Does maintaining a multihull represent twice as much work?
Now that you’ve switched to cruising on two hulls instead of one, you might hear the occasional grunt from your monohull ex-brothers. “A catamaran, huh? You have two of everything. That’s twice the maintenance!
Along with other monohull myths, that’s not entirely true. Sure, we cat converters have double the most important safety features of a mono – two rudders and two motors, plus other virtues – but we don’t have double the annual maintenance, in terms of labor and cost.
The annual maintenance charge for a Cat, excluding two motors, is about the same as a similarly sized mono. Here’s what you can expect if you join the cat club and how to handle common issues that might arise.
Whether your steering system is chain and cable, Spectra line or hydraulic, as is the case with our Dolphin 460, Ocean— nothing is as disabling or dangerous as a loss of direction.
Does your cat’s steering seem too loose or too tight, at high speeds under sail or under power? Give all components of management a critical assessment. Look for wear on the steering cables (Wire or Spectra) and pulleys. Call in an expert and look over their shoulder. To ask questions.
For hydraulic steering systems, is the feedback on the wheel spongy? If so, there may be an air bubble (or two) in the lines, the result of fluid leaking from one or more connection fittings. Check with your boat builder for the correct bleeding procedure. Have a hydraulics expert on board, observe and ask questions.
If your cat’s rudders are not aligned parallel, the cause (hydraulic leak, stretched or worn cable) should be investigated and corrected. Make sure that the emergency tiller can be used on either rudder and that the other rudder (if damaged, for example) can be isolated from the system and allowed to float freely.
For example, on Oceanof the hydraulic steering we can place the emergency tiller on the shaft of a rudder and throw in an isolation valve for the opposite (damaged) rudder that allows the rudder to line up with the water flow beyond the hull.
Maintaining two engines is not – surprise, surprise – the highlight of a cat cruiser’s existence. But the “other engine” turned out to be very useful.
Once, while sailing up the lee side of the island of St. Vincent in the Eastern Caribbean, Oceanthe starboard engine overheated. The raw water turbine had failed. We switched to the port engine and continued on our way. I was able to change the turbine on the starboard engine, and we were back on both engines in 20 minutes.
Another time, in Bermuda, the port engine starter battery suddenly died. By starting and revving the starboard engine we were able to get the port engine going again – a nice trick in a fix.
There’s nothing special about servicing a cat’s two diesel engines. Much like diesel on a monocoque, they need clean fuel (we change our filters every season, or after we’ve burned about 100 gallons), a constant flow of cooling water (we fit new wheels at the start of each season), proper coolant level (we top up as needed) and proper oil levels in the transmission or saildrive strut. To simplify maintenance intervals, most Cat cruisers maintain approximately the same port and starboard engine hours. Keeping your engine room scrupulously clean is a good way to spot problems (an oil or fuel runoff, rubber chips from a faulty drive belt, seawater leaking from a cracked pipe) before it really is a problem.
Having two engines also gives you a valuable basis for comparison and can save you time. If one of your motors seems to heat up or make a suspicious noise, compare it with the other motor. If there is a problem, stop the problem engine and run the correct one.
Most cats are fine with just one motor – you won’t go as fast, but you will get there. A single motor is all it takes to power your navigation and cruise systems, recharge your batteries, and get you home without calling for help.
Where the low initial stability of a monohull tends to absorb rig loads, the high initial stability of a cat results in sudden high loads on standing rigging components, stampings and mechanical fittings to cables and fittings. mast lugs.
Rig and inspect your cat’s standing rigging at least once a season. Look for skipped strands, cracked crimps, signs of stretched tabs or worn clevis pins, or a suspected increase in roller furler top swivel wear. On Ocean, I go up with a critical eye two weeks before going offshore. If I run into any issues, this timing gives me a cushion to schedule a professional rigger and/or order a replacement component.
The high initial stability of a cat also results in higher loads than a monohull on sheets and control lines. To date, 15 years and 46,000 miles in ownership of Ocean, we have replaced all of our standard polyester lines with a high strength Spectra core line. Be sure to thoroughly examine all your sail ties, whether metal shackles or Spectra tie-downs, and renew them if chafing or ultraviolet sunburn has appeared.
While cats only heel a maximum of 4 degrees, the sudden and repetitive sideways movements of a cat, especially in beam seas, are hard on the connections that secure your boat’s sails to spars, standing rigging and to the boat.
No one knows your boat like you do. You are the detective. The tip of the spear. Look for telltale cracks in old pipes; rusty and unreliable hose clamps (these days inferior metal parts from all over the world are everywhere); drops of rust, crusts of corrosion, consequent cracks (with metal or fiberglass, how deep is the crack?); and new annoying noises (did the windlass always make that whining and growling noise?).
Some maintenance items, such as the expiration dates of your EPIRBs and the status of your flashlight batteries, are easy to check. You just have to remember to do it.
Are your traffic lights, bilge pumps, winch pawls and propane stove up to date? When was the last time you checked all of these items? They can creep up on you if you don’t make a list and keep it up to date. A maintenance checklist sounds like something a monohull sailor would suggest. But it is also a good idea for cat owners.
At press time Tom and Harriet Linskey were sailing in the Marquesas aboard Ocean.
Deferred Maintenance: The Day I Declared Victory
Every time I’ve dwelled on deferred maintenance, I’ve regretted it. This includes a situation I now refer to as the agony and ecstasy of raw water pumps.
About five years ago, at my request, an expensive shipyard replaced Oceanraw water pumps, which were leaking salt water. Little did I know that the O-ring on the pump, which fits into a recess in the engine block, makes the pump fiendishly difficult to change.
The raw water pump is located forward of the engine, already a hard-to-reach place due to a nearby watertight bulkhead. When you place the O-ring in the recess, it falls out before you can tighten the four pump housing bolts. So the engine mechanics, accustomed to shortcuts, substituted a flat ring instead of the official Volvo Penta O-ring.
All this was unknown to me. Previous seawater leaks from the old raw water pumps were stopped, but two more leaks arose. The flat rings were leaking. The drop of oil turned into a trickle, then into a stream. Would the pump burst into an oil squirter? I did not know.
Months later in Bermuda, en route to Antigua, I removed the raw water pump and found these flat rings. Luckily, I had two of the official Volvo Penta raw water pump O-rings, and vowed to lay on top of the engine, with injection hoses shoved into my ribcage, until the raw water pumps are properly installed.
Although I tried, I couldn’t do it. O-rings fell out of their shallow cavity each time. Then the raw water pump gear got stuck halfway, jammed with the motor gear. Very very bad.
Somehow I managed to free the pump from the innards of the engine. I then reinstalled the pump with the old leaky flat ring – a soul destroying defeat. But we traveled on, both engines slowly dripping oil from their raw water pumps, my usually spotless engine rooms in disarray.
A year or two passed. I did not choose deferred maintenance; he had chosen me. Then one evening the solution came to me: remove the pumps, clean the o-ring recess with a cotton swab soaked in acetone, and use a detail brush to paint the motor recess and o-ring with contact glue. Let dry, press o-ring into groove, insert bolts and tighten.
It worked. No more oil leaks. A loss for deferred maintenance. The satisfaction of victory is deep. I sometimes slip into the engine bay, my head inches from the bulkhead and drive belts, just to watch my raw water pumps roar, 100% leak-free.
They are so solid. They are inspiring. These are my babies. —TL