Copyright 2017 - Woods Designs, Foss Quay, Millbrook, Torpoint, Cornwall, PL10 1EN, UK
  • home built Flica 37

  • plywood Romany 34

  • lightweight 14ft Zeta mainhull

  • Strike 15 trimaran at speed

  • 28ft Skoota in British Columbia

  • 10ft 2 sheet ply Duo dinghy

  • 24ft Strider sailing fast

  • 36ft Mirage open deck catamaran

I recently went on a 2 week charter through the Greek islands on a Fountaine Pajot Athena 38 catamaran. I wrote about the sailing on my Cruising Blog, these notes are about some of the design features I noticed. Although the Athena is typical of many similar production catamarans it is different to what I draw.

I always say that designers should sail other designs as often as they can. That way they get exposed to new ideas and also can see if their solutions to problems are the best. I had not sailed a FP catamaran before, nor gone on a charter holiday. You will know from elsewhere on my site that I say "you don't live in a hotel, you live in a home", "on charter you don't cook big meals on board". So it was nice to see that I was right; when on a charter you do indeed behave very differently to when you are cruising and living on board. The storage space required is minimal, as each crew member arrives with only one bag, while few charter boats leave books, CDs and DVDs onboard for guests to use. Our boat (probably typical) only had a very basic tool set - no hammer for example, and no spares, nor extra sails, just the furling genoa and mainsail.

The Athena is an 8 (10max) berth boat. For the first week we had six people on board and five for the second, so we were not crowded. We were all experienced sailors, although two had not sailed a catamaran before, and we all agreed with my comments below.

Like most modern cruising catamarans the Athena has a fractional rig with three stays (forestay and two shrouds), plus diamonds to help stiffen the mast. Even so that means it is a big section mast as it is unsupported in the upper section. The argument for this design is that 3 wires (plus associated bottlescrews) and  a big mast section are lighter than a smaller mast with more wires. True or not, that's the way the majority do it. I have always prefered the smaller, lighter mast with more wires approach, so I fit three shrouds on each side (lower main and masthead) not one, plus diamonds.  Thus this was the first time I had sailed a cruising boat with the "other" rig.

I discovered a major disadvantage with it the first time we tried to reef. It made me realise why people have so much trouble getting a fully battened sail down. I'm sorry, we were a bit pre-occupied to take any photos at the time

So in words: We were running downwind when we were hit by a squall. The worst conditions to have to reef. We let the main halyard go and thus the leech tension reduced. Immediately the roach folded forwards, bending the top battens excessively, just as you'd expect with no support and a strong following wind. Despite a good "battcar" slide system the bent battens made it very hard to pull down the luff as the cars were being forced backwards, increasing friction. It was also very hard to pull in the clew reef line

However, with my multishroud rig the roach end of the battens hits the upper shroud and so don't bend in half, making it much easier to lower the sail and put the reefs in. Certainly in all the years I've been multihull sailing this was the first time I'd had so much trouble. It cannot have been co-incidence that it was also the first time I'd tried to reef a single shrouded boat.  On my own boats I also always fit a headboard downhaul, which helps lower the sail, whatever shroud layout one has.

The Athena also had the typical semicircular saloon seating seen on many production boats. This works well when sitting up for a meal, but it is desperately uncomfortable if you want to lounge back with your feet up - when reading a good book, for example. And completely impossible to sleep on, if you want a bed near the cockpit when sailing at night, something I like to have. While others find sleeping on the bridgedeck quieter and less bouncy than being in the hulls.

However my unfashionable straight seats work well  in all applications, they just don't look "sexy".  After all, how many of you have a curved settee/sofa at home? you don't do you! because furniture designers know that you "sit back and kick your feet up" to read a book or watch TV. You cannot do that with a curved seat, only with a straight one. To me, one more proof  that many yacht designers don't go sailing.

Again, many catamarans, like the Athena, fit "eyebrows" over the large saloon windows. It seems like a good idea, as they help stop the greenhouse effect when the sun shines through the large "picture windows". However they made it very uncomfortable to lean against, for the cabin side is a favourite spot when trying to keep out of wind and spray. I don't think anyone has a good solution, but the eyebrows are certainly not it. I have used mesh screens velcroed on the outside of windows. Although they get dirty quickly they are easily removed for cleaning and do keep the sun out

We spent several nights moored alongside rough stone quays - once with an onshore wind that developed unexpectedly, which resulted in a very uncomfortable night. If the boat had the modern "picture windows" in the topsides we could not have fitted fenders down the length of the hull, as that would likely have caused scrapes and scratches, as these topside windows tend to be in the middle, ie widest, part of the boat. There is also a risk of the windows popping out because of the squashing loads.

I've shown photo of a Lagoon catamaran having a window replaced after it fell out at sea elsewhere on my site. Maybe people are cleverer at manouvering than I am,  but often I've had a dock piling scrape along the hull as I've tried to move off my berth with an onshore wind. I've also had steel fishing boats moor alongside me in crowded harbours. I can hardly tell them to "go away because I don't want you to damage my windows"