It would seem I am doomed to always do boat reviews on strong wind days. No matter how carefully I plan the test sails with weather forecasts, it always ends up blowing hard. The moderate westerly became a stiff south-easter – but then again, big breeze on big boats is no big deal anyway.
The catamaran under review is a one- off custom build by Two Oceans Marine for businessman and diver Mark Van Niekerk, who had some very specific ideas of how he wanted his boat built. I was immediately taken with Mark’s attitude when he said he asked for a fast, safe boat. So often cruising boats are slow and slow is usually not safe. None of the standard production boats met his criteria, so the designer John Shuttleworth was engaged to draw the lines of a 47-foot cat to meet the owner’s needs. Mark Delany of Two Oceans Marine explained to me that they specialize in custom boats, rather than productions models.
I did the long walk down F jetty at Royal Cape Yacht Club to find Life’s a Dream tied up at the visitors’ mooring. It is immediately impressive and a little different from most cats. Firstly, the oval skylights and burgundy two-tone paint job make the boat stand out. It was the usual ‘shoes off please’ before boarding and then Mark Delany took me on a tour of the boat.
I understand that each boat is unique and each owner had specific needs. Some like luxuries, others abhor them. This cat is a no-nonsense boat. Built light and strong, it has few luxuries aboard, but all the gear for a great live aboard experience. I was taken with the clean, uncluttered finishes, practical fabric choices and neat timberwork. A great deal of thought and planning has gone into the boat to make it workable as a home and dive boat.
The cockpit is massive. Probably big enough to set up a game of ping-pong! There are two steering stations which are elevated and give one a clear view. Controls are duplicated port and starboard.
The main saloon is also big, light, airy and comfortable with a big wrap-around sofa dominating. To the left is a big galley with all the usual accoutrements, but what I liked was the design which keeps the cook centralized in the galley (and safe in a seaway).
A few steps take one down into the port hull where there is an en-suite double cabin and also two crew berths. In the stern section of the port hull, John has his work shop – his personal space for all his diving activities. This also houses the water purifiers/desalinators. An opening hatch is placed just above the waterline facing inwards, allowing one a clear view under the boat, both forward and to the stern.
The starboard hull has a similar guest double cabin forward, with a large navigation station separating the front from the owner’s bigger cabin at the stern.
Mark fired up the two Yanmar 40hp diesels as the crew cast off for our test sail. Mark spent his money on the right things (in my opinion) and hoisting the huge, fully battened mainsail was a pleasure with the battcar system and the big electric winches. We were doing seven knots with the main only and unfurled the working jib as we left the breakwater, at which point I took the helm. The south easter knew I would be out and kicked in at 25 knots just for me. (How I respect the good Doctor!)
Mark had explained that the steering system might feel too tight as he has the cable system set up like that for the auto pilot; and tight it was. After 10 minutes I could already feel my arms getting tired, but obviously this is a matter easily rectified. At 20 knots of breeze, we were doing 10 knots and with 25 knots, we were romping along at 12 knots. There was no question of being overpowered at any point. As the gusts swept down Table Bay and nailed the big cat, it would simply accelerate and flick a bit of spray off the leeward hull. I felt safe and secure steering her. For me, the true test with a multihull is (a) can it perform to
windward and (b) can it tack? Everyone knows cats like beam reaching and fetching and we
had just done 20 minutes of that. It was time to go to windward. We were still carrying full mainsail and I rounded her up to about 45 degrees apparent and to my surprise there was hardly any drop-off in speed. We still had 10 knots on the log. Surprised and impressed, I squeezed her up a little more to around 38 degrees apparent and only then did the speed drop down to eight knots. I would imagine the VMG would be optimal at around 45 degrees upwind with excellent speed at hand. The cat feels very good at this speed and a little sluggish at eight knots, so I would always sail her footed off a touch for a balanced feel.
OK. Time to tack. There are some multihulls that cannot tack without engine power. Life’s a Dream had a self-tacking jib up, so we didn’t need any adjustments, other than some traveller on the mainsail. I put the helm down and she tacked in about five seconds. Voila!
We scooted back towards Green Point on the opposite tack still maintaining 10 knots and then as the wind picked back up to 25 knots, I cracked her off a bit and the log went to 13 knots and remained there and even notched up to 14 knots for a while. Still really easy and stable with hardly any spray.
Then there was a very loud ‘thunk’ and seconds later a Sunfish spun out in our wake. We must have hit it with the dagger board. The cat dug her nose in momentarily and then carried on as if nothing happened. The centreboard is interesting in that it is made of timber (Western Red Cedar to be precise) and there is only one – in the starboard hull and it is retractable, as are the rudders – in a clever kick-up system forming part of the boarding steps at the stern. Mark had insisted that the rudder mechanisms be easily accessible for maintenance. Whilst this is practical, it does spoil the aesthetics of the boat a little and could hurt guests’ feet when boarding. However, this is nothing a little creative glasswork could not sort out.
We did another two tacks and then headed back into the harbour. After furling the jib, I switched the motors on and we were doing eight knots at three-quarter throttle straight into a strong headwind. During sea trials she was doing 10 knots in flat water with both motors and eight knots with one motor. I handed the helm back to John, who demonstrated the big boat’s manoeuvrability using the two engines judiciously in a small space of water, trying to back the boat up into her mooring berth in a strong south-easter.
Every time I sail a multihull, I like them more. There can be no doubt about the advantages. Acres of deck and cockpit space;nearly always level; fast on most point of sail – in fact a cruising sailor’s dream. And most ladies fall in love with the stability and space straight away.
The negatives are well documented, but of course all that space comes at a price with double mooring fees and difficulty getting into crowded harbours.
An impressive boat and I have no doubt that Mark and his family will enjoy many years of safe cruising in her. The boat leaves for the Pacific islands during March 2007.