You Too Can Be a Cruising Catamaran Sailor – Preparing for Your Cruise on a Cat

You Too Can Be a Cruising Catamaran Sailor – Preparing for Your Cruise on a Cat

Here’s the usual scenario: A group of sailors are chatting about their latest cruises, their favorite boats, their upcoming sailing plans . . . and someone eventually brings up cruising catamarans.

“I like how it doesn’t tip… and there’s lots of room.”

Lots of smiles all around, but then:

“They’re so big and there’s two hulls…”

“How do you dock one of those things?”

The uneasiness fills the air . . .

Have no fear, fellow monohull enthusiast, you too can be a cruising catamaran sailor – and love it.

Cruising Cats, just like their feline counterparts, can be finicky… they’re not fond of sailing upwind in strong conditions, not very comfortable dead downwind – but aah, the joy of sailing on a close, beam, or broad reach with the hulls slicing through the water and you making excellent time in a fresh breeze just cannot be matched!

One of the wonderful things about catamarans is that other, normal, people like them too. By teaching all of your fellow crew members – especially the more uninitiated ones – small skill sets, it’s very easy for you, and perhaps one other crew member, to run the entire boat. And they will feel involved in small areas of navigating and docking your catamaran, while also enjoying the other benefits of living on a large, two-hulled boat.

The outdoor areas, aft of the salon/cabin, and the foredeck area, often a trampoline or perhaps a dining area forward of the mast and bulkhead, are all enjoyable areas for everyone on the boat.
It is just like having a floating condo without noisy neighbors.

Another wonderful feature of larger catamarans, more that 40 feet or so, is their beautiful dual diesel engines – in a short period of time, you can learn how to use those two engines to artfully maneuver and spin your cat in a tight area. Granted, when the crosswind is strong, there’s quite a bit of windage with the freeboard and cabin top, and little ballast in your hulls, so you’ll have to adjust your planning and scheduling to account for the extra time and effort needed to dock in those conditions. An additional advantage with the powerful diesels in both hulls is the ability to resist sideslipping/leeway when sailing close-hauled against strong winds by running the leeward/downwind engine around 1500 to 2000 rpm’s.

Okay, you’ve decided that cruising on a catamaran could be lots of fun for you and your friends & family, and sign up for some additional training by taking the American Sailing Association Cruising Catamaran (ASA 114) course. Learning the similarities and differences between a cruising catamaran and a monohull, and practicing sailing and docking the boat will greatly enhance the ability for you and your crew to have fun. In our next series of blogs, we will discuss the specifics of the ASA 114 class as well as further insights into navigating, sailing efficiently, anchoring, and docking a cruising cat.

And now it’s time for your first charter on a cruising catamaran. Here are some of the things we have learned about planning for a short cruise on a cat. Although many of these suggestions are valuable for a trip on any vessel, they become essential on a catamaran because of the potential for more people on the boat (6 is quite normal), and the abundance of unusual places to store your provisions. A couple guidelines:

Remember the necessities – food and beer… not necessarily in that order!

  • The provisions you bring are an important element of your trip, so communicating with your crew and planning a menu together, hopefully all in the same room, is necessary.
  • It’s important for everyone to realize what your supplies are going to be, and what the planned meals are, including which ones need to be cooked sooner due to possible spoilage.
  • If certain meals are special dishes to be done by one person, it should be known what grocery items are set aside specifically for that dish, and what side jobs can be done to assist.
  • If your sailing day becomes longer than you planned, what is the easier backup meal than the planned meal for every evening?
  • If anchoring and dinghying to shore to go to a restaurant on certain nights is the plan, do you have a nonperishable backup meal if the weather or unforeseen events make it unable to eat out?
  • Plan for about ½ a gallon, or about four 18oz bottles, of drinking water per day.
  • Sailors are known to love their beverages, but most know it’s best to wait until they get to dock. The concentration you and your crew can give to docking, anchoring, or mooring can then be celebrated after you shut off the engines!

Also, having a discussion with all of your crew members regarding the weather forecast, and what type of clothing they will want to bring, will assure that your crew is safe and comfortable. It will also assure you peace of mind. Nothing is worse than having to cater to a crew member who really didn’t understand what you meant by, “it could be cold one day.” They needed someone to say: “a jacket, a cold weather hat, and gloves is a must.”

While making your meal plans, pull out a paper chart that everyone can group around, and show your planned course for the days of your charter. This will assist with deciding when to eat ashore, or when your day could possibly be longer and you need an easier meal.

Reviewing your planned course every morning during a meeting with every crew member present will also foster a sense of understanding and appreciation of your journey. This simple, 10- to 15-minute discussion over a paper chart will also reduce the amount of misunderstanding while navigating in shallow waters, with unfamiliar navigation aids, especially if you’re going to be on the Intracoastal Waterway (and its unusual marker placings) for any time during your trip.

While planning your course, remember that you are probably the most initiated sailor on the boat. Many of your other crew members may enjoy the sailing side of your trip, but that may rate lower on their list down around Number 4, after going ashore, shopping in marina shops, and swimming in clear water.

Therefore, when the unexpected happens and you decide it’s going to take much longer to arrive at your first choice of destinations, perhaps an anchorage still 40 nautical miles away, have a written-out backup plan. I write out my first choice, with the mileage and estimated time, and have a second and third choice of destinations, perhaps a marina 20 nautical miles away, and a small anchorage just 10 miles away.

Remember that fun days can also be had while not sailing or traveling – paddleboards (either blowup or rental), fishing (plan ahead for this), or just exploring the port or an isolated coast. Having plans for these activities will make the trip memorable for each crew member and give you much-needed backup plans for when the weather stalls your journey.

Most of the time, its easiest and most enjoyable for your crew members if you anchor or dock each night. If your itinerary calls for overnights, make sure you have well-trained crew to assist in sailing the boat overnight and that everyone understands what sailing overnight entails. If you, as the skipper, have never sailed overnight, do your homework and speak to other sailors who have done that exact same trip at night. Perhaps you should do some additional training with experienced sailors prior to your first time under the stars. It can be disorienting, exhausting, and create anxiety if you haven’t planned and prepared to skipper a boat overnight.

While reviewing your itinerary for your trip, it’s helpful to designate where you can fuel, pump out your holding tanks, and fill up your water tanks during your voyage. Estimate how much fuel you will use if you motor all day due to a lack of wind. Discuss water tank usage with your crew. The accepted number when estimating is usually 5 gallons of washing water per day per crew member. However, on hot days, I’ve had crew members that showered 3 times a day. You should also discuss how to efficiently wash dishes and the possibility that the toilet does not need to be flushed every time. Your plan should also include notes as to when you will be 3 nautical miles off the coast and are able to empty your holding tank.

These notes should be made next to your daily itinerary, which I write on the back on my daily checklist. Going over the basics of the boat, including the location and use of the Coast Guard-required equipment, operation of the VHF radio, location of the light switches, will once again make every crew member feel involved and informed even if they will never sail or motor the boat themselves.

There can be many items on a standard boat checklist. This is where teaching small skill sets to your crew can be extremely helpful. Let’s say you have a crew member who is excited about making several of the meals. Go over the location of everything in the galley and show them how to safely turn on the solenoid switch on the propane tank, and how to safely turn it off. Then make them the authority on cooking in the kitchen and they will be proud when they teach others on the boat how to do it correctly.

At this point, you’ve planned well with your crew and are ready for your journey on a cruising catamaran! In our next series of blogs, we will discuss the specifics of the ASA 114 Cruising Catamaran Course, and discuss navigating, sailing efficiently, anchoring, and docking.


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