Anchoring and docking a large catamaran – power or sail

When I took delivery of my Catana 431 in Canet, France, I was very concerned that I would carom it off the other boats and docks trying to get it out into the Med. Canet is very windy, and I had seen other owners get pinned to the dock by a side wind, unable to extricate their boat. The last thing I wanted was to damage my new boat – I was seriously motivated to learn close-in maneuvering to avoid collisions and close calls for my boat and others.

Catana provided a week of instruction with one of their captains – people working daily moving, docking and anchoring large, expensive multihulls. Other than test sails and an overnight trip to practice navigation and anchoring, I spent the week with my captain, leaving the dock, getting into narrow fairways barely wider than the boat, pivoting, backing, crabbing to windward, using spring lines to rotate the boat away from the dock and other techniques.

In Canet, the docking system is a Med Moor, with a floating, anchored buoy taking bow lines from each hull, and the boat backed into the dock and secured by stern and spring lines. Depending on how many boats are at the factory at any specific time (new boats awaiting delivery, owner boats back for repair or upgrade, or used boats available for sale), the docks can be more or less crowded. There are no “finger piers” separating the docks into slips – each dock is a linear dock hundreds of feet long, with floating buoys roughly 60 feet out into the channel. When the docks are full, the space you are backing into is actually narrower than your boat – you have crew on each stern pushing the other boats out of the way so you can back in. It reminds me of loading horses into a starting gate, except you are backing in and the bows are already tethered to a mooring buoy.

Fortunately, my first docking experiences involved having a ton of people onboard the boat – friends learning how to handle the lines to the mooring buoy and at the sterns, and the captain and some extra folks from Catana to lend a hand. They did not want me dinging my new boat or any of the other boats in the marina!

Initially, we would straddle the mooring buoy with the two bows, and then rotate the leeward bow up towards the mooring buoy so that crew could reach down, pass both bow lines through the ring on top of the buoy and then take the lines back to the respective bow (e.g., the starboard bow line would be dead-ended at the starboard bow cleat, run out to the mooring bouy, and then return to the starboard bow cleat. The Catana had multiple bow cleats on each bow so both ends of the bow line would not be on the same cleat.

Once both bows were secured with enough slack to get into the dock, we would rig a fender at the stern end of each hull so if I overshot I would not damage the sterns on the dock. We made sure the large windows in each hull were closed, as several people have ripped the windows out of the boat backing into their dock – by snagging the open window on another boat.

Fenders were rigged on both sides, even if there was no boat on a side, in case another boat docked on that side.

With an engine in both hulls, my captain informed me the best approach was to center the wheel, lean against it, and use the two engine controls to pivot the boat, line it up, and then back it in. Crew at the bows would adjust the bow lines to keep slack from going under the hulls or wrapping around the mooring buoy. If they dropped a line in the water, they would retrieve it immediately and then we would assess whether to start over or keep going. In windy or crowded conditions we wanted both bow lines on to keep from losing control of the boat. If it was light or not crowded, we would frequently dock with one bow line and then dinghy out and rig the second bow line. In storm conditions – Canet routinely sees 40+ knots – we would double up the bow lines in case one chafed through.

If I was short-handed, we would attach one bow line, then I would rotate the boat so crew could go over to the other bow, reach down and secure the second bow line, and then proceed with docking.

One item that proved very handy was a boat hook with an end fitting that could take the dock line, pass it through the mooring ring and bring it back to the boat. My dock lines were too thick to fit through the fitting, so I would attach a thin line to the end of the bow line, using a slippery reef knot to secure the thin line to the boat hook and then capture the mooring ball’s ring. Worked perfectly. I eventually bought two so each crew could have their lines rigged and ready, speeding up the anchoring process. I used these throughout the Med and Caribbean – excellent!

I eventually learned how to crab the boat to weather by reversing one engine, placing the other engine in forward, working the throttles to rotate the boat, and then reversing the engine controls so the other end of the boat would pivot up to bring the boat parallel again. For example, to work the boat to port, I would put the starboard engine in forward and give it a small amount of throttle. The starboard hull would start to move forward. If I then put the port engine in reverse, the rotation would accelerate. If I put the port engine in forward, the port stern would start to walk to port. With very little throttle on the starboard engine, the boat would start to rotate around its centerline and move to port. It was an amazing process and dramatically easier than docking a monohull in similar conditions. Having two engines 24 feet apart is a wonderful thing, and over the years I found I could parallel park the boat – particularly at fuel docks – in open spaces slightly longer than the hull.

I had a folding passarelle (gangplank) for the Catana, and I had it rigged so I could deploy it from the bow or stern. I thought during repairs or in certain marinas I might want to dock bow to rather than stern to. I actually never docked bow to, as the bows are very high and the passarelle would have been very steep. Off the stern, the passarelle was generally slightly sloped down to the dock so it was very easy to get on and off the boat.

Anchoring the Catana was an easy process – the anchor and rode ran from the electric windlass near the mast and passed through a roller under the bow net that was secured to the front cross beam. Once the anchor was set, I used a bridle with an anchor hook in the center which I clipped to the chain rode. I would let a little more scope out so there was slack in the chain, and the weight of the anchor was taken by the bridle to each bow. If I wanted to rotate the boat slightly – primarily when the waves were coming from a different angle than the wind, to minimize bow slapping and pitching – I would tighten one side of the bridle and the boat would rotate.

My Catana had high topsides, a large mast, furling jib and a main in a lazy bag – in other words, a ton of windage. So rather than the rolling you would see on a monohull in similar conditions, the Catana would move laterally, or load up the anchor line in gusts, move backwards and then spring forward when the wind eased.  When we were swimming off the boat, we kept an eye on the hulls if it was windy to keep from getting clipped as the boat moved around. This was not a problem. Just something to watch out for. Whenever we were getting into or out of the dinghy, I held it tightly against the boat’s stern until everyone was safely onboard to make certain the dinghy and boat did not separate unexpectedly and send someone for an unintended swim.

The only time I had trouble was at Anse a Dos on Isle de Saintes, Guadeloupe. The anchorage is a narrow band very close to shore. I put my bow close to the beach, dropped the anchor and backed down. The bottom quickly dropped away, so there was not much rode in contact with the bottom – there was a huge catenary coming back up to the bow of my boat. This made my boat particularly active – normally I can anchor in 20-30 feet of water and the boat feels like it is pinned to the bottom. With this deep anchorage, we were moving forward and backward and side to side as the wind shifted.

Everything was fine until about 3 AM. A monohull had come in late and snuggled right up near us after we had gone to bed. If we had been up we would have told them not to anchor so close.

Instead, we woke up to a man screaming in French that we were about to hit his boat. I came up, assessed the situation, saw the person was crazy and decided to leave. Shouting at other boats in the anchorage never leads anywhere, and we wanted to get an early start on our trip north to St Martin. I started the engine so I could keep away from the crazy man, we rigged, pulled the anchor and took off. The crazy man looked a little disappointed.

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