We admit it: there is something irresistibly sleek, modern, attractive and – dare we say – sexy about catamarans. From their futuristic-looking twin hulls and arching belly all the way to their sharp bows that make them look like a spectacular spaceship, the design of a catamaran almost seems like the perfect fit for the seas it sails upon. But let’s stop for one moment and look at the bigger picture by asking ourselves: what practicality do catamarans actually have in a place as isolated and prone to doldrums as the Galapagos?
Follow along in this blog as we reveal the pros and cons of catamarans in Galapagos, especially when compared to the notable benefits of opting for a single-hull (otherwise known as a monohull) Expedition Vessel.
There is indeed a function behind the design of catamarans, and this mainly applies to their speed and stability. By having two hulls instead of one, catamarans lessen their water displacement, which effectively means they need to “push up against” much less water as they’re around.
However, when it comes to traversing waters aboard a catamaran, the only time you’ll sense a noticeable and beneficiary difference is when you’re travelling with the wind at your rear. These are the ideal and perhaps the only condition that will allow catamarans to remain stable and give you much less roll, as you’re pretty much going in the path of less resistance. If this isn’t the case (i.e. whenever you want to go in any direction that isn’t with the wind), you’ll run into problem #1 while travelling aboard catamarans in Galapagos, as you’ll find out below in the next section.
In sum: catamarans generally handle the seas better if and only if you’re sailing with the wind and currents. When you’re in the Galapagos, however, it’s important to keep in mind that in you’re not always sailing with the wind. In fact, a lot of the time in Galapagos you’ll be sailing in ALL directions (as all cruises should, if they wish to offer their guests excellent island coverage!).
Even if you are sailing with the wind aboard a catamaran, and even though you may very well be experiencing very little roll, the major downside to catamarans is that you will experience a noticeable oscillation in pitch. In other words, catamarans are prone to constantly having their front ends continuously lift up and down when moving across water (in effect, they end up “slapping the sea”), which provides a rather uncomfortable ride. What’s more? In choppy waters, sometimes you’ll find that one hull lifts up more than the other, which doesn’t really provide a feeling of smoothness at all. Single-hull Expedition Vessels, on the other hand, work harmoniously with their surrounding elements rather than trying to constantly fight them.
Something else to consider is that if a wave catches a catamaran from the side, you’re not getting hit just once, but twice, as the wave whacks up against the two hulls rather than just one hull. In effect, a catamaran may end up feeling much more akin to a rollercoaster ride if it’s sailing in choppy waters. And who wants to sleep on a rollercoaster when you’re visiting a once-in-a-lifetime destination like Galapagos?
The flaw is also in the design itself: in some cases, passengers’ cabins are part of the hull (the least stable part), while the communal spaces are reserved for the overarching bridge (the most stable part) of the entire catamaran.
Catamarans in Galapagos tend to be quite small, the majority of which are only capable of carrying a maximum of 16 guests. Consequently, experiencing a rather cramped feeling aboard catamarans in Galapagos isn’t all that uncommon.
Probably one of the most important takeaways from understanding the downside of catamaran in Galapagos, however, is the following: You have to realize that the Galapagos is pretty much synonymous with the doldrums, meaning it’s an area with few winds (particularly from January to April, when there’s virtually zero). Consequently, catamarans in Galapagos will never be powered by wind. So, if that’s the case, and given their small size: just how close will you end up being to the engines, then? Remember than many vessels navigate at night, meaning that loud engine noise might end up keeping you up at night.
Our expedition vessels in Galapagos are much bigger, on the other hand. Whether it be Yacht La Pinta, Isabela II or the Santa Cruz II, you’ll find yourself with plenty of room to stretch out and relax. Something else is that generally, when it comes to navigating at sea: the longer the boat, the more stable the journey. We also only move at night and avoid navigating through swells that cause elevated motions by staying as far away from them as we can.
But perhaps most importantly, we also have buffer decks, as we do our best to insulate our guests from any and all man-made sounds. These buffer decks allow our guests to remain quite insulated and shielded from the sound of the engines aboard our boats.
Our single-hull expedition vessels in Galapagos also anchor on the leeward side of the islands (as opposed to wayward sides), meaning we remain shielded from much of the crosswinds.
Something else worth considering is that, due to the larger size of our expedition vessels, we also have a greater number of guides and, consequently, a lower guest-to-guide ratio (usually around the 10 guests-per-guide mark, which is much lower than the National Park maximum of 15 guests-per-guide).
Sure enough, the verdict usually defaults to personal preference and intended use of the vessel. But it’s important to always keep in mind that, given the unique conditions in Galapagos, there’s no real benefit to traveling aboard a catamaran. Again, unless you’re travelling with the wind and don’t have currents hitting you from all directions – in effect, when you’re not fighting with the ocean to go in a certain direction – then a catamaran makes perfect sense. Otherwise, in a once-in-a-lifetime place as special as Galapagos, where there is practically no wind and the smaller catamarans mean dealing with engine noise throughout the night, it makes very little sense to hop aboard the undeniably attractive look of such an elegant and sophisticated vessel. When it comes to catamarans in Galapagos, it’s all just fashion over comfort in the end, really.