Handling a catamaran in manoeuvres can sometimes be easier than with a monohull, but there are a few surprising differences. Paul Hayes showed Will Bruton how to do it
While the divide between multihull and monohull is still very much in evidence, what isn’t in dispute is just how close to the on-shore action a catamaran can get you.
They also offer unparalleled amounts of space and comfort on board, and new catamarans have surprisingly impressive performance.
While they remain immensely popular for charter abroad, multihulls are also becoming a viable option for cruising in the UK.
Mainly due to their shape and size, catamarans behave differently at anchor and on a mooring buoy. The secret is to play to the boat’s strengths rather than treating her like a monohull.
The high topsides dictate that reaching over the side to pick up a buoy is less of an option but the immense beam, with a separate engine in each hull, gives the ability to turn the boat without needing forward motion through the water.
With a few simple techniques, you’ll find a cat is just as easy, if not easier to anchor and pick up a mooring, with far more options to choose from.
Into shallow water
Being able to creep into shallow water is a gamechanger, but before going right up to the beach, make a plan. Check your chart as you would normally, determining in your head as to how far you are going in and what limits you are setting yourself.
If your boat has daggerboards, make retracting them early part of your routine so that you are not worrying about it at the last minute, or worse.
High sided, lightweight and with little resistance in the water, a catamaran will swing around completely differently to a monohull, both at anchor and on a mooring buoy.
A performance catamaran moored between two heavy set cruising monohulls is less than ideal.
If the wind is blowing in a consistent direction and at a consistent speed when you arrive, meaning every boat in the anchorage is pointing in the same direction, this can also lead to a feeling that it will stay this way.
A slight change in wind direction will affect the catamaran almost instantly. So, if in doubt, leave a bit more room between you and those on either side of you.
One major advantage of mooring in close is that less chain means less swinging room.
When you are anchored, the catamaran will pivot from a bridle rigged between the two hulls, which also acts as a snubber. When moored, two lines, one from each hull to the buoy, ensures even distribution of load, a smooth swing on the buoy and an extra degree of security.
Picking up a mooring
For the purposes of this article, we will focus on a technique that works well when you are shorthanded.
It might seem counterintuitive to reverse towards a mooring when you want to be at the front of the boat but done correctly, this is by far the easiest technique.
In a high-sided catamaran, the stern bathing platform is likely to be the only place from which it is easy to reach the pickup line in the water.
First, set up a long line from one hull’s forward cleat, getting your crewmember to pay out the line out as they walk aft. Reverse towards the buoy but remain downwind of it, aiming to put the pickup line just off the aft quarter of the hull closest to the helm station.
The crew should easily be able to pass the line through the eye on the buoy.
The helm can make small adjustments on the engines to keep the boat close to the buoy while the crew walks forward and takes in on the mooring line. Once the buoy is close to, secure the line.
For short stays, there’s no need to add a second line but if you’re staying for any length of time, a line from the other bow will need to be rove through the buoy to square the boat up.
As with anchoring a monohull, positive communication with hand signals between crew and helm from start to finish of the process will make things a lot easier.
On most catamarans, the anchor falls from the centre of the boat while being paid out and not from the bow, meaning that, even with a raised helm position, it can still be hard for the helm to see where the chain is going.
Before dropping the anchor, have a look into the anchor locker and check none of the anchor bridle is going to get caught as you drop. This will mean holding it clear as you lay the chain out.
If anchoring in very shallow water, bear in mind that the bridle will add another 5m or more of scope at the end.
Once you have set the anchor and checked that it is well dug in by applying a little throttle astern, it’s time to rig the bridle. The bridle brings the pivot point forward between the two hulls, as well as spreading the load and reducing the snatching on the anchor.
Take the bridle out of its stowage position and secure the shackle or hook through a link in the chain. Then, let out chain while feeding out the bridle with your other hand.
The bridle will take the strain and end up a few metres forward of the bow, while the chain hangs down in a loop.
Top tips from Gavin Lesueur, author of Multihull Sailing
- When anchoring with a bridle, always let a good loop of chain fall below where your bridle takes the strain. This ‘lazy loop’ acts as a catenary, hanging into the water, taking the wind and wave shock out of the anchor line.
- Always carry a kedge anchor. As with a monohull, a strong lightweight kedge anchor can be invaluable to help pull you off an obstacle if you do run aground. It can also be used to reduce the swing range in a tight anchorage.
- Multihulls with ‘prodders’ (bowsprits for a spinnaker) require extra care when rigging a bridle. Practise setting up the bridle before you need to use it in a tight anchorage, as the arms sometimes need to be longer than usual
- Bridle length. Your bridle should always be at least the width of the beam of your catamaran. Keep in mind that a bridle is also a universal way of centralising load – for example, it can also be used for a drogue at the stern of the yacht in foul weather.