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 The Multi Eye for the Mono Guy!

A discussion of build philosophy, value, cost and practicality

Originally printed in TCP # 13. Please note that inflation has taken a toll since this article was written and costs generally refer to the minimum.

 By R. Norson

It's a real easy trend to spot. How many new mono hulls are being built in Australia today? The easy answer is bloody few. Though the very best of the lot are still doing well, Martz for example, The volume market is dominated by factories in France, USA and Germany but the local production builder or homebuilder has gotten more scarce. From a beginning that was the territory of 'outsiders' and nonconformist, catamarans are a popular flavour of the new millennium and for good reasons.

SPEED!! You can't get around it. In similar conditions a modern cruising cat can do twice the speed of the mono. You can argue about specific examples but in a general sense that formula is useful. You can also argue that speed isn't that important. Well maybe not to everyone but besides the fact many think speed is fun… how about beating foul weather to an anchorage or avoiding a night landfall to a strange destination etc. There is a safety and comfort argument for speed, and speaking of…..

COMFORT!! Racing multis can be a rough ride. If you read my account of Rendezvous 2004 you know that it was only a matter of which way the Trimaran, “Adios” was going to kill me, beat me to death or drown me! That's not the normal though. I talked to Rod Cunningham, currently the skipper of 52 ft Dufore cat “Jinga” how he got perverted….er.. I mean converted to Cats and he told me the story of how he was racing in the Whits, punching hard to windward in miserable soaking wet, cold conditions in his 31 ft Jim Young design mono, “White Knuckles” when he was passed by Catamaran, “The Boss,” whose crew were relaxing sipping coffee in the cockpit. That was it. His next boat was “Light Blue Touch Paper and Stand Clear,” a Crowther Windspeed.

STABILITY!! Now here is where the shit fight starts! “A catamaran.. no way, I don't want to be in one when they flip over!” I've seen examples of monos and multis laying upside down in the water waiting for rescue. (remember Bullimore?) What they usually have in common is they were racing and racing boats have oophsies. A modern cruising cat winding up bum up, would have to have been grossly mismanaged or in conditions you wouldn't want to be out in in anything.

 This is the boat that I crewed on in the Rendezvous. It recovered from this scary moment without any crew even getting wet.... but there may have been some changes of clothing nonetheless... yes.. it was racing.

COST!! Now we are at the real multi problem. I believe that if Cats and monos were the same cost a lot of mono fans would be raving Cat pilots overnight but the cost factor can work for a Cat as well and here is how.

BUILD IT!! Take a look in the boat trader and the division between mono and multi prices jumps at you. Just like the speed thing the effect is about double… or more. Some will see that as an impediment and some as an opportunity. If one were to buy the materials now to build a mono, say in steel like the old days, a forty foot boat would owe you about $100k when done unless you were very frugal. Problem is that the value of the boat when done would be about the same figure! Put $150K in materials into a good style of Cat and you should have at least $300k worth of boat when done. The Cat can ad value at a rate that “pays” you about $100K per year for your labour. ( Figures like these can be massaged around enough to keep a good argument going forever.) This assumes an individual with some related boat building skills working diligently and full time, but the fact is, this is one of those rare times in history that building a boat by an individual can actually pay, as long as it is a Cat of popular design and length, which means about forty feet. Here is the real dirty secret… There is no tax (yet) on the gain in equity on your boat so it's tax free income……. don't tell anyone!

 Another Schionning Designs kit boat proving a cat can go to windward very well thank you very much! This was a light day and most of the wind they had was apparent.

 Another factor that should be mentioned in this is the accessibility of designs in Australia. In the “Lucky Country” we take that for the granted. For example, in America the production mono business is very strong but if you are looking for a multi there, the selection is surprisingly limited considering the size of the market. It's like stepping back twenty years. Australia, New Zealand and France are the world leaders in design but for amateur construction, Australia stands above the rest. We have Schionnings, Grainger, Crowther, Snell, Hitch, the list goes on.

One of the reasons for the boom of big steelies in the 70's and 80's was that welding was a common skill. I think that the number of plywood boats has to do with familiarity of the material as well as the low cost. Skills required for the building of modern fibre glass Cats are not as common but from what I've been able to suss out, not any more difficult than welding. If you can do one you can probably do the other.

And whilst materials are being mentioned, Fibre glass in the form of composite panels is a favoured material because of the light weight and simple assembly but it isn't the only game in town. If the bigger part of the goal is adding value than Fibre glass is the go but if the cost is too high though, ply or glass over ply can be built far cheaper. That’s a different market though, maybe worth an article down the road. Jim Gard of fusion Yachts commented that craft like the Wharrams are still a good alternative. “Especially for a young guy with limited money they are great.”

The point is, if you are considering upgrading your current mono or if you are without a boat at present and wondering which way to go, you might want to consider the numbers and contemplate the market.

This is not to say that mono's are dead, far from it! Once the imbalance in the market has stabilised I would expect to see more production of mono's but perhaps in a form that will be new and likely influenced by the technology developed for todays multi's. AND.. there will always be traditionally styled and crafted yachts because romance is what attracts people to the sea.

What follows is a brief look at a couple popular examples.

 Fusion Cats

 Schionning Designs


Horses for courses is the reference that works here. I have focussed on a particular size and style in that I believe that is where the builder, or in the case of Fusion, contractor, part builder can realise the best gain for money and work input. That is an arguable point of course.

These kits bring the most modern materials to the hands of anyone with a clue. Designer support is now better than you would have expected a few years ago as well. Schionning can supply everything right to the motors and paint and know every obstacle you can run into. From what I have been able to discover, the costs and labour requirements specified from the designers are realistic. In the case of Fusion the remaining sums are a matter of dealing with the subjective matter of fitout. Both Fusion and Schionning will provide bulk buy deals on rig, hardware, motors and other accesories. Schionnings kit provides some items like rudders and curved sections, pre-made that will save time. Each has great virtue.

The whole idea of boat building is a dangerous one. It’s a massive undertaking that often overwhelms. Unfinished boat building projects are a fixture in sheds all over the country but one of the reasons is the inverted value logic becomes clear finally to the builder and he... or she loses interest. I can not see what future economic woe would wipe enough value from any of these examples to the point where the project becomes a financial dead end and in a project that could be years in completion, this should be considered. I speak much of the value end of it as that is the final justification to start but no one would be wise to build a boat they don’t really like. Also very important to know.. most figures discussed in this article reflect a minimal fitout, rig and deck gear. It is easy to turn any of these into a million dollar boat that takes much more time to build as well.

The idea is to enjoy the finished craft for a good long time but know the asset is there when it is finally time to sell.

So have you thought about it before but reckoned it was in the too hard category? It might be do-able after all.