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Since the America's Cup went multihull, there's been a lot of interest in catamaran performance and the catamaran hull designs that define performance. Many guys are investigating whether to buy a catamaran or design and build their dream boat. Let it be said here that building a large catamaran is not for the faint of heart. People begin building 100s of boats a year, yet few are ever completed, as life always seems to have a way of interfering with a good boat build.
Never the less, since the rest of this website is about
selecting and buying a boat, it only seems fair to have at least
one webpage that covers catamaran design. This page contains notes on boat hull design goals and the mathematical formulas used in actual catamaran hull design.
It has become a popular research stop and an important reference to the catamaran design community.
The content of this page was
copied with permission from two impeccable sources. The first
section was reproduced from the maestro of Catamaran designs, renown British
naval architect, Richard Woods, who not only designs catamarans,
he sails them across oceans.... repeatedly. He has a lot to say on the subject of catamaran hull design. jump directly to this section
The 2nd section from a paper on "How to dimension a sailing catamaran", written by
the Finnish boat designer, Terho Halme. I found his paper easy to follow and all the
Catamaran hull design equations were in one place. Terho was kind enough to grant permission
to reproduce his work here. jump directly to this section
"...When it' all said and done, the performance of a sailing catamaran is
dependent on three primary specs: length, sail area and weight. If the boat is longer it
generally means it' a faster boat. If she has more sail area, it means she' a faster boat
and if she' light it means she' a faster boat.
Of course, there are limits: Too much sail area capsizes the boat in brisk winds. If the boat
is designed too light, she will not take any kind of punishment. Too slim a hull design and
the boat becomes a large Hobie Cat capable of only carrying your lunch. Of course, too long
and large and you'd have to be Bill Gates to afford one. Then there are lot of additional and
very important factors like underwater hull shape, aspect ratios of boards and sails, wet deck
clearance, rotating or fixed rigging and so on...." Richard Woods
All Catamarans are not equal, but all sailboats have two things in common: They travel on
water and they're wind powered, so the Catamaran design equations in the 2nd section of this page should apply
to every catamaran from a heavy cruising Cat to a true ocean racer.
comments on catamaran design:
We all know that multihulls can be made faster by making them longer or
lighter or by adding more sail. Those factors are the most important and why they are used as
the basis of most rating rules. However using just those figures is a bit like determining a
cars performance just by its hp and curbside weight. It would also imply that a Tornado would
sail as fast forwards as backwards (OK, I know I just wrote that a Catalac went faster
backwards than forwards)
So what next?? Weight and length can be combined into the Slenderness Ratio (SLR). But since
most multihulls have similar Depth/WL beam ratios you can pretty much say the SLR equates to
the LWL/BWL ratio. Typically this will be 8-10:1 for a slow cruising catamaran (or the main
hull of most trimarans), 12-14:1 for a performance cruiser and 20:1 for an extreme racer.
So by and large faster boats have finer hulls. But the wetted surface area (WSA) increases
proportionately as fineness increases (for a given displacement the half orange shape gives
the least WSA) so fine hulls tend to be slower in low wind speeds.
The most important catamaran design hull shape factor, is the Prismatic Coefficient (Cp). This is a measure of
the fullness of the ends of the hull. Instinctively you might think that fine ends would be
faster as they would “cut through the water better”. But in fact you want a high Cp for high
speeds. However everything is interrelated. If you have fine hulls you can use a lower Cp.
Most monohulls have a Cp of 0.55- 0.57. And that is about right for displacement speeds.
However the key to Catamaran design is you need a higher Cp if you want to sail fast. So a multihull should be at least 0.61
and a heavy displacement multihull a bit higher still. It is difficult to get much over 0.67
without a very distorted hull shape or one with excessive WSA. So all multihulls should have a
Cp between 0.61 and 0.65. None of this is very special or new. It has been well known by naval
architects for at least 50 years.
There are various ways of achieving a high Cp. You could fit bulb bows (as Lock Crowther did).
Note this bow is a bit different from those seen on ships (which work at very specific hull
speeds - which are very low for their LOA). But one problem with them is that these tend to
slam in a seaway.
Another way is to have a very wide planing aft section. But that can increase WSA and leads to
other problems I’ll mention in a minute. Finally you can flatten out the hull rocker (the keel
shape seen from the side) and add a bustle aft. That is the approach I use, in part because
that adds displacement aft, just where it is most needed.
I agree that a high Cp increases drag at low speeds. But at speeds over hull speed drag
decreases dramatically on a high Cp boat relative to one with a low Cp. With the correct Cp
drag can be reduced by over 10%. In other words you will go 10% faster (and that is a lot!) in
the same wind and with the same sails as a boat with a unfavorable Cp. In light winds it is
easy to overcome the extra drag because you have lots of stability and so can fly extra light
The time you really need a high Cp boat is when beating to windward in a big sea. Then you
don’t have the stability and really want to get to your destination fast. At least I do, I
don’t mind slowly drifting along in a calm. But I hate “windward bashing”
But when you sail to windward the boat pitches. The sea isn’t like a test tank or a computer
program. And here I agree with Evan. Immersed transoms will slow you down (that is why I use a
narrower transom than most designers).
I also agree with Evan (and why not, he knows more about Volvo 60 design than nearly anyone
else on the planet) in that I don’t think you should compare a catamaran hull to a monohull,
even a racing one. Why chose a Volvo 60/Vendee boat with an immersed transom? Why not chose a
60ft Americas Cup boat with a narrow out of the water transom??
To be honest I haven’t use Michelet so cannot really comment. But I have tested model
catamarans in a big test tank and I know how inaccurate tank test results can be. I cannot
believe that a computer program will be better.
It would be easy to prove one way or the other though. A catamaran hull is much like a frigate
hull (similar SLR, L/B ratios and Froude numbers) and there is plenty of data available for
those. There is also a lot of data for the round bilge narrow non planing motorboats popular
in the 1930’-50’s which again are similar to a single multihull hull.
One of the key findings I discovered with my tank test work was just how great the drag was
due to wave interference between the hulls. Even a catamaran with a modern wide hull spacing
had a drag increase of up to 20 % when compared to hulls at infinite spacing. One reason why
just flying a hull is fast (the Cp increases when you do as well, which also helps). So you
cannot just double the drag of a single hull and expect to get accurate results. And any speed
prediction formula must include a windage factor if it is to give meaningful results.
About 25 years ago we sailed two identical 24ft Striders next to each other. They were the
same speed. Then we moved the crew of one boat to the bow. That boat IMMEDIATELY went ½ knot
faster. That is why I now arrange the deck layout of my racing boats so that the crew can stay
in front of the mast at all times, even when tacking or using the spinnaker.
I once raced against a bridge deck cabined catamaran whose skipper kept the 5 crew on the
forward netting beam the whole race. He won.
Richard Woods of Woods Designs