One summer day in 2002, a friend invited my wife and me to go sailing on her little Sunfish. The power of the wind and water was exhilarating, and we were hooked. Pitting our skills against nature and the technical aspects of a sailboat drew us into catamarans which are the ultimate adventure in small boat sailing.
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Catamarans (or cats) are the Formula Ones of small sailboats, and are the fastest and most powerful way to enjoy the sport. Cat sailing is all hands-on, no nonsense sailing where one mistake or lack of attention could capsize the boat at high speeds. Wet suits, life jackets, and gloves are normal attire.
There are many brands and several sizes of small catamarans. The Hobie 16 is by far the most popular in that it has been around since the 1970s and has not changed much in design since that time. Other brands of catamarans include Prindle and Nacra, and they all make boats between 14 ft. and 22 ft. Cats have two fiberglass hulls connected by a mesh “trampoline” where the sailors sit. There are no chairs or benches to lounge around in, and the boat is normally crewed by only two sailors for maximum performance. Although the Hobie 16 is 16 ft in length, its sail stands over 26 ft tall. The combination of short hulls and tall sail make for an extremely fast and powerful boat.
So, on this typical Oklahoma spring day (windy), we headed to the beach in our Jeep Rubicon to get in a day of cat sailing. Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City is one of the premier sailing lakes in the Midwest, and there is usually a nice southwest breeze to take advantage of. The typical catamaran crowd is there with all their boats and we hurried to get the boat into the water while the winds were still strong. The Rubicon is perfect for getting the boat off and on the beach, especially when the water is low and the beach is muddy. More than once, Ol’ Rubi has been used to drag out a stuck vehicle that strayed too close to the water and was sucked in.
Once on the lake, the boat surged with the high winds. This was our first really windy day of the season, and we were anxious to test our sailing skills against the conditions. One of the attractions of cat sailing is the ability to get one of the boat’s hulls out of the water while at high speeds. This is called “flying the hull,” and there is a constant fine line between flying the hull and a sudden capsize which was exactly what happened on one of our runs. One minute we were flying the hull, and the next minute, the boat flipped over and we were in the water. This is a fairly normal occurrence and we were prepared….or at least we thought so. One of the objectives in “righting” your cat is to first get the bow pointed into the wind. However, we had trouble doing this due to the high winds and we spent 20 minutes in the water getting the boat in the correct position. Of course, help is never too far away since there were so many other cats on the water. A passing cat sailed by, dropped off a “helper” and with his assistance, we got the boat upright and back on the water. That epic was exhausting, so we made a few more runs before heading back to the beach.
Small boat sailing, especially on a catamaran, is a great way to test your skills against nature. The next time you see some cat sailors out there, stop your Jeep at the beach, and get to know some of the nicest people in the world having fun with the fastest boats on the water…..without a motor. Who knows, maybe you’ll be inclined to purchase your first cat and enjoy some high adventure on the open water.
Related – White Water, Kayaks, and Good Times
* Published by JPFreek Adventure Magazine – The leader in Jeep and adventure enthusiast publications.