Gone Outdoors

How to Sail a Catamaran

by Will Charpentier

A catamaran has two hulls, joined by a deck and living space. A cat under power handles the same as any similarly powered boat, except that it doesn't stop as readily. In many other respects, a catamaran sails in about the same way as any single-hulled sailboat, but you should be aware of some distinctive differences.

Sailing Upwind

Catamarans don’t sail upwind well. You can sail a monohull almost straight into a head wind, but in a catamaran, you need to sail at almost a 45-degree angle to a head wind. If the cat begins to yaw a bit in choppy seas, you need to increase the angle to the head wind even more. Change course so you’re crossing the chop at a 60-degree angle to the wind and you’ll stay in step with the sea and roll over the chop, rather than crash though it, making your ride less bumpy.

Tacking

A catamaran sits high in the water. This means it tends to skate across the water and it takes forever to stop, as a product of its speed and inertia. Those forces disappear when you tack. You need to have as much speed as possible built up before you tack. Pull the main sheet tight. Let your jib luff just before you tack, then haul it tight immediately after you tack. Allow your bow to cross the course for the next leg of the tack, to help build your speed up after the tack. Only after you have your speed should you bring the boat back to the intended course.

Sailing Downwind

You might think that any boat that waddles going upwind will go, well, like the dickens, downwind. Some sailing masters recommend only a jib or genoa, when running before the wind, as the best way to build speed and make up for the time lost tacking upwind. If you don’t use a roller-furling sail system and don’t want to haul down your main, or if you’re sailing alone, a better strategy is to keep the wind between 30 and 40 degrees off your starboard or port quarter -- that is, over your shoulder, rather than at your back.

Storm Winds

Catamarans don’t lean in a turn. In high winds or a storm, this becomes problematic because too much canvas in storm winds can break the mast, or even cause the boat to flip over. At a wind speed of 20 knots, turn your cat into the wind to "put it in irons." Drop the jib and reef the main sail to the first reef point. For every 5-knot increase in wind speed, reef the sail one reef point. If you run out of reef points, go to bare pole or start your engine.

About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.

Photo Credits

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