Learning to Sail a Cat

The biggest event in May 2021 is a trip to San Diego to learn how to sail catamarans. We’re not thinking of selling Endless Song to make way for a cruising cat. Nope. This is all about prepping for a trip to the Caribbean next spring with the Hunstmans, the Kleinschmidts and the Runkels. Otherwise commonly known as “The Scout Parents.” We’ve talked about it for years, but with most of us showing signs of increasing grey in the hair, we decided it was time to get our butts in gear and do it before we all got too damn old.

Finding a boat to charter was easy. One of the big decisions you need to make is, “Do I hire, and pay, a skipper for my charter boat?” Since we and the Huntsmans own boats and have been sailing for years it just doesn’t seem like we should need a skipper. But a big cruising Cat is a difference beast. So David, Gyung, Karin and I all decided to take the American Sailing Association Catamaran certification class, with David and I actually taking to test to get certified.

With all that in mind, the weekend before Memorial Day we all arrived in San Diego. We had a relaxing first night in a hotel by the marina. And we had a great view of the harbor that we would soon be sailing on.

Bright and early Monday we reported to the catamaran. Of course then we had to sit around and wait. We were excited to get going, but maybe we showed up a little early. Regardless, soon we were learning the ins and outs of our new home for three days, a Lagoon 40 catamaran named Flower Power. It’s only two feet shorter than the one we’ll be sailing next April in the BVI’s.

Captain Anthony (The Happy Captain….yes, he’s branding that…even has his own Spotify channel of sailing music) made us dig around in the bowels of the boat learning every nook and cranny. His point was that when you get to your charter boat you want to do this same thing, and make sure you know where everything is…and that it’s working…before you leave the dock.

After that it was time to learn just how different a big catamaran is to handle around the docks. David and I took turns maneuvering the boat on and off the docks, around buoys, and learning different ways to solve different issues with wind and currents pushing the big boat around as you try not to bump into anything hard. It’s very interesting, and very different from our monohull sailboats. The cat has two engines at the back of the boat, set 15 feet apart. By putting one engine in forward and one in reverse, and feathering the throttle, you find that it’s not hard to keep the boat in one place…or make the bow or stern rotate away or towards the dock. You can’t do that on a monohull…at least not one that doesn’t have a bow thruster. We also made sure Gyung and Karin got a chance to play with the controls in case one of them has to jump in.

Then it was time to head out into the Pacific Ocean off San Diego to play with the sails, and learn just how different that is from what we know on our own boats. Short answer…very different.

First, the thing doesn’t heel over at all under sail. And there is no feel in the wheel or boat for how strong the wind or current is. You just don’t have that kind of feedback. So you need to watch your instruments much closer. Catamarans come with a wind/sail charts that tell you at this wind speed you have this much sail out. If you don’t follow those guidelines you run a real danger of being overpowered. The way you know you’re overpowered is the boat tips over. Hmm, good to know.

Out on the ocean was an amazing day. We saw a dolphin superpod, with hundred of them moving past the boat. We saw all kinds of Navy vessels, including an 80 foot drone trimaran being developed as a submarine hunter. We also saw a Sun Fish basking at the surface. I think Karin and Gyung liked this part the best since David and I were struggling with the sails….trying to get the boat to tack and gybe. They got to just sit on the foredeck, chat, and enjoy the view.

On day one of sailing, try as we might, David and I never made a tack or gybe in one try. The good thing is we had an extra day on our own after the test to play with the boat. We finally were able to get the hang of the very different way you have to sail a Cat to get it to swing through the wind. I think we all agreed that it was a very good class and a very good idea to come get some experience before we do all this for real in the BVIs. We’re feeling that, while not catamaran pros, we at least now know what we’re trying to do.

The other great aspect of this learning trip was staying on the boat and just getting to hang out with David and Gyung. It was lovely and we got a feel for what it’s like to be on a catamaran. When the head made smells we had to learn how to deal with it.

Next year in the BVIs we need to be ready for anything, be adaptable, and we’ll be doubling the number of people. So more supplies!

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