Catamarans are a relatively recent introduction to the design of boats for both leisure and sport sailing, although they have been used for millennia in Oceania, where Polynesian catamarans and outrigger canoes allowed seafaring Polynesians to settle the world's most far-flung islands.
In recreational sailing, catamarans, and multihulls in general, have been met by a degree of skepticism from Western sailors accustomed to more "traditional" monohull designs, mainly because multihulls were based on, to them, completely alien and strange concepts, with balance based on geometry rather than weight distribution. However, the catamaran has arguably become the best hullform for fast ferries, because their powering characteristics and spacious arrangements are valuable.
While the English adventurer and buccaneer William Dampier was traveling around the world in the 1690s in search of business opportunities, he found himself on the southeastern coast of India, in Tamil Nadu on the Bay of Bengal. He was the first to write in English about a kind of vessel he observed there. It was little more than a raft made of logs.
Although the name came from Tamil, the modern catamaran came from the South Pacific. English visitors applied the Tamil name catamaran to the swift, stable sail and paddle boats made out of two widely separated logs and used by Polynesian natives to get from one island to another.
The design remained relatively unknown in the West for almost another 200 years, until an American, Nathanael Herreshoff, began to build catamaran boats of his own design in 1877 (US Pat. No. 189,459), namely 'Amaryllis', which immediately showed her superior performance capabilities, at her maiden regatta (The Centennial Regatta held on June 22, 1876, off the New York Yacht Club's Staten Island station). It was this same event, after being protested by the losers, where Catamarans, as a design, were barred from all the regular classes and they remained barred until the 1970s.
This ban relegated the catamaran to being a mere novelty boat design until 1947. In 1947, surfing legend, Woodbridge "Woody" Brown and Alfred Kumalae designed and built the first modern ocean-going catamaran, Manu Kai, in Hawaii. Their young assistant was Rudy Choy, who later founded the design firm Choy/Seaman/Kumalae (C/S/K, 1957) and became a fountainhead for the catamaran movement. The Prout Brothers, Roland and Francis, experimented with catamarans in 1949 and converted their 1935 boat factory in Canvey Island, Essex (England), to catamaran production in 1954. Their Shearwater catamarans won races easily against the single hulled yachts.
The speed and stability of these catamarans soon made them a popular pleasure craft, with their popularity really taking off in Europe, and was followed soon thereafter in America. Currently, most individually owned catamarans are built in France, South Africa, and Australia.
In the mid-twentieth century, the catamaran inspired an even more popular sailboat, the Beach Cat. In California, a maker of surfboards, Hobie Alter produced the 250-pound Hobie Cat 14 in 1967, and two years later the larger and even more successful Hobie 16. That boat remains in production, with more than 100,000 made in the past three decades.
The Tornado catamaran is an Olympic class sailing catamaran, with a crew of two. It has been in the Olympic Games since 1976. It was designed in 1967 by Rodney March of Brightlingsea, England, with help from Terry Pierce, and Reg White, specifically for the purpose of becoming the Olympic catamaran. At the IYRU Olympic Catamaran Trials, it easily defeated the other challengers.
The normal catamaran multihull, powered or not, consists of two Amas separated by two Akas, which may suspend a platform or trampoline between them. They can be of various sizes and recently, they have become very large.
The hydroairy ship appears to be nothing more than an upgraded and enlarged pontoon boat with a formed and shaped underplatform. The general architecture is identical, consisting of two flotation chambers, for the Amas, joined by a load carrying platform, which carries the superstructure.
Invented in 1952 by a Minnesota farmer, in the rural town of Richmond, MN. Ambrose Weeres had an idea that if you put a wooden deck on top of two columns of steel barrels welded together end to end, you would have a sturdy deck that would be more stable on a lake than a conventional boat. This was Ambrose Weeres, walking the same idea paths as the early Polynesians, while proving that the ideas behind the multihull are not all that counter-intuitive.
These sorts of boats are cheap and easy to make, require no ballast, and thus have good performance. Although, this design is almost exclusively restricted to power boats. It is still, essentially, a catamaran. No displacement is lost towards ballast, therefore yielding huge operational efficiencies.
The Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) is a hull form used for vessels that require a ship of a certain size to handle in rough seas as well as a much larger vessel. An added benefit is a high proportion of deck area for their displacement — in other words, large without being heavy. The SWATH form was invented by Canadian Frederick G. Creed, who presented his idea in 1938 and was later awarded a British patent for it in 1946. It was first used in the 1960s and 1970s as an evolution of catamaran design for use as oceanographic research vessels or submarine rescue ships.
Catamarans provide large, broad decks, but have much higher water resistance than monohulls of comparable size. To reduce some of that resistance (the part that generates waves), as much displacement volume as possible is moved to the lower hull and the waterline cross-section is narrowed sharply, creating the distinctive pair of bulbous hulls below the waterline and the narrow struts supporting the upper hull. This design means that the ship's floatation runs mostly under the waves, like a submarine (the smooth ride of a sub was the inspiration for the design). The result is that a fairly small ship can run very steady in rough seas. A 50-meter ship can operate at near full power in nearly any direction in waves as high as 12 meters
The S.W.A.T.H. theory was further developed by Dr Thomas G. Lang, inventor of improvements to the semi-submerged ship (S3) in about 1968. Basically, a SWATH vessel consists of two parallel torpedo like hulls attached to which are two or more streamlined struts which pierce the water surface and support an above water platform. The US Navy commissioned the construction of a SWATH ship called the 'Kaimalino' to prove the theory as part of their ship research program. The Kaimalino has been operating successfully in the rough seas off the Hawaiian islands since 1975.
Although the principles of sailing are the same for both catamarans and monohulls, there are some "peculiarities" to sailing catamarans. For example:
Teaching for new sailors is usually carried out in monohulls as they are thought easier to learn to sail, a mixture of all the differences mentioned probably contributes to this.
Catamarans, and multihulls in general, are normally faster than single-hull boats for three reasons:
A catamaran is most likely to achieve its maximum speed when its forward motion is not unduly disturbed by wave action. This is achieved in waters where the wavelength of the waves is somewhat greater than the waterline length of the hulls, or it is achieved by the design piercing the waves. In either case pitching (rocking horse-like motion) is reduced. This has led to it being said that catamarans are especially favourable in coastal waters, where the often sheltered waters permit the boat to reach and maintain its maximum speed.
Catamarans make good cruising and long distance boats: The Race (around the world, in 2001) was won by the giant catamaran Club Med skippered by Grant Dalton. It went round the earth in 62 days at an average speed of eighteen knots.
An increasing trend is the deployment of a catamaran as a high speed ferry. The use of catamaran for high speed passenger transport was pioneered by Westermoen Hydrofoil in Mandal, Norway, who launched the Westamaran design in 1973. The Westamarans, and later design, some of them consisting of a catamaran hull resting on an air cushion between the hulls, became dominant for all high speed connections along the Norwegian coast. They could achieve speeds comparable to the hydrofoils that it replaced, and was much more tolerant to foul water and wave conditions.
There is a list of catamaran ferry routes documenting the growing number of routes.
Usually, the power catamaran is devoid of any sailing apparatus as demonstrated by one of the top-selling models in the United States, the Lagoon Power 43. This vessel has now been introduced to a number of charter fleets in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean and is becoming an increasingly common sight.
Smaller powered catamarans are becoming quite common in the United States with several manufacturers producing quality boats. A small "cat" will almost certainly have 2 engines while a similar sized mono-hull would only one engine. All mid-size and larger cats will have 2 engines.
While more popular in the EU, they are gaining popularity in the US as well due to their superior comfort, stability, safety, and speed, over monohulls. These boats can maintain a comfortable 300 nmpd (nautical miles per day) passage, with the racing versions recording well over 400 nmpd, and they do this while being unsinkable. This is extremely desirable, for circumnavigating the world. In addition, they don't heel more than 10-12 degrees, even at full speed on a reach.
Even without the actual need to circumnavigate, these catamaran megayachts allow a level of comfort and life-style not possible on a monohull sailboat and only previously possible on large power cruisers. This is their attraction.
Due to the perceived need to retain single-handed sail handling, 45m is expected to remain the upper limit for this class of yacht.
The main cruising power & sail catamaran builders are:
- Admiral Yachts, South Africa: http://www.admiralyachts.co.za/
- African Cats, Holland: http://www.africancats.com/
- Africat Marine, USA: http://www.africatmarine.com/
- Alliaura Marine, France: http://www.alliaura.com/
- Antares Yachts, Canada: http://www.liveantares.com/
- Brava Marine, Australia: http://www.bravamarine.com/
- Broadblue, England: http://www.broadblue.co.uk/
- Catana, France: http://www.catana.net/
- Fountaine Pajot, France: http://fountaine-pajot.com/
- Gunboat, US: http://gunboat.com/
- Lagoon Catamarans, France: http://www.cata-lagoon.com/
- Lightwave Yachts, Australia: http://www.lightwaveyachts.com/
- Maine Cat, United States: http://www.mecat.com/
- Multimarine, England: http://www.multimarine.co.uk/
- Outremer, France: http://www.catamaran-outremer.com/
- PDQ Yachts, Canada: http://www.pdqyachts.com/
- Performance Cruising, England: http://www.performancecruising.com/
- Scimitar Marine, Australia: http://www.scimitarmarine.com.au/
- Seawind Cats, Australia: http://www.seawindcats.com/
- Stallion Marine, Australia: http://www.stallionmarine.com.au/
- Tomcat Boats, Canada: http://tomcatboats.com/
A more complete list can be found at: http://www.multihull-maven.com/Yards
One of the biggest developments over the last decade in the yachting arena has been the rise of the super catamaran - a multihull over 100 feet in length.
Various international manufacturers are leading the way in this area including Blubay, Yapluka, Sunreef, Lagoon and Privilege. A catamaran of 150 feet in length is under construction at Derektor shipyards in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The emergence of the super or mega catamaran is a relatively new event akin to the rise of the mega or super yacht, used to describe the huge growth in luxurious, large motor yachts on the French Riviera and Floridian Coast.
One of the reasons for increased mega catamaran construction was The Race, a circumnavigation challenge which departed from Barcelona, Spain, on New Year's Eve, 2000. Because of the prize money and prestige associated with this event, four new catamarans (and two highly modified ones) over 100' in length were built to compete. The largest, "PlayStation", owned by Steve Fossett, was 125' long and had a mast which was 147' above the water. Virtually all of the new mega cats were built of pre-preg carbon fiber for strength and the lowest possible weight. Top speeds of these boats can approach 50 knots.