According to yacht brokers, few skippers—even experienced ones—purchase powercats without first dipping their toes in the water. Most often, they book a weeklong bareboat charter to try ’er out.
And so they find themselves one bright morning looking at what seems to be a very bulky yacht. Now what? Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news.
What attracts most boaters to a powercat is the immense amount of space in the salon, staterooms, cockpit, flybridge and foredeck. That’s part of the good news. The bad news is the sheer size of these vessels. A 44-foot catamaran such as the Aquila 44 pictured here is nearly 22 feet wide, which means skippers have to recalibrate every skill they’ve acquired on even 15-foot-wide monohulls.
The very shape of a powercat affects handling. A cat is not just a wider monohull.
For starters, powercats are shallower, so they don’t have as much bite on the water as a deeper trawler or motoryacht. Some have small keels or skegs, but don’t count on that for much help.
At the same time, a powercat has considerable windage. The result is that skippers need to be more aware of current and wind than with a monohull powerboat. Early in any sea trial of a powercat, skippers need to find out how wind and current affect the particular boat.
Usually, the windage and lack of bite are more than balanced by the widely spaced engines in each hull. A powercat in the hands of an experienced skipper can spin within its own length, to get in and out of difficult situations.
First and foremost, always remember that “slow is pro.” Docking in front of a waterfront pub is white knuckles even for experienced skippers, so take it slow with any powercat.
The throttles are a tool when it comes to docking, picking up buoys or dropping and retrieving the hook. Center the helm, and maintain control with the throttle and shifters. Trying to spin the wheel just wastes time.
Invest in fenders. Lots of them. Leaning a powercat hull against a dock, combined with the widely spaced engines, allows for departures with complete control, and with dignity intact. Upwind, downwind, lots of current, lots of spectators: a little leanin’ is a valuable tool.
Is there wind or current toward the dock? Line the powercat up close to the dock and drift into position, using little dabs of throttle to remain aligned. Once alongside with a bow or stern line cleated ashore, use the outboard engine to pin the opposite end of the boat for easy dockline snugging.
Current and Windage Off the Dock
Second only to fenders, a spring or breast line is a powercat skipper’s Best Friend Forever. It’s often easiest to place the bow close to the dock and pass a forward spring (one running from a forward cleat on the boat) to a cleat about amidships on the dock. Skippers can then use the engines to spin the bow and stern toward the dock for the last lines. (Figure 1.)
The same technique applies if, for some reason, attaching a bow spring line will be difficult. Rig a stern spring (running from near the boat’s stern) and pass it ashore, again cleating it about amidships on the dock. (Figure 2.) Judicious use of shifters will keep the boat aligned while the final lines are snugged up.
It’s one thing to get a powercat into a dock with adverse wind and current, but it’s another can of beans to get the powercat out.
Once again, think about fenders. If the goal is to back away from the dock, then place fenders forward and use either a doubled (easy-to-remove) bow line or a spring to lean the bow against the dock. Spin the powercat, and reverse away cleanly. (Figure 3.)
Want to go out headfirst? Reverse the procedure. Fenders aft, dockside engine in forward, outboard engine in reverse, and away the powercat goes. (Figure 4.)
Want to leave a calling card for spectators? Do the “cat walk.” Let’s say the boat has been backed off the dock by leaning the bow. Once the stern is away and all lines are clear, spin the boat a bit to move the bow out. Then, switch shifters and spin the boat a bit to move the stern farther out. Do this a couple of times, and it looks like the boat is being drawn away by magnets.
The technique is useful when the boat is alongside in a narrow fairway with boats opposite.
One of the techniques that every new powercat skipper should practice (out of sight of prying eyes) is picking up a buoy. The view forward is obstructed, so, in the absence of headsets, the skipper and crew need to understand a few basic hand signals. A long boathook is also essential.
A monohull powerboat may head directly for a mooring buoy, but on a powercat, a crewmember on one hull or another needs to get close to the buoy. Have the crewmember use the boathook to point at the buoy, and then use squirts of shifters to move the boat forward and turn it for an easy grab of the buoy.
Aboard a powercat, a bridle is needed to center the line to the buoy (and to an anchor). If the mooring line (or anchor rode) is instead secured to one bow, the powercat will hunt back and forth in the lightest of breezes.
In many areas, the buoy line has an eye in it. This allows powercat crew to pass two lines, one from each bow, through the eye and back to that bow. The bridle can be fine-tuned to center the buoy, and can make it easy to drop off the mooring when it’s time to leave.
Most charter companies provide an anchor bridle to keep the anchor rode centered and the powercat facing into the wind. In the case of chain rodes, a chain hook lets skippers attach the bridle to the anchor rode. By letting out more of the chain from the windlass, skippers can transfer the load to the bridle.
This technique removes the rattle and clatter from the chain at night, and one person can easily handle attaching the bridle to the rode.
Powercats have a slow response time compared to monohulls because one hull has to speed up while the other slows down. It’s the reverse of the leverage skippers get when docking. Just don’t expect a powercat to react instantly to a spin of the wheel. Learn to plan ahead.
When quartering in seas, each powercat has a happy angle where the boat is most comfortable. This angle has an easy motion, and stops one hull from digging into the back of a sea and trying to take over steering.
Overall, for most skippers, adapting from a single hull to a catamaran is easier than learning how to drive a car with right-hand steering. Pay attention, take time to practice with the crew, and everything should be fine.