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Go Cat Sailing

2: Learning in multihulls

Most national sailing schemes includes those wanting to sail multihulls, whether you want to start out in cats from the outset, or are an existing dinghy sailor looking to move into multihull racing. In some countries fewer clubs sail multihulls, especially inland, as their high speed and lack of manoeuvrability require a relatively large expanse of water. This also has an impact on training — fewer training centres are able to offer this.

Essential initial skills include all of those required for starting to race dinghies — tacking, gybing, sailing a triangular course, launching and recovering — and the fundamentals of the Racing Rules of Sailing. This level of proficiency can be achieved by completing Level 2 of the National Sailing Scheme, plus the Start Racing course — a total of just three weekends of tuition.

Capsize recovery technique needs to be adapted from the one you’d learn in dinghies, and needs to be done relatively quickly to prevent the boat inverting. Smaller boats can be righted from inverted reasonably easily by a competent crew, however, larger catamarans, where your crew weight is smaller relative to the size of the boat, can be more difficult. If the boat does invert, it’s also important to be sure you don’t become trapped underwater beneath the trampoline.

From the outset you’ll need an appreciation of the different handling characteristics of a multihull compared to a monohull dinghy. Catamarans have excellent directional stability — in a sense they will run in a straight line on their two narrow hulls as if on rails. This is great for sailing in a straight line, but can cause problems when it comes to turning corners.

Tacking is much harder than for a monohull dinghy and much slower — a huge amount of ground is lost in each tack. This contrasts sharply with monohull dinghies that will exit a tack faster than entering it if expertly sailed, due to crew using their weight to roll it. As a newcomer, you may even find that your multihull starts to be blown backwards during a tack, and you need to steer the opposite way to complete the turn.

A multihull is also not as easy to manoeuvre as a dinghy, in expert hands an onlooker might be hard pressed to notice this. However, a skilled helm will be aware that, for instance, the optimum line that needs to be taken in mark roundings changes in a cat. It’s also important to take account of a multihull’s very rapid acceleration, especially when bearing away onto a reach in close-quarters situations. You’ll probably start trapezing, and possibly even twin trapezing at an earlier stage, although the boat is also a more stable platform on which to practice.

You will rarely sail a catamaran directly downwind as doing so reduces the apparent wind so there’s insufficient power to fulfill the boat’s speed potential. Instead, a series of broad reaches (with the true wind up to roughly 45 degrees off directly astern) will enable a faster speed to be achieved and more than make up for the extra distance sailed. The crew therefore needs to work out downwind gybing angles, which are more important the faster the boat is. Even on a reach, the apparent wind will be further forward than with most monohull dinghies, simply as a result of the additional boat speed.

Previous page:1 How are 'cats' different?

There are two key reasons behind the high speed potential of multihulls

Next page:3 The next stage

Improving your boat handling techniques and building wind awareness

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