by Alayne Main
Blue Water Sailing
Around the world on a catamaran
In August of 1992 we made the big announcement: “We’re leaving in October to sail around the world!”
The faces of our friends bore emotions as varied as their comments, everything from “That’s great!” to “Are you nuts?” to “Do you even know how to sail?”
Then came the clincher: “You guys don’t even have a boat. Do you know what you’re doing?”
Well, we didn’t know, exactly, but we had read stories about people like us and the adventures they’d carried out and we’d built up a solid foundation of knowledge. Whatever we hadn’t covered, we figured we could learn along the way.
And it’s true, we didn’t have a boat – just then. However, we had decided on a catamaran. Choosing any boat is a daunting task, but at the very least we’d narrowed our search. We wanted a proven oceangoing design, one that would be safe and easy to manage for shorthanded novices. Prout Catamarans in England appeared to be the most likely manufacturer capable of filling our requirements and meeting our budget limitations.
We chartered potential buys in Miami, Fla., and the Chesapeake, but found the best candidate in North Carolina. A pre-owned Prout Quest 33, she was in our price range at US$69,000. My husband Alec flew to Acapulco to check out a sistership, and then, following a second trip to North Carolina for the survey, we left our hometown of Toronto in a rental car stuffed with everything we owned.
Madeline was moored in Manteo, N.C. She hadn’t been sailed much and her inventory included the original six-year-old sails, roller-furler on the forestay, VHF radio, pressure-water pump, propane hotwater heater, propane stove and oven, propane detector and a solar panel. She had a powerful Cetrek autopilot tapped into the hydraulic steering, and a Yanmar 3GM30 diesel engine.
Alec had been lured to catamarans by the notions of level sailing, shallow draft, positive buoyancy and a smaller rig required for drive. With low-profile fin keels and less than three feet of draft, our skinny-water cruising options promised to be vast.
Madeline’s keels carried freshwater – not lead – so she weighed less than 10,000 pounds. She had four airtight flotation compartments for redundant buoyancy. On that score, we’d seen pictures of a Prout T-boned by a powerboat at sea; that boat had sailed safely back to port with a gaping hole in one side and a hull full of water.
She seemed under-canvassed, but then we’d never experienced a storm at sea. The aluminum mast rose only 35 feet above her fiberglass deck. Prout’s signature, the aft-stepped masthead rig, made for a short boom and small mainsail. A hanked-on staysail flew off a babystay, and a 150-percent genoa on the furler forward deployed effortlessly from the cockpit.
Her rig appeared functional and easy to handle. The sailplan didn’t require big or unwieldy winches. Either of us could sail the boat alone. With her smallish sails and brightly painted topsides, Madeline looked more like a daysailer than a blue-water passage- maker. We would only discover her true prowess later.
FLORIDA - SETTING OUT
As two very keen novices, we spent three months in Fort Lauderdale bathed in sweat, installing equipment into every nook and cranny of the boat. Any downtime found us recovering in air-conditioned marine stores, agonizing over an endless series of tough gear-purchase decisions.
Fortunately I had brought my own engineer, a.k.a. Alec. Alec reworked the wiring and installed an amp-hour meter, a smart alternator/regulator, a Garmin 50 GPS, a Windbugger wind generator, the obligatory CD player, a foot switch and solenoid for the electric windlass, and a 12-VDC/120-VAC Norcold cold plate for our icebox – among countless other things, electrical and otherwise.
I assembled our medical kit and provisioned the boat, while faithfully helping Alec with one project after another. Taking advantage of our beam and spacious transom, we had an aluminum arch fabricated for the stern to support the wind generator, a solar panel, several antennae, our country’s flag, dinghy davits, and “occasionally” a bit of wet laundry.
“We’ll never leave Madeline to get into a death raft,” argued Alec, using his grim nomenclature for a life raft.
“What if we have a fire aboard?” I responded. In spite of the alleged unsinkability of our yacht, I wanted an alternate vehicle, a buoyant Plan B.
Our compromise was a Tinker Tramp – a nine-foot inflatable dinghy with the life raft option. On passages, we would deflate it and equip it with CO2 cartridges and a bright orange canopy. Because it was our dinghy and saw regular use, we’d always know its condition and could maintain it properly. We included the sailing package to ensure that we would never be caught drifting in it past an island.
Of course, we couldn’t avoid the trip to a Dirty Boatyard before setting out on our circumnavigation. Madeline was hoisted in a standard Travelift and plopped down amongst a throng of towering monohulls. A cradle was unnecessary, of course, and we simply scurried up our swim ladder to board. We didn’t realize how significant a safety feature this was until a cruising friend broke his wrist falling from the deck of his monohull to the hard.
After three months of around-the-clock attention, Madeline was fully provisioned and outfitted for sea. Our resident knowledge had been tapped; now for the true test.
HIVA OA - 8,000 MILES DOWNWIND
I spotted my cruising friend Nathalie approaching in her dinghy. I was in Madeline’s galley, preparing an appetizer, but I could see the world outside clearly through our portlights. In the remote Marquesas, our community consisted of a dozen boats at most. Unlike monohull sailors who stepped down their companionways into their basements, we could stand in the hulls or sit at the dinette in our saloon with a 360-degree view of the anchorage – involved with the day-to-day from behind our tinted windows.
Nathalie was tanned from thousands of ocean miles, and looked refreshingly local with a pastel pareau cinched around her hips. She climbed aboard and we sat in our big cockpit, under the shade of a permanent Bimini. Our light tans often surprised sun-scorched cruisers such as Nathalie, who’d spent three weeks sailing to the Marquesas without cockpit shade.
A bruise on Nathalie’s thigh was beginning to fade to purplish-yellow. Passage stories dominated conversation when we arrived in French Polynesia; I learned then that Nathalie “strapped in” while cooking at sea. Showing me her bruised ribs and thigh, she recounted how her strap had broken, throwing her clear across the boat’s cabin. I was beginning to appreciate the user-friendliness of our level cat.
Each night cocktails or dinner rotated around the anchorage. Our social life was thriving. Many cruisers complained that the Marquesan anchorages were too rolly. Often a swell did wrap around the island and enter the open bays, but we hadn’t given it a second thought.
One such night we were aboard a neighboring 37-foot monohull for cocktails. I placed my drink beside me on the cockpit bench. SMASH! My glass toppled and there was red wine everywhere.
“Alayne! Why weren’t you holding onto your glass? What were you thinking?”
I had forgotten – after all, we could put our drinks down aboard Madeline, at anchor and at sea.
In our travels we scarcely heeled. We hadn’t sailed upwind too much, but even then we could move easily about the boat. We never closed our seacocks, because almost all the plumbing was located above the waterline. The head worked, the galley sink drained, and the saltwater foot pump pumped – regardless of our point of sail.
We cooked without difficulty, leaning against the counter with one hip in the big waves. Neither our stove nor our dining table was gimbaled, and we had no need for pot clamps or for non-skid under the dishes. Only some of our counters had fiddles. Meals on passage were served the same way as at anchor, never with dog bowls in our laps.
The lack of heel or roll can cajole a person easily into second guessing the need for harnesses, as the sensation of safety, security and footing is enhanced in a level world. Nonetheless, we installed strong D-bolts at the cockpit doorway for clipping in, and on each passage we strung removable jacklines made out of thick webbing from each stern cleat to a U-bolt at the bow. Our rule was to clip in when going forward and to alert the other person, although we were rarely in conditions apt to sweep someone overboard, and we were almost never fighting gravity. Often during the day in light winds or when running we relaxed the harness rule in the cockpit. The cockpit is deep, well protected, and difficult to fall out of. Our absolute rule was that after dusk while under way, the head had to be used for its annointed purpose – we’d heard too many stories of men lost overboard with their flies down!
On fast racing catamarans, of course life is different. We hadn’t bought Madeline for speed; in fact, like most cruising boats of our size, our average passage speed was five or six knots. Unlike many downwind cruisers, however, we experienced virtually no side-to-side rolling. Our little cat simply rode the waves up and down. There was plenty of motion – quick and jerky compared to a monohull – but things tended to jiggle and bounce, rather than slide in a sweeping motion across a table. Seasickness was still a problem for me, although some people claim that a cat’s motion is better in this regard.
We had our fair share of equipment failure. The most dramatic occurred two weeks out of the Galapagos. It was a pleasant morning with 15 knots from the port quarter and we’d just sat down to a game of Scrabble.
Loud flapping caused us to look forward – the forestay had snapped at the deck! We ran to the bow and Alec manhandled the sail back onboard. “Sit on the drum,” he bellowed.
I straddled the roller-furling drum and with all my weight kept the sail on the deck. Alec grabbed some line and quickly tied it down.
By sundown we had repaired the offending chain plate – and it wasn’t as easy as I’ve just made it all sound. Noteworthy, however, was the ease with which that flailing sail had been brought under control. In hindsight, the small rig aboard the Prout 33 had saved the day. Of course, for most people these disasters happen at night in 30-knot headwinds! We’d been lucky.
Our boatbuying decision had paid off thus far, but when would we really push the envelope?
SYDNEY - POST-TASMAN THRASHING
A key strategy when circling the globe is to schedule your passages to take advantage of seasonal variations and optimum sailing windows. We sailed to New Zealand, for example, leaving behind the South Pacific cyclone season. Spend too much time in one place and you miss the next window.
Of course, some passages spell trouble no matter when you schedule them. The Tasman is best done in spring or fall, when statistically the chances of a winter storm or tropical cyclone are a “little bit less.”
We crossed in the fall and managed to face an early winter gale and a late tropical storm. The wind remained above 25 knots for the nine days to Lord Howe, at times reaching 40. Often the breeze was forward of the beam and mostly the seas were unpleasant.
Many people wondered how our catamaran would fare in bad weather. Many Kiwis worried about us crossing the Tasman Sea in our little boat. By Sydney, the verdict was in. It was harder on the crew than the boat – Madeline coped admirably.
Pointing is not her forté; like most cruisers she sails best cracked off a bit. She lacks the momentum to drive through steep short seas. The solution is to keep enough sail up for power, remaining wary of being launched off waves. Again, in our case it was the crew who seemed to suffer more than the boat.
Many people also wondered if she would flip. I believe now that the only wave that could capsize her would also roll and dismast a monohull. And at least we would never sink.
Surfing down steep waves, she tracks well. With flared bows and small sails, the risk of driving into the wave ahead and pitchpoling is remote. We sailed her conservatively – flying a hull is near impossible anyway. Comparing her to a Hobie cat is like comparing a Winnebago to a racecar. For us she was a stable, typically loaded-down cruising cat.
During the Tasman Sea crossing we used our 15-foot parachute sea anchor. It was too late in the day to negotiate the reef-strewn entrance to Lord Howe Island, so rather than heave to, we anchored!
We’d deployed the anchor before, en route to New Zealand. Then, it was to give us a break from 35-knot headwinds. Both times, I turned the bow into the wind, while Alec went forward to attach the lines to the bow cleats. He threw the sea anchor over the side. I let the boat drift back and the parachute quickly filled, hanging under the surface. Alec slowly paid out the 300 feet of 1/2-inch nylon rode. He adjusted the bridle and Madeline swung into the wind, riding the waves. It was surreal to be anchored in the middle of the ocean. We maintained night watches because of our lack of maneuverability. We drifted backwards at less than a nautical mile per hour.
The Tasman was the test and we learned a lot. I learned that the catamaran was the least of my troubles.
The Bahamas – a circumnavigation behind us
We had the bay to ourselves. I stepped down the swim ladder and stood on the soft sand bottom. With mask, snorkel and fins in hand, I walked along the side of the boat. The keels kissed the seagrass – we saw less than two inches of water beneath the boat.
Tides are minimal in the Exumas, but if necessary we could always count on our 16-pound Danforth stern anchor to kedge off an unruly spit. She sat upright when aground and we had taken advantage of the tides many times in the past three years for minor repairs or to paint Madeline’s bottom.
After 1,125 days (three years and a month), our inbound path crossed our outbound at the Turks and Caicos Islands. We had come full circle. Now we meandered through the Bahamas, delaying the conclusion while dreaming of our next trip and our next boat.
I swam ashore, with Alec following me. I followed the anchor chain that snaked through sand mounds created by worms, like anthills in a sandbox. Our anchor was oversize; that plus 200 feet of 3/8 BBB chain and a 33-pound Bruce allowed for restful nights wherever we were. Our gear had never failed us, except a couple times in thick Mediterranean grass where locals used a Fisherman anchor with a blade lashed to the end! We had a 24-pound CQR on the bow too, adding a bit of weight in the wrong place and causing the boat to pitch in light headwinds. On long passages we moved the anchors aft, but next time we’ll go with lighter ground tackle.
We lay on the pristine beach, chuckling at the other boats that would enter the bay when they spotted us anchored, only to turn back abruptly when the bottom rose up. Shallow draft certainly opened up anchoring options, but it was unusual for us to anchor at the front of the pack or at the beach. We preferred to hang back and enjoy the privacy, the spinning wind generator, and an easy escape should the wind shift.
Shallow draft also made navigating much easier. In the Bahamas we sailed everywhere. We spent the days weaving between the islands, tacking against the current in the cuts, never turning on our engine.
Sailing westward in the trade winds demanded some ingenuity on our part, as we’d left home without a spinnaker pole. We improvised, poling out our genoa with everything from a borrowed 14-foot oar to disposable bamboo poles picked up at islands along the way.
In Sydney, we traded our small spinnaker for a large, secondhand multipurpose sail, or MPS. We tacked it on the windward bow of Madeline, and sailing downwind the asymmetrical kite stretched across the bows, greatly improving our speed without the complication of a pole at all.
The MPS took us the rest of the way around the world. One-and-a-half-ounce Dacron, it could manage anything from a close reach in light air to 20 knots dead downwind. It blew out in a big squall during our Atlantic crossing, and we were back to our pole confabulations until we found a seamstress in Bequia. By the end of the circumnavigation, we had replaced all of our sails, keeping the old ones as spares.
Our boat was under-canvassed, which was fine by me the first time I saw 30 knots, and just right the first time I saw 40 knots, and absolutely perfect when we saw 70 knots during a thunderstorm in the Mediterranean. Still, our next boat will have a taller mast and more light-air sails. We’ll have at least three asymmetrical spinnakers of differing size and cloth for different windspeeds, plus proper socks to aid in dousing.
Electrical power was continually a problem for us – we fried our batteries early on, and made do with a less-than-adequate bank. With all the deck space, solar panels are an obvious choice for a catamaran. Next time we’ll get more than just two.
Having alternate energy in the guise of a wind generator is nice, but typically cruisers try to anchor out of the wind. With moving parts, wind generators require more maintenance and have more chance of breakage. Our Windbugger broke down all the time. Like many other cruisers, we came not to use it under way, after a blade broke in half and careened into the Pacific. Of course it’s possible that we were graced with a lemon –we’ve run across plenty of satisfied owners – but next time we’ll choose a smaller model that can be run safely at sea. That way, when a gale is raging we’ll be able to look at the bright side: “At least the batteries are getting topped up.”
Most of our gear choices were based on affordability, however in many cases I still believe that smaller is better. Our dinghy was light. It rowed well and I could easily pull it high up onto the shore myself. It was no effort to hoist onto our transom. For us a two-horsepower outboard engine is ample, even with 15 cases of beer aboard. And nobody wants to steal it – the beer, maybe, but not the motor! The “Keep It Simple” philosophy worked well for us.
During our three-year circumnavigation, we spent 24 percent of our nights at sea and 76 percent at anchor. For me, the most important feature of our Prout was its comfort, at anchor as much as at sea.
Space aboard helps, both physically and psychologically. Spending so much time with your partner is not normal! With two hulls, and lots of deck space, we never felt cramped. Sailing is uncomfortable enough on its own. Sometimes I wonder if I’d have persevered the whole way around faced with the added discomfort of a monohull. It’s one thing I’m glad I didn’t have to learn.
Suffice it to say, when we do buy our next boat – when we set out on our next circumnavigation(!) – unquestionably it will be a catamaran. In hindsight, buying Madeline was the best decision we ever made.
LOA 33’0” (10.05 m.)
LWL 29’6” (9.2 m.)
Beam 14’4” (4.4 m.)
Draft 2’6” (0.8 m.)
Disp 9,520 lbs. (4,318 kgs.)
SA (100%) 530 sq.ft. (49.3 sq.m.)
Mast above deck 35’0” (10.7 m.)
Ama Length/Beam approx 8:1
Fuel 14.8 gal. (56 ltr.)
Water 66 gal. (250 ltr.)
Auxiliary Diesel 15-hp 2-cyl
The Prout 33 Madeline was built in 1986. The model was superceded eventually by the Prout Event 34. Happily, Prouts have forged a fine record for lengevity, which means that finding a pre-owned 33 on the brokerage market is still viable. For further information on this or any other vessels in the Prout line, here are a couple of contacts:
Prout Catamarans Ltd
Essex SS8 0QZ • UK
Ph: (44) 01268 511500
Fax: (44) 01268 510094
Prout Catamarans (US)
c/o Advanced Yachts
326 First Street, Suite 32
Annapolis, MD 21403
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