Thursday, April 25, 2024
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Sailing With Charlie: The Escape Hatch on a Catamaran

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Graphics by Hannah Welch
Graphics by Hannah Welch

Catamarans have become the charter yacht of choice in the Caribbean. Every year more and more cats join the crewed yacht fleet while the bareboat companies vie for these multi-hulls as demand increases. Charlie is often called upon to teach catamaran sailing to neophytes. One of the first questions from Joe and Sheila, sixty-something students-for-a-week, was, ‘We’re thinking of buying a boat, which type would you advise; a mono hull or a catamaran?’ The question is rather like, ‘I’m going for a walk, what kind of shoes should I wear?’ There are just so many variables it’s hard to come up with a definitive answer. Charlie usually postpones an answer until after the course is over.

To make a positive first impression Charlie extols the virtues of some of the cat’s features. Joe and Sheila seemed dead keen so he described the roominess of the cabins, main salon, foredeck trampoline and cockpit to the eager couple. He showed the nicely insulated generator locker accentuating the comfortable temperatures the air conditioning can provide. “The boat sails fast,” continued Charlie, “and with the shallow draft we’ll have the best spot in the anchorage, right next to the beach. Maneuvering and docking is a piece of cake too. Twin engines are your best friends.”

Before long they were out of the marina and sailing fast with all sails set on a close reach in 18 knots. It was exhilarating stuff with spray flying over the windward bow. But on about day four Joe was becoming less enamored by the heavy work of hoisting the fully battened mains’l. Then the 120% Genoa kept getting fouled on poorly positioned mast cleats especially when the sail was back winded to bring the boat through a tack. Sheeting in the Genoa for close hauled sailing was no cinch either. “You could always install electric winches,” explained Charlie, airily.

During happy hour all the talk was about the potential new boat the couple was going to buy. Their budget was one million and Charlie told them they could buy a pretty good midsize cat for that price. But Sheila had somehow become concerned about safety. On the trip to Anegada the wind had piped up to over 20 knots and the leeward shrouds had become loose; she was frightened. “Nothing to worry about” said Charlie cheerily, “even if the worst comes to the worst and the boat capsizes there’s an escape hatch.

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That was it! That was the death knell; the killer blow that ended the dream. Charlie quickly changed the subject when the look of horror on the lady’s face became apparent. “Escape hatches are never used – it’s a design feature,” explained Charlie in desperation, trying to cover his tracks. But the lady was adamant, “I’ll never go on a catamaran again – very dangerous – I’ve seen them in the America’s Cup trials on TV.

There was nothing Charlie could do. Joe just shrugged with a look of resignation. It would either be her or the boat; one would have to go.

Charlie knew what his choice would be.

Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.

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Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.

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