Once you've made the decision that your cruising boat will be a multihull,
the next step is to determine how many hulls it should have. Most
prospective multihull buyers have a subconscious preference for catamarans
or trimarans, but often this bias reflects a lack of experience or serious
investigation of the other type of boat. My wife, for instance,
instinctively prefers catamarans, yet it's fair to say she's never been
cruising on a modern trimaran, or for that matter that she knows anyone who
has owned one. I feel you should keep an open mind in your search for the
ideal multihull. Although your instincts may well be accurate, initial
preferences can change after careful reflection and some hands-on research.
Most multihull buyers have a subconscious
preference for cats or tris.
Catamarans are by far the most prevalent cruising multihull, for many
good reasons which we'll discuss shortly. They are also the most widely
available as a charter yacht. This means that most sailors new to multihulls
get their first taste on a cat—and first impressions, especially those on a
well-appointed charter yacht, can be lasting. Most of the cruising trimarans
on the market are in fact trailerable sport cruisers—easily transported
boats that can serve as racer, cruiser, or some combination of the two.
While catamarans seem to be the cruising multihull of choice, trimarans have
some distinct advantages that make them well worth consideration. Let's
compare catamarans and trimarans using various cruising considerations.
Accommodations and Storage Ability By far the most impressive
characteristic of a cruising catamaran is the amazing amount of space on
board for the overall length of the boat. The wide beam on most catamarans
allows for truly outstanding cockpits, foredecks, living and sleeping
accommodations, galleys, heads, and storage spaces.
Sleeping accommodations are superb. On our 26-foot cruising cat we had
two double aft cabins with permanently made-up berths and a salon seating
area that converted to a queen-size berth. While there are many different
layouts, cats in the 34 to 38-foot range typically have staterooms in three
of the four corners of the boat and a large head in the other corner. Longer
cats, many of which are set up for chartering, can easily have four double
staterooms and four heads. Versions outfitted for private ownership often
have one entire hull dedicated as the owner's stateroom, with two additional
staterooms in the other hull.
The galley and living areas on a cruising cat can also be quite
astonishing. This is mainly due to the fact that the main salon on a cat is
level with the cockpit, affording panoramic views and the ability to
interact easily with people in the cockpit. The galley on a cat can be down
in a hull or up in the main salon area, and either option allows for a
spacious, well-equipped food handling area.
Deck and storage space on most cruising
multihulls make for easy living.
Catamarans not only have more physical storage space, but they generally
have a greater load-carrying ability for a given length of boat. The
interior layout and accommodations on most modern trimarans are similar to
those found on monohulls. There are a few trimaran designs with solid wing
decks where the interior accommodations (usually in the form of berths)
extend out toward the amas. These designs are the exception, however, and
tend to be of an older vintage.
Sailing Performance and Safety In general, trimarans have better
sailing performance for the size of boat than catamarans, especially cats
with fixed low-aspect ratio keels rather than daggerboards. Trimarans with
one or two daggerboards or a centerboard usually have a better ability to
tack and to go to windward, and are generally faster for the same length of
boat. For those who like to experience a variety of cruising grounds, but
don't have the time or desire to make long passages, a sport trimaran may be
a good choice. And it's been said that sport trimarans inherently have that
ultimate design characteristic for speed enhancement, trailerability, which
allows them to go at highway speeds.
Large, light, and airy interiors set multis
off in a class by themselves.
Trimarans, and to a lesser extent catamarans, are often given a bad rap
concerning safety. This is almost exclusively due to two factors:
The majority of trimarans out sailing are sport models whose
skippers often push the safety envelope in search of higher performance.
The widely publicized mishaps concerning high-speed ocean
racing tris, and to a lesser extent cats.
Whether cat or tri, true cruising multihulls are a whole different breed
with impressive safety records. Safety on multihulls, as with all sailboats,
is related to knowing when to shorten sail and how to handle the boat in
Initial Cost and Resale The initial cost of multihulls is higher
than monohulls of equivalent length, with catamarans generally higher in
cost per foot than trimarans. The high initial cost keeps many would-be
multihull sailors out of the new boat market. Used boats can be a good
option for those on a modest budget, but since the resale value of
multihulls is excellent, you'll need to do some searching to find a true
Maintenance and Ongoing Costs Catamarans have two main hulls to
maintain, while trimarans have one main hull and much smaller outer hulls
called amas. Cats also tend to have two engines (one in each hull) and,
therefore, twice the mechanical maintenance.
Sport trimarans have the edge when it comes to docking, storage, and
transportation, since they fold to roughly the beam of a monohull and their
trailerability allows for easy storage and road transport. When comparing
non-trailerable tris and cats, they both cost quite a bit more than
monohulls for dockage, storage, and transportation by road or ship because
of their wide beam.
Trailerable sport tris offer great
performance—right up to 65 mph!
Making the Decision The choice between catamaran and trimaran
comes down to personal preference and finding the best boat for your needs.
For thoroughbred performance and the potential for trailerability, take a
look at the trimarans on the market. Many catamaran designs also offer
superb performance, and a few designs such as the Aquillon 26 and F-25 are
trailerable. Most other catamarans on the market offer a nice blend of
performance and the opportunity for incredibly comfortable cruising. Remain
flexible and you're sure to find your ideal cruising multihull.