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An Introduction to the Catamaran Sailboat

By Charles Hopkins Published 08/31/2006 | Fishing and Boating

The Catamaran may be the new kid on the block when it comes to the world of recreational sailing, but in fact, this sturdy yet elegant design has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. A native of the South Pacific, the catamaran was first designed and used by the Polynesians. But recently, it's become more popular than ever.

So what is a Catamaran? It's simply a boat suspended, as it were, between two keels. Some are powered by paddles or engines; this article looks specifically at those powered by sails. The Catamaran is an entirely different set of challenges from your standard single keel sailboat. It offers a fresh set of challenges for sailors in need of them. In some ways, the Catamaran is easier to sail than a regular sailboat. In other ways, it's much, much harder. Because of the double keel, it's difficult (some would say impossible, but that's not quite true) to tip a Catamaran over sideways, or beam-wise, but unlike a regular single keel sail, they are much more likely to trip over themselves, as it were, and somersault back over front.

Because they are more stable than your average single-keel, a Catamaran can carry more sail than other sailboats. And this is only one of the things working in its favor. Each hull is lighter and the boat as a whole is able to float higher in the water than your normal sailboat; which again, only increases the speed. However, the two keels make it much more difficult to steer than the average sailboat. Tacking is especially difficult, and the chances of ending up in irons (with the wind blowing you in the opposite direction from the one you intended to go) are high. Catamarans do well in large, open bodies of water with little traffic, or in the ocean a little ways off from the coastline. (It can also navigate deeper waters well, but getting too far out in the ocean in a small craft--which most Catamarans are--is not advisable.) Clear waters and light or no traffic are a Catamaran sailor's best friends.

Because of their speed, Catamarans are becoming a popular racing sailboat, and Catamaran races are springing up everywhere. A Catamaran Race is a quick, heart-pounding event, with plenty of excitement on all sides. And small, personal races, with a minimum of fuss and maximum personal involvement, are some of the best.

In fact, most people are interested in Catamaran Sailboats for their racing value. But those who enjoy sailing and are just looking for an enjoyable new hobby should not dismiss them lightly. Yes, Catamarans have a whole different set of problems from the average single-keel sailboat. They are harder to steer, faster, more complicated. But they are also, once you spend the time and energy to get used to them, far more interesting, far more rewarding, and far more likely to become an obsession. It is well worth the time spent learning to master them.