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A catamaran (from Tamil kattu "to tie" and maram "wood, tree") is a type of boat or ship consisting of two hulls joined by a frame. Catamarans can be sail or engine powered. The catamaran was the invention of the paravas, a fishing community on the Southern coast of Tamil Nadu, India. Catamarans were used by the ancient Tamil Chola dynasty as early as the 5th century AD for moving their fleets to conquer such Southeast Asian regions as Burma, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Catamarans are a relatively recent design of boat for both leisure and sport sailing, although they have been used for millennia in Oceania, where Polynesian catamarans and outrigger canoes allowed seafaring Polynesians to settle the world's most far-flung islands. Catamarans have been met by a degree of skepticism from some sailors accustomed to more traditional designs.

Catamaran History

The English adventurer and buccaneer William Dampier, traveling around the world in the 1690s in search of business opportunities, once found himself on the Southeastern coast of India, in Tamil Nadu, on the Bay of Bengal. He was the first to write in English about a kind of vessel he observed there. It was little more than a raft made of logs. "On the coast of Coromandel," he wrote in 1697, "they call them Catamarans. These are but one log, or two, sometimes of a sort of light Wood ... so small, that they carry but one man, whose legs and breech are always in the water."

While the name came from Tamil, the modern catamaran came from the South Pacific. English visitors applied the Tamil name catamaran to the swift, stable sail and paddle boats made out of two widely separated logs and used by Polynesian natives to get from one island to another.

The design remained relatively unknown in the West for almost another 200 years, when an American, Nathanael Herreshoff, began to build catamaran boats of his own design. The speed and stability of these catamarans soon made them popular a pleasure craft, with their popularity really taking off in Europe, and was followed soon thereafter in America. Currently, most individually owned catamarans are built in France, South Africa, and Australia.

In the twentieth century, the catamaran inspired an even more popular sailboat. In 1947, surfing legend, Woodbridge "Woody" Brown and Alfred Kumalae designed and built the first modern ocean-going catamaran, Manu Kai, in Hawaii. Their young assistant was Rudy Choy, who later founded the design firm Choy/Seaman/Kumalae (C/S/K, 1957) and became a fountainhead for the catamaran movement. The Prout Brothers, Roland and Francis, experimented with catamarans in 1949 and converted their 1935 boat factory in Canvey, Essex (England) to catamaran production in 1954. Their Shearwater catamarans won races easily against the single hulled yachts.

Later, in California, a maker of surfboards, Hobie Alter produced (1967) the 250-pound Hobie Cat 14, and two years later the larger and even more successful Hobie 16. That boat remains in production, with more than 100,000 made in the past three decades.

Presently the catamaran market is the fastest growing segment of the entire boating industry. Other important builders of catamarans are Austal and Incat both of Australia, best known for building large catamarans both as civilian ferries and as naval vessels.

Catamaran Sailing

Although the principles of sailing are the same for both catamarans and monohulls, there are some peculiarities to sailing catamarans. For example:

Teaching for new sailors is usually carried out in monohulls as they are thought easier to learn to sail, a mixture of all the differences mentioned probably contributes to this.

Catamarans, and multihulls in general, are normally faster than single-hull boats for four reasons:

Each hull of a catamaran is (typically) thinner in cross section than those of monohulls

Catamarans are lighter due to the fact there is no keel counterweight

Catamarans have a wider beam (the distance from one side of the boat to the other), which makes them more stable and therefore able to carry more sail area per unit of length than an equivalent monohull

The greater stability means that the sail is more likely to stay upright in a gust, drawing more power than a monohull's sail which is more likely to heel (lean) over

A catamaran is most likely to achieve its maximum speed when its forward motion is not unduly disturbed by wave action. This is achieved in waters where the wavelength of the waves is somewhat greater than the waterline length of the hulls, or it is achieved by the design piercing the waves. In either case pitching (rocking horse-like motion) is reduced. This has led to it being said that catamarans are especially favorable in coastal waters, where the often sheltered waters permit the boat to reach and maintain its maximum speed.

Catamarans make good cruising and long distance boats: In fact, The Race (around the world, in 2001) was won by the giant catamaran Club Medskippered by Grant Dalton. It went round the earth in 62 days at an average speed of eighteen knots. Try that in a mono hull!

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