OWNER VERSION CATAMARANS IN THE CHARTER INDUSTRY  

 
By David Blacklock, BVI Yachting Guide
 

The conventional wisdom regarding catamarans in the charter business is that while they may not be as exhilarating to sail as a powered-up monohull, they do offer great value. You can fit eight, ten or even a dozen people onto a 47-footer and have plenty of money left over for beer and T-shirts.

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Oh, and they don't heel much, which reduces the levels of anxiety and discomfort for those whose tolerance for such things has diminished with time or was never strong to begin with. As for the fun-to-sail aspect, well there's always the autopilot which generally does a much better job of keeping the boat on track anyway.

Many of the yachts offered for charter come in versions tailored to specific markets. The most common option maximises the number of cabins and heads in exchange for sometimes cramped accommodation space and a large central entertainment area. But not every charter customer needs or wants to cram all of his or her old university classmates onto a single vessel. There is a demand for more space and privacy, more amenities and separation of function. Hence, the Owner's Version in which an entire hull is given over to a very large cabin with a sitting area with real closet space and a full bathroom and shower. The Catamaran Company, a pioneer in catamaran chartering and a worldwide leader in catamaran sales, is betting that the owner's version charter is a segment whose time has come.

CatCo has six owner's version models available for charter at their Tortola location, out of a fleet of about 20 boats. While the advantages for an owner are clear - he has the boat he really wants equipped the way he really wants it - the advantages for the charter client have, until now, not been fully exploited. The essential democracy of the four-cabin charter cat - each cabin is identical, nobody has it any better than anybody else - is altered when there is an obvious variation in cabin size and amenities. In order to promote this new segment of the charter business, The Catamaran Company has reduced the rates for its three-cabin, owner's-version boats to make them even more tempting and to encourage charterers to think outside the four-cabin box. “Most people that are chartering cost it out on a per-cabin basis,” says yacht broker Greg Robinson. “ 'If there's six of us, it'll be so much but if there's eight of us it'll be even less.' ” So, for the owner of a three-cabin charter yacht, the prospect of a slightly reduced overall per-charter rate is offset by more frequent charters. If the pricing's not right, says CatCo's Staley Weidman, “There can be an opportunity cost to having the owner's version. It's not going to charter as well and get as many weeks as a four-cabin boat would."

Passenger count aside, what is it that defines an owner's version? In Weidman's view it's all about the private space. “What you're getting is one large cabin (with) a larger berth (and) a separate shower compartment,” he says. “Two other features that are very common are a settee, just like a small couch - a place to watch TV or just sit. Most cabins don't have any suitable seating space. And we can also put in a desk area that can be utilised as a vanity, with a mirror and some outlets, or as a desk for your laptop."

On a recent tour of CatCo's Tortola base at Nanny Cay, the BVI Yacht Guide viewed several owner's version models, including a top-of-the-line Lagoon 440, and a Lagoon 43 Power Cat. The overall impression of these models and others we saw (Lagoon 380 and 410) was that for a family charter, or even better for a special holiday for a couple (engagement, honeymoon, anniversary) or other special occasion, the layout of the boats is ideal.

The Lagoon 380, the smallest of the catamarans on offer, has a huge bedroom aft in the starboard hull, with a large bathroom forward, the shower and the toilet being quite separate, even allowing for one person to shower while the other uses the adjacent dressing room. The entire starboard hull on these models can be closed off from the rest of the boat by a lockable sliding pocket door which affords both privacy and quiet. Lagoon cats are renowned for their voluminous hulls which offer not only width but headroom; the owner's accommodation feels more like a stateroom than simply a cabin.

The Lagoon 410 is similar in layout to the 380 but proportionately larger and they both are laid out with a large desk area that could be adapted for use as a ship's office or to keep up with business affairs while sailing. Moving up to the Lagoon 440 was a little like moving into a hotel suite with a luxurious sense of space, air and light. The owner's cabin in the starboard hull was equipped with a soft, comfortable settee facing a flat-screen TV which could be angled to allow viewing from the queen-size island bed. This yacht has a layout designed for serious passage making, with a flybridge built above the rear entertainment area so that all piloting can be done with excellent sight lines and full 360-degree visibility. Should the weather deteriorate the crew can retreat to the secondary helm location in the main salon, where steering is controlled by a joystick linked to the autopilot.

The Lagoon 43 Power Cat, being purely a power-driven vessel and not having to accommodate a mast and rigging, is even more spacious. The master suite is located across the full aft section amidships and is the size of a small apartment, with his-and-hers bathrooms and storage to match. It is so large that it can be divided into two matching full-sized cabins. This is a vessel built to go quickly (cruise at 18 knots, top speed of 21 knots) yet accommodate guests in absolute comfort and style.

Joann Higgins, CatCo reservations manager, explained the challenges to a company offering these special boats for charter: among them, the difficulty some clients might have in deciding who gets the huge owner's suite! If three couples are chartering the boat that might be a source of conflict - though one easily resolved by making financial adjustments. For a special occasion, however, or for a family or for a couple celebrating a life event or simply having fun, chartering a boat with an immense private cabin could re-define the sailing vacation. Perhaps a honeymooning couple could take the owner's suite while a captain and cook occupy the “West Wing.” Or a young family could bring the kids and a nanny along, yet allow the parents some time and space to themselves. Likewise adult siblings might bring older parents along while offering them some of the comfort and amenities they require.

By pricing the three-cabin owner's version to make it comparable, not boat-for-boat but cabin-for-cabin with the conventionally laid-out model, The Catamaran Company is breaking new ground. To get more information or to discuss your chartering plans, they can be reached at www.catamarans.com or on (284) 494-6661.