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Old 05-05-2009, 19:15   #1
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Sink or Swim?

Or put it another way

Self righting or unsinkable – which is better??

One of the perennial arguments between supporters of multihulls and monohulls is “Is it better to float upside down or sink?”


Notice I used the phrase “self-righting”, not “capsize” for ALL boats can capsize. It is only recently that one specific type can self right after a capsize (providing it doesn't flood and sink first). Yes I'm talking about monohull keel boats with external ballast. Many will be surprised to learn that they are the newest of all sailing vessels, for 150 years ago they didn't exist.

Multihulls on other hand sailed for thousands of years in the Pacific and Asia, while all European voyages of discovery and trade from the Phoenicians onwards have been in non self righting boats.

However history isn't relevant to those who say it is better to sink than stay upside down.

I know I won’t be able to change people’s opinions in this short article, but what I hope to do is to encourage people not to just make glib statements but rather to decide what the real chances of either sinking or capsizing are.

Let’s be specific.

A monohull will sink if holed or if flooded by a large wave.
What are the chances of that, and what can the crew do to prevent it happening?

A multihull can capsize if blown over by the wind or if overcome by a large breaking wave.
What are the chances of that, and what can the crew do about it?

Despite the advent of GPS there are still many collisions with rocks or shore as boats cut corners as they blindly follow their chart plotter.

Running aground on a monohull is considered a stranding often leading to ship wreck. Whereas multihull sailors will deliberately dry out on a beach - to escape bad weather or even just for fun, say for a BBQ. If the worst happens you are more likely to survive running ashore in a gale on a shallow drafted multihull than a deep keeled monohull.

Whales have sunk many monohulls, but they aren’t the only floating objects out there. People are a bit coy about reporting facts, so the estimates vary widely, but between 2000 and 10,000 shipping containers are lost each year. Whatever the true number, it is certainly in the thousands. Not all sink immediately, some have been know to float for over a year (those filled with polystyrene/Styrofoam float longest).

Of course, you don’t need a container to hole your boat; even a log can do that. I write this in British Columbia where every year even ships are damaged by “deadheads” or floating trees, while I once saw a fridge floating off the coast of the UK. Race boats are constantly reporting being damaged by floating objects. In a recent Cape to Rio race a monohull hit a container when 1000 miles from land. It’s crew were rescued just before the boat sunk by a CATAMARAN which took them to Namibia.

And what can the crew do to avoid such a collision?? Well, to be safe they shouldn’t sail at night, nor sail fast, and obviously there should be someone on the bow on watch at all times. In other words, however careful or prudent a monohull sailor is, he is ALWAYS at risk of a sinking EVERYTIME he goes to sea.

And what about the large wave problem? Few people actually cruise flush decked boats with no cockpit or hatches, even though they know such boats are safer (I’m thinking of boats like Jester and early Colin Archers). Why? Because they are so impractical as live aboard floating homes. So most monohulls, especially when sailing to windward, and thus well heeled, have large openings very close to the water. And chances are that someone will open a hatch at just the wrong moment, so in fact it doesn’t need that large a wave to get water below. Obviously if it is easy to get a little water below it is also possible to get so much below that the boat is swamped.

A multihull can capsize if blown over by the wind. What are the chances of that, and what can the crew do about it?

Weather forecasts are now pretty reliable, and getting better all the time. So 90% of sailors know what the weather will be for their sail. And 90% of the others never get in really bad weather. So the chances of getting “caught out in a blow” are now pretty small for the majority of sailors.

And even if you are, there is plenty a seamanlike crew can do. Reef for a start. Throughout the history of multihull capsizes it seems the vast majority are either pushing too hard when racing or are monohull sailors not used to sailing multihulls.

In other words most multihull capsizes are the crews fault, not the boats. And of course the vast majority of multihulls don’t ever capsize because most crews are sensible and reef early.

A multihull can capsize if overcome by a large breaking wave.
What are the chances of that, and what can the crew do about it?

The wider the boat the safer it is in waves. In fact you are just about uncapsizable until the wave height exceeds the beam of the boat. That is a proven, undisputed fact of basic naval architecture. Lie ahull in a catamaran and you’ll just bob up and down. Do that in a monohull and you’re likely to “roll your guts out”.

It is extremely rare for a cruising catamaran to capsize in waves with no sails set (trimarans are a different matter) because despite what the media say, waves over 20ft high (the average beam of most ocean going multihulls these days) only occur in F10 conditions or more. Even then you are only “at risk” of capsizing. It doesn’t mean you actually will. I know, for “I’ve been there done that”. Not many people can truthfully say, as I can, “then the wind moderated to a F10”. Even in horrific conditions (in a 32ft catamaran) the saloon carpets stayed dry. I once crossed the Bay of Biscay to windward in a gale in a 37ft catamaran. We kept the spare toilet paper in the bilges – it stayed dry.

And before anyone asks, yes I have had my fair share of being close to sinking on monohulls. Pumping for 20 minutes every two hours to stay afloat when over seven days sail from land isn’t much fun, even if the boat was a Swan 55.

Having said all that, it isn’t the boat that is important, it’s the crew. Few people survive a sinking, especially if well offshore, while a large number don’t even survive a knockdown even if the boat does (the Fastnet 79 and Queens Birthday storm proved that). Whereas most people do survive a capsize.

And of course I also have to mention the fact that keels still keep falling off monohulls. And it’s not just a problem on race boats, it also happens on production boats. Well known brands like Contessa, Sigma, Bavaria and J boats have all had failures and lives have been lost. One problem is that the keel cannot be easily inspected, so any failure is always unexpected. In comparison a multihull crossbeam, say, can be inspected daily.

Nor have I started on the fact that you are far more likely to fall overboard or be injured on a monohull than a multihull, while I suspect that most emergency call outs are as a result of damage to the (single) rudder or engine failure. Most cruising catamarans have two of both. But discussion on that is for another time.

In fact to me the real question is “why don't monohull sailors demand unsinkable boats”? It isn’t as if they weren’t available, the Belgian yard Etap has made them for years, so too did Sadler in the UK.

Finally, let’s put the risks of sailing any boat into perspective. According to the official 2001 US Coastguard figures, nearly 500 people died when boating. 350 were in open motor boats, 100 in kayaks/canoes, 50 in personal watercraft.

So I guess no one drowned when sailing in 2001 in the USA.

In comparison 24 people were killed skiing in British Columbia in the 2008/9 winter, while over 30 people drown each year in their cars in the UK.

Richard Woods of Woods Designs

www.sailingcatamarans.com
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Old 05-05-2009, 20:01   #2
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If you are trying to stir up a firestorm, you posted this in the wrong forum. Most of are here because we agree with these theories. Try the monohull forum!
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Old 05-05-2009, 23:27   #3
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Richard, it must be raining wherever you are and you've gone mad with cabin fever !!

This reopening of the wounds of the previous mono-v-multi "debates" is going to be be interesting to say the least.

I'm taking bets as to how many posts it will be before the Moderators close this thread. My guess is 68.
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Old 06-05-2009, 05:45   #4
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This is a tired subject, and as presented by Woods Designs is very biased. There are pros and cons to each, and associated trade-offs.

The most salient question raised by Mr. Woods is “why don't monohull sailors demand unsinkable boats”? The follow on to that is "Why haven't multihull sailors demanded boats that can't flood the hulls?" or "Why haven't multihull sailors demanded boats that can't lose their rigging?" or Why haven't multihull sailors demanded boats that can self-right?" or Why haven't multihull sailors demanded boats that have provisions to keep crew comfortable and dry in event of capsize, while awaiting rescue?" or “Why haven't multihull sailors demanded boats that can't be holed by containers or collision with other hard objects?"

Considering Mr. Woods is a designer, let me ask him: Have you designed any of your boats with a "sea chest" for the thru-hulls? (For those who haven't heard the term, a "sea chest" is a box with watertight sides that come above the waterline. A sea chest will flood if a hose or thru-hull fitting fails, and keep the hull from flooding. It's an old concept and seems to have fallen out of favor by builders/designers). Have you designed a self-righting boat? Have you designed or built a boat that has Kevlar specified in the lay-up of the forward sections, or water-tight collision bulkheads?

Just for the record, I’m firmly in the multihull camp, but there is no need to polarize people with one-sided arguments. It’s all about trade-offs, and it’s nice to have choices.
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Old 06-05-2009, 06:58   #5
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Hmm, sink or swim? Or leave?
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Old 06-05-2009, 07:03   #6
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This thread is fine. Lets not turn it into a "cat fight". Courteous and respectful are the key words.
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Old 06-05-2009, 09:49   #7
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Originally Posted by Joli View Post
Hmm, sink or swim? Or leave?
Still here I see.

Richard very readable, nicely put and proffessional piece, makes a lot of sense and should make a lot of people think, I do not see this as argumentative but a very good point for discussion.
I am looking forward to some interesting and sensible replies.
Thank you
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Old 06-05-2009, 10:21   #8
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Yep, still here and I've yet to be rescued after 100k miles racing mono's.

Mr Woods makes the comparison mono vs multi based on his opinion and expects no one to comment? Let's see the facts Mr. Woods, make your case based on fact. Curious, how many times were you rescued from the deck of a mono?

Ireaney, buy a boat yet?


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Still here I see.

Richard very readable, nicely put and proffessional piece, makes a lot of sense and should make a lot of people think, I do not see this as argumentative but a very good point for discussion.
I am looking forward to some interesting and sensible replies.
Thank you
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Old 06-05-2009, 11:46   #9
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I've had the opportunity to speak with someone who survived a capsize. Harrowing ordeal! Before I can fairly chime in, I think I first need to have a chat with someone who has survived a sinking as well. Would love it if someone could point me in the direction of a sinking survivor that's willing to share their story. I'm scuba certified if need be...

I recall when I was a young boy, my dad finally purchased his dream car - a Porshe Carrera. Seemed to be the happiest day of his life. Turns out that he'd never actually driven one before purchasing it. He wanted it because it was the "It" car. Problem was, my dad was 6'7" with long legs, and the cockpit of that Carrera was quite cramped and uncomfortable for him. The only time I think I ever saw him happier than the day he purchased it, was the day he sold it 3 years later.

The moral to the story is : "Sail the type of boat that fits YOU best, NOT the one that suits everyone else's fancy."
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Old 06-05-2009, 11:54   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Woods Designs View Post
Let’s be specific.
Yet you follow "Let's be specific" with generalizations that often don't hold true and are not in the least bit specific....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Woods Designs View Post
A monohull will sink if holed or if flooded by a large wave.
What are the chances of that, and what can the crew do to prevent it happening?
Many will sink. Some will not. It depends in part on the design. Many monohulls have been holed, but avoided sinking. Sinking from flooding can be prevented, first by not flooding in the first place and secondly, if flooded, taking steps to stop the flooding and remove the water.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Woods Designs View Post
A multihull can capsize if blown over by the wind or if overcome by a large breaking wave.
What are the chances of that, and what can the crew do about it?
Again the chances will vary greatly depending on design, conditions and how the boat is operated. There is case after case of Iroquois for example tipping over, yet nobody has yet claimed the reward offered for a Catalac even having one hull come out of the water. Crew can take many steps including reducing sail, use of drogues and sea anchors, considering point of sail, considering the weather and the choice of where to sail.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Woods Designs View Post
Running aground on a monohull is considered a stranding often leading to ship wreck. Whereas multihull sailors will deliberately dry out on a beach - to escape bad weather or even just for fun, say for a BBQ.
Many monohulls with full keels withstand running aground very well and are probably less likely to get holed than light displacment catamarans. I had a bilge keel monohull boat that was designed specifically so it could dry out with the tide. I remember reading in "Dove" how he puposely dried his mono-hull boat out for maintenance and painting


Quote:
Originally Posted by Woods Designs View Post
Whales have sunk many monohulls,
What do you consider many and can you provide any data to support this. From what I see cases like the Essex or the Butlers are so famous because such sinkings are so rare.


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And what about the large wave problem?
Again, I think one needs to be aware of generalities. I owned a monohull and then trimaran both of the same length. The main reason I sold my trimaran after only one year is because it handled large (actaully just moderate) waves so much more poorly than my monohull. I couldn't make any progress in notable seas with all the under deck slamming. My monohull had no under deck slamming what so ever and handled much larger waves with no problem. My anwer to the hatch or port that was accidently left open is to shut it.


Quote:
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In other words most multihull capsizes are the crews fault, not the boats.
Nothing is really the fault of the boat. Boats are designed and sailed by people. People design differnet boats differnetly so boat design certainly is a factor in capsize. See above post about Catalacs vs. Iroquois.


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In fact to me the real question is “why don't monohull sailors demand unsinkable boats”?
I can only speak for myself but I think thers is no such thing as an unsinkable boat.- multihull or monohull, positive buoyancy or not, through I agree some are more prone to sinking if capsized than others. I feel sailed properly, and within their design paramaters, it is very unlikely to sink most monohulls. There are other design charactersitcs and other safety concerns rightfully much higher up the list than sinkability.


Quote:
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Finally, let’s put the risks of sailing any boat into perspective. According to the official 2001 US Coastguard figures, nearly 500 people died when boating. 350 were in open motor boats, 100 in kayaks/canoes, 50 in personal watercraft.
Which is why I don't wake up in the middle of then night scared to death my monohull is going to sink.



Richard - I think you bring up many good points to consider. I personally am a big fan of many catamarans and hope to own one someday myself. However, I think many of the generalizations you make about the advantages of catamarans and disadvantages of monohulls are over stated. I also think the generalizations you make don't account for the wide variety of designs of both monohulls and multi-hulls, and the conditions under which they are sailed.

There are examples of both monohulls and multihulls which have proven themselves to be capalbe and relatively safe passagemakers and examples of both that should probalby never leave sight of land.

I favor looking at any boat's design limitation and condtions specifically rather than make important decisions based on gross generalizations which may or may not hold true.

I'd also like to acknowledge those above who mentioned many of these same points while I was writing this.
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Old 06-05-2009, 12:14   #11
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Yep, still here and I've yet to be rescued after 100k miles racing mono's.

Ireaney, buy a boat yet?
Yes thanks, but not the Gunboat 48 that you thought I had .
Actually no I didn't, if you remember I got a free one.
You got one yet or are you still scrounging off others.

I think Richards comments are very precise and to the point and he is an experienced racer in his own right, the fact as I understand why he was rescued off his cat was that his FEMALE was worried and he did the honourable and chivalrous thing by thinking of her first, I am sure that if he was on his own or had a male crew would have sat it out without any problems, and the cat he was in was an Eclipse a small one at only 30 feet.
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Old 06-05-2009, 16:13   #12
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While I am going to be buying a Cat, I can not deny that a Mono Hull is much more sexy.

Cheers
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Old 06-05-2009, 16:26   #13
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Quote:
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Yep, still here and I've yet to be rescued after 100k miles racing mono's.

Mr Woods makes the comparison mono vs multi based on his opinion and expects no one to comment? Let's see the facts Mr. Woods, make your case based on fact. Curious, how many times were you rescued from the deck of a mono?

Ireaney, buy a boat yet?
What is the object of this post? To turn this thread into a series of personal attacks?

Or are you trying to claim that nobody has ever been rescued from a monohull based on the fact that you haven't?
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Old 06-05-2009, 17:55   #14
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I am exclusively a monohull cruiser and I have never been knocked down in a cruiser class sailboat - more than a few times in dinghies and other light weights. I have, however, experienced a freak gust, micro burst, whatever (something which I think is far more common than rogue waves), which heeled our 34' monohull to 45+ degrees. We rounded up with no damage other than frayed nerves. At the time we were under full sail on a beam reach with 6-8' waves more or less on the beam and winds of 10-12 knots. The boat was making 6 knots and despite the fairly steep short period waves the motion was fairly comfortable at about a 10-15 degree heel. I suspect that a modern cruising cat would not have flown a hull when the gust hit. But, if the leeward hull was in a trough and the windward was on a crest, well who knows? You might have gotten an interesting result. But I don’t know that.

Most cruisers are coastal sailors/island hoppers and either do not cross oceans or do so very infrequently. As Richard points out, they have access to fairly reliable one or two day weather forecasts. As a result they are unlikely to be at sea in force 10 gales. And they are not particularly interested in data derived from full crewed, state of the art, race boats, people who sail the Southern Ocean, or J Boat keels for that matter. What they are interested in is how their particular boat in its particular condition will perform in whatever nasty conditions they are most likely to encounter.

I know 5 or 6 monohull cruisers who have experienced knock downs or near knock downs. All recovered with zero or minimal damage, mostly in the form of a mess below decks. Does this mean anything? No. The basic problem is that we have zero scientific data on cruisers. We don’t their ages, experience, boats, budgets, life styles, etc. For the same reason, we don’t have reliable data on cruiser knock downs, capsizes, groundings, or other mishaps, etc. We do know from casual observation and anecdotal evidence that at least in the Bahamas/Caribbean, most cruisers are baby boomers, by definition they have some experience, most cruising boats are probably overloaded, and the vast majority are monohull sailboats.

Even if we had good data, any comparison between cruising monohulls and catamarans would require analysis of a host of variables, not the least of which is the vast difference in the number of the former vs. the latter.
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Old 06-05-2009, 18:14   #15
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Nope. Can't see where there is any personal attack there at all, just asking a question. Is a question a personal attack?

44 Cruisingcat. Just looked at your latest photos. Your hull finish is EXTREMELY good. You have to be very happy with your results and hard work? I hope you enjoy your beautiful boat. Was that a personal attack?

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What is the object of this post? To turn this thread into a series of personal attacks?

Or are you trying to claim that nobody has ever been rescued from a monohull based on the fact that you haven't?
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