Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Perfect Catamaran for S/V Lynx

For years I have been looking for the perfect catamaran... she did not exist.  People will tell you that every boat is a compromise.  However, for years I dreamed of a catamaran with good performance, at a decent price, that was also a comfortable boat, something of a hybrid between a spartan fast performance boat with poor LCC and a fat slow condomaran with all the comforts and no performance.  As you can imagine, it was like looking for a unicorn.


The issue is simple, catamaran builders cater to two different groups.  The first is the charter industry, where comfort and a cheap entry price are all that matters since these boats are cruising around a limited location, like the BVIs or the Society Islands.  The second are boats for the performance blue water sailors.  These are for sailors who want speed at any price, so the boat companies build hulls out of carbon fiber and nix any un-needed comforts to keep the hulls thin and the boat light, and the price to buy them is very high.

Now, I could get both comfort and speed if I were willing to spend 2-6 million dollars to get a large
enough performance boat (see pic above).  The sheer length lets the thin hulls achieve enough LCC (Load Carrying Capacity) to allow for some comforts, but at the cost of too much money to afford for the average Joe.

Salina 48 from Fountaine Pajot

For what I have to spend, somewhere in the realm of a half-million dollars, the best compromise seemed to be a comfort oriented, production cat (see pic right).  I decided to sacrificed performance to gain comfort at an acceptable price.  

Yet, I dreamed of a few small things that I could not have.  For one, comfort deigned cats use mini keels, and though they have their advantages, the loss of pointing ability and shallower draft were things I knew I would sorely miss.  They also come with sail drives as these are easier for the builders to plunk into a hull for swift build schedules.  Now, both of these things do work, and even have some advantages, yet for a blue water circumnavigator, I would prefer the pointing ability of daggerboards and the shallow draft they give you when up, as well as shaft drives (for when I run over a log, container, or bommie so that I don't tear out a massive hole in my boat when that destructive object hits the sail drive.

Sports Top helm

On another note, there is the helm position.  This is a personal choice, as different locations offer different advantages.  It just so happens, I like a sports top helm position (higher than bulkhead, lower than flybridge).  Performance cats rarely offered this configuration, and when they do, they cost too much money for my wallet (like the HH55).

And there were other things on my wish list, like the performance to sail in light winds.

I kept asking, "Why doesn't some company make a comfortable cruising catamaran with daggerboards, a sports top helm, a large salon and cockpit, and shaft drives?"  But there just wasn't one available at a price point I could afford.

So, I gave up my dream and settled on buying a used, comfort oriented, production catamaran. I planned to do a major refit to put her in shape for a circumnavigation of the planet.  Basically, I compromised.  Next, I spent a decade saving up the money to make that half-million dollar purchase.  During that period I watched the used boat market and there was a consistent trend.  New boats dropped in price and then slowed their depreciation after about eight years.  I could predict what a boat would cost based on its original selling price and the number of years since it sold.

For unfathomable reasons, Covid changed all that.  In the last year or so, the prices of used boats have
skyrocketed.  Not only that, but even at these new exorbitant prices, boats sold like hotcakes.  For ten years, there were always boats I could have purchased, had I the money, but now, right when I have just about saved the amount I need, used boats that I was interested in buying have jumped in price by $100,000 or more over what they should cost for their age.  Even at those ridiculous prices, there are none available of the models I used to want, even if I could afford one.  Sadly, if I could find one, I have enough to buy the boat, but then I would not have the money I need to refit it for a circumnavigation.  I could keep working and save more money, but that would delay my trip for several more years and I am not getting any younger.

I went seeking a way to save my dream. I took a second look at an option that I had researched years ago,  building a kit boat myself.  I knew that it used to be less expensive than buying a new boat if you don't count all the labor you will spend building the kit.  However, I never found a design I liked.  They tended to be performance cats without much in the way of comfort.

Then, wonder of wonders, I found a fairly new catamaran kit boat from Schionning Designs.  The first one is nearing completion in Thailand.  This is a performance catamaran, yet she is built in the style of a comfort catamaran. 

Solitaire 1490 render

 This boat is 50' 4" long, 25' 10" wide, which means she is long enough to have some LCC.  She has daggerboards and shaft drives, and kick-up rudders, so she will point well and have a better chance of surviving a collision with a destructive object.  She has a shallow draft, with good bridge deck clearance.  She has a sports top style helm, a large cockpit, and salon.  She is built strong and light, and designed to be beached.  

(My customized layout of the helm, cockpit, and salon.)

This means this boat hits nearly every option I have been looking for in a boat all these years, a melding of performance and comfort in a catamaran.  Not only that, but since I will be building her myself, I can modify the layout and get almost exactly what I want!  Not only that, but in talking to the wonderful people at Schionning Designs, I have found that they are willing to modify the kit to fit my goals!  How great is that!  Even all my changes will be precut for me and arrive in the kit, ready to assemble! 

But what about the price?

We can build this Solitaire 1500, which means we get a new boat.  Even fully kitted out and ready to sail around the world she can be built for about half a million US dollars.  That is right in my budget!  Still, as everyone will tell you, every boat is a compromise.  However, in this case, it is not the boat or what she offers that is the compromise.  The compromise we have to make is doing all the labor it takes to build this catamaran.

'Escapade' currently under construction

It will take a minimum of 6,000 hours of labor to build this performance cat, so not everything is rosy.  Still, I will end up with a new boat that is everything I have been seeking rather than a 10 to 15-year-old boat that is smaller, without the features I want, and costs more.  I can speed up the build time by adding more people to help.  With three, full time workers, the construction of the shell can be done in one year.  Adding all the systems can be done in a another nine months. However, even though I plan to work with two other people on the construction, we are figuring two full years because we know there will be various delays along the way since we are amateur first time catamaran builders.

Solitaire 1490
The boat is from Schionning Designs and this hybrid performance/cruiser is called the Solitare 1490.  I was planning on starting my search for a used boat later this year and, after, finding, buying, and refitting, have her ready to sail in about a year after purchase.  At this point, I am looking into starting the build of our customized Solitaire 1500 at the end of 2022, so that may put me about one year longer than a used, refitted boat (it depends on how long it took me to find the used boat).  I hate the idea of all the construction work and, possibly, one additional year delay but love what I will achieve in the end, the boat I have always dreamed of owning at a price I can stomach.

'Escapade' nearing completion of the shell
So I have a possible plan, one that I will have to decide on soon.  If I go with the kit boat, S/V Lynx will be a Solitaire 1490, extended to just over 50', so now a Solitaire 1500.  She will have daggerboards, kick-up rudders, and a hybrid diesel/electric propulsion system.  She will have decent LCC yet sail close to wind speed.  

If I choose to build this catamaran, I will video document the entire construction process on Youtube, so you may follow along and see how we built her and all the cool systems we add.  And, you may see if this is something you might wish to do in the future!  I will be asking Schionning to make my design available to anyone as the Solitaire 1500.   I'll keep you informed if they agree.

Stay tuned and subscribe to my SVLynx channel on Youtube so that you do not miss the start of the weekly videos.  That way, you may follow along from the beginning of this adventure (See link below).

S/V Lynx

                                                               Youtube Sailing S/V Lynx