Powered cats make a splash with offer of ease, efficiency Boats have the abilities to be good in shallow, as well as rough, water


October 11, 1998|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

The United States Powerboat Show has a 27-year history of displaying the newest and best of trawlers, cruisers, sportsfisherman and day boats suited to virtually any budget and any recreational usage. This year the rave at the power boat show is expected to be over powered catamarans -- from inexpensive sport boats to a high-tech 64-footer that costs $1.9 million.

"Power catamarans are in their infancy in this country," said Tom Murphy of Advanced Yachts in Annapolis, dealers for Prout, Venturer and Glacier Bay powered cats. "We think there is a good market out there for an excellent product."

Powered catamarans have been in use in Australia and Europe (( for many years. But the Annapolis show is the first in-the-water show in the United States to group together more than two dozen cats from France, Australia, England and the United States.

In some cases, the new cats can be inspected on one side of a floating dock while on the other side consumers will be boarding for test rides.

"I expect a better response [in Annapolis] than we got in Miami, because we are condensed here," said Bryant Hungerford, vice president of PowerCats, a Twin Vee dealer in Cambridge. "At the Miami show, we were four miles away from the demo area. Here it is two steps from where my display is to my demo -- take two steps back and step on board for a test ride."

Scott McCurdy of North Bay Marine in Selbyville, Del., has been selling powered catamarans for 17 years and will have a pair of 26-foot World Cats at the show.

"A lot of the original designs for the boats at this show came from Australia," said McCurdy, whose company sold SeaCats for several years before adding the U.S.-built World Cats late last summer. "And in Australia there is a lot of rough water and shallow reefs, similar to what we have here [along the Maryland-Delaware coast].

"You need a boat that has the ability to be good in rough water and shallow water. Catamarans have those attributes."

And they have them in virtually all sizes -- from the 64-foot Prout Panther that sells for $1.9 million to the 17-foot Twin Vee selling for between $8,000 and $12,000, depending on power options.

"They have a comfortable, seaworthy ride and are more efficient because they have less wetted surface," said Murphy, whose company is bringing the 64-foot Prout Panther to the show. "On our 64, we get close to a mile per gallon at 35 knots, and the 64 tops out at about 41 knots."

Murphy said the response to power cats was "just amazing" at recent shows in Newport, R.I., and Norwalk, Conn.

"We expected we'd get people looking down their noses at us in Newport and Norwalk, because we didn't have all that bronze and varnish and the look of a lobster yacht," said Murphy, whose company will debut the Australian-built Venturer 36 trawler in Annapolis. "But we got a very good reception there."

The Venturer line, which has been built in Brisbane for 12 years, runs from 36 to 44 feet. The new Venturer 36 has twin 38 horsepower diesels, cruises at 10 knots and has a range of 1,200 miles.

"More than half the boats in Australia are catamarans because they can handle rough seas and bad harbors," said Murphy. "Over there, there are long distances between harbors, and the boats have to have range and sea-keeping abilities."

Several other trawler designs -- including Fountaine Pajot's new Maryland 37 -- will be at the show and appear to offer a more spacious and economical alternative to traditional bay and coastal cruisers.

But the biggest upswing in powered catamarans appears to be in the 17- to 30-foot range, where center consoles and cuddy cabins are being manufactured for fishing and day cruising.

Hungerford, a longtime ocean sailor in catamarans who has made the switch to power, said the two-hulled design of $H catamarans has two prominent advantages over traditional single-hulled boats. First, cats slice through the water with two narrow surfaces rather than a single broader one, and second, as the boats travel they create a cushion of air and water beneath the boat that softens the ride.

"They ride incredibly softer through a chop," said Hungerford. "The difference is like that between a buckboard and a Cadillac."

Murphy said there typically is 30 percent more space on a catamaran than on a monohull of the same length, but stability is really what makes them unique.

"Obviously, if you are out there trolling in 3-footers in a 22- or 26-footer, you are going to feel some movement, but generally there is less than half the roll in a catamaran," he said. "The two pontoons tend to bridge two waves at all times and keep you balanced."

McCurdy said in catamarans the buoyancy is at the outside of the boat's width, rather than in the center of the boat, as with a vee-shaped monohull. Buoyancy at the outer edge naturally resists rolling, he said.

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