Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An admission...

I know this is going to mark me as a nearly useless, utterly shallow excuse for a human being, so let's keep this just between us...but I was really hoping that the trip on a 47' monohull would prove such boats a real option for Deb and I. The main reason? (I mean it, just between us.) I think monohulls, most of them anyway, are prettier than Catamarans (most of them, anyway). We've looked at a couple of older Catamarans as possibilities, right size, right price, right equipment, but (and I will not share any actual model names, beauty being in the eye of the owner, as it were) just plain ugly. Of course there are a few butt ugly monohulls out there as well, but they seem a distinct minority in the monohull world. Catamarans, on the other hand, well...what does one do with a vessel whose primary dimensions are those of a tennis court?

I realize I have been watching the sailing world in general, and the Catamaran world in particular, for just a few years. But has anyone else noticed that these things seem to be getting kind of excessive across the middle? I can remember, when I first started learning about catamarans, that a 50% ratio, beam to LOA, was considered about the "maximum." Even a boat I happen to like, the 38' Fountaine Pajot Athena, has a beam of 21.5' while being only 38 foot long overall. (That's a tick more than 56%!) The 38 foot Leopard is about the same. Indeed, from any angle that emphasizes the beam even these boats (either of which I would take in a heartbeat) look more than a little "clunky." If I remember the last two America's Cup competitors were basically square. They were space age, fragile, and fast as hell...but does anyone think they were pretty? That thing with the wing was just plain weird, and this from an airplane driver who normally loves high tech toys.

I know that "ugly" is supposed to be completely subjective. But I also suspect it isn't. We often disagree about beauty, but we rarely disagree about ugly. When we see it, we know it. When it comes to machines though, there is another consideration. Ugly is, usually, as ugly does. I have "helmed" my share. I'm even type rated in some of them. The Embraer EMB-110P1 was one. Ugly indeed, with a face only a Mother could love and cold, slow, noisy and unpressurized. The jet I'm flying now (another type rating) is slow for a jet, has limited range with a load, and only a marginally better face. (The teal and pink paint job doesn't help). But at least it isn't as ugly as the Beech Premier.

Then there is the opposite of "ugly is as ugly does." There are some truly bizarre looking machines out there, built to do "A THING." They do "THE THING" and often look like performance art in the process. Witness a Sky Crane lifting the impossible or a Supper Guppy swallowing same for a flight across an ocean.

A truism for boats as well as airplanes, when you are sitting in the cockpit you can't see the ugly. In fact sometimes ugly from outside is actually pretty from the other side. People who fly the Premier are pretty happy with the speed / fuel burn / range / comfort, it stomps the C-V (my ride) in each of those categories. That it looks like a guppy on stilts when sitting on the ramp doesn't bother the people paying the bills, the airplane seems to grow on them.

I suspect a Cat can be like that, built to do "A THING." Sitting a dark and stormy anchor watch while sipping coffee in the dry and warm, a 360 degree view out of the bridge deck, the boat gently rocking just a few degrees (like we did in FL)? Nothing ugly about that. Rocketing along at hull speed, (whatever that means in a Cat) regardless of the point of sail, without a heel, roll or yaw? No ugly there either. Room to spread out a little...okay, there was lots of room on Quetzal. Still, the aft porch or front tramps of a cat look like pretty nice places to spend some days. Built to do something special, that can over come odd looking lines and angles.

Catamarans have been around long enough now where, once in a while, one pops up whose price and looks don't spark a gag reflex. (Unlike monohulls, there seems a whole armada of Catamarans that are both obscenely expensive and seriously ugly to boot. How do they sell those things?) Anyway, I'm going to take my shallow self and start looking for a pretty Catamaran I can call home. And if, once I find her, we spot a gorgeous monohull flying all her canvas, rail dug in, spray flying and making a rainbow over a perfect bow and shear line...well, I hope she won't hold it against me if I sigh a little.

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