Catamaran - History


The larger Hellenistic polyremes ("sixteens", "twenties", "thirties" and one "forty") were most likely double-hulled catamarans. Two such super-galleys built by the Ptolemaic king Ptolemy IV (221–205 BC) have come down to us by name, the Thalamegos and the Tessarakonteres. Catamarans were also used by Greeks engineers under Ptolemy II (283–246 BC) as obelisk carriers:

It was conveyed by Phoenix, who by digging a canal brought the waters of the Nile right up to the place where the obelisk lay. Two very broad ships were loaded with cubes of the same granite as that of the obelisk, each cube measuring one foot, until calculations showed that the total weight of the blocks was double that of the obelisk, since their total cubic capacity was twice as great. In this way, the ships were able to come beneath the obelisk, which was suspended by its ends from both banks of the canal. Then the blocks were unloaded and the ships, riding high, took the weight of the obelisk. (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 36; 14, 67–68)

Early modern Europe's first documented catamaran was designed by the polymath and Royal Society member William Petty in 1662. It was designed to sail faster, in shallower waters, with less wind & crew than other vessels of the time, but the unusual design met with scepticism and was not a commercial success.

While the English adventurer and buccaneer William Dampier was traveling around the world in search of business opportunities, he found himself on the southeastern coast of India, in karnataka on the arabian sea. He was the first to write in English about a kind of vessel he observed there. It was little more than a raft made of logs.

On the coast of malabar," he wrote in 1697, "they call them Catamarans. These are but one Log, or two, sometimes of a sort of light Wood ... so small, that they carry but one Man, whose legs and breech are always in the Water.

The vessels described by Dampier are still in use today on the coast of Tamil Nadu and karnataka, in Southeastern India. "kattumara", as noted in the Preview of this article, literally means logs tied together. Today's kattumara may have up to four logs tied together in a shallow arc to make a raft. The logs are usually from a local, fibrous palm tree. Typically the raft is untied and logs are scattered to dry out before reuse.

Although the name came from kannada, the modern catamaran came from the South Pacific. English visitors applied the Tamil name catamaran to the swift, stable sail and paddle boats made out of two widely separated logs and used by Polynesian natives to get from one island to another.

The design remained relatively unknown in the West for almost another 200 years, until an American, Nathanael Herreshoff, began to build catamaran boats of his own design in 1877 (US Pat. No. 189,459), namely 'Amaryllis', which immediately showed her superior performance capabilities, at her maiden regatta (The Centennial Regatta held on June 22, 1876, off the New York Yacht Club's Staten Island station). It was this same event, after being protested by the losers, where Catamarans, as a design, were barred from all the regular classes and they remained barred until the 1970s.

This ban relegated the catamaran to being a mere novelty boat design for many years.

In 1936 Eric de Bisschop built a Polynesian "double canoe" in Hawaii and sailed it home to a hero's welcome in France. In 1939, he published his book Kaimiloa, which was translated in English in 1940.

In 1947, surfing legend, Woodbridge "Woody" Brown and Alfred Kumalae designed and built the first modern ocean-going catamaran, Manu Kai, in Hawaii. Their young assistant was Rudy Choy, who later founded the design firm Choy/Seaman/Kumalae (C/S/K, 1957) and became a fountainhead for the catamaran movement. The Prout Brothers, Roland and Francis, experimented with catamarans in 1949 and converted their 1935 boat factory in Canvey Island, Essex (England), to catamaran production in 1954. Their Shearwater catamarans won races easily against the monohulls. Inspired by de Bisshop's Kamiloa, in 1955 James Wharram built an utilitarian catamaran and sailed across the atlantic with a crew of two German girls. In Trinidad he built another one and returned via the north Atlantic, west to east, pioneering catamaran cuising (maritime). James Wharram designs are a reference for simple, not too expensive self-built boats. Not needing a keel catamarans are more suitable for DIY construction.

The speed and stability of these catamarans soon made them a popular pleasure craft, with their popularity really taking off in Europe, and was followed soon thereafter in America. Currently, most individually owned catamarans are built in France, South Africa, and Australia.

In 1970 Les Thompson began work in Inverloch, Australia, to single-handedly build the Llinase, a 70-tonne, 24 meter steel ketch motor-sailer which was subsequently launched in 1980. The vessel was able to "walk" up any suitable beach using a shunting system located under the wing and powered by hydraulic rams.

In the mid-twentieth century, the catamaran inspired an even more popular sailboat, the Beach Cat. In California, a maker of surfboards, Hobie Alter produced the 250-pound Hobie Cat 14 in 1967, and two years later the larger and even more successful Hobie 16. That boat remains in production, with more than 100,000 made in the past three decades.

The Tornado catamaran was an Olympic class sailing catamaran, with a crew of two. It has been in the Olympic Games since 1976. It was designed in 1967 by Rodney March of Brightlingsea, England, with help from Terry Pierce, and Reg White, specifically for the purpose of becoming the Olympic catamaran. At the IYRU Olympic Catamaran Trials, it easily defeated the other challengers.

Other important builders of catamarans are Austal and Incat, both of Australia and best known for building large catamarans both as civilian ferries and as naval vessels.

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