Sailboat, Trawler or Catamaran?
Are you currently deciding whether a sailboat, trawler or catamaran will be your next home? We are going on 12 years of living on these three types of boats. This podcast is a bit longer than most I do, but there’s just so much to say! We lived on a 44’ Kalik sloop for 5 years, had a daughter aboard and left for cruising. During our cruising days on the sailboat we decided to change up and move to a Kadey Krogen 42 trawler. We lived on that for about 4.5 years – I’ll call it 5. My daughter was 2 through 6. We had to put boat life aside for a bit to care for family, but we’re now back in the water on a Lagoon 420 catamaran. We’ve been aboard for about a year and a half. In a nutshell, we’ve had long term liveaboard experiences with our family on a sailboat, trawler and catamaran – with the unique experience of specifically being all of the same general length. We feel enough time has gone by on the catamaran and we’re ready to try our best to reasonably compare and contrast all three types of boats in all sorts of situations. On our return back to the water we mindfully chose a catamaran to see what all the hype was about. We’re all about experiences and living on a catamaran adds another. We are located in Connecticut, USA, which adds a bit more complexity to the liveaboard lifestyle – there’s snow and freezing temperatures to consider, as well as mainly indoor living during the winter months. I’ll address all the major topics: initial cost, maintenance, creating a home, space and liveability, living at anchor, traveling, and at a dock, their ranges, and winterizing and winter comfort.
Our first boat was a 1980 Kalik 44’. It cost $79K USD. She was 44’ length overall, 14.5’ beam, 7’ draft. It needed a lot of work – new decks, new paint, new windows, all new navigation systems and wiring. Let’s just say that when Charles pulled hard on the binnacle he pulled it right off the deck. We put in over 50K on just standard upgrades. We read Cruising World and thought we needed all the bells and whistles. We added them. We were new, give us a break. We put a lot of money into that boat. In hindsight, we didn’t need to and shouldn’t have, but it was a great learning experience. One where we made mistakes and got to fix them. I don’t regret that time and money. It was our experiment on balancing life’s priorities. My husband calls it his master’s thesis.
The trawler was a 1981 Kadey Krogen 42. We bought her for $120K. She was 42’ overall, 15’ beam, 5’ draft. She needed lots of work and didn’t come with any bells and whistles. We tore up and created all new decks and redid just about every system on that boat. We were experienced and knew what worked for us. We made her a great home and would take her back. An interesting fact, though: we cruised 2000 miles before doing one upgrade (other than buying a Rocna before leaving the dock), after she sat in the yard for years. It proved you can cruise comfortably with very little. Krogens are very comfortable cruising boats, strongly built, have a great name and following, and we made quite a bit of money on her sale.
I am currently making this podcast from a catamaran – a 2009 Lagoon 420, owner’s version. It cost $285K. She is 42’ overall, 25’ beam, 4.5’ draft. We knew what features we wanted in a boat as a family and tried hard to find a catamaran to make that happen. We added lots of stuff. Just within the first month we added a 120V electrical system on top of the original european 240V electrical system, and a new air conditioning system. She’s 10 years old, so on the margin of a good refit. We know it and are able do it. I do want to note that the boat is 30 years younger than the others, so it’s not a true comparison in terms of boat work. It is nice, though, not to have to rebuild every system. We’re just replacing past owner’s (let’s call them) quick fixes.
In the cost category, I also can’t emphasize dockage enough. The sailboat and trawler are typical dockers. They fit, the price is what’s expected, no extra thought necessary. Right now on the cat we live at the dock most of the week and are out most weekends because of a 9-5 in-person job these days. We live in the Northeast. Finding a dock for a cat is not a small feat. You need a double slip that doesn’t have pilings in the middle of each slip. Even just that can be a tough find. And then you’ll need to negotiate price. It typically costs 1.5X’s the cost of a regular slip, although it can be argued that 2x’s would be appropriate since we take up two slips. My summer contract for the year 2021 says it’s going to cost me $10,306.97 for only 6 months, from May through October. Our winter contract was around $3,431.47 and electricity will be metered, not paid in advance. If you’re trying to do the math quickly, that’s $13,738.44 over the course of the year, which is $1,144.87 per month on average – but again add $300-400 per month in the winter months that are metered for electricity. And that’s just the dock. Nothing else. If we were cruising, dockage fees are a moot point, unless you want a break or are gearing up to sell and need to leave it. There is no doubt that catamarans cost more initially and if you touch the dock at all, are definitely more expensive. And they’re more expensive to maintain – there’s no arguing that. I tried to – we bought the boat – and I can firmly say I lost that argument. Our saildrives probably need replacing – at $6,000 EACH. And haul out is more expensive as well – as long as you can find a yard that can handle the 25’ beam.
In all boats, we pumped in at least $20K in upgrades immediately. Then, depending on the boat and age and needs, we pumped in more – sometimes A LOT more. And continue to. Ha! Buying a boat is not cheap.
We turned our first boat, the sailboat, into a spaceship. We had tons of solar, large watermaker, just about every bell and whistle we read about and thought we had to buy. Each system means added maintenance. There was a lot of maintenance. Which means a lot of money – even though we bought a cheaper boat. Don’t forget about the sails and all the rigging as well. We sold her for exactly what we bought her for. It was our first good lesson that the added bells and whistles are usually irrelevant when buying or selling a boat. Your first boat is also a good lesson in figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t. That tidbit of information is different for everyone and there’s no way to find out other than just doing it.
The trawler was probably the best cost on maintenance. It had one engine and one generator. No rigging. All the same systems as a sailboat would have. We had one less head to maintain. We painted the exterior teak, because as a liveaboard we don’t have or want to take the time to love the teak. It’s pretty, but I’ve already got a kid. We chose carefully to add or negate systems. We knew what was needed to cruise and what was not for our lifestyle. The engine room was a dream to work in – which is a huge bonus. We kept it simple with the option to make it a spaceship if we wanted. She felt like a battleship.
The catamaran is definitely more maintenance. Yes, there are two engines and two saildrives. And rigging. And three heads, which we made immediately turned into composting heads. But more water pumps for all of the showers. Separate hulls to cool or heat. Large stowage lockers to keep clean and dry from condensation. Larger living areas to clean. Just scrubbing the decks takes me at least 4 hours alone. More living space equals more mess to clean up, something not to be trifled with with a family. And there’s rigging. Don’t forget about the two hulls to scrub and paint. Plus the cost of all of that. As much as we like to ignore that fact, it’s a truth.
SPACE & LIVEABILITY
No matter what boat we live on we seem to fill it up with all of our needs and extras. It’s human nature that if you have more space, you fill that space. We try to keep ourselves under control, but we are human after all.
Storage is always a big question, which I’ll address first. In my personal experience there’s two kinds of storage. There’s every-day storage for essentials like clothes, toiletries, and galley essentials. These storage spaces are pretty easy to access and we do so daily. They contain items we use regularly. I will not be storing my salt shaker under a bunk, for example.
The second type I mainly refer to as STOWAGE. Those areas on a boat that immediately induce an eyeroll when you have to access them. These areas include under bunks where you need to take the entire mattress and bedding off – and then replace it all. You might have to open hatches and climb in, upside down, reaching blind into that back corner. Or that corner space in the galley where you need to climb onto the counter or grab your stool to unpack layers of provisions to get that one little thing – then you need to put it all back you have the space to use the galley, then take it all out again to replace said thingy. A bit like retrieving something from the very bottom of a chest fridge. That’s just no fun and takes time. That’s stowage.
In the galleys I found that the sailboat and catamaran have similar storage. We have overhead cabinets in the catamaran, as we did in the sailboat. We have under sink storage in the catamaran as we did in the sailboat. We have two drawers in the catamaran, we had one in the sailboat. The food and larger galley tools are stored under the seating in the saloon in both boats. I might just eek out a little more counter space in the catamaran because we have a proper fridge (which holds less), whereas the sailboat had a chest-type fridge, which could also be used as a counter while prepping with proper planning. We do have a large freezer under the nav station in the cat, which we did not have in the sailboat. I can fit more food in the sailboat chest fridge, but it’s not as convenient. In both spaces you need to pare down to needs and get creative with daily storage. The galley is the most accessed space in your boat by all members of your family and definitely needs to be functional. In both cases, all over-stocks of food or ingredients go into stowage areas on the boat ready for refills when needed.
The trawler had more storage space in the galley. I didn’t feel the need to get too creative. I think the galley storage was deeper and wider. The counter space was the same. I had a full pantry and there was no useable salon seat storage, but it still felt roomy. The trawler wins in the galley storage situation.
Cabins are another story. In a sailboat it’s rare to find an actual queen sized anything, other than maybe the owner’s cabin. Even then it’s probably a glorified double. Our sailboat had 3 cabins, two aft and one at the bow. You had to really like the person you were sleeping with in all cases. We’ll call the cabins cozy. The trawler had two cabins and a pilothouse that could convert to a cabin for guests. The owner’s cabin at the bow was very large, great storage for clothes – drawers and hanging – and had good airflow. You can access the bed from both sides with minimal crawling and sprawling. The second cabin had bunk beds, a desk, and some storage on shelves with a small closet. Not ok for a couple, but definitely more than enough for a kid. The pilothouse wasn’t too comfortable as a cabin, you needed to climb pretty high to get into bed, the head was two levels down and privacy was seriously lacking without the use of all of the curtains. The catamaran wins. We have 3 cabins, each with a good-sized queen. There is at least one good sized drawer in each cabin, with room for shelving if needed. Each cabin also has at least one small closet. I won’t even comment on the room in the owner’s cabin in the cat. It’s feels pretty ridiculous for boat life. We’re living in luxury and know it. We’ve even converted a useless couch area to a full-sized desk for these pandemic times. With an owner’s version we are not lacking in personal storage – like, at all. Even if we were, there’s plenty of wall space to add so much more. Wall space – that’s one bonus that rarely gets mentioned. There’s actual vertical walls to hang anything you want. Every cabin has at least 3 huge vertical walls – so the options are endless as to how you use that space. Wall space was a rare commodity on any other boat we’ve ever lived on.
Heads: We had two in the sailboat. If one was out of commission, the other was backup. We didn’t have a separate shower and immediately added that to our must-have list for the future. The trawler had one head. Less maintenance but lacked backup when needed. It did have a separate shower which we highly valued. Each cabin in the catamaran has its own full head with separate shower. It was very overwhelming at first. Lots of potential maintenance and clogs that we saw coming. Lots of holding tanks that need pumping and looking after. Within the first few months we ripped out all of the toilets and put in Air Head composting toilets instead. There’s a learning curve there and they need to be used mindfully, but there’s no pumpout, no smells, and no spare parts needed. No broken pumps, no clogs, no filthy joker valves, no smelly hoses that need replacing, no holding tanks that need ventilation. The catamaran now wins in heads.
Lounging areas you might ask?? Not the catamaran. Everywhere you try to sit on a catamaran in the mid 40 foot range you will find you’re sitting at a table. A sailboat will have the salon table AND a settee, the trawler had a wonderfully comfortable regular couch, with your choice of two large chairs or whatever configuration you wanted. You could kick your feet up on a small stool with a good book and light blanket, lounge inside on a rainy day in relative privacy in your robe and pretend like the outside world doesn’t exist. On a catamaran in our range of length there is no such thing. You can lay down next to the table, but that’s it. Even outside in the huge liveable space, you are sitting at a table. You’ll need foldable, portable marine chairs to use the bow or other areas comfortably. There’s plenty of flat outdoor space to lay out on, but in trying to avoid the direct sunlight, your options are minimal. A catamaran doesn’t give me the sense of coming home and kicking my feet up in relaxation, as a home. I knew that would be a negative going in, and my feelings haven’t changed in the last year and a half or so on this one. Generally people starting off in a catamaran don’t think this is a problem because they’ve never had the other options before. I won’t ever take a couch or settee for granted again.
CREATING A HOME
Which leads right into, creating a home. Monohulls give you what I call the mono hug. When I first boarded the sailboat and trawler, I was immediately hugged and felt at home. I was excited to make them a home. I could easily see them as cozy, warm and inviting. If the weather got bad I could just retreat down into the salon, put on my jammies, grab a tea, enjoy my mono hug and remove myself from the rest of the world. Both the sailboat and trawler were a bit darker, naturally. And they were surely private. Someone would have to really make an effort to get a view of the inside of your home – from a dinghy or dock alike. If it was rough out and you heard a bang, it only takes one quick glance down the length of the boat to know exactly what fell. If friends approach, you hear them no matter where you are in the boat. In hindsight, I’m glad Lucie went through her toddler years on the sailboat and trawler – a natural, safe kid playscape where I can keep track of her every move from one spot – just close the companionway or back door and block out the draw to get outside.
After living for 10 years in mono – the sailboat and trawler – I find myself in a catamaran. It is an entirely new animal as a home. When I first stepped into the main living area of the catamaran, it was a wow experience, not a warm fuzzy experience – and there is a difference. I can make a comparison with two houses – a cottage with fireplace, whimsical gardens, and nooks and crannies to explore versus visiting a large modern white/gray/black house with modern furniture, nothing out of place, white rugs and floor to ceiling windows. Nothing is wrong with one or the other, it’s personal preference. But one definitely encourages a warm cup of tea, cozy blanket, good book, privacy and snuggle time with the littles. The monos feel like a warm cottage, the catamaran is definitely a modern feel. It’s not warm – it’s cool. There is very little privacy within living areas. When I get up in the morning, I need to get fully dressed to start the coffee and breakfast, as dinghies going by or people walking the dock will see directly inside the salon. I suppose I could opt for trendy jammies, but really? I get that it’s nice to have a 360 degree view but it feels like a fishbowl a lot of the time. I’ve never had or used so many curtains in my life. At night, as I’m getting changed with a little light so I can see, those blinds better be closed otherwise half the anchorage is going to get quite a show!!! And every cabin has a very large window next to the bed. During the day the windows have a film so you have privacy then, but certainly not at night. It is never something I had to worry about in any of the monohulls. We had small portholes. Is it nice to have a calm morning and lay in bed watching the water and world go by in the catamaran? Yes. Do I need it. No. All of the light is very nice to have during the day, the view is great, you can’t doubt that. Too much sun is a thing during the summer and heat can build pretty fast. We have two vertical hatches that open to help with ventilation, but wow. Deckshades on a mono is do-able. Deckshades on a cat is tough.
Another quality that makes my boat home a true home is how safe I FEEL in rough weather. Having experiences in all of these boats as long term homes and dealing with some pretty significant weather in each, there’s definitely something to be said for small cockpits. I’m not talking about actual safety, I’m talking about the FEELING of safety. The catamaran leaves me feeling sooo exposed, very vulnerable. My senses get overloaded. I over-react more, my anxieties kick up quicker. My family is more spread out and I can’t even really hear them if they’re in cabins. At these times, I’m really missing that sturdy home feel – and I’m in a very sturdy, very heavy boat. Again, I know I’m safe. I’m not arguing the safety of each of these boats, it’s the feeling, or perception, of safety that I’m lacking in the cat. It’s taken me a really long time to have it feel like a home, to be comfortable in a rough anchorage. I’ve yet to have a full night’s sleep even though I know my Rocna has never failed me – ever. Even though I know my anchor alarm is set and working. Even though I know the weather on 3 different sources is fine. I just feel exposed or vulnerable – ya know what I mean?? I’m missing my mono hug. I have a feeling it’s going to take me a while to find that feeling on this boat. I’m getting there – slowly.
I also want to make note that I was on land for 4 years previously. It might be the time away from the water that made me soft, I don’t know. Since I spend so much time dockside, living the winter life aboard, I’m starting to think it’s the boat and not me. I’m hoping next year our anxieties will calm. It’s just not fun. We will see.
Again, my mind knows I’m just as safe on the cat. But I FELT safer on the other types of boats.
LIVING AT ANCHOR
At anchor there is no question. The catamaran wins hands down. It’s silly, really. I don’t even feel like I’m boating. It kinda takes away from the excitement, ya know?? If I feel us moving at all I can automatically assume someone needs an attitude adjustment in the anchorage.
The monos rock and roll at anchor. Stabilizers don’t matter much on a trawler if you’re not moving. Flopper stoppers help a little, but there’s nothing like the stability of a cat. It’s just a fact. And since most of anyone’s cruising time is spent on anchor, this little fact is a HUGE selling point.
Again, the catamaran wins. When I first got the cat and was inexperienced with them, I was coming up through NYC and I had two huge ferries coming at me at high speed on either side in the East River. There was nowhere to go, nothing I could do to make this experience any less harsh. I couldn’t turn and the current was.. Interesting. There was no time to run and put stuff away – because you don’t usually need to on a cat. We all had our eyes on my tea mug on the counter. No time to grab it, only to hold on. We held on – and watched that mug. I did NOT want to clean up that mess in the middle of the East River. And it was pretty full. We hit those huge wakes all at the same time. We held on tight – and watched that mug slide a little to the left. Then a little to the right. Then right back to where it started. Not a single drop hit the counter. I didn’t even need to hold on, silly me. If we were in the sailboat or the trawler our things would have been EVERYWHERE. We would’ve had to stow everything as if we were heading offshore. We would have blisters from holding on so hard and it would be extremely uncomfortable, to say the least. We’ve all been there. The trawler was a bit worse because they’re a bit top-heavy and they don’t have a tall mast to keep them from whipping back and forth so much. There’s no option to raise a sail for a calmer ride. You’re at the mercy of the water. Stabilizers for trawlers are a thing and I recommend them – although they add to maintenance in a big way. But they make the ride so much better. I do have to say that the canoe stern of the Kadey Krogen allowed us to be offshore surfing the waves comfortably with the sailboats. She was self-righting and sturdy. Beam seas on any of the boats proves uncomfortable. The catamaran does have a jerkier, hobby horse type of feel.
One huge thing I need to note: the trawler had a wonderful pilothouse. If the weather gets iffy, just close the door and turn on the wiper. There’s a nice comfy chair, wonderfully soft couch, and no eisenglass or canvas. After all these years we’re getting tired of eisenglass. There’s a calming feeling to have great visibility through actual glass and hard walls, with little noise to grate at your nerves or anxieties.
I do have to mention that sailing a catamaran hardly counts as sailing. It’s by the numbers. There’s no real feel to it and it’s truly anti-climatic, other than watching your speed. If you absolutely LOVE old-school sailing, a catamaran is not for you. You won’t get the same satisfaction.
LIVING AT THE DOCK
Money aside, the trawler and cat are a tie. Easy on/off at the sugar scoops when backed in. On a cat, taking up two slips means we have some room to dock and don’t have to worry about hitting neighbors when docking. I will say that although maneuvering a cat is easy compared to the other types of boats, line handling is really tough! We have at least a 6 foot jump from the deck to the dock. I’ve broken an ankle and don’t want to break another. So we have to lasso the cleats or have PVC line holders on the dock that we can grab when we approach. This is what we usually do at our home dock. We leave lines at the dock for this purpose, but always have extra lines on hand if the good old-fashioned line handling is needed.
Again, in the cat we’re exposed at the dock. People are interested in these parts of the world where cats are still rare. They can’t help but to look in. I get it. In the summer months we dock bow in to preserve some privacy, but the 360 degree windows in the salon has you waving to people a lot. The trawler and sailboat were definitely more private, especially bow in.
Something that was unexpected was that I don’t feel the weather in a cat at the dock. I know it might be windy, but I have no idea where that wind is coming from. We don’t heel – at all. If someone boards the cat, I can’t feel that either. When someone knocks on one hull, I can hardly hear that in the other, which was an issue once when someone needed some medical care from us.
Wintering in the boats may or may not apply to you, but they certainly do to us. We were nervous about doing hard winters in a catamaran. We didn’t know anyone who was this far north on a catamaran who regularly shovels snow when it’s 20 degrees fahrenheit and often lower. We’re here to tell you it can be done on a catamaran.
We’ve had long term experience with both Webasto diesel-fired furnaces, and electric heaters. Since we’re at the dock we do now prefer electric heaters. I don’t have to lug the jerry cans down the ramp and dock and try to pump diesel from small tanks to the Webasto tank – when it’s zero degrees. Not fun. I don’t like the constant fumes and smell. And there’s a lot of maintenance throughout the winter keeping the thing running. We watch our neighbor and are thankful that’s not us. The prices usually even out by the time the winter’s over. We do have a beefy electrical system that we trust to handle the current pulls. I wouldn’t just trust any boat and the wiring, it takes a critical eye with a winter in mind to survey the electrical system.
In a mono (trawler and sailboat) the boat stays open and air circulates with fans. With the catamaran, it turns out that it’s a bit different. If the hulls were heated and connected to the main salon, all the heat flows up and the salon is 90 degrees and the hull air temps are 40 degrees. That’s not ok. So we zone our heat. Each cabin gets its own heater and the doors are shut at all times. Fans are running 24/7 to circulate the air. And when convenient, all doors to cabinets and closets are cracked open to allow for more circulation. We use plastic window shrink wrap inside the windows with the catamaran. It holds more heat that way, allowing the trapped air to insulate. It works. We do the same for hatches and those large windows in the cabins. We also did this in the trawler and sailboat as well. We need to winterize the engines in the catamaran because they are exterior to the salon. In the sailboat, the engine was just under the companionway stairs and had access to plenty of heat. In the trawler we just left a little heater on low for the engine. That also gave us a heated floor – which I didn’t complain about.
We always lay rugs with a felt/wool ½” thick underlayment or pad, in the cabins, hulls, and salon. With the full enclosure on the cat, the outside cockpit area can be used as the mudroom or another living space for all but the coldest days. It heats right up!
We used clear shrink wrap over the entire boat on the sailboat and trawler. It’s great for the greenhouse effect and holding in some heat during the day, it also keeps snow off the deck. I cringe for the environment, but it’s what we all do here. For the catamaran it seems incredibly not worth the effort or money. Just trying to figure out how to create a door over the sugar scoop is an engineering hassle. The weather and winds get intense here during the winter and our windage with the plastic cover would be enormous. With the angle of the sun shining low and straight into all of the windows in the salon, we opt NOT to cover the boat and just leave it as is. We do make sure everything is bedded into the deck properly so that ice doesn’t do any harm. We’ve been fine so far. We have a backup propane heater (ensuring proper ventilation) if we need it but we haven’t yet. So far, no cover has been a great choice. Every year is different and we’re just now entering our second winter on the catamaran. We’ll see how this year goes!! Without the cover, the quality of life in the winter greatly improves. You don’t feel like you’re in a bubble, which can be really depressing for months at a time. This is where the 360 degree windows come into play. You have sunlight, can watch the snow, see the wildlife – and it’s not like the docks are teaming with people, so privacy isn’t much of an issue. Huge bonus.
With sails, the range is infinite. The sailboat carried 80 gallons of fuel. The catamaran carries 160 gallons of fuel and the trawler carried 600 gallons of fuel, with one engine. Under power the sailboat averaged 5.5 knots, using 1 gallon an hour. The catamaran’s consumption is the same despite having two engines (each engine is smaller) and our average speed under power is just under 8 knots. Our trawler burned 1.5 gallons per hour and averaged 6 knots. Carrying the 600 gallons of fuel, she had over a 3000 mile range. It can cross oceans. A quick search will tell you that Kadey Krogen 42’s cross the Atlantic with no issue. Not sure there’s enough for the Pacific, but time the weather, head up to Alaska and across and you’ll make it just fine. Not all trawlers can, nor would you want them to cross oceans. Shop for your intended cruising grounds, not everyone wants to cross oceans.
In conclusion, there is not one boat that has it all. They are apples and oranges and watermelons. Different scenarios make you crave different fruit. Want a pie? Get apples. Hot day? Get a watermelon. Need a juicy refresher? Eat an orange. I lay it all out above.
Initial Cost: a sailboat is still the cheapest. Maintenance: Trawler wins. Space & Liveability: Catamaran has more stowage, trawler has more storage. Homemaking & Comfort: Trawler wins. Living at Anchor: Catamaran wins. Underway: Catamaran wins. At the dock: Hard to choose, with ease of on and off, I might go trawler, with a cat right behind. Winter: Catamaran wins. Range: anything with sails wins
Are we happy with the catamaran? It’s growing on us. Are we missing the trawler? Yes. Are we missing the sailboat? Not really, but I can see myself in one again with the right compromise.
What is our dream boat if money was no object??? A power cat with long-range possibilities. No rigging, great stability, redundant engines, great maneuverability and lots of space for solar and storage. But they’re still ugly. Just for fun, look up a SWATH catamaran. Now that’s the boat for me. I don’t want to clean too much, so a smaller version would be great. If someone were to so kindly give me one, I wouldn’t think twice. But then I’ll buy a lottery ticket for maintenance costs.
Eat an apple, orange or watermelon – nobody’s going to judge. I’ve found, even in the trawler, we were still hanging with the sailors for sundowners. If you’re worried about fitting in with the community – it’s not about the boat you have, it’s about the people you are.