To Dance on Top of Waves

The MAINE CAT 38 is a speedy cruis­ing cata­ma­ran cre­ated for sailors by a man who’s been chas­ing the sweet spot for 25 years.

Cruising World - - Contents - By Tim Mur­phy

The Maine Cat 38 was born to sail.

Most boats are nouns; the Maine Cat 38 is a verb — a boat that can be un­der­stood only in mo­tion, and prefer­ably un­der sail with a good breeze blow­ing.

Last March, I sailed the Maine Cat 38 Ta­ma­rack, hull num­ber four, in the Sea of Abaco, Ba­hamas, with my par­ents, my col­lege-age daugh­ter and her friend. Mean­while, one of 2018’s sev­eral his­toric win­ter storms was blow­ing through New Eng­land and the Cana­dian Mar­itimes, send­ing mas­sive swells down our way and con­tribut­ing to a squash zone of iso­bars on our lo­cal weather map. In the Aba­cos, that meant 20-foot seas off­shore, rages in the cuts be­tween cays and sus­tained winds edg­ing to­ward 30 knots all week. Al­ready on the Mon­day we flew in, Marsh Har­bour’s su­per­mar­ket shelves were empty of milk and fresh pro­duce; for the next five days, the Ba­hamian mail boats were for­bid­den to leave the safety of their docks in Nas­sau. For us aboard Ta­ma­rack, the weather forced us to do all of our sail­ing in­side the Sea of Abaco. But even in this usu­ally pro­tected sound, we en­coun­tered seas of 8 to 10 feet, some­times break­ing.

In those con­di­tions, the Maine Cat 38 be­haved like no other boat, mono­hull or mul­ti­hull, that I’ve ever sailed. “This boat just gets up and frol­ics,” is how Sue Mur­phy, my mom, de­scribed sail­ing it.

Dick Ver­meulen founded Maine Cat in 1993. Since then, his team of a dozen crafts­men in Mid­coast Maine has launched some 140 sai­land power­boats, in­clud­ing 63 30-foot and 24 41-foot sail­boats. Re­cently, Ver­meulen cre­ated the Maine Cat 38 to re­turn to sim­pler roots — a boat with no genset, no air con­di­tion­ing, no mi­crowave oven and just one head; a boat that a sin­gle per­son would be will­ing to take out sail­ing, with or with­out crew. And Ver­meulen set him­self one

other goal: “This boat has to be the fastest cruis­ing cat out there, or I’ve failed at ev­ery­thing I’ve done.” (For de­tails about the ge­n­e­sis of the 38’s de­sign, see “Birth of a Cat,”

CW, July 2017.) For our gang, mere speed wasn’t the pri­or­ity. Yet the qual­i­ta­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of sail­ing a boat whose cre­ator took such care to keep the weight out was a rev­e­la­tion to all of us. Tom Mur­phy, my dad, has worked as a yacht bro­ker for more than 30 years and has made hun­dreds of coastal and off­shore yacht de­liv­er­ies, of­ten har­row­ing ones. “The way this boat lifted in 8-foot seas,” he said, “I mean, you’d see a roller com­ing in, and you’d tense up and steer into it and wait to take the sleigh ride down the back side and bury the bows — and that just never hap­pened. In­stead, you’d get up on top of a wave, and it would feel like the wave was flat, and you would just sort of come down with it. No pitch, no roll, no bury­ing the bows or the stern.” Like me, he’d never ex­pe­ri­enced a boat that felt like this.

Ver­meulen is a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer by train­ing. The ef­fect he cre­ated in this boat is the re­sult of a sin­gle-minded com­mit­ment to keep­ing weight out of it, both in the ini­tial build and in the sys­tems that go aboard. He de­ter­mined that in or­der to achieve the speeds he was af­ter, he needed 12-to-1 length-to-beam ra­tios in the hulls. A con­se­quence of that choice is that you can’t then add all the weight of the lux­ury items you’d find on a typ­i­cal pro­duc­tion cata­ma­ran. Nar­row hulls lack the buoy­ancy to carry heavy equip­ment or big tank­age. Un­like sim­i­lar-size mod­els from high-pro­duc­tion builders, the MC 38 isn’t in­tended to sleep more than five peo­ple; there’s just one marine head fit­ted in one of the hulls; and propul­sion is not from twin diesels but from a pair of 9.9hp out­board mo­tors. The gal­ley stove has three burn­ers but no oven. Cabin spa­ces are sep­a­rated by drapes, not doors.

The con­struc­tion of the hull and deck is dif­fer­ent from that of the high-pro­duc­tion cat builders too. Typ­i­cally, builders achieve com­plex curves in sand­wich con­struc­tion by us­ing core that’s scored in slices called kerfs. When you bend a panel of scored foam, the kerfs open up; in the fi­nal com­pos­ite part, the kerfs fill with resin. In a tech­nique Ver­meulen saw at Maine builders Hodg­don Yachts and Ly­man-morse, then de­vel­oped with Gu­rit Com­pos­ites, his team “ther­mo­forms” Core-cell foam in the shape of the fi­nal hull; this is un­sliced foam, with no kerfs. His team heats the Core-cell to 165 de­grees Fahren­heit in an in­frared oven, then in­fuses the fiber­glass and core with vinylester resin. The re­sult is a uni­form part, with uni­form phys­i­cal prop­er­ties. And the weight? “It’s ridicu­lous,” Ver­meulen said. “When we built the first 38 hull, with three bulk­heads in it, but 38 feet long, 6 feet wide and 6 feet of depth, it weighed 426 pounds. I could lift the hull out of the cra­dles.”

“It takes us a lit­tle longer to build hulls,” Ver­meulen said, “but it’s just bomber.”

The boat we sailed was in charter ser­vice, man­aged by Abaco Mul­ti­hull Char­ters (aba­co­mul­ti­hull.com) based in Hope Town. It was fit­ted with good-qual­ity cruis­ing sails, but no screacher or full-on per­for­mance sails. Our reach­ing speeds were typ­i­cally in the 9- and 10-knot range. We put the first reef in at 20 knots; sec­ond reef at 25. It tacked eas­ily with both main and roller-furl­ing head­sail and both dag­ger­boards down, but strug­gled to tack un­der main alone, as most cats will.

Mo­tor­ing out of Hope Town Har­bor into 25 knots and a steep 3-foot chop at 80 per­cent throt­tle with the twin 9.9 horse­power out­boards, we made just over 3 knots of boat speed and heard the mo­tors cav­i­tate on ev­ery third wave or so. In those con­di­tions, the boat felt un­der­pow­ered. By con­trast, in flat wa­ter we eas­ily achieved mo­tor­ing speeds of 6 and 7 knots.

“You prob­a­bly know the lit­tle aux­il­iary en­gines on the MC 38 are by de­sign,” Ver­meulen said when I de­scribed our ex­pe­ri­ence. “When I hear that sailors on other boats are un­der power 50 per­cent of the time, I cringe. If I make the en­gines small enough, MC 38 own­ers are go­ing to sail all the time. With a screacher or code zero, the MC 38 will sail at 5 knots in 5 knots of true wind. Who needs mo­tors ex­cept to dock or drop the hook? The way sail­ing should be!”

The ex­pe­ri­ence I most en­joyed on the MC 38 was go­ing for­ward un­der sail onto the tram­po­lines as we reached past Tahiti Beach un­der dou­ble-reefed main. I lay face-down and watched the hulls move through un­com­monly disturbed wa­ter. The 38’s lee­ward hull didn’t dig in; the wind­ward hull didn’t lift out. No wave ever slammed the bridgedeck. The steep chop sel­dom even reached the lon­gi­tu­di­nal chine 12 inches above the wa­ter­line on each hull.

The Maine Cat 38 is a boat that pos­i­tively dances through the waves.

CW ed­i­tor-at-large Tim Mur­phy is a long­time Boat of the Year judge.

All sail con­trols are led to the in­side helm sta­tion (top). The gal­ley in the port hull is sim­ple but well-equipped (above right). A pair of rel­a­tively light out­boards is mounted in wells, and tilt up when un­der way, re­duc­ing drag.

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