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

"Catamarans don't have enough load carrying capacity for serious cruising"

Like many people I have said it myself many times. But recently I have been wondering whether it is actually true.

There are three main reasons why people should be concerned about load carrying on a catamaran.

1) Performance: All boats sail slower the more they are loaded. Clearly the bigger and heavier the boat the less influence an extra ton of gear will have. Thus small, light multihulls will sail significantly slower when loaded, whereas a heavy monohull will always sail slowly, irrespective of how much gear is on board.

2) Comfort in a seaway: A heavier boat responds slower to waves, and pitches more. So it is a wetter, less comfortable boat to sail. On a catamaran excessive bridgedeck slamming can make life on board extremely unpleasant; it's noisy for starters, while loose gear - even food, gets thrown around or bounced off tables and worktops.

3) Strength issues. This is more of a problem with open deck cats (as the cross beams have a finite strength), thus it is rare to have a problem on a conventional production cruising cat. But even so there is a limit to the load any boat can support.

OK, we can all agree on that; what is probably harder to quantify is what you actually carry on board as a long term cruiser (and here I am talking about a couple living on board for a year or more)

So let us compare what we had on our lightweight 32ft Eclipse performance catamaran and a heavy displacement motor-sailer monohull, the Maple Leaf 48. I chose this monohull as it was one that we lived on and sailed for a few weeks from San Diego USA to Cabo St Lucas, Mexico.

First let's compare the useable space on board:

Both have one shower compartment, the Maple Leaf sleeps four in two cabins (one double, two singles) without using the saloon. Eclipse has three double bunks so can sleep six without using the saloon. Both boats had five guests for a Christmas dinner, the galleys are a similar size and both have an oven big enough for a turkey. True, the freezer on the Maple Leaf is a bit bigger but Eclipse can still carry frozen food for two weeks in its water-cooled fridge/freezer.

Both boats motor at 5.5-6 knots. Eclipse can do that with a lightweight, easily serviced 9.9hp outboard engine. Whereas the Maple Leaf needs a big diesel engine. A complex bit of machinery which also needs lots of big heavy spares and big heavy tools to repair and service it. Both boats do around 10mpg and have a cruising range under power of around 200 miles.

I won't discuss sailing performance or handling except to say that Eclipse was faster on all points of sail and FAR easier to handle than the Maple Leaf.

Both have a portable generator and solar panels for extra generating capacity. Although Eclipse has smaller water tanks than the Maple Leaf it also has a watermaker, (but Eclipse can still carry water for three people for 25 days without making any water). Eclipse also has a solid fuel stove, the Maple Leaf has no form of heating. Both had large chart tables, with room for an unfolded chart and lots of pilot book stowage.

Eclipse keeps a rigid dinghy in davits, lacking these the Maple Leaf has to pump up an inflatable. Eclipse carries eight sails, the Maple Leaf four. Both are suitably equipped with safety gear.

Both boats have hundreds of books and CD's. And dozens of DVD's, plus a computer (Eclipse actually carries three) to view them on. Nowadays an Ipod, movies on a SD card and books on a Kindle means this weight (and space required) is much reduced. LED lights use less power, so even Eclipse's battery capacity can run all this electronics.

Eclipse carried a sewing machine which the Maple Leaf didn't.

Both boats carried food for an ocean passage plus staples for several months.

Thus the two boats are very similar, despite their size difference. And it is hard to see what else you need on board that Eclipse couldn't carry. Even when fully loaded Eclipse is still fast, comfortable and strong. Yet most cruisers would consider it small and light, so clearly a bigger, pure cruising catamaran would be an even better load carrier. Certainly we can carry much more on our Romany and in fact we haven't yet used all the storage space available - no doubt we will!

A final comment: Most 40-45ft charter cats are comfortable with 8 people on board, say 750kgs including their holiday gear. A cruising couple would be say 200kgs. So that is a gain of around 500Kgs (1200lbs) carrying capacity.

Another myth busted