The essential equipment for a blue water catamaran
It’s all very well to have chosen your catamaran, but before leaving, it will have to be equipped. Here is a short guide to the essential equipment, what it is worthwhile having and what can be seen as superfluous…
The automatic pilot
When ocean cruising, the most important thing is the automatic pilot. Without it, you can do nothing and are glued to the helm for endless hours, turning the cruise into a real nightmare… A good pilot which is well matched to your boat and well-adjusted can easily take you around the world without the slightest breakdown. Aboard a multihull, we use mainly in-board pilots, whose hydraulic or mechanical rams are fixed directly to the rudder segments. For a long shorthanded cruise, you may choose to install two pilots, a small one and a big one. The smallest model is mainly for use in moderate conditions, or when under engine. Apart from the fact that it consumes less energy, it allows you to save the big model, the main pilot.
Who today can claim to navigate ‘in the old-fashioned way’? The GPS is really essential: an instrument which is for both comfort and (above all) for safety. The choice is huge, from the ‘bottom of the range’, which can give you an exact position each time you ask it, to the ‘top of the range’, linked to electronic cartography…
Yes, the computer is now an essential instrument aboard our boats. Electronic cartography, digital photo processing, sending and receiving e-mails (see the article later on communications), receiving weather files, serving as a support for the logbook – the computer can do everything, not to mention the cinema sessions and storing music… Essential!
Electronic cartography is becoming more and more common. There are several reasons: user comfort, of course, but also the weight. On a ‘round-the–world via the tropics’ programme, a minimum of about 300 charts must be embarked. With a navigation programme you have charts for the whole world on just one DVD. The chart appears on the screen, with the position of the boat, its course, its speed, the waypoints, the ETA, the depth of water according to the tide, all the information that makes navigation easier. The precision provided by the GPS is such that the boat’s position is shown on the finger pontoon where you are moored! Of course, its use is especially practical when coastal sailing; it makes avoiding the rocks much easier! At sea, when crossing the Atlantic or the Pacific, a daily position at noon remains sufficient.
A good dinghy, propelled by a good motor.
When blue-water cruising, the dinghy has to be able to do everything. If you want to go ashore, you use the dinghy. In many more remote regions of the globe, when buying provisions, you will bring them back to the boat in the dinghy. If you don’t have a watermaker, when you have to fill up with water using jerry cans, again, you use the dinghy. It allows you to go diving, or to go and lay an anchor a few tens of metres away, to complete your mooring. As for the material, no hesitation: opt for hypalon-neoprene, even though it is more expensive, as this will save you watching it come unstuck after just a few months in the tropical sun. We ask a lot from the dinghy, all the qualities, and more. Aboard a catamaran, it is easy to find a place for it at the stern, under the davits, between the hulls. This configuration will allow you to use a semi-rigid dinghy, which helps disembarking and access to certain tricky places, such as coral beaches in the Pacific atolls, or elsewhere.
Excellent ground tackle
Let he or she who has never had his or her anchor drag, cast the first stone…Having good ground tackle aboard an ocean-cruising catamaran is essential. The windlass must be powerful enough and the path the chain follows must be optimised. For the main or bower anchor warp, 100 metres of rope and 40 metres of chain are a good starting point… For the kedge warp, 60 metres of rope and 40 metres of chain will suffice. Finally, the lightweight anchor, made up of an aluminium anchor, 5 metres of chain and a weighted line, in a canvas bag… Enough to cope with anything!
Concerning the anchor, there are the ‘classic’ danforth-type anchors and the new generation ‘ploughs’. The latter generally give better penetration in sand, and thus better holding. In addition, they have the advantage of being more versatile.
Finally, the windlass: the chain and the anchor are heavy; choosing the right place to stow them has a significant effect on the boat’s performance…
The watermaker has its supporters and its detractors: this extraordinary machine which allows you to lighten your beautiful catamaran by half a ton straight away, is seen by others as a machine for turning oil (diesel) into fresh water…
With a minimum requirement of 4 litres of water per person per day, managing fresh water on a long cruise becomes a matter of major importance. But in the same way that you should never start a passage without a paper chart, it is irresponsible to envisage crossing the Atlantic with no water reserve… So, watermaker, or not? Everything depends on your programme, the size of your boat and your means of producing energy. On a big catamaran, (over 50 feet), already equipped with a generator, the watermaker gives unequalled comfort aboard. For a 40-footer, whose programme is limited to the West Indies, where it is easy to fill up with water, the watermaker is quite frankly not essential. It’s up to everyone to decide, according to how they sail!
The cost of radar has fallen considerably and sets are now on offer at attractive prices (in the order of 1500 euros), and their energy consumption has fallen in the same way as the price. Radar uses a lot of electricity when it is transmitting, and half as much when it is on stand-by. Its aerial does not have to be fitted up the mast. According to the model, a position just a few metres high may be enough. The ideal position then is on a small mast at the stern of one of the hulls. But be careful of the emitted radiation! Here again, the usefulness of a radar set as part of a sabbatical year in the West Indies has not been proven.
On the other hand, for shorthanded passages, the radar detector is very practical tool, as it allows the watch to be reduced. The principle is simple: the Mer-Veille allows detection and location of ships with working radars, and forms a real safety element for avoiding collisions at sea. Its operation is simple: when the aerial receives a radar signal, the Mer-Veille sets off an audible alarm and lights up one or several indicator lights to indicate the direction of the radar.
Simple and effective…
Here again there are those ‘for’ and those ‘against’. But it can be seen that freezers have made enormous progress in terms of electrical consumption, and that it is always appreciable to have a store of foodstuffs available (not to mention the ice cubes for the aperitif…). Just as for the watermaker, everything depends on your boat, its load-carrying capacity, your means of producing energy and of course, your programme… On a big catamaran setting off for a round-the-world trip and already equipped with a generator, the freezer will be really welcome. For a sabbatical year in the Caribbean islands, where obtaining provisions is easy, you can perhaps do without another machine to maintain and possibly repair…
A little energy…
It’s fine having all this equipment, but it has to be supplied with energy… In general, a production catamaran will be delivered with one starter battery per engine, and one or two batteries for the equipment. They are charged by an alternator, fitted to the engines, but unless the engines are run for several hours a day, the batteries risk being insufficiently charged. So you will have to add other sources of recharging, but first you must calculate your needs.
Let’s take a concrete example: between the refrigerator, the on-board lighting, the computer, the automatic pilot, the watermaker and all the other machines which need energy, you will consume around 200Ah per day. If you only have two batteries, they must be 105Ah each… If the engines are each equipped with a 60A alternator, and are your only source of energy, they will each have to run for around two hours per day, or four hours, in the case of a single engine. Not always a pleasant situation… Fortunately other means than your two diesel engines exist for producing energy.
The simplest consists of replacing the standard alternators with bigger ones. When this solution (which nevertheless uses a lot of diesel) is no longer sufficient, we come to alternative energies. As we voyage pushed along by the wind, often in the sunshine, it is quite natural to produce energy from the wind and the sun (during his round-the-world trip aboard Idec, François Joyon produced all his energy from the wind and the sun!) In the case we are concerned with, we use mainly solar panels. There are also wind generators, but they are noisy, and only give a small output at anchor, where you are by definition supposed to be well-protected from the wind.
Solar panels give their best performance if they are fitted on an adjustable support, which will allow them to be positioned at an angle close to 90° to the sun’s rays. Their efficiency will be optimal in the tropical sunshine. They can also be fitted on a rigid bimini; this position has the advantage of keeping the stern clear, but it is then impossible to make them adjustable. But don’t dream, even under the West Indian sun, a solar panel will not charge for more than 12 hours a day, and unless you cover your deck with them, they will not be enough to cover your daily consumption…
Be careful, they are generally not approved for cruising, are noisy, run on petrol and need calm sea conditions. They are above all an emergency means of producing energy, to charge the batteries quickly, for example.
If you have chosen the ‘super-equipped’ catamaran option (watermaker – freezer – washing machines – air conditioning – diving compressor – etc.), a fixed generator will be necessary. These generators offer a good energy reserve, but their price varies according to the power. An investment varying around 13,000 euros, but one which offers complete self-sufficiency…
Catamarans with hybrid propulsion.
This is the big new feature: all the builders are working on this type of propulsion. To simplify: one (or two) generators produce energy, which supplies two electric motors to propel the catamaran… But this generator also provides you with all the energy you could possibly need aboard! A system which is being developed…