TomCat 6.2 Catamaran Review

An exciting cruising cat with powerboat convenience opens a new category in trailerable boating.

Ted Strain and his son Tom have cruised under sail in Georgian Bay and the Caribbean. They've sailed beach cats and 40-footers. They've done some canoeing and some power boating. With the TomCat, they may have found a way to combine the best qualities of cruising cats, dav sailing cats and small powerboats 'in a design that makes sense for a variety of boating families.

Catamarans have an immediate appeal to both sailors and powerboats. They make going fast under sail easy - just about everybody knows how much fun it is to zip around in a Hobie Cat. Catamarans are also the choice of high speed ocean racers, whenever the rules allow. So it's no surprise that when we hear "cat" we think speed. But that's only part of the story.

Some of the same factors that make a catamaran fast can also make it safe and comfortable. Cats are fast because they have enormous stability and can carry large sail areas. If you turn that around, you can reduce sail area to the point where you have a tame cat - one that still reaches the speeds of a powerful monohull, but doesn't spill your soup.

"Most cats have been designed for the racing circuit,' says Ted Strain, "whereas they should have been designed for the cruising circuit." Taking a cruising approach to a medium-sized cat has opened up a whole new set of possibilities in the TomCat. Ted Strain and his son Tom are anxious to show sailors and power boaters that a catamaran with sails and a motor can make a whole lot of sense. "Safety, comfort, performance and versatility are what we're offering", says Ted.

If you ignore the mast and boom, the TomCat has a lot of the qualities of a pontoon deck boat. No, it doesn't look like a deck boat. But it feels like one. It's solid when you step aboard - three or four people can walk around on it. It's a lot like the deck of a 40-foot motor - you could set up a table play some poker.

Performs under power

Pulling away from the dock under power does nothing to change that impression. There is a single centerboard located between the hulls (the box is enclosed and the board is raised with a lever). With a single, central board and dual rudders, the TomCat turns easily and maneuvers in and out of the slip with confidence. The motor tiller is integrated with the rudders into the steering system so that you have a choice of motor or rudders only, or all together. The rudders-lift for beaching. A 9.9 hp outboard pushes the TomCat up to about eight knots and there's lots of capacity for more power if you want it.

It's also time for a confession. After almost 35 years of sailing in everything from Sunfish to 60-foot racing cats, I had never sailed behind a windshield. A dodger, sure. And the deck house of a square-rigged ship. But never a runabout-style windshield with canopy snaps and a walk-through panel. And let's be frank - below it is a dashboard with stereo speakers and a black Vinyl steering wheel. I'm sitting in white Vinyl seats with color accent stripes. And here's the confession: I like it.

We're sailing on flat water through the clear fall air at near windspeed. (The Jays are on the radio, in the fourth inning.) There are five of us aboard and everyone is warm and dry with the canopy up. There's a racing fleet of Albacores nearby. They raced in their world championships the weekend before. We pass them by.

This is a 20-foot boat with an 11-foot beam and a sailing rig that's not much different from a 16-foot Hobie Cat. The bay is flat and the wind only 8 or 10 knots so the sailing is pleasant, not exciting. A large free-luff headsail could be set, doubling our sail area off the wind. "A prepared and capable crew could handled the boat easily in 20 knots without reefing," says Ted. At that point, 30 gallons of water ballast could be let into the windward hull to increase stability.

The hulls are designed for low resistance and lots of reserved buoyancy They're high and narrow with semi-circular bottoms for low wetted surface. Burying a leeward hull at high speed is

pretty unlikely with only 210 square feet of sail area. Several duffel bags and lifejackets are stowed out of sight in one of the hulls, and the outboard motor is raised and tucked under the stem.

I can't tell you how well the boat handles in waves, but I can guess. The hulls are narrow enough that they can be driven through, rather than over closely-spaced waves. While this would produce a smooth but wet ride on most 20-foot boats (even with this freeboard), the TomCat's deck is enclosed behind a high bulwark and a windshield.

So, under sail and power, the TomCat shines. Other boats do too, of course, but there's an important difference: the TomCat is trailerable and can be quite inexpensive.

Modular and trailerable

Obviously a boat with an 11-foot beam can't be towed down the highway without some work. Like other small cats, the TomCats's hulls detach from the deck. Once they're unbolted, the deck is winched up (on a custom trailer with lifting levers) and the hulls are turned go degrees and slid underneath The whole package is highway legal and, if you're ready to go trailer camping, it can do double duty. You've even got access to storage in the hulls while the boat is on the trailer.

To limit the cost of buying a new TomCat, you can do it gradually. For example, you might decide that, for the first season, you can do without the runabout interior, or that you can make do with your own Hobie rig. The water ballast for long-distance, heavy-weather sailing may not be on everyone's list TomCat Boats is set up to build in a semi-custom mode, making changes to the basic boat as each owner may require.

Construction quality on the first TomCat is excellent. The hulls were vacuum-bagged and carefully faired and finished. Rigid foam reinforcement was used in the hulls and the deck is reinforced with plywood. The dagger board and rudders were nicely faired.

TomCat is a big 20-foot boat. It's got lots of freeboard and it's wide. The bridge deck has to offer sitting headroom, so there's lots of boat above the waterline. Its appearance, nevertheless, is balanced and purposeful, if not graceful. Compared to a racing cat, it looks more like a powerboat -- because it is. While its runabout interior and windshield will not appeal to die-hard sailors, that's fine with Tom and Ted. TomCat is meant to represent a new category of boat. One that combines the virtues of a powered camper-cruiser and a powerful cruising catamaran. A boat with queen-sized accommodations that can still sail onto a beach.

Day sailors and even club racers could enjoy exciting sailing even while they're warm and dry. Cottagers will use the TomCat as an exciting day sailer on windy days, and as a swimming, fishing and cottage cruising deck boat when the wind is light. But the owners who will really get a kick out of this boat are the trailer-cruisers. Packed up on a trailer behind a medium-weight car, this is a boat that can show you the sights.

Reprinted from:
Boat for Sale Magazine
Boat Show Edition - 1996
Boat for Sale Publications Inc.