Introduction: The Winnebago of Catamarans

About: Flemming changed the the world with a saucer and a bit of mold. Florence Nightingale changed the world with a tiny lamp, walking silent rounds among the wounded and dying. Einstein: chalk. Pasteur: chickens. A…

Young bridegrooms have a tradition of having one last wild night before their wedding to celebrate their independence. This tradition was not for me. The day before I got married I enjoyed my independence by getting up early, bringing my Montgomery Wards Sunfish sailer down to the beach and kicking off into open water. There is no place in the world that can hold a candle to the Great Lakes if you want to feel your independence unbaffled. Every point of the compass holds danger and adventure and there is no one to rely on but yourself. Fortunately, I did come home eventually and got married. I'd rather raise sail than raise hell, I suppose.

Since building my first self-designed catamaran a few years back I have often thought that sailing should be available to more people. After much planning that little cat only cost $150 and four weeks of part time labor. If my little sailboat can accommodate myself and my four kids beach-raiding on a monster lake like Lake Superior how much farther could we go in a larger catamaran? And is it possible to make a catamaran that is large enough to accommodate a family and yet be trailer-able? The answer is yes!

For the last 7 years I have worked as an RN specializing in cardiology. Luckily, from my patients rooms we can look together through the windows at long miles of open water stretching out beyond the horizon. This sight is good for their hearts and for mine. And as wonderful as my job is I am perpetually drawn down to the water. Lake Superior is mesmerizing. I work full time but I get all my hours in one week and have every other week off to build and invent and play with my kids. This is plenty of time to put serious time into one big project- especially one I am so hungry to begin.
From the hospital's high windows (and sometimes from the roof) I marvel that for all of human history, across cultures, marine travel has been relatively cheap and accessible transportation. Why not again? I believe that a lot can be learned from the ethnic catamaran designs used by Pacific islanders. After all, they were used for thousands of years to bring Polynesian explorers and their families across the wide Pacific Ocean. The James Wharram Design company has had the same thought and offers self-build designs for a minimal price. My proposal is to build a James Wharram Tiki 21 from plans. This is a modest build but the design is well vetted. Here's an article detailing the excellence of the Tiki21 design:
Again, this is a modest design and is well within my skill and experience level- a good staring point and within the $25,000 budget for plans, materials, and band-aids, with some left over to start the next boat. In addition, Tiki 21 has proven to be highly modifiable, having been customized to suit the many people who have built it before me. This is exciting for me because I am a hand-craftsman at heart. I cast my own aluminum and brass fittings in my waste oil foundry, mill lumber in the back yard and sew sails in my dining room (my wife is so forgiving!). The plan is to follow the Wharram plans for the first build and then modify them during later builds to suit my buyers. Ultimately I would build my own designs using interlocking SIP panels to speed construction, add buoyancy, reduce bulkhead weight and increase durability. SIPs can make things so easy, especially stitch and glue boat construction!

I feel like there is a market for inexpensive catamarans in my area and around the world. Like a humble hunting cabin, a catamaran doesn't have to have opulent amenities to be an enjoyable vacation option for a family. Yacht builders, marina retailers and the like have a tendency to gouge the customers' wallets. Once a product is labeled for marine use it seems to triple in price. A Coleman stove would serve instead of a marine-grade range. An inexpensive canopy would do where a twenty-times-the-cost fiberglass bridge deck cover would normally go. (If ripstop nylon is good enough for Mt. Everest expeditions it is good enough for sailors' shelter. There are innumerable opportunities for tremendous savings once we leave behind the idea that only rich people have boats that can handle more than a few hours on formidable water. Why not make a catamaran that is more Winnebago than private jet? Isn't raising a bucket of water for a solar shower part of the fun of cruiser sailing as opposed to showering below deck in a marble-tiled shower? The Winnebago company recognized this same thing in the 1960s and they sold their models to frugal Americans 2 to 1 over their competitors. Now their name is synonymous with RVs worldwide. I believe that my "SIP-stitch-and-glue" innovation is equivalent to Winnebago's "Thermo-Panel" innovation that made their success in the 60s and 70s possible.
Additionally, catamaran living is much more comfortable than monohull cruising. Passengers can lounge in the trampoline, sit in the shade or sleep inside the hulls. They'll have no such luck with most monohulls which have awkward decks and little space for movement above. Sailors can't even set a drink down on monohulled boats in strong wind because they heel at 45 degrees. Catamarans are less likely to swamp and usually heel at a max of 15 degrees even in strong wind.
Lastly, no marina fees: need I say more about that?

I live in the center of a massive continent. Yet, when I see the steamers coming into Duluth's port from far off countries I can almost smell the salt in the air. I can sail from here to anywhere, to any buyer on any coast and I intend to do so. I would like to build boats during our long grim Minnesota winters and sail them to buyers during our beautiful summers. Without a doubt I believe that my foam core modular boat building will be stronger, lighter and easier to sail and would lead to quicker builds and less expensive boats. To get to that point I need to begin by building the designs of master builders who have pioneered self-design. When I have learned from others (and there's always so much to learn) I will pioneer my designs and thereby earn my own independence. Sure beats a bachelor party.

Jack Daniel's Independence Project Contest

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