What are the key differences between catamarans and trimarans? Here are the basics:
The most noticeable thing about sailing a catamaran or trimaran vs a traditional monohull is the lack of heeling. Even when powered up, a cat or tri will rarely heel more than 5-10 degrees before it’s time to reef. Gone are the days of bracing yourself in the cockpit, and living your life underway at 20+ degrees of angle. It’s a much more relaxing and convenient way to sail. No question about that. There are a few exceptions when it comes to the newer breed of large performance cruising cats (which can heel 10+ degrees), but these are still fairly rare.
Cruising catamarans will typically be 25-30% faster than a cruising monohull of the same length. You basically get near racing monohull speeds, but with all the creature comforts that come with a cat. Trimarans are an entirely different deal, as they trend more toward the performance end of the spectrum, and can regularly double the sailing speed of monohulls on nearly any point of sail. Keep in mind that catamarans and trimarans are, however, much more sensitive to loading. Performance will suffer more on a cat that is loaded for cruising than on a comparable monohull. Keeping the boat light can be difficult, but is critical if fast passages are your goal.
Reefing: Sailing catamarans and, to a lesser extent, trimarans too, require vigilance when it comes to reefing. Since they don’t heel much, almost all additional wind force is converted to load on the rig. That’s where the speed comes from. But since the pressure on the sails quadruples as the wind speed doubles, crews must keep an eye on the weather and reef in good time to keep the boat safe and sailing flat. In fact, a properly reefed cat or tri will sail faster too, in freshening breezes. All manufacturers supply written guidelines denoting apparent wind speeds that require additional reefing.