Diane spoke with Richard Woods, a long time catamaran designer. Richard designed the catamaran that Diane circumnavigated on with her family, a modified Woods 40 Meander.
Richard has been designing for a very long time all the way back to the 1970’s when working with Derek Kelsall and James Wharram. He has designed more boats than he can recall mostly in the 8 to 40 foot range.
We will be doing a series of interviews with Richard Woods about different catamaran design features to help educate buyers and broaden their understanding of models beyond the traditional charter catamaran experience.
How did you end up in catamaran design?
It is really difficult to answer. It has been my life. It started with my father when I was 4 or 5 he built me a little catamaran. It was basically a toy boat in the late 1950’s. Since then I never wanted anything else except catamarans.
I was a dinghy sailor. I did sail monohulls until the mid 1970’s. That was when I became a yacht designer and started working with James Wharram.
That was my first sailing in catamarans offshore in the mid 1970’s. I sailed across the Atlantic in Wharram’s Tehini in 1978. That was my first crossing. I have done 4 more since then. One on one of my boats.
I also raced the Cape Town to Rio race which was a South Atlantic crossing.
I have done lots of other sailing. I have sailed a lot of the USA. I have anchored in every state in the USA except those in the Great Lakes. When we met you in Vancouver, we were on our way south from Juneau, Alaska. And we have been all the way down to the Baja, Mexico. And we have done a lot of cruising in the Bahamas. A dozen or so Gulf Stream crossing in several different catamarans.
I am one of the few people who design catamarans but also sail them. Not only that but sail a lot of other people’s boat. Out of 5 Atlantic crossing, only one was in one of my boats. Also I have done racing in trimarans.
Tell me a little about what innovations you have seen in catamaran design. Which you enjoy and which you do not?
The first time I did the Intracoastal Waterway in the USA was 1998 going up for the Annapolis boat show. Going up and back, I saw one other multihull. Now you go out and you see dozens per day.
One of the biggest things has been the charter boats. When I was in the Caribbean 40 years ago working on charter boats, all the charter boats were monohulls or the sort of pirate ship day charter boats. Now the vast majority are catamarans. I used to row out to every multihull that came in and talk to them. You would never do that now.
The big change has been in charter boats for sure. And that has influenced a lot of people. Charter boats are the only catamarans people know along with Hobie cats. But the boats people actually want to cruise are not charter cats or Hobie cats. The market is charter boat driven, so it is very hard to find a good cruising boat. I always say you live in a house not in a hotel. Your house is setup how you want it not like a Hilton.
I have worked on charter boats; I have built charter boats; I have designed them; I have even chartered charter boats. You come in for 2 weeks with your family or friends. You sail during the day time and tend to eat out. Stop every night. You have 2 weeks, so you go sailing everyday. Whereas when you are living onboard and cruising, most of the time you aren’t sailing.
It is very difficult for people to understand there is another group of catamarans which used to be the big group and now is the small group which is the liveaboard cruisers. A lot of education is needed to educate that there are lots of types of multihulls the same way there are lots of type of monohulls. You don’t compare a long keel heavy displacement with the Vendee boats that go around the world yet a lot of people associated a Adastra trimaran to a Leopard 45.
What would say are the most important characteristics of a catamaran?
What I always tell people is check the bridge deck clearance. You never had that problem as you had a very high clearance. Lots of catamarans have a very low clearance. I did a delivery years ago not one of my boats from England to the Canaries which is 1,800 miles we stopped once. You could not put anything on the saloon table because it just got thrown off. It was a 43 foot catamaran.
A lot of the small boats are even worse as they get loaded down. It’s really horrible. No one wants to sail on a catamaran with a bridge deck slam.
So that’s the main thing. Even if you are choosing one charter cat versus another.
Then the second thing is storage space. When you are living onboard you have a lot of stuff. The last boat we took to the Bahamas was a 28 footer. And people were amazed. We only ever saw 2 boats smaller than us.
People would say “you must not have anything.” We would say, “we have a bicycle, kayak, sowing machine, 3 computers, and stuff to repair the boat. We have a sailing dinghy.” Everything was stowed away in the lockers. You see lots of boats with fuel cans tied to the lifelines because they have nowhere to store them.
What do you think of the increase in size of catamarans?
Lots of people have ideas about what they want. I always say, “Get what you need.” It is the same with housing. You get a 5 bedroom house in case the grandchildren come. You get a 50 foot catamaran in case the grandchildren come.
The difference is you cannot pull the anchor up on the 50 foot catamaran. You have much more complicated boats. If you do not know how to fix your washing machine, do you really want one on your boat. There are so many people who get stuck in port because they got a complicated boat they cannot repair.
If you have a smaller boat, simpler boat and normally means an older boat as well, you usually can manage to get the anchor up, you can sail off the anchor, you can pick up a mooring without not being able to hold it.
And one of the other things that amazes me. Can your mother get onboard? It has such high freeboard.
And it also works the other way. You and your spouse maybe are in your late 50’s. Can you leap off the boat or do you always need someone to come help you? A lot of the boats you need someone to help you. Sometimes you have to come in at 2 AM in the morning and it is pouring and you just came in from a gale maybe to a stone wall. With some of the bigger boats, it is really hard to do.
I remember one time years ago working at a boat show a Fountaine Pajot 50 came in and it took 8 of us, all experienced multihull people, and 4 people onboard which was a Fountaine Pajot delivery crew to moor it up safety in it’s berth.
The smaller boats are just easier all around, and the smaller the boat the more you sail. The bigger the boat the harder to get the mainsail up. There are a lot of boats chartering that never pull the mainsail up. They unroll the jib. I think maybe half the charters they never pull the mainsail up, and they just motor everywhere.
And that is why power catamarans are more popular now than they ever have been.