By Matt Trulio
Fast Company: Catamaran or V-Bottom?
Which hull type rules the go-fast powerboat roost? It’s all a matter of priorities.
Here’s the most common response I get when I tell people I write about the world of high-performance powerboats for a living.
“You mean those Cigar boats?”
“Actually, the name is Cigarette,” I explain. “And Cigarette is just one brand of high-performance V-bottom. There are a bunch of them. Heck, there are even high-performance catamarans. But, yeah, they pretty much all get called ‘Cigarette.’”
Here’s what comes next.
“I thought catamarans were sailboats.”
There are two paths I can take at this point. The easiest is to ask, “So, what do you do for a living?” because after thirty years in journalism I know that most people like to talk about themselves. The second is to explain the differences between catamarans and V-bottoms in the go-fast boat world, which, as it happens, is what I’m getting paid to do here.
Since we’re on the subject, we might as well jump off with the boats of Cigarette Racing Team (that’s the full name of the Opa-Locka, Fla., company) to explain the basics of high-performance V-bottoms or “monohulls.” All of Cigarette’s sportboat hulls, from its 38-foot Top Gun to its 50-foot Marauder, are “stepped” monohulls, as are the hulls of its center-consoles from 38- to 42-feet — but we’ll get to that.
Close your eyes and picture a “V.” You’ve just designed your first hull. The pointy end is the bow. The open end—you’ll need to draw another line across it if you expect the darn thing to float—is the stern.
Sound simple? It is.
For all intents and purposes, there are two types of V-bottoms in the go-fast powerboat world, conventional and stepped.
Conventional means that the running surface of hull is continuous and has no elevation changes. Stepped means that the running surface can have as many as five different planing surfaces created by longitudinal breaks or “steps” in the running surface.
In addition to creating separate planes, the steps—if properly designed—ventilate the running surfaces. As the boat goes faster and faster, it rides farther and farther back on the different hull planes. The reduced drag translates to greater top speed as opposed to that for a like-sized conventional V-bottom on the same power.
Here’s the nut: Stepped V-bottoms are faster than conventional V-bottoms.
The stepped hull concept isn’t new—it dates back to the early 1900s—but it didn’t become popular in go-fast boats until the late 1980s. The transition from conventional to stepped hulls in V-bottoms was far from seamless, as early stepped hulls were notoriously unstable in turns—a byproduct of reduced wetted surface and friction. But eventually the top builders got it figured out, and now all of the high-performance V-bottoms from the major V-bottom players including Cigarette, Formula, Nor-Tech, Outerlimits, and more are stepped.
There are several major players in the go-fast catamaran world, but the most likely one you’ve heard of is Skater, built by Douglas Marine in Douglas, Mich. Douglas Marine creates cats from 24 to 50-plus feet long, and because the company has no deck tooling—each deck for each model is custom fabricated—each is a truly custom creation. As Douglas Marine founder Peter Hledin says, “No two Skaters are completely alike. Each one is unique.”
Far be it from me to argue with Mr. Hledin, but they are all alike, not counting the one V-bottom the company builds. They are catamarans with stepped “sponsons.” Close your eyes and picture an “H.” You’ve just designed your first catamaran. You will, however, need to fill in a bit more of the empty space between the vertical lines if you want a place for you and your passengers to sit.
Not only do catamarans run on less wetted surface than their V-bottom counterparts, they use the concept of air entrapment between the two hull sponsons—the vertical lines in the “H” you just pictured—to create lift. Properly designed, the result is the most efficient hull, inch for inch and horsepower for horsepower, in the go-fast boat world. Where a 50-foot V-bottom from Outerlimits powered by twin 1,350-hp engines from Mercury Racing might run 145 mph, the same-size catamaran from Statement Marine with the same power package might well top 180 mph. And for the most part—key words—cats are more stable than V-bottoms at high speeds.
But—there’s always a but. Catamarans can be a bit trickier to turn than V-bottoms. Better and better design has given them more V-bottom-like handling characteristics in turns, but they take some getting used to, even for experienced drivers coming out of V-bottoms.
Here’s the nut: The best-designed go-fast catamarans actually lean into turns like V-bottoms.
Pros and Cons
Just for fun, let’s say we’re going high-performance powerboat shopping and money is no object. We are looking at two boats in the million-dollar range, a 50-foot Skater catamaran and 50-foot Cigarette Marauder V-bottom, both with twin Mercury Racing 1350 engines.
If speed is everything—and that means top speed, stability at top speed, and comfort at top speed—the decision is pretty easy—it’s Skater cat all the way. With a conservative setup in terms of drive height and propellers, the cat likely will top 160 mph whereas the V-bottom with an equally mellow setup will top out in the mid-120s, which, by the way, is not slow.
If speed is not the everything; if a cabin that creatures other than Keebler elves can occupy in comfort is on your wish list, then the decision is an equal no-brainer—you’re buying the Cigarette Marauder. Most cats, even those in the 50-foot range, offer “minimal”—go-fast boat speak for “claustrophobic”—cabin accommodations compared to their V-bottom counterparts. Also, because catamaran cockpits are of the sit-down variety with as many as six booty-hugging bucket seats and full wraparound half-canopies, they don’t offer much space for walking around. In Cigarette’s 50-footer, you could play half-court basketball. (OK, the Keebler elves could play, but you get my drift.)
You are now armed with all the basic information you need to make a choice between a go-fast V-bottom and a go-fast catamaran. You can even correct and pity the fool who looks at a Skater cat and calls it “one of those Cigarette boats.” As for the money it’s going to take to get you into the speedboat of your dreams, you’re on your own.
For more information, check out these recent catamaran and V-bottom speedboat reviews:
Coming to America: Revolver 42 (V-bottom)
DCB Stays Hot with Small and Large Go Fast Cats (Catamaran)
Deep Impact Going Deeper (V-bottom)
Rolling With it at Outerlimits (V-bottom)
Frisini Stays Hot with 38 Hypersonic (V-bottom)
Inside the Doug Wright 32 Foot Poker Run Edition (Catamaran)
Nor-Tech 390 Sport Open: High Performance Comfort (V-bottom)
MTI Joining the Center Console World (Catamaran)
- Matt Trulio is the co-publisher and editor in chief of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site with a weekly newsletter and a new bi-monthly digital magazine that covers the high-performance powerboating world. The former editor-in-chief of Sportboat magazine and editor at large of Powerboat magazine, Trulio has covered the go-fast powerboat world since 1995. Since joining boats.com in 2000, he has written more than 200 features and blogs.
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