It wasn't too long ago that you couldn't find many multi-hulled sailboats outside of some exotic island in the South Pacific. But then the French began winning trans-Atlantic races in multi-hulls and Dennis Conner scampered away with the America's Cup in a multi-hull.
The speedy boats have become so popular that a fleet of 30 catamarans and tri-hulls are tied up at the City Dock in Annapolis, the largest ever at the U.S. Sailboat Show, which opened yesterday for its 25th annual weekend run.
Multi-hulls are still the minority of the 160 vessels in Ego Alley and and tied to floating docks in Spa Creek, but they are taking a larger share of the sailing market, said Charles Chiodi, editor of Multihulls magazine, which is published in five languages and distributed in 87 countries.
Ten years ago, the Annapolis show featured only two or three multi-hulls. Last year, there were 27, said Jeffrey Holland, the show's spokesman.
Mr. Chiodi built a multi-hull from scrap in the 1960s. In those days, a lot of the catamarans were home-made and not too safe, he said.
But today's multi-hulls are more stable than mono-hulls, proponents say. They also are faster, roomier, easier to navigate and have a more shallow draft. "I'd never go back to a mono-hull," Mr. Chiodi said.
"It's like the difference between riding a bicycle uphill and riding a bicycle downhill," said multi-hull racer Cam Lewis, who stood beside a tri-hull at yesterday's show touting the virtues of multi-hulls.
Although Mr. Lewis sails both mono-hulls and multi-hulls, he said loves the speed of the catamarans. While the keels of the mono-hulls sink into the water, the catamaran with its buoyant shells can skim across the top of the water at 40 miles an hour.
But Bruce Farr, who designed New Zealand's America's Cup entry that Mr. Conner defeated in 1988, prefers mono-hulls. He said he has not designed a catamaran since 1968. "People just don't ask for them," he said.
Although catamarans are faster, they can be less stable, he said.
"The most important thing for us is they were easier to handle," said Helene Gaillet de Neergaard, who recently published a sailing how-to book called, "The Boat Book." Yesterday, Ms. de Neergaard was showing boat show visitors around her 33-foot Dragon Fly 1000, named boat of the year by both Sailing World and Cruising World magazines.
After years of sailing mono-hulls, Ms. de Neergaard and her husband bought the tri-hull last April. Beside advantages of speed and ease of sailing, she said, the boat was beautiful.
"The style and flair were totally missing from the original multi-hulls," she said. "That's a very important feature for people to switch."
Leon Mullis thought he'd never sail a catamaran. He had heard they were unstable and prone to break apart. Yesterday, he was showing off his $350,000 Prout catamaran, bought at last year's boat show.
The maroon and beige vessel was equipped with central heat and air conditioning, three sleeping compartments, two heads, an oven, refrigerator, stove and double sink.
Multi-hull manufacturers weathered the recession and luxury tax burden better than most mono-hull makers, said Sue and Tony Smith, who make the popular Gemini catamaran at Mayo-based Performance Cruising Inc.
The company makes about one catamaran a week. Within the first three hours of the boat show's opening, they had sold three. "This is an excellent show," Mrs. Smith said.
Mary Harris, one of the Smiths' customers, said she would never go back to a single hull. "I was so sick of heeling over and going slow," she said.