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Why Can’t Catamarans Sail Upwind Efficiently? (Performance Tips)

For us cat enthusiasts, by the way, I mean catamaran(no offense to current cat lovers), our boat can do no wrong. We’ll argue a monohull vessel owner to death about the stability, speed, space, comfort, privacy, safety, huge galley, and more of our boat. Did I mention reduced seasickness?

However, whenever the topic of upwind arises, our voices tend to lower a bit. After all, not every cat except for performance cruising ones can rise to the challenge of going higher into the wind. It is especially annoying for those who’ve transitioned from yachts to the open-sea sailing experience. So, why do cats struggle upwind?

There are three reasons that catamarans can’t sail upwind efficiently. First is lateral resistance, then apparent wind generation, and last but not least, our sheeting angle. These can prove to aggravate blue water voyagers, but fortunately, they’re fixable. 

Below are the reasons for cats’ upwind flaws and ways around them. Let’s continue reading!

Catamarans Sail Upwind

Why Can’t Catamarans Sail Upwind Efficiently?

1. Lateral Resistance

When you have a less underwater surface area to push the force generated by the sails against, your boat will go sideways. Lateral resistance means less weight in the water, which enhances speed.

In upwind or even light wind sailing circumstances, it can be more difficult to gain ground. You may not be able to detect whether you’re overpowered because your boat doesn’t seem to “respond” in the same way as the wind.

In bad weather, a cat can prove dangerous, but with proper instructions, it can be steered safely.

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2. Apparent Wind Generation

Due to reduced overall weight plus less wetted surface, a cat will develop more apparent wind than its single hull counterpart while moving due to less drag. 

There will be less of a chance that the vessel will be able to cruise as near as possible to the prevailing wind if it is moving at a high rate of speed.

3. The Sheeting Angle

Multihulls should have a broader overall angle from the centerline of any sail attachment to the aft point of attachment because of the first and second points made earlier. 

The higher a cat will point, the smaller the angle must be. When you’re working with a large amount of underwater surface region on a monohull, you can achieve this level of efficiency. However, on a multi-hull, it doesn’t work as well.

How to Improve a Cat’s Upwind Performance

catamaran

Catamarans are notoriously difficult to sail upwind because of their strong pitching moment, which can be reduced by obtaining a carbon fiber mast along with high-tech shrouds that are both lighter and stiffer.

There are expensive, custom-built, fully rotating rigs available that allow you to point your mast directly into an apparent wind’s “eye.” With Mylar or Kevlar, you may improve your sails from Dacron to a considerably stiffer one that will not deform under the enormous stresses a catamaran faces while sailing upwind.

Buy a Cat That Comes With Daggerboards

Taking all of the above four techniques to improve upwind performance in a cruising cat is, of course, extremely expensive. However, I believe that a high-end pair of high-tech sails and daggerboards offers the best value for your money. Naturally, if you are a serious sailor or racer, you’ll go through all four procedures to build a real rocket ship. 

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If you’re a sailmaker, I’ll let you know what materials to use, what type of battens to use, and how to cut the sail for maximum upwind performance. There are many misconceptions in the catamaran industry about the merits and cons of daggerboards and fixed keels for cruising sailors. Therefore, here I’ll focus on the advantages and disadvantages of each.

buy a cat that comes with daggerboards

Daggerboard Pros

When sailing into the wind, a cat with a daggerboard will always sail higher and will have less leeway than a boat with a fixed keel. It is much easier to get away from a lee shore or go toward an upwind destination with this increased pointing ability and decreased leeway when cruising. It is a fact of life on the high seas that there are times when you cannot seek shelter.

All things being equal, a cat with daggerboards could sail upward of 2 knots quicker than a catamaran with keels, since it doesn’t bear the tremendous fixed hydrodynamic drag of two deep and lengthy fixed keels. Long-distance cruising benefits greatly from this extra speed. 

In addition to decreasing exposure to severe weather, efficient weather routing makes it easier to either run away from or completely escape adverse weather. When sailing, a speedier boat always gives the cruising party more alternatives and, consequently, more safety. 

When compared to a cat with keels, a daggerboard cat often draws just over two times as much water. As a result, cats having daggerboards can access a much wider range of sailing grounds and anchorages than a keel cat does. 

Daggerboards allow the helmsman to fine-tune his catamaran’s balance in exceptionally rough seas by lifting and lowering the boards.

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When sailing in large cross-seas, we typically lift the leeward daggerboard fully and drop the other board midway to avoid being tripped up by a breaking wave. In storm-force circumstances with enormous breaking cross seas, a keel cat is unable to avoid “tripping over herself” because the keels are always lowered.

The lower wetted surface area of a catamaran having fully elevated daggerboards makes it faster off the wind. More importantly, a cat with lifted boards out of the wind may turn in astonishingly tight circles. 

Downwind surfing aboard a daggerboard cat is the ultimate thrill for true sailors; the cat appears free with its boards fully up. There’s no way to get away from the keeled cat, who’s always on the train track.

Daggerboard Cons

A shipyard’s daggerboards can rattle if they are not properly placed. This irritates me. It’s unlikely that a well-built cat will have this problem.

If you don’t pay attention while sailing in shallow waters, and one of your daggerboards is in the down position, you will shatter it if you hit a hard reef at fast speed. As long as the shattered board is raised, you can simply sail away. 

We have some terrible news for you: A new board will set you back roughly $8,000. When it comes to keel cats, you’d have to remove the yacht and have the keel fixed at a shipyard if you were to get a hard grounding. 

A daggerboard replacement does not necessitate hauling the yacht or relying on a shipyard to fix fiberglass. All things considered, repairing a fixed keel is likely to be a few thousand dollars less expensive than repairing a costly vacuum-packed foam composite daggerboard.

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Keeping the boards down, you are more likely to break just one board if you run into something out at sea. Sailing upwind is possible even with one shattered daggerboard because the intact one may be lowered. 

A single daggerboard cat still outpoints a keeled cat (in terms of point totals). Each hull loses a small amount of interior space because of daggerboard trunks.

Daggerboard Costs

Building daggerboards is quite expensive. With the help of winches and pulleys, a builder must manufacture two daggerboards and their trunks. Building a cat that’s 45 feet with two daggerboards costs between $30,000 and $50,000 more than without them. As a result, cats having daggerboards will always cost more.

Which Cats Shouldn’t Use Daggerboards?

daggerboard catamaran

Because bareboat sailors frequently go aground, daggerboard cats are not suited for bareboat chartering. A few “Painkillers” later, they’ll forget to raise the daggerboard, which leads to broken daggerboards. 

Even after being instructed to do so. There is no use in wasting money on an expensive choice that is likely to break charter sailors.

Can’t Afford Daggerboards?

To make the most of your next blue water excursion, here are some helpful hints:

  • Upwind, a catamaran will not be as quick as a monohull.
  • Stay on top of your game.
  • Use your chart plotter, follow the lead of neighboring vessels, and trust your gut sense.
  • Ensure that the jib cars are in the best possible positions.
  • The more gasoline you save by sailing better upwind, the better off you’ll be.