In this episode, we interview Simon who owns a Catalac 8M called S/V Chateau Cat. He’s had it for two years. Simon came to catamaran sailing after growing up with a monohull, so we’re really curious about how it’s been to have a catamaran for him. What kind of experiences he’s had.
A big thank you for him in participating and generously sharing his stories and photos!
- Chose catamaran for space and larger solar footprint. Used to have a solar panel business and has 2 small children. 44 years old.
- Grew up on a 24 foot monohull with 2 brothers. Inspired by a sail on a Dazcat, he decided a catamaran would be more comfortable with better performance. The Catalac 8M was an affordable option that met his criteria.
- Built in 1980 (an 8m Mark II which as skegs in front of the rudders) in Chichester, South coast of UK.
- He is currently sailing the North Sea. One downside to catamarans is pointing angle. Especially on the Catalac 8M it is hard to sail closer than 60 degrees to the wind.
- Sails include roller furling genoa, slab reefing main, asymmetric spinnaker and spare (slightly larger) genoa.
- Does not sail well in light winds. Anything below about 10 knots and she barely moves.
- But handled well a gale in the North Sea although windows are leaking and he plans to tackle resealing them. No bridge deck slamming issues. Good in heavy weather.
- Average speed of 3-4 knots – probably 6 knots maximum.
- Low maintenance surprisingly considering 40 year old boat.
- Great space maximization inside, despite still having a very large cockpit
- Headroom is fine up to around 5’10’’. Over 6’ and you’d probably be stooping quite often.
- Storage is excellent. Massive lockers in the cockpit. You could even fit two double beds either side if you wanted
- Engine is an outboard which makes it easy to maintain and helps with maneuvering and docking easily because it turns with rudders.
- Ideal for coastal sailing (including shallow water and drying out if necessary) and traverses of up to a few days (e.g. North Sea). People do cross the Atlantic (and even the Pacific) but Simon thinks he would want something bigger if only to hold enough food and water.
- She is very solid but would sink if filled with water (no balsa core and just lots of fiberglass). He is thinking of filling the bow and stern wet lockers with foam and also sealing the bulkheads to make her less likely to sink.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your boat?
- Me 44 years old. Two children boy 8 and girl 5, one wife.
- We bought Chateau Cat 2 years ago. She’s 8x4m and weighed 3.7 tonnes when she was lifted out of the water at the end of last summer.
- We have roller furling genoa, slab reefing main, asymmetric spinnaker and spare (slightly larger) genoa.
- We use her for spring / summer sailing as far as Denmark last year.
What made you choose a catamaran and what led you to the Catalac 8M specifically?
There were two real reasons for choosing a catamaran. Firstly I wanted a lot of space. Secondly I wanted to be able to put lots of solar panels on it because I used to have a solar panel business and i’m really interested in fully electrifying this boat so even having electric motors that powered along when necessary. I haven’t got there yet but i have started getting the layout there of the solar panels.
And then also there was the size of it.
In terms of the internal space, which is important, I’ve got two small children and so with the four of us it was important to have enough internal space. You get so much more space on a catamaran which is a 27 foot or 8 meter catamaran. So much more internal space than you do on an equivalent sized monohull.
Combination of size, comfort, solidity and price. Also I used to have a solar panel business and plan to convert her to fully electric charged with solar panels. So the dog house roof and solid foredeck are helpful to give space for solar panels.
In terms of size and comfort:
- Easily sleeps the 4 of us with a spare bunk for a visitor.
- When sailing overnight, the central sleeping area easily sleeps 3, could also quite easily take 4
- The waterline is almost as long as the overall length (so giving a bit greater stability)
In terms of solidity
- Apparently none has ever flown a hull, let alone capsized
- Apparently they were made for sailing in the North Sea and she does perform very well in the North Sea
- I expect to be able to seal some of the bulkheads to make watertight compartments in the future
- I’ve heard them called the Humvees of catamarans. Downside though is that she is very heavy compared to more modern similar sized vessels
In terms of price
- Much cheaper than an equivalent-sized newer boat
So you grew up on a monohull though so was the leap to a catamaran? What made you make that decision?
Yes i grew up on a 24 foot monohull which my dad built and i had two brothers as well so there were five of us on a 24-foot boat which was quite compact let’s say. But then recently I sailed in the Dazcat. I think it was a 9 meter or 10 meter Dazcat. It was unbelievable. I mean this is a racing catamaran, but the space inside, the stabilit, and the speed with which it would sail at was quite incredible when you compare that to the boat that i grew up on.
So i was looking for something close to that but for a tiny fraction of the price, and the Catalac comes there as a tiny fraction of the price and gets a little bit close certainly with stability. And actually it’s a lot faster than the monohult was that i grew up on as well.
That’s cool so what have you been doing with your catamaran where have you been traveling? I understand you took it on a fairly significant journey?
Yes. So I have two years and the first summer we took along the south coast of England. We went over to France a few times and then we parked us in the Thames Estuary over the winter.
But then last summer just even with the Covid problems we were able to get across the North Sea over to the north coast of Holland and Germany and even as far as Denmark. And then we sailed it all the way back as well.
Tell me a little bit about that journey, some of your experiences. Was everything smooth sailing the whole time or how did the boat handle?
Yeah the boat handled really well there were three key passages that we did the first one was getting across to northern Holland in the first place. And that was with two children and my brother and that went really well.
It took nearly two days. It took four to seven hours so a little bit longer than we expected and that was because we were tacking into wind for part of it but the weather was really perfect. We didn’t have very strong winds and it didn’t rain at all I don’t think.
So four to seven hours of pretty nice sailing in the North Sea and i would say actually that tacking into wind is one of the downsides of the Catalac and catamarans in general but particularly the Catalac. It’s really difficult to get it any more than about 60 degrees to the wind or any less than 60 degrees to the wind so that can be challenging but we got there in 4 to 7 hours and it was a nice crossing.
Then the two other crossings. Fortunately we started off with a fairly nice one. The two other difficult crossings were coming back from Denmark to northern Holland. We got caught in a thunderstorm overnight. And then actually coming from Holland all the way back to England. That’s about 150 nautical miles and we went to a gale actually there and that was really quite exciting.
Fortunately we’ve had the experiences of the previous sailing so I knew how to reef well and how to handle it fairly well in strong winds so and the winds were in a good direction there, so we didn’t have to go into wind at all.
How did the boat do and how did you do?
I think i would say I got a lot better at sailing it over this period and particularly reefing proactively. That was the really important point the the main sail is slab reefing. You can do roller reefing around the boom although i haven’t worked out exactly how to do that.
Slab reefing gets it relatively small and it’s never been never been too much sail that we’ve had up. Except that the roller furling in the jib was a little bit problematic. I think i’ve sorted out how to work that well now but actually in this first thunderstorm that we got caught in the roller reefing didn’t work. It had slipped off the drum that it rolls around and so um for quite awhile the jib was flapping. And i was pointing it into winds. I turned the motor on, so we damaged the jib unfortunately a little bit.
But if i proactively reefed like i did in the gale going and we got into the gale about halfway across the North Sea and it was quite a clear juncture between fairly calm weather and then we went through this front and into the gale and proactive reefing. By that time i had already gone upwind fairly well so i wasn’t having to go into wind at all.
I was going across the wind directly and with a very small jib and the smallest main sail we could put it up that worked really well actually and it actually flew across. It was going to about eight knots most of the time during those strong winds.
What’s she like in heavy weather / a blow / big seas?
- Surprisingly stable in big seas. Can sometimes tank slap in shorter wavelength chop but turning a few degrees tends to resolve that.
- Waves breaking over the front or side do expose the problem with the windows leaking. However, even in those conditions, leaving the cockpit you feel relatively safe and round the mast there’s lots of rigging that you can brace yourself against.
- Reefing while sailing can be a bit of a hassle (but that’s a problem with the jib and roller furling system that I have, rather than a problem with the boat)
- 20 knots is perfect (can get 7 knots speed quite happily)
- 25 knots you want to be reefed in anything but the calmest seas. Still a lot of fun (still 7 knots of speed quite happily)
- 30-35 knots you want to be very well reefed and starts to be difficult to sail to windward but goes really really well across the wind (i.e. 7, maybe even 8 knots J )
- Above that I haven’t tried but I’d expect I’d want to be going slightly down wind and might even want to take down the mainsail (or have another reefing point put in).
Wow so it sounds like the boat handled it beautifully!
It did really and actually this was overnight as well and in the morning when the sun started coming up and i could see the size of the waves that we were going across i was really quite surprised that i hadn’t noticed it being too uncomfortable during the night.
So yes it did really handle extremely well.
I would say one challenge was um the some of the waves were actually breaking over the boat and when they got to being quite a lot of force on the windows then a lot of water came into the window, so I’ve got to do something to sort out sealing those windows a little bit better but then it’s a 40 year old catamaran. So maybe that’s understandable. I think there are quite often problems with the windows and so there’s quite a lot of people sharing advice on how you can seal all these.
So that’s a project over this winter?
Yes i think windows are a problem on every boat. It’s especially older boats. It’s an ongoing thing and the technology is definitely coming along about how we can attach and keep them dry.
Is there anything else that you’ve found particularly challenging about the Catalac 8M?
No not really. One of the things is it’s amazingly low maintenance. I would have thought particularly on a 40 year old boat like this that it would have needed more maintenance, but actually it’s got the original fuse box still in it and quite a lot of the original electrics. A lot has been upgraded as new things have been put in it. But it’s got an awful lot of the original features that are actually still working really well apart from the windows maybe right.
What are changes he would make to the Catalac 8M?
- The windows leaking.
- The rigging to enable the jib to be pulled in more
- The cockpit lockers (to have clasps to hold them open so they don’t fall on your head).
- Maybe slightly large rudders to make it easier to go about and sculpted to come to a point at the trailing edge to reduce the judder when going at over 6 knots
So it sounds like it’s been a great boat for you. What are some of your favorite aspects?
Yeah it has been a really good boat. One good aspect and i looked at this specifically when i bought it was that it’s got an inboard outboard engine. So it’s in the cockpit and a normal outboard engine put in the cockpit and that swivels with the rudders.
It makes it extremely maneuverable and actually it also makes it easy to maintain as well. So quite easy to lift the motor out and that’s actually in the back of my car at the moment. I’m going to service it over the winter but it was very easy just to lift that motor out using the boom and move it across and into the back of the car.
That must make it really easy to dock?
Yes and actually we came back in these storms that what happens we came back from Denmark back to England we first went Denmark to Holland and then went through the canals in Holland.
There’s a mastery there that you can go through with your mast up and it was really maneuverable there, and I was certainly not envying the monohulls that I saw that were having trouble getting through the various docks and the various places that you had just like squeeze and you had to moor up. It was just so easy with this because the engine turns with the rudders that makes it extremely movable.
That’s interesting. You’ve done one big trip. You don’t have a lot of projects that you have to do on the boat, so you must be making plans. What’s the future for you?
Yeah I think this summer the plan is to go as far as the north of Scotland and probably stay around the UK. Maybe we’ll even get as far as the Pharaoh Islands, but the key plan is probably spent about six weeks going around the UK up to the Scottish Islands.
That sounds pretty great and you’re confident that’s the right location for the boat and your family?
I think so. Maybe weather-wise it gets a little bit colder the further north you go but these boats apparently were developed for sailing through the North Sea and certainly it did very well last summer sailing through the North Sea so i think in terms of the boats that will be fine.
In terms of whether my family likes the weather, we’ll see fair enough.
Well thank you so much Simon for speaking with us the it sounds like a great boat and that you’re having some good adventures and I was really curious about the Catalac so that’s been really neat to learn more thank you.