By Capt.*Alan Hugenot
Get any group of boat owners talking and, the question often comes up,*Which hull
is better, a catamaran
or a mono-hull
Believers from both religions will recite their favorite gospel on how their chosen hull shape ? catamaran
, tri-maran or mono-hull ? is obviously superior, as foretold by the ancient prophets. But the real answer is one that the zealots don?t like: it depends on what you want to do with the boat.
In my experience as a naval architect, neither hull is flatly superior. One of my recent tasks was to provide technical consultation for a design competition involving a multi-mission coastal patrol craft, which pairs off a mono-hull against a tri-maran. Our consensus is that the best hull form depends on the mission. When the work is offshore
, the mono-hull performs best. When the work is inshore on lakes, bays and sounds, the tri-maran is a better match.
As a commercial captain
, I skippered numerous craft of both types and found that neither hull is superior for all conditions on all waters. Instead, all hull forms are distinctly different animals
, and each is designed to excel in different conditions.
Trying to determine which is superior is similar to debating whether pelicans or sea gulls are the better bird. Pelicans are great at fishing
, but gulls are more useful for picking through garbage or decorating parked cars. On every city beach lurk some folks who are enraptured with the gulls, and ignore the pelicans. Likewise, many mono-hull lovers have never been aboard a multi-hull and tend to ignore them out of hand.
Unfortunately, die hard believers from both camps, ignorant of the virtues of the opposing hull form, and overlooking the evidence, often blindly imagine that all boaters have goals, needs and performance desires that match their own. And their arguments can be prejudicial.
An honest technical appraisal will show that the final decision as to the optimum hull form has little to do with speed and cost, two issues that tend to dominate the debate. Rather, the size of the vessel, its intended use and the waters on which it operates are the most important factors. And among those three, size is the most important.
There is nothing more exhilarating than sailing a small cat along a beach in an off-shore breeze, where the water
is flat and the wind is strong. The performance is magnificent, and that kind of excitement can only be achieved in a small lightweight cat. But, as the fetch of the wind lengthens and the wind speeds increase, so do the rollers, and small cats can be difficult to operate in heavier seas.
To get the optimum ride, we might move up to those excellent Australian-bred International 18 Skiffs. These slightly heavier hulls utilize all the best features of catamarans and mono-hulls, with outriggers and hiking crewmembers, and they are designed to handle higher seas and stronger winds. But if the winds increase above 25 knots, or if we move into open ocean for a more extended passage, a large and heavily-built mono-hull is by far the best choice. People who favor ultra-light designs like to point out that their vessels cost less, and that the successful solo-circumnavigation racers are all ultra-lights, many of which are multi-hulled. But these boats also wear out after just one or two racing seasons, and most distance cruisers need vessels that will last a bit longer.
On the other hand, mono-hull people tend to cite the safety
and performance their heavy hulls afford in a storm, but conveniently ignore the advantages of speed and a stable platform, which multi-hulls so easily provide on the calmer inshore waters. And isn?t that where most of us spend the majority of our cruising?
In summary, it is my opinion that nothing out-performs a large power cat for cruising on a river delta
or protected inland bay. But for extended ocean cruising off shore, or inland sailing in a heavy chop, nothing keeps up with a large sailing mono-hull.
Personally, I?d like to own several of each.
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