Q&A: Is An Aluminum Catamaran Suitable For The High Latitudes?

Question: I would like to do some cruising in the high latitudes and am in the process of planning a boat to take me there. You and others, like Jimmy Cornell, are very partial to alloy boats and I agree it seems to be the way to go. But I also like catamarans.

I can have a cat made from alloy. What do you think of sailing in the high latitudes in a catamaran? I was thinking at least 50′ long with thin hulls to help her point well. I would like to visit Alaska and Antarctica, among many other places.

Answer: As I answer this, please keep in mind that I have had no multi-hull experience since a summer skippering a 50ft day charter (head boat) catamaran some 30 years ago. Having said that, I see no reason why an aluminum catamaran would not be perfectly practical for the high latitudes; in fact, some real advantages come to mind:

  • Shallow draft enabling the boat to get away from drifting ice.
  • Could be built to easily dry out on the tide.
  • The potential for fast passages, thereby reducing the chance of getting caught out in heavy weather.

I think that the main issues will be making the boat strong enough to withstand the demands of high latitude sailing as well as capable of carrying the necessary equipment (particularly ground tackle) without making the boat too heavy. As I understand it, the key to safety in multi-hulls is keeping them light. I can remember that the charter cat mentioned above used to scare me in a breeze when we had a full load of tourists aboard and, in fact, my predecessor as skipper flipped it in that condition, luckily without loss of life. Of course multi-hull design has come a huge distance since then.

There is even a French yard Yapluka that specializes in aluminum catamarans, albeit large and expensive ones.

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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