We Moved Aboard a Catamaran | Sailing Blog - Technical Hints and Tips - Sailing Television

We Moved Aboard a Catamaran

For the last 3 weeks we had an excellent time in the British Virgin Islands. We were doing our “Sail Away Weeks” where we had 4 couples a week aboard with us sailing in the fabulous BVI. Lovely Caribbean breezes were the norm, blowing as always from the east with sun and just a few showers. The notable exception was our second week which included an unseasonable 2-day gale gusting up over 35 knots! So overall we've sailed a catamaran in fair weather and foul… here's the story!

How did this all start? This winter we are "between boats" as we're still working on the new Distant Shores III. We decided it would be a great opportunity to restart our “Sail Away Weeks" having people aboard to give them a taste of the cruising life. And why not also give a catamaran a long-term test? Who knows? We might still decide to buy a catamaran?
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Here are some first impressions …

Space, Wiggle and Bang!

Tons of space! Big cabins (except for our "captain's cabin") large cockpit, spacious decks. The is a large boat! She is 27 feet wide!! Although there are 10 people aboard it’s not too crowded!
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The catamaran sails upright but there is more wiggling than I imagined. The motion on this catamaran, a Voyage 500, is more confused and "quick" than on a monohull. Although the boat stays upright, not heeling, you feel each wave as it passes under each hull. So we tilt a bit as a wave picks up one hull then the next as it passes under us. I didn't have a problem with it but Sheryl found this a bit difficult to deal with in the galley.


Wow this boat makes the most spectacular banging noise when a wave hits the bottom of the bridge deck! You can feel this in your feet standing in the saloon. Most of our guests didn't complain about the banging since we were only day sailing and no one was below sleeping while we sailed. Out in the cockpit it wasn't a big deal, but for a light sleeper like me?? On overnight passages it would be a deal-breaker for me…

From the picture below you can see the low bridge deck clearance that is to blame for the frequent banging as even smallish waves slap us around.
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Upwind performance

We managed to sail about 38-40 degrees off the apparent wind when sailing upwind. The sails on our boat appeared to be the original and were pretty tired. This Voyage 500 was built for the charter trade and comes with just a main and jib. Both sails were well built and had been maintained (more or less) but the boat is a 2008 model. I suspect the sails are that old as well. A newer main and jib might have allowed us to point better upwind.

Downwind Sailing

Disappointing … the rig of this cat includes well swept spreaders. There is no backstay so the shrouds support the mast, but restrict the amount you can swing out the mainsail. Most owners would add an asymmetric spinnaker or a "screecher" sail on a furling unit and leave it set up on a bowsprit. The charter company doesn't do this but instead recommends you use the genoa downwind. This is quite a small sail and didn't give us very good performance. Even if we were able to lead the genoa sheet further outboard it would have been an improvement I think. This could easily be accomplished on an owner boat but I suppose for a charter they didn't want extra complications.

Luckily most of the time in the BVI you are reaching or beating, so it only affected us when we tried to return downwind to the base at the end of each week. If you're looking at purchasing a cat you'd need to test sail the boat with a screecher setup to see how it would work for you.

Perfect BVI Boat?

If I seem to be complaining about the performance of the Voyage 500 - it’s not in relation to sailing her in the British Virgins! As a BVI charter boat she is great! 4 luxurious cabins for guests - each with its own head (bathroom/shower). Plenty of space for lounging around in the sun, and pretty decent sailing in the typical Caribbean trade-winds. She is a great choice for 4 couples sharing a week on a boat.

Is a Catamaran For You?

Of course only you can answer this question… catamarans offer so much living space and seem the perfect boat for Caribbean sailing, certainly in the British Virgins. But before you commit, it make sense to try one out on a longer offshore passage.

What do you think? Please comment below!

And here's a couple more views of the inside…
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Galley Island with 3 bar stools (bolted down!)
A view down into the "skipper's Cabin" which is actually an upholstered sail locker… yes you climb in through the hatch!
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