Sailing Ti Kanot
First published in Caribbean Compass 2002
Occasionally a monohull owner will come up to me and ask me “What is it like on a cat when it is really rough?” It is a good question, one I often wondered about myself as I watched my 42- foot cat Ti Kanot grow from bare hulls under a shed roof in Trinidad. I had other doubts too, but occasionally a monohull owner would point out that most multihull owners started sailing monohulls – and very few move back. I now understand why this is so.
The first season of sailing on Ti Kanot has left me thrilled with almost everything about her. Not only did she assuage my fears, she exceeded what I expected of her, and has made sailing seem as bright and exciting as when I first began.
A year ago I had the same questions about rough conditions. On my old monohull, as I bounced around in the big seas in the Bequia Channel, I remember looking 12 feet up at the next approaching crest and asking myself, “How can two hulls possibly deal with this?” Strangely, the answer is “Very well.” You are higher up on a cat and, being upright, it all seems calmer and easier.
This is not to say there is no motion. In fact the motion is so quick and jerky, that it will immediately raise the eyebrows of a monohuller. However, I got used to it surprisingly fast. I happily sailed down the windward side of both St. Vincent and St. Lucia this year in plenty of wind, which I probably would not have chosen to do in my old Helos.
I had hoped my new catamaran would be faster than my old boat, and she is. When I was looking for a cat, I found that information about how fast they sail is not easy to come by. In case anyone is interested, I kept a log this first season. It includes most inter-island passages, but I excluded a couple where the wind dropped light and I ended up powering. I made three passages I would describe as fairly hard on the wind (but without having to tack). The average for these was 7.2 knots. I made 7 downwind passages (I must have been lucky!) The average speed for these was 8.7 knots. (The speed for my old monohull would have been 5–6 knots to windward and 6-7 downwind.)
This extra speed is really great for passages such as the one between Grenada and Trinidad, which are much easier when they can be done in daylight hours. The most exceptional trip was from Tobago to Grenada with Jeff Fisher, who helped design and build the boat. The wind was howling and we were crazy enough to keep the spinnaker up. We averaged nearly 10.7 knots and bounced the speed over 20 knots three times while surfing. It is the first time I have overtaken waves while sailing.
The wake and a photo of the GPS which tells the story of part of our sail Tobago to Grenada
Part of the excitement of sailing Ti Kanot is because the speed goes way up and way down. An average of 8 or 9 knots means some great speed rushes at 12 or 13 knots, as well as some dawdles at 6 or 7.
For her length, Ti Kanot has a very short rig: a 45-foot mast with a moderate main and a tiny, easily-handled jib. It seems to be plenty enough sail, especially as I single-hand quite a lot. One day Jeff and I were sailing at 7 knots in a 15-knot breeze and a little squall came by. In an instant the apparent wind was over 30 knots and we were flying to windward at over 14 knots. It was hairy enough to demand a little action on the traveler and mainsheet. But with a large rig it would have been downright scary.
The increased speed makes a significant difference to the apparent wind. It becomes stronger and more ahead. As a result you don’t (at least on my cat) sail hard on the wind. You close reach to windward at a good clip. I make about 45° apparent, which translates to 60° true, going much farther and a bit faster. However, it is also much more pleasant – not quite as fast as being off the wind, but being upright, is rather similar. I probably get there in less time than I would have in my old boat. (I think I am lucky in that Ti Kanot does not slam to windward – she does the occasional hard slam, but usually when going downwind at high speed).
I have the log of a sail I did from Union Island to Admiralty Bay. The wind was in the north and rather light until the last beat from West Cay. I averaged 7.8 knots over the sea but sailed 50 miles to make 26, giving me an average of only 3.9! However, it was a great sail and, although many boats overtook me, they were all under power.
Perhaps my biggest and most pleasant surprise in switching to this boat is her maneuverability. I had thought she might be sluggish in a tack, making it hard to sail among a fleet of anchored boats. She is a little slower in a tack than Helos, but she gets there in a timely fashion, and has a tighter turning circle. I had to switch the way I do things a bit. Helos could sail reasonably well under main alone. Ti Kanot is not handy under main alone. I have to keep the speed up or she tends to come into irons and it takes a lot of space to reverse the helm and get her back sailing. On the other hand she tacks brilliantly under her small jib alone. This makes it possible to drop the main early and approach the anchoring spot at reasonable speed and under control with the jib. I sailed on and off anchor a little more this first season than I did with Helos, though it has to be said that having an electric anchor windlass for the first time makes a huge difference.
Living on a cat is far more pleasant with way more space and no rolling at anchor. The shallow draft opens up many new areas. It is true that in switching to a cat I have lost the security of the famous self-righting ability of the monohull with the lead keel. But I seem to have gained an awful lot in exchange.