Cat vs. Mono — The Great Debate

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Catamaran versus Monohull

All right, so this subject has never been broached before. Right? Cat versus Mono? No? Good, then I’ll be the first to discuss it.

Ali and I sailed around the world on a 35′ Wildcat Catamaran. We returned, sold the boat, drove around for a couple of years in a ’58 VW Bus, and then had a baby. Now the question was how to raise the baby. Suburbia? Yeah right. In the VW? Yeah right. In a boat? Yeah ri…wait, hmmm, that sounds pretty good.

{Disclaimer: I am talking solely of my experience on my two boats. That’s it. Though I must also say that I consider myself a leading expert in all fields, sailboats included. So don’t even try to disagree with me. Thank you.}

Bumfuzzle Los GatosAshmore Reef Bum2

Cost

Of course by this time we’d been traveling around the world for seven years or so and that big stack of money we’d left with had dwindled to a somewhat smaller stack. We still could have bought a catamaran, but would have been limiting how long we’d have left out here. Instead we bought a monohull for a third of the price, and now we might be out here a very long time despite that pesky second baby that came along. Doing this also qualified us for entrance into a very exclusive club. The “cruisers who have gone from a catamaran to a monohull instead of the other way around” club.

So price. That’s really the first consideration to make isn’t it? Our one-year-old 35′ catamaran cost us $157,000. Our thirty-year-old 43′ monohull cost us $48,000. You can read all about the purchase and cost of our monohull here, What Our Bluewater Boat Cost, while our catamaran costs are all listed here on our website.

That’s a sizable difference, even when refit expenses are figured in. We still managed to drop $20k or so on the catamaran, and about $40k on the mono. Add those in and the monohull still comes in at less than half the price.

So let’s round some numbers off and say that we saved $100,000 by not buying a catamaran the second time around. That buys a lot of years cruising.

Sailing

But of course money isn’t the only issue. How about the sailing?

I found our cat incredibly easy to sail. All the lines were run to the cockpit. Just two winches ran the whole boat. Reefing was simple. It was just an overall easy boat to handle. Ali had no trouble at all handling sails and taking over the boat duties at night.

It didn’t sail to windward well at all, but then again, we were on a trade winds circumnavigation, this was rarely a problem. Fortunately what it excelled at was downwind sailing. Downwind in any wind conditions. Even wind from directly behind. It was especially good at that. Sailing wing and wing was always a joyous occasion.

SoPac Sailing1SoPac WingandWing2Bum Sailing

The mono? Not nearly as easy. Our lines are all over the place. It would take some expensive work to rig the boat to have all the lines run to the cockpit. And there are a grand total of eight winches! I’m still confused by it all to be perfectly honest.

It points pretty well, but sailing downwind has been a challenge. Without a whisker pole it’s difficult to keep wind in the sail. And I have a feeling that even if I did have a pole I wouldn’t be overly motivated to set it up. Sailing is not meant to be complicated.

BumfuzzleSailing BajaSailing Again

Heeling

Of course the big argument everyone likes to make about cats versus monos is that cats don’t heel. I can’t deny it, that is a big one. Even in the roughest of weather on the cat we could keep a drink sitting on the table and it wouldn’t spill. It’s pretty amazing actually how despite the size of the waves or their direction the cat just seems to float along on a level plane. And that was on a little 35 footer. I can only imagine how it must be on a bigger cat. Meanwhile in the mono just fifteen knots is enough to get her heeled over considerably. Forget setting a drink down, just standing up is work.

But the worst part of heeling doesn’t occur while sailing, the worst comes when at anchor. Oh the curse of the rolly anchorage. I can only think of one anchorage in the world that we set a stern anchor on the cat because of the rough rolly conditions. In the mono you’d like to do that on an almost daily basis. It’s amazing really just how little the swell needs to be to get a monohull rocking. To be at anchor and not be able to set a drink down can seem a little ridiculous at times.

Engines and Maintenance

One engine versus two. Lots of pluses and minuses there. In the cat we had a couple of instances where having only one engine would have put us in a tough spot. One was in New Zealand when one of our engines overheated so badly (because of a disconnected sensor wire that I never noticed) that we had to replace it. Of course we were in heavily populated New Zealand and weren’t in any sort of danger even if we’d had to sail in to port. The other was along the coast of Sudan. There we had a prop fall off. In two hundred feet of water. For four days we motored north to Egypt in calm seas with the other engine. Let’s just say that that would have been a bummer of a time on the monohull. Redundancy is nice.

But then there is the maintenance of two engines. The cat engines were Volvo 20 saildrives that required me to suck the oil out with a hand pump through the dipstick. That job sucked. Doing it twice sucked doubly. So the fact that I can throw a five gallon pail under the oil pan of my Ford Lehman 80 is a huge plus.

On the subject of maintenance, what about maintenance costs? Mono sailors try to say, “Double the hulls, double the maintenance,” but I can’t say that I’ve found that to be true. I might have done two oil changes on the cat, but the mono’s engine is bigger and ends up taking the same amount of oil. I also find that I use about the same amount of duct tape, super glue, and bailing wire on the monohull. Maybe even a bit more. Bottom paint? Surely two hulls are more expensive? No again. Two three-foot fin keeled hulls versus a six-foot-six full keel? Let’s call it a wash. Both boats only have one set of sails, one set of running rigging to those sails, etc. I just don’t really see where a big difference in maintenance would come from.

Power. Cats are notoriously underpowered. Our cat, running one engine at 2500 RPM motored at 3.9 knots. 4.3 on an especially flat calm day. It took forever to get anywhere. With both engines running we made 5.2. Maybe we were simply overloaded, but I don’t think so. Twenty horses just wasn’t enough to push that boat through the water. Either was forty. On the mono we motor at around seven knots at the same RPM. Fuel consumption is a bit more, but the difference between being able to motor maybe ninety-six miles in a day versus one hundred and sixty-eight is life changing.

While on the engine subject let me make the point that maneuvering a cat is extraordinarily simple. I could dock that boat in any tide, and any wind. While the mono, well, let’s just say things can get a little dicey on occasion. Who amongst us hasn’t seen a monohull hit another boat while docking? That’s as American a past-time as baseball on a summer day.

Tankage

On to tankage. Catamaran, two thirty-five gallon tanks. Monohull, two one-hundred and twenty-five gallon tanks. That’s a hell of a lot of motoring. And as any cruiser knows, you can never have too much diesel. Don’t think that’s true? Take a look at cruising boats that have been out for a few thousand miles. Now count how many yellow five-gallon jugs are strapped to their lifelines.

So how about water tankage? Our cat, two seventy-gallon tanks. Our mono, two tanks for a total of two-hundred-fifty gallons.

Miscellaneous Boat Stuff

Build quality? The strength. Our catamaran, if memory serves me correct had a half inch balsa core under the thinnest layer of fiberglass possible. On our monohull I drilled out two holes in the deck to install some foot pedals for the windlass and I thought I’d never get through it. I had to recharge the drill three times. The entire thing was an inch and a half thick. I could take a sledgehammer to the monohull and not dent it. On the catamaran I could drop a screwdriver and put a hole in it. In fact that happened more than once.

Bumfuzzle Deck Core

Out on deck? Our monohull is a canoe stern rear cockpit which means basically that the cockpit is ridiculously small. Our boat makes up for it with a ton of space up front (by monohull standards). Enough in fact that we can drive our kids big red Cozy Coupe car around in circles. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on the cat, but I would have been able to drop the kids in the massive cockpit with a bucket of toys and left them there for six hours while they tried to crawl from one side to the other. The cat’s trampolines up front were always a fun place to hang out and watch dolphins from too. Though our mono does have a six-foot bowsprit which makes for some pretty awesome viewing angles as well.

Bumfuzzle July28DailyEmery Cove Yacht HarborBumfuzzleBowspritAshmore Reef Bum1Mart Top of MastHappy IslandGre Family Sailing2

What about swimming off the boat? There’s something we don’t give enough thought to. Going swimming off our mono is a giant pain in the butt. Climbing up those janky swim ladders isn’t a lot of fun for me alone, but trying to navigate a two-year-old safely up it really sucks. The cat’s transom was pretty amazing. Best unforeseen benefit to it was being able to kneel down on the bottom step while underway and stick my goggled face in the water to check if the props were tangled up in nets or garbage. More than once I thought our slow speeds had to be due to some problem only to find out there was nothing down there and the problem was a current. But on occasion I did find them wrapped full of crap. Another benefit is being able to sit down and read a book with your feet dangling in the water.

Tenacatita SwimmingChamela SwimA Mess of LinesAU Lizard Island Read

Click here for Part II, Cat vs. Mono – The Verdict. What’s your guess?

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