We’ve all said “That looks right” more than once; maybe about a boat, a car, a building, perhaps about some very mundane object. Most times, we’d be hard pushed to answer, if someone asked us why we said it.

The answer has nothing to do with a particular aspect, it doesn’t lie in the detail, it’s an almost indefinable thing. You just know that, whatever the purpose of the object that “looks right”, it will fulfil that purpose admirably. I’ve never seen a Catana that didn’t look right to me, so I decided to pay a visit to the shipyard and get to the bottom of the design and engineering behind this catamaran.

Catana has been producing its distinctive yachts, in the little Mediterranean town of Canet-en-Roussillon for over fifteen years. The company employs a workforce of 130, in the three large buildings alongside the town’s small yacht harbour, so it is a significant contributor to the economy of what is, essential, a summer holiday destination.

My visit began in the design office, where I learned the reasons behind some of the features that make these boats so distinctive.

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Stability

My education about the Catana concept began at the bows. Everyone knows that catamarans are more stable than monohulls, which is why they don’t heel much; Catana’s designers have taken that a stage further.

One thing that makes it certain that you will always recognise a Catana is the outward tilt of the hulls. This greatly increases the righting moment, without the disadvantages that come with added beam and its attendant increase in both weight and forces acting on the boat.

A number of people I’ve spoken to have said that what they don't like, about sailing on a catamaran, is that many have a “rocking horse” motion in certain sea conditions. This can be especially uncomfortable in some wind over tide conditions, when the motion becomes diagonal. The stern of one hull and the bow of the other rise alternately, creating a motion that can lead to debilitating seasickness, in some people.

Catana hulls are designed to minimise any tendency to pitch, by creating a hull form that prevents either bow or stern wanting to dip. This is achieved by having ample volumes, at both ends of the boat, which is the reason behind that unusual and very distinctive underwater bow profile. The bulb effect helps to control pitching, but the narrow waterline ensures excellent performance in calm seas.

Performance is also improved by the overall hull shape; Catana hulls are almost torpedo shaped, whereas most cruising catamaran hulls are best described as pointed ellipses. The torpedo shape means that the width of a Catana hull is more uniform, throughout most of its length, so the maximum width can be less, without loss of space. This results in less drag and thus a higher speed for a given sail area, or engine power.

Another thing that makes a Catana unmistakeable is the size and shape of the superstructure. In car terms, the Catana is a close coupled sports coupé, whilst most cruising catamarans are saloons. The first reason for this compact and aerodynamic design is obvious; the windage is considerably reduced. the second reason is, again, to reduce any tendency for pitching by minimising high up weight and having it in the right position.

For the same reason - reducing pitch - stowage has been carefully designed. The forward area, in front of the watertight bulkheads, is reserved for light items, such as fenders and spinnakers; heavy objects, like the anchor, are positioned at the foot of the mast, along with fuel tanks and batteries.

Looking at the boat, from outside, you might think it would be rather sports car like inside, with not a lot of room for everyone, but that isn’t the case at all.

Strength

Catana hulls are produced using a sandwich technique, cured under vacuum. The core of the hull and bulkheads is 20 mm (minimum) PVC foam, with a density of 75 kg per sq mtr. In other areas, such as the deck the foam is up to 40 mm thick.

All 21 structural bulkheads are reinforced with carbon fibre on both sides. The result is that Catanas are not only strong, but very durable.

That doesn’t stop the company from constantly striving to make the yachts better and stronger and one recent change has been to mould the hulls and beams in one section, thus avoiding any possible long term weakness in a bolted construction.

Unsinkable

Those bulkheads, together with the volume of foam, make a Catana truly unsinkable. Even if one were to become completed filled with water it would still float. That’s a tremendous consideration, for anyone contemplating ocean crossings and here’s another. Each hull has watertight crash boxes front and rear, so even if the boat suffered a collision, water would not enter the living area.

Ocean cruising

Strength, unsinkability, speed and good handling are all amongst the reasons that owners who want to cruise extensively have chosen Catana yachts. Another reason is the fact that even a big one is easy to sail short, or single handed.

One of the difficulties round the world yachtsmen encounter is the draining effect of frequently broken sleep. This is inevitable, on long passages, if the yacht needs several people to shorten or raise sail, so being able to reef on a long passage, without needing to call for others to come on deck, makes for less tiring, so more enjoyable voyages. That in turn leads people to take more adventurous cruises to remote places.

Seventy year old Bruno Nicoletti circumnavigated Antarctica in a standard 44 foot Catana. He left Puerto Madryn, in Argentina, and headed towards the Cape of Good Hope, where he encountered 50 knot winds. On the way to New Zealand, he hit a whale and was forced to change a rudder at sea. Between New Zealand and Valdivia, in Chile, he had five days of 75 knot winds. Bruno arrived home, nine months later. His next world girdling voyage was in a Catana 471.

The key to ease of single handing, even in the most testing weather is this tunnel under the hull that leads the sheets to the back of the boat, where they turn through 90° before being brought into positions where everything can be controlled from the cockpit. Other factors, that make the boat easy to sail, with confidence, are uncluttered decks, well positioned toe rails, lifelines and hand rails and top quality deck hardware.

What next?

Catana introduced its new 50 at the Dusseldorf Boat Show. Several refinements have been incorporated in this new version and I am looking forward to going sailing on it in the near future.

The most exciting Catana development, though, has to be the monster that I saw under construction. The Catana 87, Orion, will be the largest yacht the company has built to date and takes the yard into the megayacht league.