Catamarans vs Monohulls – Woods Interview # 6

Welcome back to a new episode with catamaran designer and sailor, Richard Woods. We’ve had a few conversations already, about a variety of topics. Today we’re going to be talking about monohulls versus catamarans, and some of the attributes that make catamarans especially nice for cruising and living on. Please watch the video below and see the transcript and photos.

I assume that you design catamarans because you think they’ve got some definite benefits. Do you want to start off on what you’re thinking is as far as why they make good places to sail and live?

I think it’s fairly self-evident that the catamaran has a lot more interior room and a lot more deck space. That seems to be the main appeal to people these days.

Even a small multihull has lots of deck space. This is a 25ft Sango with 20 people on board, but its sailing under spinnaker!

I’ve actually spent 20 years cruising on catamarans and only recently moved ashore to a house. It’s a very nice, comfortable two-bedroom house. It’s 800 square feet. Now, a 40-foot by 25-foot catamaran is a thousand square feet, so even the 40-foot catamaran is huge compared to the size of house that most people live in. That’s the basic thing, space.

Leopard 46 Salon Space

But then you’ve got several more factors. One being privacy, and everyone wants to have their own private space. You can do that very easily with nearly all catamarans, because you can put a bunk in each corner, and live in the middle, essentially. Each bunk is a private space, whereas you compare that to a monohull, and essentially everyone’s living in the middle.

Now both of us, you and I, have done a lot of sailing among us, so we do know how to compare. The last time I did any long distance sailing on a monohull, or any time on board, was from the US down to Cabo San Lucas on the Mexican Baja, on the Maple Leaf 48, Canadian flag. That was obviously a big comfortable, effectively a motor sailor.

Maple Leaf 48

Afterwards, I started comparing it to a 32-foot catamaran, which is obviously a lot shorter.

Eclipse 32

But what was the real differences, when you’re living on board, the Maple Leaf 48 had two double cabins, and we slept and we lived together in the middle. A shower compartment to each end. The catamaran had three double cabins, and a shower, a big sharing part. So they were much the same.

Then the load carrying, we both had the sewing machine, a solid dinghy, all the tools we needed and so on. That was from comparing a 48-foot big one hull, in effect, to a 32-foot catamaran. We spent quite some time with six people on board, family and friends, on the 32-foot catamaran. So you don’t need to have that big a boat as a catamaran, when compared to a monohull, which has lots of other advantages which we’ve really talked about before.

So privacy is a major factor. Then there’s several more things.

One thing that comes to mind when you’re talking about that voyage down to Cabo San Lucas. I know for us when we traveled on our boat, we travel in the cabin where we both can see all the time. To me that was almost a safety factor, because we weren’t just sort of popping out into the cockpit now and again to look around. We were looking around all the time so visibility strikes me as important.

That was the next point that I was going to make. There’s two things in particularly when we’re talking about live aboard cruising boats. You either live at anchor or you’re sailing, and most of the time you’re living at anchor. Therefore, in effect, you’re a floating cottage, and no one goes out and buys a basement apartment. They all buy the penthouse suite if they can. The reason for that is you’ve got the view, whereas with a monohull, you go down below and you can’t see out.

Lagoon Galley

That’s a major drawback when you’re gone to your anchorage, like the one in the photograph behind us there, which is the Harmony Islands right near you in British Columbia. You want to be able to see the view. Now you’ve sailed there, so it’s crazy that you have a boat where you have to go down below. I think that’s one of the other differences. On a catamaran, you go inside, and on the monohull you go down below.

Down Below on a Monohull

From the safety perspective, one of the things I remember from a personal point of view is sitting inside, crossing the Bay of Biscay in November, going to 45 knots of wind. So basically in the gale, sitting below and steering with the remote control on the autopilot. But being able to see out all that, I didn’t have to go out on deck to stay on watch, I could do that from inside. All around, visibility is a really important thing to do, and that’s one of the other big advantages of the catamaran over a monohull.

Then there’s a third factor, which is the fact that a catamaran doesn’t roll, and it basically stays up, or heel and it stays upright all the time, that’s a surprising thing. If you are new to sailing altogether, and you go on a monohull and it heels over, you don’t like it, and then you get used to it. But on the catamaran, when it’s just staying level all the time, that’s such a huge advantage, and makes the boat so much more comfortable than any monohull can be.

Knitting while crossing the Gulf Stream – upright and  “no bruising cruising” at its best! 

Someone a long time ago said catamaran sailing is “no bruising” cruising, and that is definitely it. You’re not holding on all the time, you’re not heeling. Rather, you’re not trying to stop yourself falling over when the boat’s heeling. When you’re down below cooking, you can open the fridge door on either tack. You don’t need a gimbal stove. All those sorts of things just make life so much easier and more comfortable.

They say, okay, most of the time you’re actually in anchor, or rather most of the time you’re actually not sailing. A lot of monohull people go into marinas, because they know that if they go out and anchor, the boat’s going to roll. I remember this is going back. Years ago, I used to crew on a 70-foot charter monohull in the Caribbean, and it had portholes in the top side. One time we had to close the portholes because the boat was rolling to the portholes. It seemed a fairly gentle swell but the boat just started rolling all the time, and it was miserable. So that’s why people go in into a marina, because we won’t roll.

There’s a different motion on a catamaran though, that I did find I needed to get used to, and that’s sort of that quick, almost a jerky roller skating sensation, and then I get seasick. A lot of people who get seasick do choose catamarans for the reason to have that visibility all the time because that helps with seasickness, but also to avoid the roll. But that sort of faster jerky motion can also aggravate a little bit. So is there that characteristic for all catamarans, or were we on a particularly light one?

No, it is a common problem, because it’s a light boat moving relatively fast, and bouncing along. The comparison I make is that if you go in a bus that stays upright all the time, but when you walk down the aisle to get up as it’s coming up to a stop, you hold onto the handrails because it’s moving around. That’s the same with the catamaran, that it is moving around.

That’s one of the things that I don’t like about a lot of the particularly more modern cabin catamarans, which have a lot of empty space. Even though you’re essentially flat and level, as you say, you’re bouncing around and you want to be able to put your hand out to a handrail or handhold inside, and move across the boat. What you certainly don’t want to have is the possibility of falling onto a sharp corner table, for example; which is nice and easy for a CNC machine to make and cut it and do it all automatically. But it’s not very good for you once you’re on the bed. Having the traditional rounded, curved corners and handhelds is still really sensible seaman like thing to do.

Leopard 47 with rounded corners

I do have to say that sailing a monohull for a lot of years, and then a catamaran. I tended to have a lot more bruises and boat bites, we called them, from the monohull, than I ever got from the catamarans, so I think there was a difference in motion. The one challenge we really had as well, was temperature control. The monohull is sort of one space. It’s getting equally heated and cooled. The catamaran had a lot of uneven temperatures for a lot of reasons. Do you want to talk a little bit about temperature control and what your thoughts might be?

There’s the two things that always go with that, the heat control and the cold control. One of the things that people had, going back a few years, is it had saloon windows that were all sloping. Then they had a very bad greenhouse effect.

When the Lagoon 38 came out in the late 90s with vertical windows, people thought that looked really horrible, and high windage, and so on, which of course it is. But it did reduce the greenhouse effect and kept the cabins cooler, so that’s one thing.

Lagoon 380

The other thing is, the hot air rises, so if you’ve got a saloon, and heating in the saloon is basically not possible to heat the house as well. So you tend to have the saloon your living area hot, then go down into your bunk and it’s cold, and miserable, and damp. That’s one of the real advantages of having an open deck boat, where you do only have the accommodation in the house, because you can heat each house just like like a monohull. I’ve had customers who’ve done exactly that. That’s the reason they’ve chosen to have an open deck.

Stove in Salon

What we had on our Eclipse was a solid fuel stove, but I had it mounted down in the hull, with the chimney basically going up through the saloon. That was a sort of a compromise. We did spend Christmas a long time ago, on board with ice on deck. Going back even further in the early 80s, we had an open deck boat. Living in the hulls, but we had six inches of snow on board. It was okay keeping it warm, but you’ve got to go out and get from one hull to the other.

Eclipse stove in Hull

It’s very miserable. So the only sensible answer is blown-air central heating.

I thought you’re going to say, stay in the tropics.

But then, on the other hand, you’ve got the heat problem. What I found the most effective way of cooling a saloon, is having a front window’s opening hatch in the front. That’s far better than having hatches in the cabin room, which sounds a bit surprising, but that’s what we found. Having put hatches in the roof, thinking that’s going to let the hot air out and so on, it’s actually just getting the the airflow flowing through is much better.

Then being able to have the companionway door open. One of the things on that, is that I’ve always tried to have a stable door, so that I could close the bottom half and still have the top open. Because one of the other things about going back to the comfort and livability of a catamaran over a monohull, is that, as we said earlier, that you don’t want to be down in the basement. So you tend to stay in the cockpit a lot on a monohull and that’s not private. Particularly if you’re in the Mediterranean and you Med moor, and you’re basically the tied to the sea wall, and everyone’s looking into your cockpit.

Bottom and top halves of companionway door

Whereas on a multi-hull you can tend to stay inside in the cabin, and you’ve got a bit more privacy. Having the stable door means you keep the bottom half shut at the top, and that gives you some privacy. But you have to make sure that you have very good mosquito screens for a lot of places.

That’s very true. Thank you so much for talking about catamarans versus monohulls, really a lot of good details there to think about.

By Diane Selkirk

I love to travel and have spent the past seven years sailing with my family aboard our 40 Woods Meander catamaran - traveling from B.C.'s north coast, to the west coast of the US, Mexico, the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, across the Indian Ocean to South Africa and on to St Helena, South America, the Caribbean and Central America.

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