capsize if she pitched-poled at 20+ knots while sliding down the face of a 40-foot wave… sounds logical to me! 

Of course, being a genius, Don had never sailed on a trimaran until taking delivery of his highly modified craft a couple of weeks before the starting gun fired. We don’t know much about Don’s careful pre-race preparation—only that he fell off the boat three times in the harbor! 


Immediately, a severe vibration problem was encountered. It was so severe that his self-steering gear started to jiggle off the boat within hours of its maiden shakedown cruise.

Needless to say, poor Donald was under considerable stress as he eventually closed with the coast of England under false pretext—as all the press of Europe rushed out to meet him, the amazing victor!

One of his last log entries before dancing off his transom clutching his chronograph was, “At last I have done something interesting!”

Fatty occasionally races on F27 Corsail trimarans, of which a dozen compete each weekend at the Changi Sailing Club
Fatty occasionally races on F27 Corsail trimarans, of which a dozen compete each weekend at the Changi Sailing Club

The bones of the boat, to this day, lie on Cayman Brac. A personal friend of mine, Lovik the Lazy, investigated the overturned shipwreck—and found a sealed ‘food locker’ accessible only from outside the hull—Donald Crowhurst certainly thought outside the box. 

Of course, it is totally unfair to smear all multihullers with the irrationality of one solitary fool. And only a fool such as myself would deny that multihulls are the wave of the future. While monohulls sell less and less each year, sales of cattlemarans are exploding worldwide. 

Again and again I get letters from my readers, expressing the same weird sentiment—that because of their inexperience, these newbies are going to buy multihulls to sail their family around the world—”because they’re so much easier to sail and so much safer.”

Maybe, maybe not. I’ve sailed and raced thousands of offshore miles in multihulls. And I hate to bring too much truth into what is intended merely to be a humor column. And, sure, I’m an old codger set in my ways—too old to learn new tricks. But after 62 years of living aboard and ocean sailing without major mishap, I’ve learned a thing or two. For example: experience counts. For another: so does the design of the vessel under your feet. 

Normally, the only extreme weather a circumnavigator experiences is during the passage to and from New Zealand. About 15 years ago, I left with 40-some other vessels from Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Cal, and the Cook Islands for Opua. Just before I shoved off, I inspected the fleet—especially the two brand new layer cakes… fresh-from-the-showroom catamarans worth millions. Most of the fleet, of course, were modest craft—Westsail 32s, Pearsons, Freedoms, Islanders, Whitbys, CSYs, Tayanas, Valiants, various Carl Alberg designs, etc. As the fleet closed with the North Island, we got a ‘capful of wind’ as the Kiwis called it. All four of the catamarans in the fleet catastrophically failed—both expensive layer cakes included—with three of the big cats dismasting and the other being abandoned after losing its rudders. Was it rough? Yes, it was. But all the funky monohulls came through without a problem. We hove-to on our $3,000 Wild Card and I wrote a jolly good story for the very publication you’re holding in your hands. 

Am I prejudiced against catamarans? You’re damn right I am. Would I buy one if cruising the Bahamas—or even the windier Lesser Antilles? Perhaps, if I could afford one. But for the Southern or Indian Oceans? Or sailing long distances on a tight shoestring? No way, Jose! 

Fatty and Carolyn are still making goo-goo eyes at each other in various erotic harbors around Singapore.

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Cap'n Fatty Goodlander
Cap'n Fatty Goodlanderhttp://fattygoodlander.com/
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 53 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, and Sail is out now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com

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