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September 21, 2007

Skinning the Cats

Stability, speed and fuel economy are helping catamarans make headway with once dubious anglers.


GO GET 'IM TIGER: Cats are efficient, rock solid and fast, but many anglers have been slow to embrace them.
Photo: Courtesy of World Cat Offshore Power Catamarans

Captain Ronny Claes is a cat person. No, he doesn't come home to house full of felines, but he does fish in a catamaran. The Port Aransas, Texas, skipper has been running a power cat for about six years now in his charter business (www.ronand.com) and he doesn't hesitate to sing their praises.

"I'm in love with cats," Claes says. "For the type of offshore fishing I do with clients—drift, bottom and trolling—cats are the way to go. I can be in six-foot seas drifting and the boat is very dry and stable. You just can't do in a monohull what you can do in a cat."

Claes is talking about his 36-foot Twin Vee Pilot House catamaran powered with a pair of four-stroke Suzuki DF250 outboards. The boat cruises at 27 knots with an efficient fuel flow that works out to 1.3 miles per gallon.

"Cats ride completely different than monohulls," he explains. "For example, on a turn my boat leans outward, whereas monos lean in. It's just something you get used to. But if you adjust your driving to the conditions on the water, you're never going to get beat up in a cat. They just cut the waves all the way."

Cat Calls
South Pacific islanders are credited with the original catamaran design, so it's not surprising cats have been widely accepted Down Under for years. But American anglers have been slower to embrace the style, though that is starting to change. Cat converts cite benefits like greater fuel efficiency with less power, improved stability and load capacity, a softer ride and shallower draft as reasons for making the switch from monohulls. More than a dozen companies in this country offer catamaran hulls that fall into three categories: full displacement, planing and semi-displacement. Each type has its own characteristics.

Full-displacement hulls push through the water rather than plane or ride on the surface. The twin hulls, called sponsons, are tall and narrow with an angled, wedge-like bottom shape that cuts through the water.

Because more surface gets wet, there is more water resistance. This design requires more power than the other hull types to get up to speed and is not as fuel efficient. Lifting chines are often molded into the running surface. Pitch and roll is more pronounced with full-displacement hulls because of the smaller footprint. The lack of bow lift also makes this design more susceptible to "bow steering," where the water pushes each sponson in a different direction.

Planing catamaran hulls use a pad or flat surface on the bottom of the sponsons to achieve lift. The flatter surface lets the boat get on plane quickly and achieve greater speeds due to reduced water resistance. With less boat in the water, lateral movement increases. The flatter running surface is also more prone to pounding or slamming in rough conditions.

Semi-displacement designs maximize the positive aspects of both planing and full-displacement hulls while minimizing their shortcomings.

Companies like World Cat and Twin Vee build their sponsons with wider bottom surfaces that improve lift without sacrificing stability and buoyancy. Wider beams reduce lateral movement and the increased load-bearing capacity can accommodate more power. Larger sponsons offer other benefits, such as increased storage for gear and fishboxes, but speed is sacrificed to achieve this enhanced comfort.

With the exception of smaller catamarans tailored for inshore fishing, these boats are generally powered with twin engines. Two engines are better than one when it comes to safety, but just like with monohulls, additional engines increase cost and maintenance time. But those factors are mitigated by lower power requirements up front. Even with a full-displacement hull, less boat is in the water than a comparable monohull so you can get by with less horsepower. Between those sponsons, you're standing over a tunnel filled with air.

Gesundheit
The exposed tunnel between the two sponsons helps cushion a cat's ride—and this brings us to the "sneeze" factor. As the boat comes off a wave, air is trapped between the sponsons, softening the landing. On some designs, the inherent mist that is created is forced out the bow between the sponsons—the sneeze—and the forward momentum of the boat takes you, at the helm, right through this cloud of sea spray. This effect can be counteracted with rams inside the tunnel that deflect the mist.

Another factor limiting catamaran acceptance is the look. Let's face it, nobody wants to own an ugly boat, and some cats don't exactly trigger oohs and aahs. Builders have tried to give catamarans the more traditional lines of a monohull by changing the sheer and increasing the forward angle of the sponsons. But tinkering with the running surface for the sake of appearnace can be trouble: increase that angle too much and bow steering again becomes a problem. As more cats get out there, their distinctive look will gain wider acceptance.

So is a catamaran the right boat for you? Decide for yourself. I've fished one model hard and driven others only to come away with mixed feelings. Some left me soaked, while others rode like they had air shocks. I'd recommend serious comparison shopping to determine what type of boat, cat or not, might best suit your fishing style. And before you buy, take a thorough test ride in the snottiest conditions you can find. Who knows? You may be a cat lover after all.

Two Hulls, No Waiting

Cats are growing in popularity: ride one and see for yourself.
World Class Catamarans
(866) 485-8899
www.worldcat.com
TomCat
(253) 839-0222
www.c-dory.com
Twin Vee
(772) 429-2525
www.twinvee.com
Glacier Bay
(360) 794-0444
www.glacierbaycats.com
ProKat
(205) 763-0231
www.prosportsboats.com
Prowler
(305) 769-3010
www.renaissancecats.com