Lagoon 38 sailboat

We Crewed on a Catamaran!

Lagoon 38 Cockpit
Lagoon 38 Cockpit

We, like many other sailors, have always liked how roomy catamarans are. We may have even thought of investing in one, but the price/features differential made their consideration unrealistic. After all, we knew we would be retiring soon and the fact that rigging and engine maintenance are higher, not to mention haul out and slip fees. Those things in mind, we still really liked that they were so roomy and and thought they would be a stable platform.

Lagoon 38 sailboat
Lagoon 38

To our delight, we received a call from an old sea captain friend that we had crewed with before. He needed to deliver a Lagoon 38 catamaran to San Diego from our home port. We accepted and awaited the departure date. The plan was to leave at around three in the afternoon on a Tuesday so that we could arrive at eight the next morning for a haulout. When we arrived we were to have a ride ready to take us to a rental car that we would drive back to our home port in. It sounded a bit exciting and we had never sailed a catamaran before, so we looked forward to the adventure.

As it turned out this Lagoon 38 had been used by a charter company, and if any of you have had experience with charter boats before, you’d know that they are usually abused. The charter companies don’t seem to pay a lot of attention to maintenance. I suppose the idea is that over the charter life of the boat it would cost more to do maintenance than it would to run the boat into the ground and then replace it. This one had been run hard, although it was still a pretty boat.

We had heard and read of the good and bad of owning a catamaran, and we follow several channels on YouTube of couples that sail the Pacific aboard their catamarans. I’ve heard some mention the “lively” motion of catamarans at sea, but of course owners tend to be biased towards the positive. After this experience, I have a different word I would use, but more on that later. First Mate was a bit concerned about the possibility of a capsize, but I discussed how remote that possibility was especially considering that we were in about 10 knots of wind and a mixed following sea of around three feet. She felt better.

One thing I read from a charter company is that their catamarans were much more likely to be struck by lightning than their monohulls. Other considerations are how often a catamaran can capsize.

From a charter company
Capsized Catamaran
Capsized Catamaran

Early on in our searches for “THE” boat we read articles here and there about what could flip a catamaran. Mostly it can be attributed to gusts of wind and microbursts in squalls. If you are already carrying too much sail because you don’t have the feedback from the rigging that you would on a monohull, then a gust come up, it can flip a cat. It happens and it is complete catastrophic – aka unrecoverable. This is why you really need to have wind instruments that are in good working order – not a lot of feedback from the boat. There are those that say that a monohull will just sink, but that is not true. If you are in any kind of blow, you know to reduce sail by how the conditions react with your boat. The boat may be heeling too much or may be trying to round up. The time to reef becomes very obvious sailing a monohull. And if you do capsize, you have several tons of weight in the keel that will force the boat upright. In those conditions, you will probably have hatches closed and companionway openings closed, so water ingress while knocked down will be at a minimum. You hold on and wait for the boat to right itself, then you are back on your way. With a catamaran, not so much. Climb on top of the capsized boat and call for help.

First Mate and I were trying to find a word that described the motion of the catamaran while we were at the helm, and what came to mind is “spastic”.

Captain Tom

Then we come to the motion of a catamaran. I’d be the first to agree that while at anchor the cat is a really steady platform and tends to not roll. There are ways to steady a monohull, but it will never be as comfortable in a rolly anchorage. When it comes to motion while sailing, we experienced that the catamaran tends to react to any wave that hits it. Waves that our monohull would slice through tend to bounce the catamaran either up and down or side to side. While the catamaran may not roll, it has a very lively motion at sea. First Mate and I were trying to find a word that described the motion while we were at the helm of the catamaran, and what came to mind is “spastic”. In any sort of mixed seas, this is exasperated and the boat bounces side to side and to and fro. VERY uncomfortable and it gives a feeling of chaos. I suppose that you get used to it, but I would much rather be aboard our heavy displacement full-keel sailboat. The ease of motion is so much more predictable preferable! When going below while at sea you can predict the roll of a monohull. Not so much for the catamaran.

At the end of the delivery of the Lagoon 38, First Mate and I sat down for a postmortem of the trip. We had always pined over the thought of selling our monohull and buying a catamaran. The room, the steady platform at anchor, the speed. But if we learned anything, this trip cured us of ever wanting to buy a catamaran!

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About Captain Tom

Over 10 years sailing and over 3500 miles under our keel. Was an engineer (EE) for over 30 years, then after moving into management, decided that the corporate world was no longer for me. Ran my wife's law office for 15 years and recently retired. Now we live aboard and sail the California coast, soon to leave for the Sea of Cortez.
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