Boat Review September 2006 Issue

Maine Cat 41

Eighteen knots? Maybe not, but thereís plenty to like about this cat.

Catamarans have long ruled the realm of offshore speed. Indeed, Bruno Peyronís recent 24-hour run of 732 miles in his twin-hulled Orange II was more than astounding. However, for just as long, cruising catamarans have tended to disappoint in the area of sailing performance. Stable, shallow, roomy, and versatile, they have lots of appeal to cruisers. However, squatty rigs, bulbous hulls, and stubby keels too often consign them to the "built for comfort" end of the spectrum. Confining cockpits, overloading, and "party first" priorities also help the breed earn a reputation for not being much fun to sail.

The versatile Maine Cat 41 follows on the heels of its successful little sister, the Maine Cat 30.

Dick Vermeulen is among the handful of designer/builders to address that challenge. A mechanical engineer who grew up sailing Comets on New Jerseyís Green Pond, he got into multihulls with a 22-foot Dick Newick design in 1993. After 18 boats built and some lessons learned ("double ended hulls have their drawbacks"), he tooled up his fledgling Bremen, Maine, shop in 1996 to build a 30-footer. He went on to sell 54 Maine Cat 30s, performance cruisers of his own design. Vermeulen and his wife, Lynn, sell his boats themselves and oversee charter operation in both Maine and the Abacos, where owners can "try before they buy."

Work on a larger cat began in 2002. First, Vermeulen designed and built a 38-foot prototype. From there (with lines-fairing assistance from computer guru Steve Hudson), he developed the Maine Cat 41. Launched late in 2004, the bigger boat has met with good reception. When we sailed a 41 in February off Miami, we found a weatherly, responsive cruising cat that surprised us.

The Design

"My first goal was to make the 41 a good sailboat," Vermeulen says. "The average 40-footer on the market today has hulls with length-to-beam ratios that are about 8:1. Our ratio is 10.5:1. Because sheís finer, she has reduced wetted surface and is thus more easily driven." The record-breaking Play Stationís beam-to-length is 18.4:1 and Orange II is in the same neighborhood. Clearly, narrow hulls point the way toward improved performance.

So does weight. Maine Cat boats have no liners or structural grids. Thereís no wood in them, not in bulkheads or decks. The only wood is in the doors and interior trim. All assemblies are vacuum-bagged Corecell composites. According to Vermeulen, a Maine Cat 41 equipped to cruise weighs 14,000 pounds, which allows for a realistic cruising payload before it reaches its design displacement of 19,200 pounds.

The sail plan isnít overly aggressive. The high-roach "pin head" main is 715 square feet. Combined with a manageable (self-tacking, 281-square-foot) jib, it gives the boat a sail area-to-displacement ratio of 27.4. PS looked at well over a dozen cruising cats in the 40-foot size range; the MC 41ís sail area-to-displacement numbers were better than all but the raciest (Gunboat and Outremer). The standard main and jib are Pentex (the low-stretch laminate widely used in racing sails). Beam provides the stability to carry sail.

The Maine Cat 41 is just over half as wide (23 feet) as she is long, and her ratio of maximum beam to overall length puts her conservatively in the middle of the score of cats we examined. Lower than all but a handful of her rivals, the Maine Cat 41ís displacement-to-length ratio of 94 is another measure of her excellent performance potential.

Traditionally, the knock on catamarans has been woeful upwind performance. However, as we discovered, the Maine Catís 7-foot daggerboards help it dispel this argument. The boatís saildrives are fitted with folding props (standard), and that helps efficiency, too. Bridgedeck clearance, a vital defense against slamming, is very generous: 32 inches at full load. Shallow draft (30 inches with the boards up) is an additional plus. In extreme conditions, windage can be reduced by removing the "house" windows, but even with them in, the lines are fairly clean.

On Deck

Like the Maine Cat 30, the 41 is an open bridge-deck cruiser: hulls joined by a cockpit sheltered beneath a permanent hard top and enclosed by removable acrylic windows. Its ítween-hulls area is mammoth, comfortable, and accommodating. The hard top is sturdy enough to walk on and big enough to house four 110-watt solar panels. Windows are form-fitted, UV-resistant, scratch-proof Strataglass. Inside are the steering station and sail controls. In addition, the area houses a dinette table that converts to a queen-size berth as well as molded-in bench seating for a dozen adults. The arrangement offers optimal ventilation, visibility, and conviviality. We had to wonder, though, about taking it offshore or huddling inside it on a wintry passage.

Simplicity is at the heart of Vermeulenís design. That may be truest in terms of the boatís concepts, construction, and outfitting, but it helps explain the 41ís eye appeal as well.

The boatís 2-foot-wide sidedecks make it easy to get around. Grey two-tone non-skid reduces glare. A delivery skipper we spoke with rigged jacklines stem to stern up the walkways to facilitate clipped-on safety offshore. "But I never go on the roof without immobilizing the boom with an extra line. If you let it whip around at shin level it could be a real hazard."

A solid walkway extends to the bow between the forward trampolines. ("Theyíre plenty robust," the same skipper reports, "but theyíre springy enough that I donít like to walk on them.") Ground tackle is top shelf: a 50-pound Delta Quickset anchor plus a Fortress FX-37. Rollers are stainless and well-sited. There are good-sized chocks and cleats. Two large, self-draining lockers in the forward beam are large enough for both rode and added gear. A belowdecks Lewmar V-3 gypsy-capstan electric windlass (with controls on the foredeck and at the helm station) provides power. Several owners complained, however, that chain tends to jam the gypsy.

Accommodations allow berths for six plus two more in the convertible dinette in the cockpit.

The sail controls work well. A wide arc of track on the foredeck permits easy self-tacking and allows for efficient trimming angles on the jib. The removable carbon fiber screecher sprit is robust. The screecher, an $8,000 option, offers such power and versatility, our tester considers it a must. Some owners report the screecher furling drum too small; Vermeulen said a smaller-diameter line will address the problem.

The mainsail traveler is mounted on the afterdeck and fitted with three stand-up Lewmar blocks and conveniently sited 2:1 controls. The 4:1-ratio mainsheet is double-ended and trims under the deck to two Lewmar 50s on the cockpit corners. An electric self-tailing Lewmar 50 is on the starboard housetop where it handles main and screecher halyards as well as dinghy lifting. To facilitate the latter evolution, there are remote controls on the afterdeck and a "stinger" extension to the boom.

The boat has no boom vang because the hard top extends close to the gooseneck. The end-boom sheeting on the main removes much of the need for one. Some owners hold the boom with an off-the-wind preventer led forward.

Another owner reported that fasteners in the boatís hull windows had backed out, while another reported that cockpit locker latches have also loosened with time and demanded refastening.

Accommodations

The starboard hull houses the master queen berth stateroom/head, an office area, and a single berth forward. To port, the guests have a matching queen berth and their own head (with pull-out shower as opposed to the masterís stall). The galley and a similar single berth are also to port. From all reports, the layout works well. The galley gets high marks from all owners. Charter captain Tracey Dell says, "Weíve lived aboard with strangers for weeks at a time. Everyone has their privacy."

Headroom is abundant: up to 6-feet, 9-inches in both hulls. There is no saloon, but the cockpit is more than big enough to facilitate socializing. Hull windows in the galley (to port) and dressing room (to starboard) also offer a view of the outside. With 15 portlights and hatches in the hulls, the interior is bright and very well-ventilated. The dťcor is white-painted fiberglass and gelcoat trimmed with satin-varnished cherry, though relatively Spartan compared to other cruising cats. "Itís a bit stark, but you can see what problems youíve got," said one owner.

We talked with one owner who wanted Maine Cat to install a liner because the gel-coat in his master cabin was cracking. The builder explained: "On that boat, we used a polyester putty to join the out-turning flange of the hull to the bulkhead. The bond evidently was loosened during sailing, which produced flexing and caused cracks. We use Plexus in that joint now. It forms a solid bond. The cracks, at any rate, are purely cosmetic."

Systems

"I buy only the best," Vermeulen says. Given the "apple-pie" boat that we sailed in Florida and the 15-page list of gear and equipment for the 41, that seems no idle boast.

The things you can seeólike over-sized winches, Harken and Schaefer running gear, Pentex sails, and high-visibility, low-glare Strataglassóall confirm a commitment to quality. The boat has four bilge pumps. The twin Yanmar 29-horsepower diesels run smoothly (three cylinders) and quietly (each in a separate "engine room" insulated against heat and sound) and are equipped with proven Flex-a-fold props plus factory-mounted, high-output 80-amp alternators.

The Edson steering system links three rack-and-pinion assemblies. We were pleasantly surprised to find the system lively and responsive.

The owners we spoke with were virtually unanimous in praising the boatís electrical system. Most reported no need to plug in or charge with the engine, even in northern waters, because the solar panels (plus Mastervolt MICC monitor) worked well to keep the boatís six (four house and two starting) batteries topped-up. Refrigeration (keel-cooled Frigobot K50-SSC for both refrigerator and freezer) also won applause, but one owner bemoaned excess condensation while another wanted yet more insulation atop the box.

Vermeulenís experience bank is deep and contains many good cruising solutions. As one "who lives with the boats" full time, he says it behooves him to "get it right the first time." In our estimation, thatís what he has done.

Performance

Catamarans donít give you the same sort of feedback that you get from a monohull. You donít heel. The helm changes very little with a puff. And, on the Maine Cat (like most cats), itís tough to see the sails. It was pleasing to see the speedo jump from six to eight in a puff, but it felt sort of remote. With the forward windows open, though, the apparent wind helped us feel the acceleration.

The roachy, full-batten mainsail provides efficient lift and power.

The boat is every bit as close-winded as her designer claims. We tacked (with no reluctance) through 90 degrees in eight knots of true wind and smooth water. A single daggerboard, Vermeulen says, provides all the lift you need. (His 30, for example, has only one.) The second, he says, provides redundancy for longer hauls. The foam-filled foils are designed to break long before the trunk is damaged. Additional protection comes because the hold-down system is a weak link designed to fail if the board hits ground. Says the charter skipper Dell, "thatís happened to me. I had to refair the board, but otherwise no harm done."

The literature puts the 41ís "estimated speed" at 18 knots. In our opinion, that is optimistic, at least in the hands of a typical owner. The owners we spoke with said their best reported speeds ranged from 11 knots to an average of 14 knots in 48 hours, with a Gulf Stream boost. Regardless, itís hard to deny that the MC41 packs the potential (large, efficient rig, slippery, performance-oriented hulls, and pound-pinching overall weight) to be very fast for its type and size.

Cruising cats are meant to sail offshore. We asked Vermeulen about chilly weather. He replied: "Strataglass has the same insulating qualities as Lexan." What if waves come aboard? "Thatís not likely, but in ultimate conditions, Iíd take the windows off to save wear and tear and reduce windage. For the most part, capsizing and pitchpoling are dangers more imaginary than real, given modern, full-bodied cruising cats. Still, thereís no substitute for prudent seamanship."

Boats that are fine forward and full aft tend to drive their bows down at speed. On the other hand, the 41 (as several owners attest) lifts its bows as the weight of breeze increases. The 30 has a relatively straight run aft, but the 41 sweeps up to her transom. According to Vermeulen, the boat definitely achieves a "bows-up" dynamic trim in heavy air. Her rudders are tucked under the hulls, so they donít ventilate, and youíre under cover at the helm. "The nicest thing about the boat is how comfortable she makes making miles," says Vermeulen.

Conclusion

Is a Maine Cat worth the $424,000? It depends what you call fun. "Wind in your beard" grappling with the elements isnít a big part of what the Maine Cat 41 delivers. We wonder whether watching the waves go by from inside a Strataglass house (even with its windows rolled up) would keep us coming back for more. We also wonder whether bankrolling the builderís determination to put "the best of everything" aboard is the way to true value.

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