One of the corniest boat names anyone could ever put upon a catamaran is “Cattitude.”
A loaner catamaran gives a new sense of identity.
Q That’s what I used to think. Until a summer of two-hull sailing convinced me it’s not ridiculous at all.
I’ve been on a casual hunt for a used and cheap (more like, “I’ll take it off your hands for free”) Hobie Wave for years, something I can sail off my local beach, bang around with the kids and get more cat- sailing experience. When RS Sailing introduced its Cat 14 earlier this year, I thought, This is what I need. This is
what sailing needs. This new model is a pure recreational rotomolded catamaran, like the ubiquitous resortfound Wave. Unlike the Wave, though, the XL version of the Cat 14 is a step above in the fun department. It has a big square-top full-batten main, a pint-size jib, gennaker and trapeze.
So, on a gamble, I reach out to RS in England: “Would you loan me one for the summer?”
I’m shocked when they agree, and ecstatic when a text comes out of the blue in June: “Cat is here. Where do you want it to go?”
My larger intentions are to sail it with the kids, family and friends all summer long, but my underlying purpose is to take myself from Cat Sailing 101 to confident neophyte, which will then lead me to a faster, higher-tech machine.
In early June, the summer sea breeze is cranking and the air is perfectly hot and humid — swim- trunks- and- life- jacket conditions. It’s too windy to try it out for the first time with the kids, so I call a friend who’s game for any outing under sail. He’s well over 6- footsomething and easily 200 pounds. I’m close in both measures too, so the sight of two big dudes on this toy of a boat must’ve looked comical to the Tuesday-night racers heading out for their beer-can series.
We ghost downwind through the mooring field and familiarize ourselves with a pile of ropes on the trampoline. The boat suddenly feels small, not the least bit intimidating, and as we emerge from behind the wind shadow of Fort Adams, the boat jumps to life. With sails sheeted for a tight-reach exit into the bay, it accelerates in a heartbeat, water sluicing past the leeward bow and hissing off the rudders.
I’m mesmerized by the sensation of speed, the sounds of fun, until a big gust jars me back to the now. I’m late releasing the mainsheet from the cam cleat. The leeward bow submarines, spray spews skyward from the aluminum crossbar, and we’re lifting skyward toward a capsize. I tug the aluminum tiller bar sharply. The hull plummets back to equilibrium and accelerates. Twelve knots
of boatspeed feels pretty darn quick on this little boat.
Back and forth, we sail aimlessly for two hours, learning how to be cat sailors, figuring out how to tack it by backing the jib and turning the rudders slowly to prevent them from stalling. Once we have our mechanics down, tacks are smooth. That’s one box I can check off.
I’d been hyping the cat to my kids as well, and next on the to-do list was introducing my 7-year-old to the fun. Kids dig trampolines. And splashing. And adventures. I enlist two of my nieces as well because kids also have more fun when other kids are involved.
We push off the beach in a gentle 5- knot southerly, three giddy girls chatting away, and over the next hour they share jib-trimming duties, squeal as we hobbyhorse through boat wakes and lounge like queens on the trampoline. Before heading in, I pick up a mooring, unhook the mainsheet in one step and transform the cat into a raucous diving platform. Afterward, they want to go again — like tomorrow. That’s another box ticked.
When the forecast shows a 20-knot sea breeze a few days later, the spinnaker is rigged and it’s time to see what the boat can do. It’s also time to introduce my wife, Dana. She’s skilled on any boat, but cat sailing is new territory. I’m itching to go faster in this thing, and I’ve yet to have anyone on the trapeze. She’s the perfect model for this test; together we’re the ideal weight and size for these conditions. And she’s gone for the bikini.
Our first reach across the bay is sans gennaker. Better to ease us into it. When we get to the other shoreline, I tack, and as instructed earlier, I bear away on a run while Dana easily pulls the halyard to full hoist. I turn up to a reach, she tugs the spinnaker sheet, the sail snaps full, and the boat lurches forward. We’re on a breathtaking runaway ride, into a blinding late afternoon sun.
Like every good downhill run, though, the fun comes to an end with the opposite shoreline. To douse the spinnaker, I turn downwind again and uncleat the pink halyard. Dana pulls on the retrieval line, which gathers and pulls the middle of the spinnaker into the spinnaker sock’s throat. Two more pulls and the entire spinnaker is in the sock and stowed. That’s easy sailhandling.
Turning upwind, I encourage her to give the trapeze a go. She manages her way to an awkward squat, hanging from the trap handle with one hand, unwilling to fall back and let the wire catch her fall.
Suspended like a tea bag, she finally extends her legs and anchors feet against the cat’s rounded hull. I slide inboard a few inches to encourage the weather hull a little higher out of the water and power up the sails. We’re grooving upwind in flat water, the boat is perfectly balanced and going fast and, in this moment, I’m starting to feel like I’m a cat sailor straight out of a 1970s Hobie 16 advertisement: sun-tanned, shirtless, babe on the wire and sailing carefree. I intentionally steer a little lower so we pass close by a sunset charter boat packed with passengers. I admit it: I’m showing off. I’m starting to get a little cattitude.
At this point, I’ve made a believer of everyone I’ve taken for a ride: cat sailing is enjoyment. My friend has a blast, the girls talk about it nonstop for days, and eventually I enlighten my teenage daughter who takes to it with absolute ease. The only thing left to do is to take it out myself — in big breeze — and do it all.
The opportunity comes one afternoon in August. Just like my first outing with my buddy, the sea breeze is in line with the current, and it is steaming hot. Perfect cat-sailing conditions. I duck out of the office early, sprint to Sail Newport and rig the boat in a race against sundown.
Once past the shadow of the fort, I turn hard on the wind, trim both sails, and shift my weight until the boat feels balanced, the leeward bow’s knuckle just kissing the surface. With a long runway and dark patches of puffs as far as I can see, it’s time for the trap. My technique isn’t graceful, but it’s effective. I sit on the tiller, hook into the trapeze bail and, in one swift movement, fall on the weight of the wire. The boat levels, I ease the main and bear away a few degrees to build speed. The weather hull lifts higher. I’m hovering over green water rushing beneath my legs. The boat is so perfectly balanced, the surface so sun- kissed. My state of mind so blissful.
I tack and gun it toward a fleet of J/ 22s twilight racing and a couple of guys out training in a Formula 18 catamaran. I’m feeling pretty cool out here on the wire, feeling like I should stray-cat strut. There’s that cattitude. I get it now. Q
Kids just want to have fun, as do adults. Catamaran sailing, especially on the new RS Cat 14 XL, is pure enjoyment.