Saifing on a Catamaran

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If you know how to sail a keelboat or dinghy, then you can sail a catamaran, because a catamaran, also commonly referred to as a cat, is simply a sailboat with two hulls instead of one. Figure 11-9 shows a basic cat. Sure, some multi-hulls are big, heavy cruisers, but we're talking about the kind you launch off a beach, around 20 feet (6 meters) or smaller. Note that a cat has some features you don't find on other sailboats, including a crossbar to hold its unique twin hulls in place; the trampoline — rope mesh or fabric surface between the two hulls; full-length battens in the mainsail; and a rotating mast to optimize sail shape.

Because the principles of sailing a catamaran are the same as for any boat, this section focuses on some areas where you run into significant differences.

Making your own wind

The big difference between cats and dinghies is their speed. Cats are faster on almost every point of sail, in every wind condition. The reason for the speed is twofold: The narrow hulls cause very little drag, and the "wide wheelbase" enables the crew to sit very far away from the sails, providing great mechanical advantage to keep the boat from heeling. The added width is sort of like having a supertrapeze — in fact, many cats have trapezes, too!

Although catamarans, like any other boat, can sail directly downwind (with the wind dead astern), the faster way to get downwind is to broad reach one way and then jibe and broad reach the other way, in a zigzag route. Although you sail a longer distance than when you steer straight downwind, the extra speed generated by reaching up and making some of that magic apparent wind is usually well worth the trouble.

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