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How to pick the right Multihull: Everything you need to know before taking the plunge!

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That’s it! You’ve decided to go for a multihull. You’ve been sailing for a long time on a monohull, and you’re fed up with dragging iron or lead below the waterline. You’re sick of spilling your whisky in the cockpit. It was your first boat and you and your family just don’t like all the heeling. Or maybe you already sail on more than one hull and you just fancy a change. Whatever your motivation, the chances are that there’s a multihull out there that’s just right for you… as long as you know exactly what you’re looking for. There are more than 70 catamaran builders across the world, and at least 30 making trimarans. Across all the brands there are around 1,300 different boats available. And as the multihull market in currently on the rise, that trend is only set to continue. In 2018-2019 alone, 70 new models saw the light of day. The same goes for second hand models: just have a look on the web and at the brokers’ lists. There are no less than 1,600 sail and 500 power multihulls in the classifieds. There’s something for every taste and budget: small, large, basic, super-equipped, recent or retro. There’s a multitude of options. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, then perhaps you don’t really know what you want. To work out what you really want, you need to take the time to focus and go further into your research. If the choice between a sailboat and a motorboat seems fairly obvious, there are plenty of other, less obvious factors to take into account.  

List your priorities.

There are five or six criteria which need to be taken into account when working out the size of your boat and the budget that you want to commit, which could determine whether you buy a brand-new boat or a good second hand one. It’s time to start asking the hard questions, and the first one is about your sailing program. Will you be coastal sailing or out on the high seas? Will you be sailing for just a day, a week, two weeks or several months a year? Will the boat become your home during a long voyage? With or without a skipper? Alone or with your family? A private or chartered boat? Will you be racing or just cruising or both? In the Tropics or in higher latitudes? Depending on your choices, your first reaction might be to lean towards a sporty trimaran, a large and roomy catamaran or a small, open cat for coastal sailing. The second major point to take into consideration, is the number of crew that will normally be on board. This will give you a good idea of the space that will be needed. Once everyone has been housed, whether they’re a team of hardened sailors who dream of racing in the America’s Cup, or tourists who aren’t particularly interested in the sailing part of the trip, your deck plan needs to be set out accordingly: will it all be geared to handling the boat or general post-prandial relaxation?  The third criterion is how it is fitted out. Do you prefer an open space with easily maintained linings and coverings, or a cozier set up using special woods and private bathrooms in every cabin? What about a large galley where you can work on that recipe of Aunt Lucie’s or a large cockpit where you can invite the neighbors while you’re at anchor for drinks before going ashore to a restaurant? Everything is available on the market. For a long time now, builders have made adaptability of the product an industry standard. The fourth step in your decision process relates to the options that you might want to choose on your new boat. Or, being a bit of a DIY specialist, you might want to install them yourself on your second-hand boat. On a brand-new multihull, there’s lots to do before it’s absolutely ready to sail, whilst on a second-hand vessel, your predecessor will already have installed a range of options. If the existing material is top quality, you might well congratulate yourself on having done a good deal. Fifth on the list is the construction material. Aluminum, wood or polyester sandwich? Don’t believe everything that you’ve heard. Wood and aluminum are ideal for one-off projects as they are exceptionally adaptable. A polyester boat will be easier to maintain and to repair. High-tech materials are light and effective but may be better suited to racing in Newport Bay or rapid transatlantic crossings rather than a romantic cruise around the Tropics.  In the end, you may well not follow the results of your little survey. If your plan is to be able to beach your vessel and to potter around the waterways, you will have a tough time if you have fragile daggerboards instead of skeg keels. It will be difficult not to give in to your entourage’s desire for a dishwasher, aircon and a wine refrigerator, unless you perhaps go for a bigger model. So be absolutely clear about what your real motivations are before you find yourself buying something that really doesn’t fit in with your program.

The All-Purpose Solution

Multihulls are amazingly adaptable, and some models can astound us. Although a trimaran may have the reputation for being quick but with rather cramped living space, you might be surprised by a Neel, which aims to harmonize speed and XXL volumes. A Dragonfly, a Corsair or a Tricat have other attributes: once their arms have been folded in, they only take up the same space in port as a monohull. The huge livability of a modern 45-foot catamaran is comparable to that of a 60-foot monohull, yet it can also average 20-30% more speed downwind. For those looking for simplicity and performance, some Outremers, Catanas, Marsaudons, Aventuras and of course the forthcoming range of Excess all offer very lively sailing with a very ergonomic and sailing-friendly layout. If you have the budget for it, semi-customized units such as Privilège, HH catamaran, McConaghy, Ice yacht or even Eos have exceptional performance and a superb look. Finally, a charter/management option will be ideal for those who have a phobia of the tool-box. Turnkey programs mean that you can sail anywhere in the world without having to worry about any maintenance. Are you still not sure what’s right for you? Getting advice from a professional broker can be very useful if you’re struggling to decide between a spray hood or a flybridge or whether the galley should be up or down?

New or Second-hand?

Your budget might just solve this issue. If you have a budget of € 350,000 and you are looking for a 45/50-footer with modern comfort levels, then you should head straight for the second-hand classifieds. If your budget is between € 50,000 and € 100,000 there are some good boats out there, like the Catana 40 or the Prout 37 Snowgoose which have earned their stripes. Whether it’s new or second-hand, you need to take into account the budget needed for general running, repairs, spare parts, maintenance, insurance, material needed onboard etc… And don’t forget all the personal touches that you would like to add. By ordering the model just below what you may have in mind, means that you have a better budget for all the options that you really want. The last option is to maybe look at recent second-hand boats. They often have the advantage of being well-equipped and you might just find one that fits your program. Boats which have just been released from a management contract can present a good opportunity. 

Buying an ex-Charter Multihull

These are usually fairly recent catamarans (3-6 years old), which have usually chartered a minimum of 15 weeks per year, but which have also been well looked after. Some go on sale because the owner wants to trade-in for a new boat. As with any second-hand product, there are a number of checks that need to be carried out depending on the age of the vessel. An inspection of the hulls, the appendages and the rigging is essential – these are the key elements on your catamaran. These boats have sailed in the Tropics under a hot sun and in high humidity. The areas that suffer the most from this climate are the ropes, sails, varnishes, upholstery and just in general any consumables like the fenders, dinghies, sun awnings, covers and window seals. The state of the bilges and the engine compartment is a good indicator of how well the boat has been maintained. Stains left by stagnant water might suggest humidity which has got into the flooring or the electrical system as well as rust which may have infected the metal parts such as the engines and other peripherals. It is highly recommended that you get a surveyor to undertake a technical evaluation. A specialized broker can look at the boat’s administrative situation, and whether there are any nasty hidden surprises such as sailing rights and taxes.

What to look for depending on the age of the boat.

If the boat is 10 or more years old, you need to be very vigilant, and your budget for getting the boat back up to scratch could be considerably higher. You’ll need a surveyor to tell you if there are any hidden problems, and they can be many. The standing rigging, anchor chain, saildrive boots, through-hull fittings, the sails and perhaps even the electrical and electronic accessories may need changing. Any woodwork and headlinings are worth giving a makeover. In short, there can be quite a lot of work to do, for which you will need to budget. After 25 years, many of the essential organs of the boat- seized-up engines, corroded masts, scratched and yellowed gelcoat or even the windows and any grazed glass- will be getting to the end of their life. The hulls and/or the superstructures can begin to delaminate and getting the boat back into a safe and seaworthy state can cost as much or even more than the price of the boat itself! Unless that is, you manage to find a model that has been completely renovated (see our article on refits in MW N° 165).

What about buying your boat out in the islands?

Sometimes you just don’t have the time to do a return transatlantic crossing during your sabbatical. Or perhaps you and your team don’t feel ready to spend 2 or 3 weeks away from land. And the kids? They don’t want to hear about doing night watches far from any internet connection… In fact, you can go and find the boat that you’re dreaming of right in the place where you are planning to sail in the future. Out of a hundred new boats, around 50 will stay in Europe, a good 20 go to the USA, another 20 will head for subtropical paradises and the last 10 will head to all four corners of the earth. The same goes for second-hand vessels. Of the 1,600 that are available, 600 are listed in Europe, 350 in the US, 350 in the Caribbean, 100 in Australasia, 150 in the South Pacific and 50 in the rest of the world. Of the 500 power multihulls that are currently on sale, half are anchored in the US, a quarter in Europe and the other quarter in all of those other zones. Statistically there is a strong possibility that the model which will suit you perfectly is moored at the end of a lagoon or a gulf… but there just happens to be an ocean between her and where you are sitting. Over the last thirty years these dream destinations have made major strides in their ability to welcome occasional sailors, and also in the way that they manage the technical side of fleets that have become bigger and bigger. Sales offices, technical infrastructures, lifting equipment and shipyards have all sprung up on the white sandy beaches. Nowadays it is quite normal to buy, insure, moor, winterize, maintain, repair and sell your boat directly from one of these idyllic destinations, which sometimes happen to also be tax havens. From sales agents to brokers, not forgetting the outfitters and other diverse marine services, all the professions which surround the world of boats are now well represented by highly qualified retailers and tradesmen. This follow-up is crucial when making a purchase. As many multihulls have benefitted from a partial or total tax exemption, navigation rights or a tax could be charged if you do not leave the zone after a fixed period, or as soon as you reach the territorial waters of your domicile. For example, this is the case for multihulls which are registered in the British Virgin Islands, in Saint Martin or simply any boat which sails for the whole year outside of its territorial waters. If you are European, the sales tax will be requested as soon as you bring the boat back into Europe, or any other related destination such as the French West Indies (see our article regarding Financing). This may be necessary, for example if you are planning on carrying out any major works. If you buy your boat in Tahiti, you will pay 5% on top of the purchase price to register the boat. Then you have to “Papeetise” the boat. This is an import tax which is specific to Polynesia and becomes due if you spend more than a year there. Otherwise you need to leave… For taxable boats, the rate is around 18% (calculated on a surveyor’s valuation of the boat), plus the admin costs. For a boat which is more than 15 years old, or has been self-built, the price can be negotiated, with the boat immobilized temporarily. There are innumerable permutations. The financing, your nationality, your place of residence and the flag flown by the seller and the buyer can create a very complex combination. Each situation needs to be looked at carefully based on the rules that are in place in each territory, but also in any zone where the multihull is likely to sail. This underlines the importance of getting professional help when dealing with the administrative procedures.

The Martinique Example

The arc of West Indian islands is the number one tropical cruising spot in the world. It is also one of the sailing zones with the most second-hand catamarans. Everyone has heard of the Baie du Marin which is in the south of Martinique, between the superb Salines beach and the Diamant rock. Over the last 20 years, the marina has grown enormously and with its 830 slips and around 100 mooring buoys, it has become an important stopover welcoming 55,000 boaters per year. All the big charter companies have bases there, and there are also 80 other marine professionals based there too. This represents 600 jobs that are directly employed by the marine industry. With its very sheltered bay it’s also one of the largest natural anchoring locations in the region, with over 1,000 boats anchored there. As you can imagine, a wander around the pontoons can be a real eye-opener. It’s a true multihull showroom. Some of the pontoons are even exclusively reserved for multihulls like that of Dominique Amice, who installed his brokerage business (A&C Yacht Brokers) in this marina many years ago, representing several different market segments. There is a wide and varied offer -just out of a charter fleet or owners’ boats- and he can advise you as to which boat may suit you best. A broker’s job involves several things: organizing the transport to the continent or from island to island, and to manage the preparation and delivery. As the administrative rules across the Caribbean vary a lot, the broker will regularly take the plane to a different island to cancel a registration or to have import or export documents approved. His role is to hold your hand through the purchase process and help you to avoid any issues with the port authorities. If you live in Europe and wish to buy a boat which is registered in Martinique you can stay there and sail as the 8.5% sales tax has been paid, as have the 9.5% dock dues. However, if you aren’t French you will need to be able to prove that you have an address or bank account in France. Otherwise you will need to register the boat in your country of residence. When you return to Europe with your multihull, you will be asked to pay the difference between the sales tax paid and that in force in your country (around 20%). Non-Europeans will not be able to fly a French flag even with a French address. In the first instance, the multihull must be officially exported (an interim measure where the boat is based). Once the export document has been received, you must make a request to the Customs office where the boat is taxed to cancel the French registration. The new owner must then register the boat in the destination country. The tax will only become due if the boat enters the territorial waters of that country. For those who register the boat in their country of residence, there is a temporary admission window of up to 18 months. Beyond that the boat must be imported and the local taxes paid. As everywhere, the list of potential issues is long… All we can do is recommend that you take the advice of an experienced specialist.  


Buying with a Charter/Management Contract

If you only sail for a few weeks per year, a charter/management contract could be the solution, and it’s a trusted format that has been around for over 30 years. The main operators have bases across the world which serve as the starting point for wonderful cruises, but also the home port for your multihull.  In situ specialist teams ensure all the necessary maintenance and repair services for your vessel.  The Bahamas, Seychelles, Turkey and Polynesia are all easily accessible for you and your family. You can sail there for 5 to 12 weeks per year or you can even do an exchange and sail in a different location. There, you will find a similar boat to yours. It will be a recent model as the average age of the fleets is 3 years, and it will have been prepared and ready to go. Taking all the charter companies into account, there are around 500,000 kms of coastline waiting for you to book your charter, by email or by telephone, on one of the 3,000 boats that make up the fleets. We estimate that 700-1,000 of those boats are multihulls. All costs relating to maintenance, repair, berth, over-wintering and insurance are looked after by the management company.  All you need to do is to buy your airline tickets for your destination. The fleets are managed by the industry leaders. The experience that these charter professionals have built up means that the selected models are super reliable and are kitted out with the optimal facilities for whatever your destination is. At the end of the charter period which is usually 5 or 6 years, you take delivery of your multihull or you sell it. You’re free to decide whether you want to trade in for a new boat. Depending on your contract, your boat can benefit from end of contract maintenance. Whatever your choice – sailing or selling- you are sure to have a boat that’s in good shape.


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