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What are advantages and disadvantages of multihulls?
Stability -- It's almost impossible to sink a properly built multihull, short of blowing it up or burning it down. A common misconception is that trimarans and catamarans are easily capsized. This is not true of cruising multis -- they are stiff and stable and usually need a very rare and extraordinary set of circumstances before they'll go over. It is true that once they go over they stay over, but they will not sink, even when inverted. The crew of a capsized multi still has mother ship and supplies aboard to sustain life for however long it takes for a rescue. This is in contrast to a monohull, which if holed or capsized with hatches open will very quickly sink, leaving its inhabitants swimming or in a life raft. The likelihood that a modern cruising multihulls will capsize is about same as likelihood that a monohull will sink.
Speed - Almost without exception, a modern multi will be substantially faster than a monohull of comparable length. Speed is not only fun, it's an under appreciated safety feature. On a sailing passage, longer a boat is exposed to sea and vagaries of weather, better are chances that it will meet with dangerous conditions. A North Atlantic crossing that takes under 10 days is likely to be safer than one that takes 3 weeks. A lot of weather can happen in three weeks, or a crew member can become dangerously sick and need medical attention fast. It's good to be able to step on gas and get there.
Jibing -- These boats are so beamy that in a downwind situation preventer can be secured far outboard, giving main a lead that results in a nice wide, flat sail area and absolute control over boom. Since multihulls move at such high speeds downwind, there is less wind pressure actually behind sail, making it easy to control it during entire manuever. The boat continues to sail flat and steering is easy. Jibing a multihull is a very smooth operation, and puts much less stress and strain on both equipment and crew than it does with a monohull in same situation. In a jibe a keel boat will tend to roll and try to round up into wind as mainsail fills on new tack, making steering tricky.
Comfort - It's nice to be comfortable. After spending time on a modern multihull few people would argue that they are not considerably more comfortable than a keel boat. With their wide stable platforms catamarans don't heel at all, trimarans very little, and most people find their motion to be easier than that of single hulled boats. Comfort is also another very important safety feature. On a stable, smoothly moving boat it's easier to prepare and eat regular meals, and crew members can sleep without having to tie themselves in. A well rested, well fed crew is a much clearer minded, safer and happier one than a seasick, exhausted, poorly fed one.
Deck Space -- on a boat where 24 feet of beam is common, there's plenty of room to walk around. Dingy storage is not a problem.
Shallow Draft --Most multihulls have a very shallow draft -- 2-4 feet. What a luxury to be able to manuever through a crowded anchorage and move up front into only 3 or 4 feet of water and drop anchor. In water this shallow it's easy to see how well set your anchors are, or to hand set them if necessary. So what if all those big heavy boats behind you drag anchor? You're upwind from them all, and are safe from being crashed into by drifting, dragging boats. Many beautiful, private anchorages are out of reach of deep draft boats, but are perfect for shallow draft vessels. Run aground? No problem. The boat will sit level and undamaged. Just wait for a rising tide, if you can, or perhaps you can jump in and push boat off. ( Be careful if you do this -- wear shoes, and be sure that you can get back on board). You may also be able to walk out to deeper water and hand set an anchor that can then be used to kedge boat off.
Linda Cullum is from Cape Cod, MA, with a second home in Vermont. She is the author of Learn to Sail! with Multimedia! an Interactive Sailing training CDROM which teaches all aspects of Sailing incliding Knots, Piloting, Rules of the Road, Weather with digital video from Sail Magazine, narration, animation and quizzes. Visit her site at http://learntosail.net Wishing you the best in your sailing endeavors! _/)_