Is it finally happening? Are power catamarans finally becoming accepted in the United States, as they have in the rest of the world (especially in Australia and New Zealand)? It seems that nearly every day some new double-hull design comes across my desk. Some are just dreams looking for a buyer to fund their construction. But more and more of them are actually being built—or in many case actually have been built and launched. Just a week ago, my friend and PMY electronics columnist Ben Ellison announced to me that he'd plunked down a deposit on a Maine Cat P-45. Although I'm no fan of catamarans, as he laid out the brochure I did find this one pleasing to the eye (at least in profile) and intriguing because it has just two cabins. The master lays athwartships to avoid the tunnel-like feel of most catamaran cabins—or at least that's the way it looks on paper. (You can get more information and look at a video of the prototype at www.mecat.com.)
Then a few nights later I received an e-mail from Warren Mosler, who's building a 50-foot power cat at Goldcoast Yachts in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Mosler's cat is a wave-piercer, which uses extended hulls to increase waterline and thereby efficiency. Like all cats, power and sail, his has an oversized (17'x 17') main-deck saloon, but unlike the Maine Cat, his master stateroom is aft (to starboard) along with two guest staterooms, all of which "utilize the hulls for hallways." I put this in quotes because even looking at the 3-D accommodations plan (top photo), I can't picture it.
Where in profile the Maine Cat looks fairly conventional, Mosler's boat looks other-worldly (bottom photo), at least to a non-cat guy. Both are, of course, wide: the P-45's beam is 18 feet. Mosler didn't provide that spec in his e-mail but judging from the pictures he sent, I'd guess it's all of that and more. Which leads to the perennial question regarding cats: Where are you gonna park that thing? The answer is, of course, at your own dock as few marinas can accommodate many boats of that breadth and those they can at a considerable premium. A lot of places won't even let you anchor one in the harbor.
So why are people buying these boats, which, by the way, tend to cost more than a monohull of the same length? Lots of reasons are offered up, like the livability of those giant saloons and the huge sun lounges. But at the bottom of it, I suspect, it's all about fuel efficiency. On its Web site, Maine Cat claims the P-45 gets 3 nautical miles per gallon (nmpg) at 10.8 knots and 2.2 nmpg at 18 knots. Mosler claims his boat burns 3 gph at 10 knots for 3.33 nmpg and 11.1 gph at 20 knots for 1.80 nmpg. While that may not seem like a lot compared to your Prius, those nmpg numbers are four to six times those of your typical twin-engine monohull of the same length.
That kind of data is undeniably impressive and is bound to attract a lot of buyers, especially as the price of fuel rises and with it concern over CO emissions. But for me, no thanks. It all comes down to aesthetics. I want my boat to look like a boat, and in my world that means one hull. If I need to save money I'll buy a used boat. If I want to save the planet, I'll resort to other measures, like lightweight construction, a single engine, and going slow. I've yet to see anyone oooh and aaah when a cat comes into a harbor, and until I do, I'll stick with a monohull.