An Introduction to Catamaran Sailing

Sailing catamarans is one aspect of the sport that this website widely neglected so far. In this article I try to compensate that by giving a basic introduction to catamarans, their parts and classification. All for the sake of completeness.

Sailing catamarans is involved with high-speed, high-risk and sportive approaches to the hobby. Catamarans are popular with young sailors, they are built for speed and not so much for safety, and so they are racing boats rather than family yachts. The reason why they are so fast is based on their structure: Catamarans are built with two hulls.

This gives the boats high stability, because it makes them wide – but also fast, because the hulls are normally light and narrow, minimizing the surface and thus friction of the hulls in the water. Speed, however, is often maximized in “cats”. This is achieved with extra canvas in the main sail on a mast that can be rotated through a device named “mast spanner”.

Two Hulls instead of one

The two hulls are connected through two beams and a trampoline or net that allows the crew to move from one hull to the other. One beam also holds a tiller bar that connects to the two rudders – a central extension of the tiller bar in the middle of it allows to handle them just like the rudders of a conventional dinghy.

The jibs of cats are often very small compared to conventional yachts. Single-handed catamarans sometimes even come without a jib. The classification of catamarans is a tricky business – there are just too many different models to satisfy a diverse market keen on new designs on every single boatshow.

A very general division is the one into catamarans with identical or symmetrical hulls and those with asymmetrical hulls. The latter ones are normally designed in order to prevent leeway drift. Asymmetrical hulls normally don’t need a center- or daggerboard. This does not necessarily make any functional difference for the sailor.

A Catamaran for every season (and taste)

Beyond that, you will find huge differences in size, design and prices. There are often special boatshows for catamaran sailors, but you can also start looking into cats through sailing magazines. For people who enjoy cat sailing as a hobby, the “Hobie” is a classic – in fact, the name says it all. It is a small, light cat that can be transported easily. There are plenty of racing classes for Hobies, and they make a good beginner’s boat to cats. Their hulls are asymmetrical and thus don’t have a dagger- or centerboard.

Catamarans of the “Dart” class are somewhat more sophisticated and a bit more challenging to sail. There are very big racing classes in many countries for Darts, the “Dart 16” and “Dart 18” cats are among the most popular cats in the World. They have symmetrical hulls and offer a great deal of speed to the skilled sailor.

This is beaten by the legendary “Tornado”, which is not only another extremely popular catamaran, but also the one used in the Olympic class. This cat comes with symmetrical hulls, too, and has proved to be a very fast and reliable boat. Significantly bigger than the Hobies, Tornadoes require more effort when it comes to transport and more space for the sailing itself.


Further Reading

Boat classification: Dinghies and Cruisers

Wikipedia on Sailing Ships

Wikipedia on Catamarans

Information on Sailboats on Answers.com

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