Our Search, Our Goal
By JEAN and MITCH LEAVITT
It was time for a change.
We both wanted to do something different. Eventually my wife Jean and I decided it was time to go cruising, rather than wait until retirement to fulfill that dream. Once we made the decision to break away it seemed like such an obvious decision, we wondered why it had been so hard to reach. Two years earlier we had sold our 35' monohull. We loved the boat, but had too little time to use her. Now we needed a boat for extended cruising.
Like so many people, we performed the methodical evaluation of our options, and became solidly convinced that a multihull would be our choice. We recognized the theoretical advantages: performance, shoal draft, comfort underway and at anchor, unsinkability. However, finding a boat that actually fulfills the theory is another story.
A comfortable high-performance catamaran was our goal. Our search took us from our home on the Great Lakes to California and Florida. We looked at several production boats, and a few well built custom boats. We visited Tektron Corp. in Stoney Creek, Ontario, where Eugene Tekatch is building 35' and 50' Shuttleworth-designed catamarans.
His knowledge of multihull design and construction impressed us. Moreover, entering the cockpit of the boat under construction, we were surprised by how much we liked the 35 -- we could actually imagine sailing this boat. We love the feeling of sailing, but all the other cats we had seen and sailed had a bridgedeck cabin, with a high bulkhead at the forward end of the cockpit. On all those boats, the helm was actually a chair behind a wall. It just didn't feel right. We felt like we were driving a truck, not sailing a boat. But, this open cockpit felt different, and it felt right. During the subsequent months we studied countless articles written by and about Shuttleworth multihull design and construction. Here was a design that would truly realize the advantages of a multihull: fast, comfortable, safe, shoal draft. The monocoque construction, use of carbon and Kevlar, and computer assisted design made her enormously seaworthy. We ordered hull number three.
OUR TIME ABOARD
Jean named her Cattleya (cat-lay-uh), which is a genus of orchids. Launching in October, we raced against the approach of winter, heading out into Lake Ontario from the Erie Canal. We wanted to get to the ICW and down to Florida ahead of the snow. With a brisk northwest wind behind us, our eyes opened wide, we held on tight as the boat proved she would fulfill her designer's expectations and ours. The second day out we were going at 15 knots. That was roughly twice as fast as we had ever sailed before! Remember, this is a loaded cruising boat. We were thrilled.
We spent about three years aboard before returning to our jobs and the home we rented. We divided the first two years between Florida and the Bahamas. Next, we sailed offshore double-handed to Bermuda for an extended visit. From Bermuda we sailed to New England where we enjoyed the remainder of the summer.
As winter approached, we retraced our course down the east coast once again to Florida and the Keys. We visited the Bahamas a third time, and finally returned to Florida.
Those years will likely be the most memorable of our lives. We enjoyed exploring new cultures and the camaraderie of other cruisers. We established some long-term friendships, and satisfied our need to 'get away from it all' for a while. Countless authors have described the satisfaction, challenges and frustrations of the live-aboard cruising lifestyle. I won't add another article to that collection. Rather, I'll comment on some of Cattleya's more unique attributes which satisfied our requirements.
We only needed five gallons of fuel, which cost us $4.25 per gallon.
The boat proved to be exceptional. She was small enough for the two of us to handle easily, but provided plenty of room for comfort. Our trip to Bermuda illustrates the point. In generally light winds and close-hauled, we covered the 750 miles in five and a half days. Just the two of us. That isn't particularly fast passage, but we arrived much earlier than other, larger boats, with larger crew. And we were more comfortable during the trip. Best of all was that we continued to sail when the light winds forced others to motor. When we had to fuels up before departing Bermuda, we were glad we only needed five gallons of fuel, which cost $4.25 per gallon.
The absence of a bridge-deck cabin distinguishes Cattleya from most other cruising cats. Skeptical about this design initially, as I mentioned above, it was the feeling of sailing her that initially caught our interest. Once aboard for an extended period, we discovered other advantages.
Cattleya has an enormous cockpit. Having room to move around makes sailing much easier and more comfortable. This doesn't work well on a heeling, pitching monohull, because you need to brace your body against something most of the time. Not so on a stable cat. There is ample room for crew and passengers to sit comfortably while underway. Everyone has an unobstructed view forward, and can feel the breeze. Sail control received a lot of our own design consideration during construction, The mast is located at the forward end of the cockpit. So, the sails are raised, reefed and lowered without leaving the cockpit. The same is true for lowering and weighing anchor. Our goal was a boat that could be single-handed, so that when the two of us were underway for an extended passage, we would not have to awaken the other for sail changes, etc. Indeed, en route to Bermuda, Jean could change headsails and reef the main without bothering me below.
There's literally room for a party, if you like. Cattleya was often the gathering place for socializing in an anchorage. The cockpit was perfect for entertaining. At one time 17 people were aboard this 35' boat to celebrate a birthday. The dinghy parking lot off the stern attracted a bit of attention.
The forward half of the cockpit is a dining area. The table stows while underway. Once in port, it is where we dined and relaxed in the pleasant weather. The main dinette below was available during less agreeable weather.
We learned from other cruisers that bridge-deck cabins were like ovens in the tropical sun. Eventually they covered the panoramic windows to block the sun, darkening the interior and thereby losing the view.
Cattleya can sacrifice the interior volume found in bridge-deck cabin catamarans because of the typical Shuttleworth hull shape, with large knuckle and flare. This shape creates significantly wider beam and more interior volume. Headroom in both main cabins is seven feet. The gallery has an uninterrupted six-foot-long counter on one side, with the sink, frig, oven and cooktop on the other.
All these advantages come with a price. In foul weather, the cockpit is much less protected.
In very heavy seas, we found the cockpit wet. In the tropics, sun protection is essential. So, we added a bimini, and a large sun awning extended from the bimini while at anchor. We created a large windshield / dodger to protect the cockpit while underway in heavy seas. The dodger was also raised to protect from high winds while at anchor.
We ultimately came to think of this arrangement as a 'convertible'. The bridgedeck was open, but could be closed as the weather required. For the vast majority of our time aboard, we chose to keep the cockpit open. It was the perfect compromise for us.
Our boat was built with a rotating wing mast. The theoretical advantages of the wing mast are attractive. It should increase windward performance. It can serve as a fixed storm sail, both for making way and heaving to. We sailed with it for a year. After a long struggle, unhappy with it's disadvantages, we finally replaced it with a fixed aluminum mast. We switched from high-tech to tried-and-true. We were pleased with that decision and remain so today. Why?
First, the mast is not self-tending, as you might expect. The mast was essentially another 'sail' that required trimming, as conditions or course changed. Furthermore, the capshrouds had to remain loose to allow its rotation. They, too, required attention and adjustment. This was all a step in the wrong direction for a couple who wanted a boat that was easy to sail short-handed.
Additionally, that wing is up there, even if you don't want it. In the Bahamas, it was not unusual to anchor in a tidal current. Of course the current is constantly changing. As soon as the tidal current turns the boat out of the wind, the mast begins to sail. This was a problem for us only a few times, but it was no fun. I recall one harbour where everyone is required to take a mooring bouy. They are fairly closely spaced. We would sail right up to the stern of the upstream boat, stopping when our bowsprit was less than a foot from their stern grill. Needless to say, that was unacceptable for both of us. Eventually I hove to on the mooring by trimming the mast and the rudders. But that required regular adjustment as the tidal current changed. It interfered with enjoying what would have been a fun harbour.
Another issue is masthead equipment. Masthead running lights won't work because they won't be properly aligned with your boat's heading. And wind direction instruments suffer the same problem.
Using the mast as a fixed stormsail is intriguing. Eugene Tekatch reported successfully employing the mast in this way on his 50' catamaran. So did the crew of our sister ship sailing across the Atlantic. Nonetheless, Jean and I decided that, if we met conditions too rough for sailing with our stormsails, we could deploy the parachute anchor. We are fairly cautious cruisers, and we never found ourselves in that condition. But the parachute anchor was always set up for deployment whenever we sailed.
We were quite satisfied with our decision to replace the wing mast because it allowed much simpler boat handling. However, we wondered how much we had hampered her performance. Finally we had a chance to sail with Rosebud, a sister ship with a wing mast. We were fully loaded for cruising; Rosebud was not. We spent an afternoon sailing next to each other in fairly light airs off Marblehead, MA. We were all surprised to see that both boats sailed about the same. At times they crept away from us, at other times we nosed ahead. I think they were ahead of us more than half the time, but it was very close. We were elated.
During construction of Cattleya we ought the advice of many people who provided invaluable guidance. Several people in the multihull world recommended Dave Bierig to make our sails. We found him a pleasure to work with, and subsequently recommended him to others. After reviewing our sailplan, he suggested we consider his patented Camberspar®. After carefully studying the concept, we agreed to use it for our working jib. This is our main upwind headsail, and sees a lot of use. It was another good choice. Not only does the Camberspar® make the jib truly self-tending, it is also self-vanging. On any point of sail, it is a breeze to handle, and maintains great sail shape. We love it.
It provided another advantage on our particular boat. Cattleya's rig has triatic stays, with no backstay, to accommodate the huge roach in the mainsail. This compromises headstay tension when sailing to windward, That problem is overcome with running backstays, which are another complication of boat handling that a shorthanded couple would like to avoid. The Camberspar® automatically tensions the forestay, and increases that tension as wind builds, when you want it. It is very clever and effective. This allowed us to remove the running backstays completely. Off the wind, the sail is poled out making it much more effective than an un-poled sail. Yet it remains self-tending, even when you jibe, running before the wind (not recommended in high apparent wind).
Jibing back and forth, following the bends of the river, we didn't touch either the main or jib sheet.
We used this most effectively the second time we came down the ICW. With a following north wind behind us, we sailed down the winding rivers in the North Carolina, jibing back and forth, following the bends of the river. We didn't touch either the main or jib sheet. The only other time we sailed like that was aboard the Nonesuch. But now we were doing 10 knots! Another couple aboard an anchored Gemini later showed us video footage they recorded of us sailing by that day.
In my analysis, there are only two disadvantages of the Camberspar®. First, it cannot be rollerfurled. Second, the stainless steel spar adds some weight to a boat. In summary, we love the Camberspar®, and feel it's advantages far outweigh any disadvantages.
OUR ENERGY SYSTEM
Like many multihulls, Cattleya has propane refrigeration. That makes energy management much easier. Our Solarex® 35-watt solar panels provided the vast majority of the electricity we consumed. Most of the time our two 4D gel cell batteries were charged up before mid day. Our biggest challenge was finding a good regulator for them. The third one we tried finally worked. We have a high output windmill, but saw little use because it is too noisy for us. That may be due to the two bladed prop. Fortunately, the solar panels were adequate, so we have not solved the windmill issue. We didn't like the idea of the windmill operating while we were underway. An alternative consideration is a hybrid system that allows water flow generation underway, and wind generation at anchor. A multihull's relatively fast cruising speed make water generation more attractive.
After just less than three years aboard, we returned to previous careers and our home in the Midwest. The Bahamas, Bermuda, and the entire eastern seaboard provide a wonderful cruising playground. The time away from our previous lifestyle was rejuvenating; we returned refreshed and relaxed, ready to engage in our professional lives again. We encourage anyone with similar dreams to pursue them. Cattleya proved to be a great cruising boat for our needs. Many of our decisions regarding the boat proved quite satisfying and we appreciated the help offered by several people in the multihull world. We'll gladly discuss these and any related topics with interested people. Please contact us through the editor.