Helen Fretter speaks to a few of the astounding 15 new multihull owners who took part in the most recent ARC, as catamaran and multihull sailing continues to boom

The explosion in multihull and catamaran sales has been well documented, with many yards reporting lead times of two years or longer as build slots sold out as quickly as they were released. Now, many multihulls that were ordered post-2020 are on the water.

In this year’s ARC rally there were 16 new boats that had been launched in this year alone, of which 15 were multihulls. We caught up with some of their owners in Las Palmas to find out how the purchase process went and how they’d expedited preparations to get transatlantic-ready.

Custom solutions

Chet Chauhan bought Navasana, a Nautitech 46 Open, in 2021, having previously raced and cruised monohulls. After moving from England to the US west coast for work, he sailed his 20-year-old 38ft Beneteau from San Francisco to Sydney with a previous girlfriend in 2010.

“We visited all the island groups along the way and absolutely loved it. I wanted to keep going, but obviously needed more funds. And I realised the boat wasn’t ideal.”

He moved back to Europe, where he met partner Jessy. Two years ago they decided to revisit Chet’s dream of sailing around the world.

Chet Chauhan (left), Jessy and friend Dan on Navasana. Photo: James Mitchell/World Cruising Club

Deciding to buy a multihull was fairly straightforward. “I’ve had four monohulls before and I used to race, I like a boat that performs and really enjoy the sailing. We’d seriously thought about getting a monohull for this trip, but I realised that you’re spending maybe 80% of the time at anchor, and this is just more liveable.

Having decided on a Nautitech 46 the couple initially looked for a second-hand boat, but quickly realised it was near-impossible to find. “So we decided to order a new one, and we were, I think, just in time. We had a year’s wait time until ours was delivered,” Jessy recalls.

The couple took delivery of Navasana in March this year, the boat delivered on time to the day. They had several after-market upgrades added in La Rochelle, which Chet had specified and organised through their broker, including solar, lithium batteries and custom-built davits.

Chet, who details a lot of the technical modifications to his boat at sailingnavasana.com, says the Nautitech owner’s Facebook group was helpful in working through options and custom solutions, although he was clear on what he wanted to achieve based on his previous Pacific crossing.

Navasana has 1,200W of solar on a fixed arch above the tender, plus an additional 880W of flexible Sunpower panels, a 3,000W inverter, 4x200Ah Victron lithium batteries, while the standard 2x115A/12V alternators were wired into the lithium setup. They opted for no air conditioning.

Extensive solar panels fitted to Navasana. Photo: James Mitchell/World Cruising Club

Sails were focussed on light airs performance to avoid motoring, including an Oxley Levante Parasailor and extra-deep 95m2 Code 0. Additional after-market modifications include rope-cutters on the propellers and a clear-view Racor fuel filter system, a B&G forward-facing camera on the mast, and an Acuva UV filter for drinking water.

He’d been impressed with Nautitech’s build quality during a factory visit and had no qualms about being transatlantic ready. “We were pretty confident because Nautitech sell to a lot of French owners and, because of VAT reasons, they take the boat and head out straight away.

A lot of times they’ll cross the Atlantic within two months. Literally pick the boat up, sail across Biscay in October and then – boom! – down to the Canaries and across the Atlantic.

“Obviously we went to the Med, and had a lot more time to learn the boat. So we felt like we’d be in good shape.” However, he does note that getting to know the systems on a more complex boat has been ‘a big learning curve.’

The couple changed their plans to arrive in the Canaries earlier than planned, which turned out to be something of a godsend. “We thought we’d spend more time in the Med, but this year the Med was very, very hot,” he recalls.

As well as high temperatures, unpredictable weather characterised their season. “In the Balearics at one stage, we were getting Mistrals every, like, three or four days. That was not that much fun because we couldn’t really do any sailing. Then we loved Sardinia, but 10 days after we left, they had these 140mph winds for five minutes. We missed it by a day.”

With high season crowds and less than ideal conditions in the Mediterranean, the couple decided to head straight to the Canaries in September, intending to get the next phase of boat work – including additional solar panels and new halyards – completed in Las Palmas, then explore the Canary Islands before returning for the ARC start.

Chilli Pepper is one of two new Outremer 55s in the rally. Photo: James Mitchell/World Cruising Club

However, a combination of parts delayed in customs, and marine services working frantically to prepare the ARC+ boats, meant that work took much longer than expected. The couple are happy to have invested the time now, as they want to enjoy their two months in the Caribbean before continuing on to the Pacific.
They’ve also used the time in Las Palmas to enjoy the social element that the ARC offers. “The other thing which is challenging with us a bit is our demographic, we don’t have kids and we’re not in our 60s, we’re in the middle. So that’s another reason for joining the ARC, just because there are so many boats you’re more likely to meet those people.”

10,000-mile shakedown

Simon and Penny Hamilton started preparing their new Fountaine Pajot Elba 45 Starry Night in January, giving them a full 10-month build up to the ARC. Carefully planned commissioning and initial cruising phases helped get the family off to a smooth start on their liveaboard adventure with their two young children.

The Hamiltons had also initially looked for a second-hand boat, but discovered that most of the liveaboard boats which met their needs were lying in the Caribbean, and it wasn’t time effective to continually fly over to view them. “We’ve got a limited window. Oscar’s eight, we wanted to be doing this only in primary school [years] so we had a three-year window and thought we just couldn’t be late on the boat. So we ended up going for a new boat,” explains Simon.

“The order was placed in October 2019, and the boat was due November [2021] so it was a two-year wait list, quite a long time. But it’s really worked out well,” says Simon, noting that prices have risen in the interim.

In January they had the boat brought to the UK to get much of the bluewater fit-out done: adding solar, the watermaker, canvas work etc This had several advantages, meaning they could call on the expertise of friends and family in Hamble as well as specialised companies on the south coast, and as the family were still living at home, they could have parts delivered easily.

The crew of Nautitech 40 Open, Hummingbird. Photo: James Mitchell/World Cruising Club

“I also spent a lot of time down with the guys as the work was done so I could see it, because I’m going to have to fix it, and not having a language barrier made a huge difference to asking questions and understanding.”.

In spring they began delivering the boat across into the Mediterranean. Simon and Penny each sailed different ‘legs’ of the delivery, but their young children – Oscar and Skye – didn’t join the boat until Croatia, meaning their first experience of living aboard was one of gentle cruising in the sunshine. The family spent two months enjoying Croatia, before returning west in August.

“We’d done probably near 10,000 miles by the end of the summer, so we’ve done a lot of sailing for a new boat,” notes Simon.

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Despite this, preparing for the transatlantic has been a huge undertaking. “I have to say. since the beginning of September it’s been two months pretty much full time on the boat.

“I find there’s three different phases. One was us just cruising, but with the brakes on, we’d pick somewhere and spend five days there – because we’re also teaching every day so homeschool is the priority – and doing maintenance. It’s probably only about a month ago it felt like we finished the construction phase, putting all the things on that we wanted.

“The past month it’s been much more getting ready for ocean sailing. Doing a lot more around chafe, and prevention rather than cure.

“So we had anchoring, small passages and then ocean passages, each three phases were quite different. It also takes time for issues to work through.”

Starry Night is a real family affair, with Simon’s father joining them on the transatlantic. “My dad did this crossing with his dad in 1970, so we’ve got the three generations. We’ve got the same chart, and it’s got his route plotted, so we can overlay ours onto it.”

The Hamilton family on their new Fountaine Pajot Elba 45 Starry Night. Photo: James Mitchell/World Cruising Club

Quick decisions

Across the pontoon from Starry Night was one of the newest yachts in the marina, Brett and Amanda Mcleod’s Neel 51 Out of the Woods, which was only launched in September.

“In January of 2021 I was talking to a friend of mine. I was just really dissatisfied with a few things, and he said ‘you should get a 50ft Lagoon and go off sailing’,” recalls Brett.

At the time, it was quite a left-field suggestion, as he and his family weren’t sailing, though Brett used to cruise with his parents and Amanda’s family had owned motorboats. “That has always been a sort of end goal for me – just check out and sail over the sunset. I think it used to be more metaphorical, and not literal!” Brett explains.

The Mcleods brand new Neel 51 Out of the Woods. Photo: James Mitchell/World Cruising Club

“But I started thinking about it, and by March 2021 I had determined that I wanted to do this, and that I didn’t want a Lagoon – or a Leopard, or a Bali. But I’d started looking at Outremers and Catanas and Neel, and really started educating myself about catamarans and multihulls.”

He decided to throw himself into gaining sailing experience, starting by joining Tuesday night races at his local club. Then while looking for a first boat, an Outremer 45 became available – “way more boat than I wanted” notes Brett. But the Outremer was ready to sail, and would get them on the water immediately. Brett set himself the task of taking the Outremer out as much as possible, sailing three to five times a week. Amanda also took her ASA courses.

Although both loved sailing the Outremer, they decided that given their limited bluewater experience they wouldn’t undertake any ocean passages without additional crew. In June 2021 they placed an order for a Neel 51, which gave vast space to accommodate extra hands, as well as to make the transition from family life on land easier for their 11-year-old son.

The timeframe, however, couldn’t be expanded, and Brett says that commissioning a large, complex multihull needed some additional support. A key element of making the rapid plan work was bringing in expert help from the outset of the process.

The Mcleods and crew with their brand new Neel 51 Out of the Woods. Photo: James Mitchell/World Cruising Club

“I hired Will Spence from White Dot sailing, who does some of the safety inspections for the ARC to help me with the process. He and one of his guys came to La Rochelle and went through the boat – and I’m so happy I did that. I’d do it again because I just don’t have that foundation of experience to see the things they do.”

The family spent a month on the dock in La Rochelle, which included post-commissioning work to get bluewater-ready, upgrading electronics etc. It wasn’t the ideal introduction to life on board, exacerbated by a slog of a delivery from La Rochelle to Cascais. At one stage they considered postponing their ARC entry to the January rally, but were concerned their 90-day Schengen visa would expire.

However, arriving in Las Palmas has given the family a much-needed boost. While Brett said the final passage from Cascais to Las Palmas was “finally what I’d seen in my mind, just bluewater sailing in great conditions,” his wife and son flew ahead to join the family programme. They were immediately welcomed into the rally community and its carnival atmosphere, and could get excited about the adventure to come.

“I think we’re just starting to see what’s in front of us,” Brett noted.

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