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Affordable Cruising Catamarans

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During what turned out to be many months of reading and research, I was actually considering buying a monohull. Cruising Catamarans kept popping up in my research, and I'm ashamed to admit that I wasn't even aware of these boats at the time. The only catamaran experience I'd had was on a Hobie Cat. However, in reading the check
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Roomy on deck
list of desired features, cruising catamarans, with their shallow draft, were matching up better than a monohull and were definitely of interest. Cruising Catamarans have a much brighter interior, (not a cave), they are much better at anchor than a mono (no rolling), and they don't heel while sailing.

It didn't take very long to learn a couple of things during this information gathering period.  First, what affect 2 hulls had on boat pricing (ouch) and second, the trend in the industry to design cruising catamarans for the charter market. Every year they seem to be getting longer, wider and designed with more cabins and bathrooms just to meet these charter market requirements. Most people buy a boat for a couple and aren't looking for a boat with 4 bedrooms and 4 baths. They have slightly more basic needs and would like to locate an affordable boat to learn on, with enough usable space to go cruising some day. It would also be very nice if the boat maintains it's value during ownership. Which is why "Owner's Versions" are the prefered catamaran lay out in the marketplace.

My catamaran search was on. This wasn't as easy as it sounds. Every weekend during the winter of 2004, through the spring and early summer of 2005 was spent in most of the marinas and boat storage facilities in Florida. Sure, the Admiral loved cruising catamarans, but I was determined to keep the boat purchase cost reasonable. Obviously, this limits one to looking at older, pre owned boats. Florida was definitely the place to look for catamarans for sale, as ... Caribbean aside, it has simply has the highest concentration of cruising catamarans. Still, it became apparent that boat choices were pretty limited. After months of armchair research, Gemini catamarans seemed the logical choice. On paper they met all the criteria and the company was still in business.

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Women love to sail 'em!
Now armchair research is one thing, but in fact this bias began to change when we got out there and began actually looking at boats. The boats that were in my price range were (to put it kindly) in disrepair, requiring serious refitting investment. This wasn't limited to to the Gemini as every cruising catamaran regardless of make or model was scrutinized. Overall, this was pretty discouraging, but as in all endeavors, it was important to maintain focus and keep our noses to the grindstone.

Finally, on a trip to yet another South Florida boatyard to see yet another Gemini, my 'ex' came across a slightly smaller Catamaran for sale in the same yard called a Catalac 27. Compared to the Gemini we'd come to look at, the Catalac was smaller but what got our attention immediately was the fact that she looked practically new. This was really surprising as the Gemini looked awful by comparison and yet was a newer boat. The admiral
cabin screens
Catalac 10M deck core!
was excited by her find. Although intrigued, I resisted, as I'd never heard of a Catalac, (Admittedly ... I can be stubborn at times), besides, who wanted a boat that sounds like it was named after an automobile?  Begrudgingly, on our return home I began doing the research which revealed how wrong I was and how good a boat Catalacs actually are. This research eventually became the Catalac USA website.

Now, I fully realize that spending $30K -$40K for a boat is not a problem for a lot of people reading this page. However, for me, this was a considerable investment for my first catamaran, and there was no way I'm taking this step without knowing everything I could about this boat.

There is a real knowledgeable man by the name of Charles Kanter who wrote a couple of books on cruising catamarans which were very helpful. Mr. Kanter has been involved with boating for decades and earns his living as an author and boat surveyor. He sailed a Catalac 8M 1000 miles to windward to the USVI from Florida which made him the closest person I knew of who could be called an expert on cruising catamarans in general and obviously had intimate knowledge of Catalacs. This quote from his book ... Cruising Catamaran Communiqué ... pretty much sums up his view of Catalac Catamarans... :

"Catalac catamarans, with over 600 units built and sailing, have probably brought as many hours of happy, comfortable and safe boating to more people than any other vessel. It is hard to find any comparable production vessel that has so well achieved its design objectives. One that comes close is the monohull, Morgan Out Island series, the most popular cruising boat ever."

Catalac Catamarans now had my undivided attention. I was very fortunate to speak with Mr. Kanter about Catalacs at one of the Seven Seas Cruising Association annual meetings, which are held once a year in Melbourne, FL.

Catalac Catamaran Build Photos


Mr Kanter explained that Catalacs, with their short rigs, aren't particularly fast boats but they have lots of room, they're safe, are well thought out designs and are quality boats which are built like battleships. Mr. Kanter went on to say that the Lack family could have sold many more boats in North America, but the issue was in fact a poor marketing plan. He shared an anecdote from the 1980's when these boats were actively marketed in America. Attending all the major boat shows, they had mediocre response from potential boat buyers until the release of the Catalac 12 Meter. Mr Kanter went on to say that even though sailors were impressed by Catalacs, no self respecting sailor was willing to return to his yacht club after a boat show and announce to his contemporaries that he had just bought a Catalac (I know how they felt - Rick). They were afraid to hear "you bought a car at a boat show?" Mr. Kanter insists that if the Lack family had listened to him and changed the boat brand name here in America, the boats would have been a huge success. Few boats at the time had so many features packaged into a reasonably priced package.

Catalac Windward Performance

Digging further into the history of these boats I discovered what could be called a product line upgrade which occurred around 1980. The Lack family was convinced their approach to hull design was correct, but there had been many early complaints about windward performance. The Lack family responded with the addition of skegs and updated skeg hung rudders which directly addressed the weak windward ability of the earlier design. The boat we had stumbled across was the updated model.

catalac catamarans
Skeg hung rudder
I've received some emails asking about this updated rudder configuration, as to how it works and why it was an important upgrade. So, I'll do my best to explain it here, but if anyone reading this is a naval architect, please feel free to improve on this explanation!!

Sail boats need lift to counteract leeway. In other words, when sailing on a beam reach (wind blowing across the boat) a boat would tend to be blown sideways as well as moving forward. Lift would prevent the sidways motion from taking place. Sail boats can receive this lift in 3 ways. Hull/keel design, their sails, and their rudders.

Catalacs have a unique hull design which will track very well (no leeway) if the boat speed stays up. If leeway is excessive, the boat's rudder obviously needs to be cranked on to keep the boat on course. Using the rudder at speed essentially acts as a brake, in fact slowing the boat. It would be much better for the rudder to generate lift on it's own, eliminating the need for a helmsman to put on the brakes.
catalac catamaran
reducing leeway


The first diagram (above) is a rough image of the skeg/rudder system. The 2nd is a top view and hopefully shows the reason it works.

Notice when the rudder has been slightly turned this system resembles an aircraft wing? Putting on 6 degrees of rudder turns the rudder/skeg into an underwater lifting body. By adding additional lift the part of the boat aft of the center of gravity is pulled to leeward, which has the effect of rotating the nose of the boat to windward and minimizing leeway. The addition of this rudder system in 1980 significantly improved a Catalac's performance. However, 5 to 6 knots must be maintained for this system to perform as designed. At lower speeds leeway increases.

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Sailing Speed

Most folks new to sailing have the initial impression that a cruising catamaran is a big Hobie cat which cruises at power boat speeds under sail. This simply isn't true in most catamarans unless we're speaking of one of the Big Catanas, Outremers or Gun Boats. In other words the $1 million and up market place. For the rest of us, we find that catamarans are safe, stable, sail flat, are roomier, have brighter interiors, and are more comfortable compared to a mono hull up to 50% longer. Cockpit entertaining was redefined by the entrance of
Catalac 9M
Catalac 8M
Catalac Catamarans into the boat marketplace. In short, safety and comfort are why folks pay a premium for a 2 hulled boat, not speed. However, with the wind on the quarter, there isn't a similar sized monohull in a yacht club that can sail with a Catalac.

Catalacs were designed to sail safely in British waters. To eliminate the risk of capsize, they were designed and built with relatively short masts. This keeps the center of effort low and has been very successful in keeping these boats upright. To date not only hasn't one of these boats been lost to capsize, one hasn't even documented one hull rising out of the water in any circumstance. Knowing this, there are certain techniques which boost the performance of these boats.

Even the smaller Catalacs can motor at around 6 knots, and sail at 7 to 8 knots, but with these short rigs, it takes a lot of wind to get them sailing at that speed.

Newer cruising catamaran designs are a bit quicker and point a bit higher, but are lightly built, and seemed to be laid out for the charter market and built for the calm waters of the Caribbean. There are issues with these thin laminate boats of which a person has to be careful. A man who makes a large investment in a delaminating catamaran, is not going to be a happy camper. After examining many delaminating catamarans, I most definitely prefer the solid fiberglass hulls of the Catalac.

If you're familiar with monohulls, you're going to be very impressed usable room of a cruising cat. I know this totally blew me away as the Catalac 8M had more interior room than my buddy's 38' Morgan. The first time aboard, it's like entering Dr. Who's TARDIS. One look at the interior of the Catalac 8M and it will be evident that she has plenty of room for two people and could sleep 5 comfortably.  She's a well built British boat, respected in Europe, solid fiberglass hulls, dual inboard diesels, and built to cross oceans. A person would be hard pressed to find any other cruising catamaran in her price range that compares to the Catalac in layout, features or build quality.

Catalac- Attention to Detail

It would be fair to say that Catalacs are a mature design.
cabin screens
Catalac windows with screens!
However, anyone who has ever taken the time to look one over, will be struck by the excellent condition of these boats. Catalacs have solid fiberglass hulls and thick laminate decks built to a Lloyds standard which is the primary reason these boats age so gracefully.

Notice the tabernacle in the photos? The Catalac 8M and the 9M have deck stepped masts, resting in a tabernacle, which allows the unassisted unstepping (lowering) of the mast. A terrific feature, as this is an expensive procedure in any boat yard and tabernacles are rarely found in this class of cruising catamaran. This feature made the boat very popular with Dutch and French sailors.

The entire line of Catalacs feature large cockpits and the 8M has a cockpit with the same usable area as some 40' catamarans I've seen. Another great feature included in all Catalacs are the cabin windows. They actually open. The first position is 1/2 open which allows airflow in rain storms without allowing water in the boat. The 2nd position is completely removed, and
Catalac Catamaran
Catalac opening windows
window screens can be fitted into the window openings. This sounds so petty unless you've owned a boat in the tropics. This is a perfect example of the thought that went into the cabin design. Airflow remains constant leaving the cabin comfortable in tropical climates. Incidentally,  all windows in a Catalac are tempered glass and look as good today as the day they were installed 25 years ago. Yes, this is a rare and rather expensive feature when compared to the plastic windows in most cruising catamarans, yet it's entirely worth it as it's another reason why these boats seem to age gracefully.

Boats are a product the British understand very well and they build good ones. What's almost as important is that these boats are reasonably priced as very few people in America know what they are, as a passing look at modest cruising catamarans will lump Catalacs with Gemini catamarans. The lightly built Gemini can not compare to a Catalac at all.

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Battery charging is a significant factor if you live aboard or go cruising. There's no escaping our need for electricity. Laptops, ipads, chart plotters and auto pilots all need to run on 12 volts. Many cruising catamarans in the class of the Catalac 8M / 9M were built with outboard engines to control the build costs. A small outboard has a tiny alternator which usually charges batteries at 5 amps. The diesel engines in a Catalac 8M / 9M carry a 35 amp alternator each, which can rapidly recharge your house bank of batteries. What's also very significant is that diesel engines will run for 10,000 hours before rebuild. I just rebuilt a Yanmar 1GM10 for around $1,000 USD. It will now run another 20 years! In the long run diesels are a much better option and not as much of a premium as they appear to be when considering how many outboards will be worn out in the life of a diesel engine.

Large cabins (and beds) make these boats extremely popular with the admiralty (your wife), while the boats are built to take whatever nature can throw at them. These are terrific reasons for choosing a Catalac Catamaran.

Surprisingly, there aren't more than 40 Catalac 27's (8M) in the USA, and many of these boats were sailed here from England. Quite a feat for such a small vessel. I became more and more interested in the Catalac after reading what I wrote above .... but the tipping point for me was stumbling across the story on the Queen's Birthday Storm disaster, (and here as well). An event where a Catalac 12 meter survived 100 knot winds and 30 meter seas (that's not a misprint) without dismasting in a storm where every monohull rolled and was dismasted causing many injuries and lives were lost. We all have to keep in mind that the number one job any boat has is to keep her crew safe. If the Queen's Birthday Storm doesn't scream build quality and durability, then what does?

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When my research was completed and I realized what she was, it became clear to me that Catalac Catamarans are well respected boats, very popular in Europe, and almost unknown in America. Their shallow draft allow them to go just about anywhere, while the twin diesels can motor practically forever, while charging as large a battery bank as you'd care to install.  I was sold on this boat even though she was on the wrong coast of Florida, and knowing full well that bringing her home to east central Florida was going to be an adventure, I decided this was the boat for me.

Looking back, I would say that the trip home 'was in fact an adventure, and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a single thing. No matter what his age, every man needs an adventure. I know I'll always remember a brutal test of man and boat in two days at the helm in hurricane Katrina. No matter what life has in store for me, I'll always have that memory of man and boat against nature.

Catalac 8M
The author
It would be fair to say that a result of being caught in a hurricane with the boat, I developed confidence in the Catalac 8M immediately, but that doesn't begin to tell how strongly I feel about the excellent design and build quality of these boats. Then again, this might be evident after all, as I did author this web site.

Read about our attempt to outrun hurricane Katrina on the trip home. (talk about baptism by fire!).

When I finally arrived home I made the appointment for a bottom job at a local boat yard. When I arrived at the haul out I was met by an Irishman with an accent so thick you could cut it with a knife. He began smiling ear to ear as I tied up. I later discovered that he worked in many English boat yards before relocating to America, and he was smiling because he knew exactly what a Catalac Catamaran was. He asked me if I knew how lucky I was to own one?

I thought about the year of research and searching that went into my decision. I thought about the hurricane Catalpa had just brought me through.

A range of emotions washed through me... yet all I could say to him was ...." Yes sir, I do".

Time Passes

We've now (2016) had 11 years of Catalac ownership and yes, my brother began speaking to me again (see Sailing through a hurricane). The boat has exceeded all expectations. Not only is sailing her a blast, but when at the dock in the last marina we were in, ours was the boat our friends choose to gather on. At times we've had 10 people aboard (yes, our beer bill was considerable). We commonly did raftups with up to 8 other boats, and our Catalpa was always the center boat in the raftup. The first reason is obviously the social aspect. Simply put we had the room for all of the sailors to socialize. Also we have very good ground tackle and a large foredeck area to set and retrieve anchors.
After 11 years we know
Catalac catamaran
Every day is a good day!
Catalpa's quirks and her strengths very well. In 10-15 mph of wind I regularly see 5-6 knots of boat speed, and once or twice have sustained close to 7 knots, in a 20 - 22 mph wind in flat water. All speeds (SOG) measured with my GPS.

Her best point of sailing is a broad reach with the 175 Genoa, a sail which sheets to the very aft part of the cockpit. However, this furler mounted sail is huge. It's difficult to handle and doesn't tack gracefully.  However, I've found that we lose about a 1 1/2 knots in speed when switching to the 105 genny so making the big jib work better has been a priority.  I can now maintain speed right up to 35 degrees apparent using this sail, which is right at the edge of pinching. Due to the unique Catalac hull design, leeway is a definite factor, but varies with wind speed. At 5 knots of wind, leeway is considerable at 15 degrees (measured with a protractor!!) which for comparison is just about identical to my buddies 36' Morgan Out Island monohull. At 10 knots apparent wind, leeway drops to around 8 to 10 degrees as the skeg's begin to bite and the hulls begin to track, and at 15 knots of wind leeway is reduced to less than 5 degrees.

Of course, time was spent experimenting with mast rake, and rigging tension in the quest to find her "sweet spot". The results have been good and it would be fair to say that she's all dialed in these days. When you sail a catamaran, you discover you're almost always going to windward, so rigging tune and sail shape are both very important.  When I bought her, the 22 year old sails needed replacing as the main was really stretched and baggy and the jib has seen better days, so I spent a considerable amount of time trying to work with these worn sails before I made sail replacement a priority.  I replaced the Main sail in the spring of 2010 with a modern partially battened Main Sail. Catalpa has a new jib thanks to catamaran designer Richard Woods of Woods Designs,  which we can experiment with. Richard is very familiar with Catalacs and was very helpful when he paid me a visit in winter of 2009. But the current sail plan is the new main and the 175 genny which came with the boat.

Also, many many thanks to Mark Blaydes, a former Catalac 9M owner in England, for his patient advice and guidance. With both Richard and Mark's guidance, I'm designing a new, cabin top sheeted jib which should give us a boost in speed while improving windward performance. I'm driving the sail maker nuts with my redesigns!! I genuinely feel it's possible that with the right set of sails we could see slightly increased speeds. (OK..so I'm a tinkerer ...at least I'll admit it!!)

This page wouldn't be complete without noting the stability and balance of this boat under sail. It's simply amazing. The rapid acceleration, good pointing ability and roomy interior were a pleasant surprise. It did take a while to get used to sailing completely flat. If you've never sailed a cruising catamaran, you just have to try it. Be forewarned ... once you buy a Cat, it's very difficult going back to a monohull.

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Catalpa was designed as a pocket cruising catamaran. She has twin Yanmar 1GM10, 9 hp diesels which were in great shape when I bought the boat in 2005, but alas, nothing lasts forever. These engines are the smallest diesels Yanmar markets and have a reputation of running trouble free. At cruising speed they use fuel at slightly more
Catalac 8M, Catalac Catamaran
Sailing!!
than 1 pint an hour. With twin 12 gallon fuel tanks, this works out to a power cruising range of 600 NM, farther if you run on one engine which I commonly do when on flat water. These engines also allow tremendous maneuverability in crowded marinas. With the engines spaced about 12 feet apart, and new Morse engine controls, this boat turns on a dime.

Eventually, I had to replace the engines. The Port engine in 2011 and the starboard in 2016. I did the engine change myself, and created a engine remove/install page here My Yanmar diesel removal project. If you read it, I guarrentee it will save you time and money, if you find yourself in the same situation.

Over the Winter 2010, the starboard engine received complete maintenance outside the boat and reinstalled with new engine mounts. In April 2011 the port engine was removed, disassembled and completely rebuilt. The block was honed and new rings and bearings were installed. It also had a valve job, and of course a new water pump was installed at that time. In 2016 I found an original way to buy another 1GM10, even though Yanmar doesn't sell them any longer. (refer to the engine page) Both engines are very strong and the boat can cruise at 4.5 knots on just one engine in flat water.

One last comment as I wrap up this page. When I started emailing and communicating with other Catalac owners via email and sailing forums a startling fact emerged. Catalac owners are a dedicated group who love their boats, and hang onto them forever.  As you investigate these boats, I'm certain you'll discover the same thing. Perhaps this isn't unusual at all, but.. if people hang onto these boats, wouldn't you think that there's a very good reason?

If you read this far down the page, I want to thank you for taking the time to read what I'm sure are my ramblings. I hope they given you some good information and helped shape your decision.

Now, stop reading and go buy a boat!! That's where the adventure really begins. - Rick

Catalac 27

 
 
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