Recently retired SAIL magazine editor Peter Nielsen was motoring southbound with friends on their ocean-going catamaran, staging for a voyage to New Zealand. Then a bad thing happened—a prop wrap. A crabtrap line wrapped around the starboard prop, bending the shaft and damaging its strut. The boat’s 25-foot beam was not exceptional for a cat, but the nearest boatyard had to turn them away. Nielsen and friends were forced to motor another 100 miles on the port engine to get to a yard that could haul boats up to 30-feet wide.
These events happened on the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida, but it could have been anywhere on the East Coast of the U.S., including the Chesapeake Bay, headquarters for Zimmerman Marine boatyards. As of this year, however, the problem has become somewhat less acute for cat aficionados in the Bay area.
Zimmerman recently purchased a new trailer that can handle boats with a beam of up to 32 feet for its yard in Mathews, Virginia. That’s more beam than any other yard on the Bay, (though two facilities further north can haul boats with beams of up to 30 feet).
Gregor Tarjan is one the world’s most passionate multihull advocates. He founded Aeroyacht, a New York dealership for high-end cat brands. Yes, Tarjan says, beam is a key component of seaworthiness in a catamaran, but it’s also a disadvantage. Tarjan admits there is a serious dearth of infrastructure for wide multihulls. “You need to plan your haul-outs more carefully and adjust your future cruising plans accordingly,” Tarjan advises. “It is also a bitter truth that if you want to dock in a popular harbor, you will be charged more, up to one and a half times more than an equivalent length monohull.”
Steve Zimmerman, CEO at Zimmerman Marine, says the trailer purchase was justified by the hundreds of catamarans either based in the Chesapeake region or passing through during the warmer months. “Multihulls continue to grow in popularity, both for sail and cruising under power. We service many of them and often hear about their limited choices for getting hauled,” he says. “We have been hauling boats on a hydraulic trailer for 25 years, and it seemed like a natural transition.”
Zimmerman’s new trailer is a Conolift Y50 with six hydraulically actuated arms. Designed specifically for boatyards, the Conolift can haul powercraft of up to 64 feet and sailboats up to 66 feet with a capacity for up 100,000 lbs. The Conolift has its own propulsion, but the primary means is Zimmerman’s boatyard “mule,” a mechanized hauler nicknamed Sisyphus (which refers to a mythological figure fated to roll a boulder uphill forever).
To accommodate the new trailer’s full width capacity, Zimmerman had to rebuild its waterfront. “Unfortunately, we had a dock and bulkhead that limited us to 24-foot beam. After the fall hauling season, we undertook the construction work and repositioned the bulkhead and dock, providing the room we needed to accommodate a 34-foot beam,” Zimmerman says.
Mathews is a rural county on Mobjack Bay in the Tidewater region of Virginia. It’s an hour-and-20-minute drive to Richmond and an hour and a half to Norfolk. Besides the Mathews facility, Zimmerman operates four other service locations—Herrington Harbour, Maryland; Deltaville, Virginia; Southport, North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina. Zimmerman’s 70 employees are also the owners of the company under an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.