Heavy Weather Strategies When Sailing a Catamaran

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Heavy Weather Strategies When Sailing a Catamaran

PETER JOHNSTONE UPDATED:MAR 27, 2019

ORIGINAL: JUL 30, 2014

 Photo courtesy of Charles Doane
Photo courtesy of Charles Doane

By their nature, larger catamarans are exceptionally safe offshore. It is not unusual to sail through mildly uncomfortable conditions, such as a gale, only to arrive in port and hear sailors on keelboats talk of “surviving” horrendous weather. A large modern catamaran has plenty of buoyancy and exceptional roll inertia. Together these make a capsize, or inversion, highly unlikely. A 30-foot breaking wave hitting a cat abeam will simply make the boat surf sideways.

On most offshore passages, advanced communications and weather information should preclude you from ever experiencing true gale or survival conditions. The highest risks are run on passages sailed on a north-south axis between seasons. Early spring or late autumn passages between New England and the Caribbean, in eastern Atlantic waters off Europe, or on routes between the South Pacific and New Zealand are where you typically have a chance of experiencing a good wallop offshore. Follow the wisdom outlined in Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes, and these risks should be minimized. Regardless, anyone venturing offshore in a multihull should be prepared to handle the worst.

All cats are not the same

Cruising catamarans today roughly fall into two categories. Charter/cruising cats: Production catamarans built for the charter market typically feature integrated fixed keels, shoal-draft low-aspect rudders, high-windage flybridges, masts located well forward, shorter bows and heavier displacements. Even in ideal flat-water conditions, some of these boats will struggle to make significant progress to windward and typically sail close-hauled at 55-60 degree true wind angles (TWA). Heavy-weather strategies on these types of catamarans should focus on maintaining control and achieving a moderate speed without endangering boat or crew.

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Murray Yacht Sales represents EXCESS Catamaran for the Gulf Coast.

Michael James
Michael James
Michael James has been with Murray Yacht Sales since 1995 and is in the the New Orleans office.

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