The other day Chrissy and I were invited aboard a Catamaran that on paper has been my dream boat for a number of years, but we had never had a chance to be aboard. After seeing numerous catamarans by other boat builders in Annapolis, it turns out that I was right all along and it really is my dream boat. But, at a happy hour yesterday we made the mistake of saying so and were promptly told why we were wrong. I guess we’d forgotten how many ‘expert’ opinions both good and outrageously terrible we’d been subjected to back when we first started shopping for what turned out to be Altera.
First I’ll note that we are extremely happy with Altera and made a sound decision buying her. Someday I’ll write a review. We have no regrets. She has been extremely functional, forgiving as we’ve become better sailors and sails well in a wide range of conditions. Plus she is a good looking boat.
A number of years ago we made our way to Port Credit one morning to begin looking at sailboats. Our mission was to find out what you could get for your money. So down we sat in the little office and officially started receiving the opinions of what we wanted.
“What are looking to do with the boat, what boats have you owned in the past and what is your budget?” we were asked.
“We are considering living aboard and going south, maybe via Bermuda, maybe down the coast. We have owned Hobie Cats and are flexible with budget” I replied.
“It doesn’t work that way, I need a budget, and as your first boat I tell you what to buy and when you’ve owned a couple and know what you really want, then you can tell me and I’ll find it. As for going south, truck it to Florida, do the Bahamas and truck it home. Nobody likes the trip south anyway.”
So I threw out a number, and a few minutes later we were on a CS36, an option below the number we had thrown out. A solid boat, good reputation, it certainly could have worked, and if maintained is a respectable offshore boat. But the boat didn’t quite speak to us. Plus we are bad with budgets. We prefer to figure out what we want and then go after it, so we didn’t really get off on the right foot with this guy. But we respect that he had enough experience that he wasn’t going to work for McDonald’s wages on our behalf while we determined what the heck we wanted. Plus he had 80% of the 3 year inventory of CS36 listings on the market, so there was a slight bias in his recommendation.
The next guy showed us a boat 15% above our ‘number’ that is debatable if it should be taken offshore (mine and many other’s opinions, including an owner I met in NS). Other than the fiddles on the counters falling off at 3 years of age it looked much shinier. I guess we’d read too much about boats already and ruled this guy out if this was his best suggestion.
So, on the boat club as yachties all know what you boat you should buy too….
“Get a full keeler, you never hear of them losing their rudders” If you can’t afford newer, and don’t want to go smaller OK. Otherwise; Go moderate. Enjoy close quarter maneuvering and sailing in 8 knots of wind. Partial skegs are strong too and can support balanced rudders that are much easier to steer.
“Old and narrow so you have something to hold onto down below” Actually not bad advice, but moderate still gives you something to hold on to, and doesn’t feel like you live in a dungeon at anchor. I agree to beware of the new ultra beamy where you have to take flying leaps between handholds.
“You need at least 40′ and two heads”. Hmmm, how much time do you spend on the crapper? I know I’ll eat those words when the head plugs on a passasge.
“For your itinerary you want something strong like steel”. Really? You do know iron wants to exist in oxide form and salt water is happy to help that transformation? I didn’t say anything about a northwest passage in my plans.
“You need to be able to stand under the dodger and want a full enclosure”. I think you should be able to sit under the dodger and stay dry on watch, but all those tall dodgers are the plastic windows which are hazy to look though and give me a headache. Up north, I can see the value of a full enclosure, but few work functionally and even fewer look good. A really good wave is only going to carry it away anyhow.
“My __________ model boat would be great for you and I’m thinking of selling”. Uh huh…. Why is it so right for me if you are selling it for something else to take south?
Fortunately, they had a used boat show a few weeks later so we could look at a number of boats and with my bright hawaiian shirt, the brokers assumed we weren’t serious customers so we could browse around and discuss what we did and didn’t like. Then we went home and researched build quality.
A trip as far south as Annapolis, an offer and survey on a boat that needed more work than we bargained for, a few other viewings and then we found Altera. Deliberated for a few weeks as it was twice what the last boat we had tried to buy was, then came up with a way described by my accountant as ‘a house of cards’ to pay for it and here we are. Very happy with our boat despite it meeting few of the ‘experts’ advice.
Now with a lot more miles under our belts, both offshore, in the tropics and in much cooler climates we have a better idea of what we want. I still think we need about twice the number of miles before we are truly ready to double hand a bigger boat, but priorities are emerging and I think we are experienced enough to have a few opinions.
So, lets cut the suspense. I’ve mentioned it before, my dream boat has been a Catana 431 or 471 for a number of years. Catana is a high quality boat builder and builds performance cruising catamarans, but we had never been on one until this week when a fellow Salty Dawg gave us a detailed tour of Flash, a 471 model with a stunning blue paint job.
I already posted why we favour a catamaran and Flash made this years trip south in about 6 and half days compared to our 12 and half. The other performance cruising catamaran in the rally had a similar time, while the more affordable charter trade designs with more voluminous interiors were notably slower, a few complained about the rough ride upwind and one actually took longer than us, on our wee tiny 34′. Not quite what I’m looking for in a cat.
So here is what impressed me, that I could relate to based on our miles and time aboard so far:
-Foam cored hulls, allow for a lighter, stiffer and stronger hull, but seldom does anyone ever talk about the insulation value. The Catana hulls are thick and we were amazed at how cool it was down below with the sun beating. We have come to appreciate the foam coring in Altera, both down south and up north for the insulation value and minimal condensation and this would be even better.
-The cabins had large opening ports in the side which let a tremendous amount of airflow through. You could feed guests chili cheese dogs and beans for dinner and you wouldn’t have to worry about listening to them complain about each other the next morning. Plus, without the top opening hatches you can walk the side decks without fear of falling through a hatch, or cracking one at sea. Sounds simple, but you really have to watch your step on a lot of catamaran side decks.
-The owners version cabin layout just simply spoke to us. Great master suite, good options for 3 couples, or travelling with kids and still having accomodating space for grandparents visiting. Good master shower, and only 2 heads on board to maintain, not 4.
-Functional salon, huge fridge with very impressive insulation. Keep everything cool and not need your own solar farm to power it. They come with 2 layouts, however, and the one we saw had the galley forward and nav station aft, which doesn’t work for me as I can’t stand at the sink to do dishes. No big deal, we just have to have the aft facing galley.
-Cockpit was spacious and practical for a couple or entertaining a group
-The sail handling lines were very well thought out. Must have been a sailor involved with this design. Sure it costs a bit to build it that way, but I could certainly envision single handing that boat. You would be surprised how many catamarans have lines all over the places because it was more economical to build it that way. The easier it is to use the sails, the more you will do so.
-Set up for easy to use light wind sails. Get the most out of the boat. Often. This isn’t a boat that’s confused about its identity.
-Now, the big drawback, or so I thought, was the outboard helm stations. Exposed to the elements we’d heard numerous times before. Frankly, so is Altera’s wheel. We usually hide under the dodger on passages. We have our radar, AIS and GPS visible from that position and we stay dry. When our autopilot quit this year we got soaked and I doubt anywhere near as much spray would reach the helm positions on a Catana. Besides, I’ve learned my lesson. Any future offshore boat will be equipped with no less than 2 independent autopilots. Which means, on the Catana, I could stay in the cockpit while trimming sails and keep lookout from the nav station. And when we are simply just sailing, I could see the 4 corners of the boat and have a beautiful view of the sails. Now I really like that, it is a sailboat after all.
Then at happy hour when we were asked what we doing next year (which is probably headed home to rejoin the rat race). So, to put some spirit back in the long faces we added “not to worry though, we are really intrigued by cruising again but likely on a catamaran and the Catana 431 is at the top of the list”.
Of course that was solicited with rolling eyes from the monohull sailors figuring that we were drifting over to the ‘dark side’ but we weren’t prepared to get pounced on by the catamaran sailors in the group. “You don’t want those outboard steering wheels”…..
So I’ve thought a lot about it, and I think I do. I really do want those outboard steering stations. I can see my sails, I can see the boat, I can quickly trim the jib and am only few unobstructed steps from reefing the main in the cockpit. Plus, I can see the side of the boat when I dock, am close enough to throw the stern line, could be of assistance while transiting a lock. Plus, I can see the cockpit allowing me to be social while I have guests, or coach them from the cockpit. You can’t say the same of the elevated helm station on so many cats these days. Then they put a plastic dodger that blurs your vision, gives you a headache and needs replacing every couple years. No thanks. When it rains, I’ll click the autopilot on and keep watch through windows that don’t blur my vision.
And catamarans are supposed to have daggerboards, not keels.
So there you have it. I’m just as bad as all the other opinionated sailors.
But I know what I want if I go cruising again. And here is one currently for sale in Spain.