Moving Fast Under Sail: Cruising the Seychelles On A 40′ Leopard Cat
I am a dedicated monohull man. For the past thirty years I have progressed from being a delivery skipper (in my pre-resume days) to chartering a broad variety of bare boats all over the world.
In the last few years I have undertaken to grow my own crew (my kids) by chartering cruising boats so that my children can learn to love sailing as much as I do. I want them to feel what its like to be in a balmy sea at night under a cap of stars as the boat moves silently through black water.
I’m afraid I always wax poetic when I think of boats. Sorry. My goal in growing a crew has been to provide my family a slightly more adventurous experience each year, putting new challenges in place for them to enjoy and overcome.
At the same time, I have increased the length and luxury of the boat each year on the assumption that we can handle the more complex demands of a larger boat as they become more experienced.
So, two years ago we rented a modest 37 foot Beneteau and cruised the coast of Croatia. Last year we rented a slightly more capacious, and somewhat wallowy 43 Jeanneau Deck Saloon and sailed along the Spartan coast of Greece. And this year, to up our game we moved to true ocean sailing and rented a boat to sail through the inner Seychelles.
But, and it is a big but, instead of merely renting a larger monohull, I took the huge step for me of renting a cruising catamaran. To be precise it was a 40′ Leopard Cat from South Africa; I’m told one of the more performance oriented cats in the cruising world.
Well, it was an experience. A cat is simply unlike a displacement monohull. It doesn’t cut through the water at all. So little of the boat actually touches the water that it essentially is sledding through the water.
Its advantages are numerous. It will take a decent wind and extract the most from it. Under 15 knots of wind we were able to reach at 8-9 knots. Very few cruising mono-hulls will do that. More importantly, under strong winds, 30-40 knots the Cat simply took the wind and shot forward like it was greased. And of course it did it while remaining flat as a pancake. Cats don’t heel, they just pick up speed.
The final advantage of course is that for the same length a catamaran offers a huge increase in interior space. An advantage my wife was quick to notice.
Having said that, the disadvantages are two-fold; and to my mind fatal. As functionally effective as they are; they simply do not point. That is, they do not sail effectively to windward. A cat is a reaching vessel and no amount of coaxing or fiddling with jib cars will move that boat close to the wind. So if you are heading to windward its a case of tacking on close reaches which is a very slow way of getting somewhere.
But most importantly, the cat is an ungraceful and relentlessly functional boat to sail. Unlike a performance cruising mono-hull, there is no sense of precision or fine manipulation of a boat between wind and water.
It feels more like one is driving an RV down a highway. And for me that is unforgivable. I will forgo the space and the flat ride for a needle to windward and the inimitable sensation of a mono-hull slicing the water as it is driven elegantly before the wind.
Sailing like life, like luxury, is about the marriage of form and function. A Bauhaus boat is a bad thing.