For most anglers, the ideal day afloat includes a forecast of fair winds and following seas. It’s just the opposite for boat testers, however. To get a true feel for how a boat does in real-world conditions, we prefer sloppy chop and stiff breezes. Right on cue, the Gulf of Mexico was a frothy mix resembling chocolate milk with whitecaps the day I was scheduled to test the Freeman 33 Catamaran last winter. I couldn’t have ordered a better scenario.
After I greeted company president Billy Freeman at the marina in Carrabelle, Florida, my first impression of his boat was how big it appeared. With its clean, uncluttered layout and wide beam, it looked like a 40-footer. It didn’t shrink once I stepped aboard either. The most prominent feature is the massive coffin box mounted in front of the console. On the test boat, the mounting flange of this box was glassed in neatly below the deck so there weren’t any seams to collect dirt. With its 800-quart capacity, it’ll keep a giant tuna perfectly chilled. The box also drains directly into the oversize half-pipe tunnel between sponsons for quick cleaning. Since every boat is built to order, a drink compartment can be added easily on request.
Even with the large coffin box, there’s still lots of room in the bow. Wraparound coaming pads and the level foredeck would make stand-up fishing a breeze. Dual storage compartments in the bow sole are cavernous too. For traveling or overnight convenience, these compartments are large enough to stow rods and other odd-size gear, such as fenders and the requisite five-gallon buckets.
The head compartment, with starboard access, will accommodate a porta-potty if that’s a necessary option. Our test boat didn’t have one, but the space does provide easy access to the helm for rigging and electronics. There’s certainly no space limitation on the business side of the large console either. The electronics panel on ours held two flush-mounted Garmin GPSMap 5212 displays with room to spare. Gauges could be scanned easily, and the helm’s sightlines were not impeded by the beefy hardtop framework, which included a pair of Rupp Z-30 Top Gun outriggers and an aft rod rocket launcher.
A comfortable leaning post with an internal storage compartment is close enough to the console that you don’t have to stretch, but it doesn’t cramp legroom. Tackle centers on each side rack four large Plano boxes apiece. Aft of the leaning post, a 110-quart drink box and padded bench seat offers the perfect vantage point to watch baits. A pressurized 50-gallon livewell on the transom centerline (with a bait-calming blue finish) and two large storage compartments in the cockpit lazarette round out the aft layout.
To say this cat is overbuilt is an understatement. Designed with the short Gulf chop in mind and lots of input from professional charter skippers, it can certainly handle a fight. Eight internal bulkheads strengthen the twin hulls’ integrity. All tabs are glassed or fixed with chemical adhesive. Closed-cell coring and knitted biaxial fiberglass roving are used throughout. The top cap is through-bolted and puttied, but before the putty cures, the cap is also glassed on the inside. The result? A rock-solid feel with no annoying creaks or shudders.
“I don’t hide the fact that it’s a catamaran,” Freeman told me as we idled downriver and into the sound. “I wanted it to look good, but there are only so many things you can do with a rectangular shape. We did reduce weight and increase speed considerably. Will it turn like a monohull? No. It’s like a car instead of a motorcycle. But you will be able to scoot 50 miles per hour across a serious chop and enjoy a soft, dry ride.”
To prove this point, we zipped through East Pass, separating Dog and St. George islands, into open water. The building swells proved no match as the dual planing hulls rode up and then through the cresting waves. On the first few I braced myself, expecting the typical shock of landing, but it never came. The 33’s ride is as soft as a down pillow and extremely dry. That, combined with great fuel economy, is why it’s quickly winning converts among professional and serious amateur offshore enthusiasts alike. Another welcome attribute? On a long drift in a beam-to sea with three of us crowded on one side, the deck was stable as a slab of concrete.
One of the biggest complaints about some catamarans is the unpredictable handling. That wasn’t a factor with the Freeman. In turns the boat stayed flat with increased throttle. It didn’t slice or cut unexpectedly in following seas. Instead, it rode true, with a flair for speed. By the time we ran the performance portion of the test, the wind had churned the water into a washbowl of confused chop. With a pair of Yamaha F350 four-strokes for power and a normal load of fuel, the boat topped the 60-mph mark without hesitation. At a comfortable cruising pace of 38 mph, it sipped a miserly 27 gallons per hour. Combine that with the standard fuel capacity of 350 gallons (more can be added as an option), and that equals a lot of water under the keel.
If you’ve never driven a planing catamaran, do yourself a favor and sea-trial the Freeman 33 in some serious slop. I’m betting you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its performance.
With twin Yamaha F350 four-strokes, a soft T-top with outriggers and an aluminum triple-axle trailer
Freeman Boatworks: www.freemanboatworks.com