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Skipper’s Tips

Twist and Shout: Powering Up to Point High – Sailors come in many stripes—the round-the-cans racer, the weekend cruiser, the “if there's even a breath of wind, we're sailing” purist or the “if we're doing less than four knots, it's Yanmar time” realist.  One of the biggest divisions, but one that's quickly being eroded, is that between monohull and multihull sailors.

For years, the arguments raged between them—arguments that basically boiled down to: helming a monohull is like driving a sports car, but driving a cat is like driving a truck.  No doubt, there are differences in feel and response in either type of boat, but the belief that a catamaran won't go to windward, for instance, just doesn't hold up.

 

In order to get a catamaran sailing right, the crew have to learn how to make it respond, and the best way to get a cat pointing is to be aggressive with the traveller.  Tortola-based sailing instructor and former America's Cup sailor, Michael Domican, says “These modern cats can be made to point almost as high as the cruising monohull but you've got to build up to maximum boat speed first, before trying to point high.  And use your traveller more than your mainsheet: at almost full-beam width, it's a much bigger tool than the 'monomarans' have.”

By cranking the traveller far to windward and easing the mainsheet, the trimmer can induce some serious twist in the mainsail.  Twist means power, and with the main cranked up and producing plenty of lift, angles of 30-40 degrees apparent should be possible.  But first you want to sail a little off the wind to build boat speed, then bring the boat up to your optimum heading.  Remember, a cat doesn't like to have the main trimmed too tight: a flat main gives no gain.  When tacking, of course, there's quite a bit of work to be done—resetting the traveller, for one—but with the proper number of crew it's not difficult.  Another point: sailing a cruising cat requires a bit of grunt from the crew.  The loads on the winches are considerable and many crew don't grind those last few inches that can make the difference between OK and OKAY!!

 

One note of caution: many charter cats have inappropriate gear for controlling the traveller.  Often the winches are too small, and the line not strong enough or frayed.  So inspect your traveller gear before taking the boat off the dock and make sure the boat briefer gives you good instruction on the traveller.  Remember that often the boat briefers don't know very much about the equipment—they may know what it is but not what it does.  So if you are in doubt, politely insist on getting proper information from a captain or a rigger.

Downwind, it is best to sail high and fast rather then deep and slow.  With their smaller jibs, most cruising cats need the mainsail to generate power—although if you have a cruising chute or gennaker, then you can crack on some knots.

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Sailing under jib alone can make for a long and slow sail unless there's a serious breeze.  When heading downwind, be most alert to the accidental jib as it can ruin your day, not to mention make a mess of your rigging.  When jibing, control the mainsheet and let the boom out carefully as the boat turns through the wind—on a cat the shrouds are set far back and the boom can easily smack into them.

Most of all, keep an eye on your instruments, particularly when sailing downwind.  If you suddenly head up, the apparent wind can increase monumentally, putting all sorts of strain on the  equipment and setting the boat off on a high-speed thrill ride for which you might not be prepared.  In the end, though, with proper preparation and good crew work, your boat will sail like a scalded cat, and not like a dog. 

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