The catamaran has a unique history among seafaring vehicles.
In fact, it was its unique design that made many Western people skeptical of its usefulness and led to it being ignored for over a century and a half by western civilization.
Fortunately, the world caught on and now catamarans are a very popular watercraft that are used for a variety of applications.
The What, When, Where, and Who of the Catamaran
Catamarans have been in use for centuries. Their unique history may be attributed, in part, to their unique design. They are very distinctive vehicles with a range of uses. Below, we will explore their history and discover why they are such useful, dependable, sea vehicles.
The word catamaran comes from the word kattumaram, which translates to logs tied together. A catamaran as we know it is a watercraft that has multiple hulls (the hull is the watertight body of a boat). The two hulls of a catamaran can be connected by simple netting, or elaborate structures that offer increased cabin or cargo space. The catamaran’s multi-hull design offers a few advantages. These advantages include;
- Better handling/easier steering
- Most types of catamarans have more room than single hulled boats
- Because of their design they are typically faster than other boats in the same class
- You can beach them
There is evidence that catamarans were built and used by ancient peoples throughout the world, especially in the pacific. Their sturdy design allowed these ancient people to travel great distances. There is no record of their use in Europe until 1662, but they were still not widely used in the west until the late 1800’s.
The first known catamarans were developed in the Pacific. More specifically, they were used by the Austronesian peoples in the areas including Madagascar, Polynesia, and Southeast Asia. The English adventurer, William Dampier, encountered these people in the late 1600’s and brought word of the strange vessels back to Europe.
The technology didn’t catch on in the west until the late 1800’s. Once sailors in Europe and America understood the benefits of the catamaran, they began to use them extensively.
Other than William Dampier and the early Austronesian people, there are many names that helped to spread the word and use of catamarans.
- William Petty designed the first, documented, European, double hulled boat, in 1662.
- Mayflower F. Crisp built a two hulled merchant ship in the late 1800’s. It was described as “a fast sailing, fine, sea boat”.
- In 1876 Nathanael Herreshoff registered a U.S patent for his double hulled craft which was named Amaryllis. This boat performed so well that catamarans were banned from regular sailing races for almost 100 years.
- In 1936 Eric de Bisschop built a catamaran in Hawaii and sailed it to his home, in France.
There are many people who have contributed to catamaran technology throughout the centuries. These are just a few that we decided to highlight.
Catamarans have their roots in antiquity, but the design is so effective that they are still used extensively today. Catamarans offer increased stability, great steering and handling, and the ability to beach them (lay ashore in shallow water).
The Austronesian people understood how a double hulled craft would offer important advantages when sailing the seas. The technology allowed them to safely reach islands that were very far away, and almost impossible to reach on other types of ships. Though it took centuries for the western world to adopt this clearly advantageous maritime technology, the catamaran eventually became a staple of the sailing world. Today, catamarans come in all shapes, sizes, speeds, and levels of luxury and can be found all over the world.