Multihulls Go Mainstream

The question is no longer "why a cat?" but rather "which cat?"

Six years ago I wrote a story about power catamarans for Sea, most of which centered on why anyone should give a cat a chance. This story represents an update of the older story. Now, before you turn the page, understand that even I didn’t recognize my original story when I reread it. Just over a half a decade ago, power cats were trying to gain acceptance in the market. Sure, they came in lots of shapes and sizes, but they still had an image problem and were considered newfangled and weird.

Fast forward a few years and power cats are gobbling up dock space. Other than pontoon boats — which, one could argue, are also power cats — catamarans are the fastest growing segment of the boating market. This may be because they have some inherent advantages, including more deck and interior space per foot than monohulls, a shallower draft, and stability underway and at rest in rolly anchorages. Twin screws set wide apart enhance maneuverability around the docks, even without a bow thruster. Finally, consider fuel economy. Cats don’t drag a keel through the water, so on average they’re 20 to 30 percent more fuel efficient.

With their newfound momentum, including major changes in styling, comfort, customization and range, cats no longer have to be justified. But an interested buyer’s choice will depend on how and where he boats, so let’s take a look at the cruisability of some of the latest models.

Power catamarans in the 20- to 35-foot range have enjoyed the longest reign. Numerous brands including Glacier Bay, World Cat and ArrowCat have long pitched their speed and fishability. Two hulls provide a smooth ride to where the fish are biting and a steady casting platform that reduces fatigue and extends outings. The new hulls have been designed from scratch for less pounding and better performance, and most can cruise 200 to 400 miles.

World Cat, which now markets more than a dozen models from 23 to 32 feet, offers center and dual-console models and branded Glacier Bay cuddy cabin designs. The new boats are narrower, so buyers can find a slip more easily, and lighter, so they can go farther on a tank. They can also run at 30 knots, so anglers can fish in the morning and still get to their honey-do list in the afternoon.

ArrowCat offers three models from 32 to 42 feet and concentrates on fit and finish, a smooth ride, plentiful cruising amenities and a top speed of 50 mph on its 32-footer. The builder highlights strength and seaworthiness for boaters who put safety at the top of their must-have list.

Because more of the coastal designs are reaching farther, a major focus has been on fuel economy. Larry Graf, founder of Aspen Catamarans, dialed that in when he created a line of power cats with only one engine. His power proa design includes two asymmetrical hulls, one of which holds a single Volvo Penta diesel. The 32-foot C100 has a 500-mile range at 9 knots and a 300-mile range at 20 knots. In addition, this model offers a galley, a dinette, a double berth and a head.

“Our people are adventure boaters who want to get there quickly,” Graf said. “About half never fish and the other half fish occasionally or seriously.”

Comfort may be best demonstrated by a 40-foot Aspen C120 that took a 10,000- mile tour (sort of). From 2017 to 2018, owners David and Sue Ellen sailed from Anacortes to Alaska, then back down and on to the Sea of Cortez. They then trucked the boat across to the Gulf Coast of Texas, put the boat back in the water, and continued around Florida and up to Annapolis, Md. That’s not something one does in a barebones camper.

Not everyone has the time to cruise the perimeter of the country, but since smaller Aspens and other power catamarans are trailerable, cruising is redefined. “Some of our owners coastal cruise, then pull the boat with a three-quarter-ton pickup and live in it on land like an RV, and then put it back in the water,” Graf said.

For something completely different and truly head-turning in this segment, there’s Sunreef Yachts, a Polish builder of large luxury catamarans from 50 to 150 feet. An exception to its big multihulls is its new ferocious feline: the 40 Open. This is a dayboat on steroids, with twin 860 hp engines (upgraded) and a top speed of 60 knots. With smaller engines and a moderate speed, the 40 Open has a range of more than 600 miles, presumably made possible by a retractable hydrofoil system that lifts the boat above the water when it reaches faster than 25 knots.

The lateral bulwarks of the award winning 40 Open fold out and increase the deck space when it’s time to lounge, play or party. An outdoor galley allows for great entertaining too, but it’s the boat’s aggressive and avant garde styling that is its greatest differentiator and may just land it a spot in the next James Bond movie.

There’s a bit of crossover around the 40-foot mark. Aspen has a 40-footer and ArrowCat’s flagship is 42 feet as both companies reach up to the mid-market. However, most of this segment is dominated by production builders such as Leopard, Lagoon and Fountaine Pajot.

South African builder Robertson & Caine offers Leopard Catamarans, which have been a fixture in the sailing cat charter trade for decades. Many of their earlier sailing models were Morrelli & Melvin designs that went to The Moorings and Sunsail. Leveraging its expertise, Leopard has now added power catamarans to its line, which can be chartered in exotic locations from Croatia to the British Virgin Islands. I had the good fortune to test a Leopard 43 PC for a week in the BVI, and I became a convert from sail to power and monohull to multi. Cruising at 18 knots, we covered three snorkel spots in a day and then grilled dinner on the flybridge while our underwater lights glowed. The fuel bill at the end of the charter was a welcome surprise: about $300 for the week as we crisscrossed the islands.

For anyone considering a specific boat, it’s nice to be able to test it for more than an afternoon. Spending a week with a design really brings its strengths and weaknesses to light. For example, the hydraulic swim platform on the Leopard 51 PC can help people with limited mobility get in and out of the water. That’s something that isn’t top of mind at a boat show, so it’s nice to be able to undertake a try-before-you-buy charter.

Kurt Jerman, president of West Coast Multihulls in San Diego, represents Fountaine Pajot and also works with charter companies. Jerman, who’s about to debut this coast’s first FP 44 MY, noted that the French builder is focused on boats that have become sleeker and narrower and that offer better layouts than a few years ago.

“Fountaine Pajot rebranded their power cat line from ‘trawler’ to ‘motoryacht,’ and that helped with market perception,” Jerman said. “Their line is composed of three models, 37 to 44 feet, with engines up to 300 hp that will deliver 18- to 20-knot speeds.” These aren’t slow boats, which the trawler moniker implied.

Better hull shapes have resulted in greater fuel economy, and these midrange designs can cruise farther. “The FP 44 has a 1,000-mile range, so it’ll get you from California to Cabo or up to Seattle,” Jerman said. “There’s a smoother ride too.”

Another line interested parties can check out in charter is Aquila. Built in China and represented in the U.S. by MarineMax, Aquila offers three models, from 36 to 48 feet. The entry model is basically an outboard-powered express cruiser that is meant for quick runs to Catalina or a couple cruising the Great Loop. The two larger models can be found in charter but are growing in private ownership on the West Coast as people look for boats that can explore farther afield.

Exploring farther afield is no issue for the Horizon Yachts PC series, which is composed of four models: 52, 60, 65 and 74. With open and enclosed flybridge versions, multiple stateroom options and cruising amenities borrowed from the builder’s experience with its luxury yacht lines, Horizon’s PC models can accommodate multiple people on extended cruises. Even the smallest in the lineup can reach more than 1,000 miles at trawler speeds.

A semi-production brand unlikely to be found in charter is Journey Catamarans. Journey’s protruding wave-piercing hulls extend the waterline and reduce hobby-horsing. The cats reach top speeds around 20 knots, but at half that their range exceeds 1,000 miles, which makes them a good fit for adventurous boaters.

Part of the appeal of this segment is the models’ ancillary equipment. Midrange power catamarans come with generators, water-makers, solar panels, and larger battery banks and fuel tanks, so owners can go farther and stay longer. Also, “elegance” has entered the power cat vocabulary, and nobody is roughing it.

Larger than 60 feet or so, cats become luxurious superyachts with nearly unlimited amenities and a long range, so they can go about anywhere. Many of these large multihulls are in crewed charter service, and since they offer approximately 1.2 times the living space of a monohull, they function like superyachts at a lower length overall.

Take the soon-to-be-launched Sunreef 80, which seems more like a 96-foot monohull. Per the company’s president and founder, Francis Lapp, the 80 is a multihull yacht for long cruises in comfort that combines superyacht living spaces with enhanced seaworthiness.

Equipped with an aft garage and a large swim platform, the 80 has room for a dinghy, a PWC and plenty of water toys, which are popular with charter guests and owners alike. This vessel is also highly customizable with multiple layouts, including a full-beam master suite in the bow. The yacht’s flybridge has vast lounging areas, a Jacuzzi and a bar, and it is powered by twin diesels that can be upgraded to 1,200 hp each. With these enormous engines, the boat will reach 24 knots. It carries more than 4,000 gallons of fuel, which provides a range up to 3,500 nautical miles (depending on speed, conditions and engine option).

French production builder Lagoon recently entered this market with two models, a 630MY and the Seventy8. With these models, Lagoon is definitely reaching beyond the basics of white fiberglass charter boats up to a more luxurious owner experience.

“The 630 is for people who are tired of burning fuel and money, and tired of having professional crew on board,” said Fred Signat, director of Lagoon America. “An experienced couple can run this boat on their own, and the sense of privacy from being self-sufficient is alluring.”

The 63-footer is powered by either 260 hp or 300 hp Volvo Penta diesels and can cross the Atlantic. The Seventy8, with twin 580 hp John Deere diesels, can cross the Pacific. On deck, the Seventy8 is the size of a tennis court and the wow factor is the master suite, which has its own terrace that’s created when a section of the starboard hull is opened and lowered to the waterline. That’s definitely superyacht stuff.

Additional power catamaran evolutions include improved deck layouts that keep the main deck and salon on the same level and more living space. The very angular Sunreef 68 — 3,000-mile range and a top speed of 25 knots — has nearly 1,000 square feet of room and a custom interior design. Green features are popular too and include natural air circulation systems to cut down on traditional air conditioning, LED lighting, wind generators, water turbines and sustainable interior materials. Advanced technology, such as digital switching systems and zone-controlled audio, have become nearly standard.

Part of the recent growth of the power cat market is attributable to the original builders who stayed the course long enough for models to turn over into the brokerage market where they’ve became available to a larger swath of the boating population. More importantly, cats have held their resale value, which has huge appeal. Also, more sailing cat builders realized where the market was headed and switched gears to power, so there are simply more models to choose from.

That said, Signat thinks the real growth in power catamarans is still on the horizon. “I’m convinced there’s a huge market out there but none of us have yet built the exact boat for it,” he said. “Lagoon is a volume builder that needs large opportunities, so we try to create them. For example, when we first put a flybridge on our 440 sailing cat, everyone said it was crazy. Now you see them everywhere. When the power cat market is ready, we’ll be there in force.”