Getting the most out of your Catalac Catamaran

Catalac Catamaran Maintenance and Performance Issues

Now and then, people write asking me if I have experienced this or that trouble with my Catalac (because they have). Sounds awful, doesn’t it! Mostly they say that their particular Catalac “isn’t so good to windward as others”, or “is very heavy to steer in a breeze”, or “keeps, breaking her steering cables (same thing.) Since most of these letters come from “second-hand” owners, it seems that not all Members have benefited from the personal advice of the Lack family. So, at the risk of boring those who know this sort of thing far better than I do, here are some thoughts on the subject:


It goes without saying that the steering cables must be kept very carefully greased, and that the tension should be, to quote Bill O’Brien’s maxim on rigging, “taut to the eye, but slack to the hand”.  Make sure too, that where the cables come off the port and starboard lead-blocks in the port stern-locker, they lead directly onto and in line with the grooves on the quadrant. One Dutch Member of the Association wrote that the port-hand wire should lie above the starboard-hand one on the quadrant, but this, I imagine, may not necessarily hold good on all Catalacs, because it will certainly depend entirely on the individual positioning of the two lead-blocks. Better have a really close look next time… hadn’t I!


Several Catalac Owners have spoken of the heaviness of the helm in fresh winds. It should not be so. Usually I find that either the fore-and-aft trim of their boat is badly out (see below), or that they simply have not realised that the rudder blades MUST be held in the fully downhauled position at all times (pre 1980 boats) when under way. Some owners just “don’t bother” and seemingly do not appreciate the importance of this. However, if you think of the extraordinary ease with which a Catalac turns, one can easily see that if her rudder blades are left trailing, the pressure on them is bound to be greater than when the toes of the blades are hauled down and then a little FORWARD of the line of pivot of the rudder hangings on the transoms. Doing this achieves what is known as “partial balance”, and effectively takes all the weight out of steering. 

So unless you are actually ploughing through the mud back to your mooring on the last of the tide (or about to) it is absolutely essential to get those rudder-blades right down and held there, either by pinning them, or, if the existing downhaul lines will not hold them firmly, by rearranging them until they do. At sea, if the blades are not secured in that slightly-forward-of-the-vertical attitude, the strain on the wires might well cause breakages, even if the wheel does not pull the arms off the helms PERSON’s shoulders!


Beware of weight too far forward. There are many reasons why this is bad in a catamaran, but it will surely make her very heavy on the helm by giving the hulls too much “grip” on the water forward. It is my belief that when lying unattended at her mooring, a Catalac should float just ever so very slightly down by the stern (unless you carry the dinghy in davits when at sea). Under way, the thrust of the sails in anything of a breeze will shove her bows back down that little bit, so that her “travelling trim” is then perfect. If you overdo it though, and she rides too much down by the stern, you won’t get the best out of her in light airs, and manoeuvrability may be impaired in a breeze.


Quite a strain can be imposed on the steering simply because of bad sail trim (and it’s worth remembering that any applied rudder drags the water and reduces speed). A mainsail sheeted too far inboard on a reach is a common cause. Or too much sail aloft. I usually reckon that as soon as she starts to “feel all tense” so to speak, time has come to either change to a smaller headsail, or to reef. There is little doubt that the headsail is the one which does the work when the wind is forward of the beam. So if one has a long way to go, it may well pay to reef (say 4 rolls) the mains’1 and retain the No.l jib, rather than keeping full main and changing to a smaller headsail. Much will depend on the cut of the various jibs, of course, since some are more close-winded than others by nature of their greater flatness etc. 

Another snag is that a big headsail can be something of a handful in a breeze, and if you are going to make many short tacks, the smaller the jib the better – but helm balance is all important where performance is concerned, so let it be your guide.


Because she is well-behaved, it is easy to try and sail a Catalac to windward just as one would a monohull – particularly if there is a monohull near you and pointing high on the same tack. But one mustn’t. One cannot even expect a totally keel-less Catalac to point as high in rough water as, say, an Iroquois, which is fitted with drop-keels which grip the denser, less aerated water.


Catalacs have been given an excellent load-bearing pair of hulls, “V’d below the waterline. And that “V”-shape itself provides adequate resistance to leeway in most conditions, except when surface water is really badly disturbed – provided you sail her accordingly. If one added keels to a Catalac (heaven forbid)whereas you might gain In windward performance in heavy weather, you would also give the boat something on which to trip herself up in those squalls and big breakers which the standard Catalac seems to take in her stride, by side-slipping out of danger

If one accepts that the Catalac is an exceptionally safe, seaworthy family cruising craft, one must also accept that sailing her kind of boat to windward requires a slightly special technique. One has to reflect that if Messrs. Winterbotham and Lack had initially set out to produce a RACING cruiser with the ultimate in windward ability built-in, for one thing we, as out and out cruising folk, would hardly have bought one, and if we had, I guarantee we would not have found her half so delightful to sail and relax in. However, compared to quite a number of other cruising cats, the Catalac has a most acceptable windward performance, so long as one sails her the right way.


Rule No.l.- Don’t pinch. There is nothing to be gained whatever in heaving the sails in as flat as they’ll come, and then trying to point up as close to the wind as that deep-keeled monohull you’ve seen. If you try this in a Catalac, speed -falls right away, and this in turn causes the hulls virtually to “stall”, resulting in masses of leeway and very slow progress indeed. Much will depend on the cut of your sails, and on mast rake too, but having done it wrong for several years, I have at last persuaded myself that my Catalac hates it if I sheet the headsail any tighter than to within 3 or 4 inches of the crosstree end or any part of the cap-shroud. (One can wind it in harder on the winch, of course, but doing so simply kills her dead). With the jibsheet just eased, like that, we then steer the boat to keep the headsail nicely full all the time (no falling-in along the luff). Helm balance and general “feel” can now be adjusted by doing things with the mainsheet. We found that in lighter conditions Aku-Aku likes her lower mainsheet block to slide about 10 ins (say 25 cms) either side of centre when tacking, though in a breeze we have often pegged it centrally with the sheet hardened well down. It depends a bit on which headsail is set.

The effect of all this is that though our boat might not appear to be pointing very high, having the foresail that bit eased and with plenty of “flow” in it reduces sideways pressures until leeway might be as little as 5 (in very rough water, maybe 8 or 10 ) instead of almost twice as much, and the extra speed so gained results in an overall progress to windward of an extremely satisfactory nature. (But don’t try to compare her with those Half-Ton Cuppers and things!) They aren’t as comfortable.)


Only one important thing here, apart from the obvious one that one must retain adequate steerage way at all times, and that is that if you wish to manoeuvre under reduced sail, Catalacs prefer headtsails to mainsails, Under her main only, with no headsail set, tacking becomes very uncertain, and usually can only be achieved in still water, provided one has plenty of way on initially; one must then bear right off on a reach on the new tack to regain lost steerageway before coming back on the wind close-hauled. If you misjudge it, chances are she will weather cock willy-nilly, and get all confused! Under headsail only, maneuvering in confined waters presents few problems whether tacking or gybing. She will come about with confidence every time, and except with a very small headsail and not enough wind, will not “fall off” to leeward before getting going again. Why not try it and see, if you haven’t already?



By Rick

Owner of a Catalac 8M and Catamaransite webmaster.

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