A catamaran by definition is a vessel that consists of two hulls which are joined together by a frame. They were an innovation of a small community of paravas who plied their pearl fishing trade along the southeastern coast of India in Tamil Nadu. The word "catamaran" comes from the Tamillian words kattu, which means "to tie" and maram, which is "wood" or "tree". They were used as early as the 5th century however, they were not discovered by the Engish until the late 1690's.
The Polynesians used similar crafts to navigate among islands. They were fast and extremely stable sail and paddle boats made from two widely separated logs that were joined together by a frame of sorts. The English, having read of the vessels in Tamil Nadu, applied the name "catamaran" to the Polynesian crafts. The Polynesian design made it's way to the west nearly 200 years later and began to evolve into the modern catamaran.
Catamaran Boats Come West
American sailboat designer Nathanael Herreshoff is credited for introducing the first modern catamarans to the West in the late 1890's. Although they were initially met with scepticism by sailors who were accustomed to "traditional" sailboat designs, the combination of speed and incredible stability that catamarans offered was hard to ignore. The catamaran's popularity steadily grew among pleasure craft enthusiasts, especially in Europe.
During the mid 1940's, legendary surfer Woody Brown met a group of Polynesians while surveying in the Christmas Islands. He took note of their unique outrigger canoe and it's performance, which was unmatched by anything he had seen in the states. Upon his return to Hawaii, he set out to build his own interpretation of what he had seen. After teaming up with a young, local boat builder, Alfred Kumalae and studying the traditional Oceania canoes in the museum, he built his first catamaran, the Manu Kai. His second catamaran, also called Manu Kai, was built with the help of another young designer, Rudy Choy. It was a 38 footer that was capable of 20 knots. With their sights set on the Trans-Pacific Yacht Race, Woody and Rudy designed and built the 40 footer, Alii Kai - the first ever ocean going catamaran. In 1955 they proved themselves successful by making the first voyage between Hawaii and California in a catamaran.
Legendary designers Roland and Francis Prout also entered the catamaran scene in the late 1940's. They converted their boat yard in Essex to catamaran production in 1949 and enjoyed great success as their Shearwater catamarans were easily winning races against the best single hulled yachts. A little over 20 years later, in 1967, a Californian surfboard maker, Hobie Alter, began producing the Hobie Cat 14. The Hobie Cat 14 weighed just 250 pounds. It's popularity inspired the slightly larger, wildly successful, Hobie 16. In the past 30 years there have been over 100,000 Hobie 16's made and they remain in production to this day.
Catamaran Sailboat Basics
The task of teaching a beginner sailor to sail is usually carried out in a monohull sailboat as they are generally considered easier to sail than a catamaran. Although the basic principles of sailing on any vessel are the same, catamarans and multihulls have several unique characteristics to consider.
The design of a catamaran is conducive to speed and stability. Each hull is typically thinner than that of a monohull which allows them to easily slice through the water. The absence of a keel counterweight makes them significantly lighter as well. Their wide beam allows for great stability which in turn enables them to carry a greater ratio of sail area per unit of length than a comparably sized monohull. The wider beam also helps keep the larger sails upright during gusts which will draw more power as opposed to a monohull's more narrow design which allows the sail to heel, or lean over, in a gust.
Maximum speed in a catamaran is easily achieved and maintained when it's forward motion is uninhibited by wave action. In other words, catamarans perform best in waters where the wavelength of the waves is greater than the waterline length of the hulls which significantly reduces any pitching. Conditions that allow the hulls to pierce the waves are also favorable for performance. Sheltered coastal waters are often the best environment for catamaran sailors seeking to reach and maintain maximum speed but they aren't the only waters the crafts are able to navigate. Catamarans ultimately make very good cruising and long distance boats due to their superior design. In fact, in 2001, the mega cat, Club Med circumnavigated the globe in just 62 days at an average speed of 18 knots, winning "The Race" and inspiring a boom in the construction of mega catamarans over 60 feet in length.
Sailing Catamaran Designs and Classes
Catamarans today are available in an extraordinary range of sizes for many different purposes. The smallest are referred to as "beach cats". They are small, handy, trailerable sailing catamarans that can be easily beached on any sandy shore. Some of the more popular racing catamaran sailboats include the Hobie cats which are available in 14, 16, 17, 18 and 20 ft models, the most popular of them being the Hobie 16. The International A-Class catamarans are an open design of 18 feet in length with a 7 ft, 6.5 inch beam and 150 sq. feet of sail area. The Formula class catamarans, F16, F18 and F20 are considered high performance beach catamarans or sport catamarans that may be sailed doublehanded or singlehanded. The Sprint 15 is a very popular single handed catamaran in the UK. It is a one design 15 foot fiberglass catamaran that can be sailed by one person in a unarig or sport configuration or by two with the main and jib. Lastly, the Tornado class is a 20 foot, two person, high performance catamaran capable of rapidly attaining over 30 knots. The Tornado class is the only multihull that ever made it to Olympic competition.
Power catamarans are a relatively recent development in catamaran design. They combine the very best features and characteristics of a motor yacht with the unbeatable sailing grace of a multihull. One of the finest examples of a power catamaran can be seen in the Lagoon Power 43, a top seller in the US that is becoming an increasingly common site in charter fleets of the Caribbean and Mediterranean. Smaller power catamarans are also quite popular in the states where several manufacturers are currently producing quality vessels. Typically a small power catamaran will be powered by 2 engines, much like the mid-sized and larger cats. A monohull comparable in size to a small power catamaran would operate with a single engine.
Over the last decade, the yacht market has seen the rise of the mega vessels. The monohull industry is introducing bigger and more luxurious motor yachts each year and the multihull designers will not be left behind. Mega cats, which are technically described as multihulls over 60 feet in length, are becoming increasingly popular among the yachting elite. Several international manufacturers, Blubay, Sunreef and Lagoon among others, have been successfully producing mega cats for some time. The Race, a prestigious circumnavigation challenge, is a prominent factor in the increase in mega catamaran construction. Competitors seeking the accolades of a win and the impressive prize money have had 100 ft. plus, custom mega cats constructed to carry them in their pursuit of glory.