By Malcolm Turner, Multihull Review
This is the sight that greets visitors to the Strictly Sail section of the Miami Boat Show and demonstrates the impact that multihulls have had on the US market.
Such is the size of the show that it is divided into three sections - one for sail, a second for power and the third for chandlery and electronics. I spent two days there and such was the number of sailing multihulls that all of my time was spent with them.
The undoubted star was the stunning Silhouette 760 from Matrix Yachts of South Africa. This is a truly amazing catamaran nearly 76' (23 m) long with a 38' (11.5m) beam and a draft of just 5' (1.5m).
Perhaps the most impressive feature of this boat is that she can be sailed by just two people utilizing hydraulics for both in boom reefing and genoa furling. Sheets and other lines are all handled via electric winches.
We will be featuring this yacht in a fuller article in a forthcoming issue, as we will be doing with a number of other boats at the show.
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One of the noticeable points that I gathered from North American, South African and Australian boat builders was a growing interest in the European market. Most of them had already either obtained CE certification, were in the process of getting it or thinking seriously about entering this market.
"We have been relying too heavily on the US market"; one South African builder told me, " and need to diversify so that we do not get caught out in another down turn like that which followed 9/11."
'The Sailing Market', a state of the (US) industry by the publishers of Sailing World and Cruising World, showed that the Caribbean continued to take the lions share of the US charter market with 56 per cent. Of this by far the largest share went to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (mainly the BVI). European charters only accounted for five per cent, a drop of one per cent over 2004.
Value of the booked in the US is of the region of $75,000,000 - a staggering figure by any standards and one that is being increasingly taken by multihull fleets.
Imports of sailing catamarans into the US showed an increase of two per cent from the previous year and now account for 20 per cent of the total and considerably more by value.
Largest of the multihull importers is The Catamaran Company of Florida, which is headed by Scots born Hugh Murray. They are agents for Lagoon and the Privilege range as well as having an extensive brokerage business.
He is cautious about how the market is going for new boats.
"Last September we were 60 per cent up on the previous year, but we ended it only 25 per cent ahead. This could have been caused by bad weather at the Annapolis, New port and Fort Lauderdale Boat Shows, or by other factors.
"Brokerage business in January was excellent with 51 boats coming on the market and plenty of buyers about. However, there is always something of a question mark when a large number of people start selling boats.
"It could be linked to the downturn in the housing market and fears of a recession or it could be for more innocent reasons. Certainly at the moment we are very much on target but it is only February", he said.
Murry is ecstatic about the new Lagoon 420 diesel electric catamaran. "We have sold a number already and no customer has asked for a diesel alternative - which isn't available anyway.
"We had one of the prototype 410's in charter for three years and it operated perfectly without the slightest problem", he said.
The comments about the decline in business in the last quarter of 2005 was confirmed by Sue Smith, of Performance Cruising, makers of the Gemini catamaran, of which six were sold at the London Boat Show, and the Telstar II trimaran.
"We too had a great year until the final quarter when everything seemed to die" she said. However, to date, this year has been great", she said.
British builder, Broadblue had both the 42 and the 385, at the show, the later appearing for the first time. Managing Director, Rob Underwood, reported a great deal of interest and was hopeful of good results.
The Broadblue 385 at the show had the "sports" rig, with a larger fully roached and battened main and a furling genoa, extended forward via a small bowsprit. It will undoubtedly sail faster than the smaller main version and, to this viewer at least, looks much prettier.
We will be reporting much more about Miami in the next issue including details of the invasion of Europe planned by a fleet of PDQ catamarans this summer.