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29 Dec 2006 - Kyle - Background - why the Gemini?

Maryanne & I bought Prydwen, our Tartan 30 in early 2003 which we had planned to live aboard for the foreseeable future. She was a beautiful, gleaming boat, lovingly restored to perfect condition by her previous owners, the Babins. We sailed her from Port Stanley, Ontario to Norfolk, VA between April and July of that year. The Moving Home trip confirmed that beyond just living aboard, we wanted to cruise extensively. We planned to winter in Norfolk, to save some money and outfit the boat before continuing on. Once we arrived and started making lists of what would be needed and how much it would cost, it quickly became apparent that we would need more than one winter to complete and pay for the refit; we would need two, maybe even three. We paid off the debt for Prydwen (we were broke when we bought her) and started chipping away at the list.


In October of 2004 we planned to sail the Chesapeake Bay from North to South. To get to the northern end, rather than sail up the bay, we decided to sail off shore between the Chesapeake Bay entrance and the Delaware Bay entrance, and then up the Delaware Bay to the C&D Canal. This would allow us to get some offshore time and to get used to standing watches, something we had done in pre-Prydwen sailing as well as the first trip to Norfolk. On the day of departure the forecast was winds NE 25-30 knots, seas 9-11 feet, winds shifting to the south, decreasing 15-20 knots seas decreasing to 5-7 feet within 12 hours. We put a reef in our 125% jib, 2 reefs in the main, and headed out. We wanted to test our new gear and get in some more heavy weather experience. We would sail close hauled on a port tack to get far offshore then as the wind backed we would be able to curve NW towards Cape Henlopen and eventually ease the sheets and enjoy a fast broad reach into Delaware Bay. As we exited the Chesapeake and passed out of the protection of the eastern shore of Virginia the wind and waves increased, and the ride became very rough. The boat was moving fast. Every 3rd or 4th wave would hit us with more violence than the others, pounding, then soaking us. We eagerly waited for the weather to abate.

The second day was miserable. Before coming on watch, after sleeping on the floor over the keel, I listened to the fading NOAA weather broadcast. The winds were now predicted to continue out of the NE 30-35 knots, seas 14-18 feet, shifting in 24 hours. I stuck my head out of the companionway. Looked about right! Maryanne looked both exhausted and relieved that I was ready to take over. Conditions were worse than the day before. We decided to tack, hoping we could lay a course to the Delaware Bay entrance, but we ended up being way short, so we returned back to port tack, and continued further off shore. By the time Maryanne went off watch that night, the weather seemed to be getting even worse. Our close hauled heading was still unchanged and we were well out of range of NOAA broadcasts. Maryanne had to time her decent into the cabin so as not to bring a wave in behind her. We decided we were very happy with the new spray dodger. That night was lonely and uncomfortable. Every now and then a wave would hit that would make the boat shake and flex and reverberate. A few seconds later a wall of water would come rushing down the deck and slam into me before pouring into the cockpit and off the stern. The wind screamed at me from the rigging and every now and then a loud gust would send a little shiver down my spine. Clouds had obscured the night sky so the only lights I could see were the reflections off the running lights and the dancing compass. Every now and then I would catch a glimpse of the bioluminescent crest of a wave much higher than I would have liked it to be, and felt grateful that it was dark and I could not see the rest. I wanted to tack again, but decided to wait until daylight so I could find a good lull between waves and so I could have Maryanne’s help.

When I went off watch, I will never forget Maryanne’s face lit up by the compass light. She was concentrating on the compass and steering a straight course (these conditions overwhelmed our auto pilot). She looked a lot calmer than I am sure either of us felt. She knew that our lives were in her hands and that she had a job to do, so she set about doing it. I was so glad to be in her capable hands. The inside of the boat was a huge mess. We had done a very good job of stowing everything based on our experience with lots of weekend sailing. The difference now was that with weekend sailing we could put off repairs, cooking, clothing changes – almost everything – until we were safely at anchor.

At sea however we had to try to continue day to day functions while heeled 25-30°. While it was possible to boil a kettle or make soup on the gimbaled stove, anything else more complicated was impossible because bracing against the heel required the use of at least one hand at all times. Our storage was also not great as it seemed that everything we needed was either under or behind something else. There simply was not enough area available to put everything to hand. Items that were pulled out with one hand had to be stowed with one hand. Bins, stowage tubs, and shelves quickly became overwhelmed and eventually, everything migrated to an ever increasing pile on the floor, becoming a trip hazard. Adding to the mess was that the bilge water sloshed up the slides of the hull, away from the pump, coming over floor boards and even from behind the counter at times. I figured the mess would take two days to clean up, once the weather cleared, which wasn’t looking like it was going to happen any time soon. Back on watch a few hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, sailing through the dark storm, I had time to think and ask myself whether I honestly thought I could live like this for the 20 or 30 days needed to cross the Atlantic to the other side. The uncomfortable answer was no.

I don’t mind bad weather within reason – it is nice to have a challenge every now and then – but living inside a washing machine can be very stressful and fatiguing after days of doing it. I thought to myself that there must be a better way of doing this. I thought about a trawler, for about half a second, and dismissed it as too expensive, loud, smelly…. well everything really. I thought about chartering after flying across, but I would never have the money to do it more than a couple of weeks a year – not nearly enough for my needs. I thought maybe I should just stay near-coastal and inshore, but the problem was that I really wanted to go to places only accessible by crossing long stretches of ocean by boat. I also wanted to see the middle of the ocean from my own boat. I wanted to be able to know the distances not a movies or naps on a plane, but as miles crawled across the entire surface on my own boat. I wanted to feel how far apart these places really were.

I thought and thought, and could not think of a good solution to the problem. Then from deep inside my brain I remembered a story from Adlard Coles’ “Heavy Weather Sailing” about a catamaran caught in a storm in the Bay of Biscay - when the weather got really bad, they hove to and went inside to play cards and bake bread while waiting it out. They mentioned the noise of the storm being very bad, but nothing about the motion of the boat in the storm – a Catamaran! Maybe that was it! When I first became serious about the idea of living on a boat a friend of mine, Geoffrey, said that I should buy a catamaran. One look at prices then quickly convinced me that catamarans were out of my price range and probably always would be. As a result every time I had any contact with one, I would not give it any more than passing attention because I didn’t think it was an option that would ever be available to me. That night at sea, I started recalling these contacts and rolling them around in my mind again.
Boat in Trees after Hurricane Isabel - September 2003

After Maryanne and I had rode out hurricane Isabel on Prydwen we were stuck with several other boats behind a draw bridge with no power to open. Two of these boats were catamarans. The first one we were invited aboard (Folie-a-deux #563) I realized much later was a Gemini, but thinking it was out of my reach, I didn’t bother to take note of the make at the time. I remember thinking that the boat was a palace compared to ours. Maryanne didn’t even want to go aboard for fear of falling in love with it and subsequently becoming dissatisfied with anything we could afford. A couple of days later while rowing the dinghy around the anchorage, looking at a boat that had ended up propped between trees, I was visited by the French crew of a large catamaran anchored nearby who were keeping an eye on the treed boat for a friend. They invited me for a glass of wine on their boat. While taking the tour I noticed a magnum of Champagne sitting on a tiny table that had only about an inch of space on either side of the base of the upright bottle. “You’ll want to stow that before you go to sea again” I observed. “Actualee, we ‘ad a bet” the Frenchman retorted. “When we left France, we put this bottle ‘ere and we guess wiz each ozzar when it will fall. No one wins ze bet, it never move, all ze way from France”. I thought he was pulling my leg, but he assured me he was not. I thought about this that night and wondered if there would be any way that a catamaran might be possible for us, or even if it was a good idea to begin with. I needed more information to know for sure. But I was way out at sea, in a storm, and had other things that I needed to be worried about.

When Maryanne came on watch the next morning we tacked towards shore and then discussed catamarans as a possible solution to our problem. Neither of us knew nearly enough to even understand the problem fully, much less decide if it was a good idea. We became so hungry for information that by the time we landed in Baltimore three days later, our first order of business was to get to a book store and find any information about catamarans. Most mentions of multihulls were in books written by monohull sailors, who clearly had a very thinly veiled irrational mistrust or dislike of multihulls. The argument seemed to be that since they are not self righting like monohulls, they cannot under any circumstances be trusted to remain upright for any period of time. A multihull sailor who leaves his boat at a slip to go buy a bag of groceries should not be at all surprised upon returning that their boat is floating upside down in the slip because, as the refrain went, “they just flip over”. Even I could tell that this was not an example of a rigorous, logical reasoning process, but rather someone trying to rationalize a pre-existing dislike of the type. I wanted hard objective information.

I had only known monohulls and had loved them, but I was also interested in knowing if a catamaran was a reasonable solution that had heretofore been ignored. We went on line and ordered several books about the subject and did a great deal of research. We determined that the catamaran idea had merit, but we still weren’t sure if we could afford it, nor whether a catamaran would be of enough benefit to us to justify the extra resources (and time) to get one.

On the way back to Norfolk, we were in Solomon’s Island, looking at a Gemini (Garfield #703 - David & Diane Amodio) from a few feet off their dock when the owners noticed us hovering there and invited us to tie up and come aboard. We were kindly given the full tour (this time Maryanne came with). Our questions were graciously answered and we learned a great deal from the visit. Maryanne noticed the non-gimbaled stove and remarked that a gimbaled one would be needed for any serious offshore work. The owner politely chuckled and explained to us that on a catamaran a gimbaled stove was unnecessary. They said that in the time they had owned the Gemini, there was only one time that they had not been able to set a drink down on any nearby flat surface and find it there when they wanted it; That was when they had been at sea for several days and thought they hit a whale.

After arriving in our home slip our first order of business was to check the mail for the books we had ordered. Over the next few weeks we studied hard and gained a much better understanding of the mono v. multihull problem. It became apparent that in most sea states catamarans weren’t necessarily more or less safe than monohulls, just different. It was important to know that a multihull should be sailed like a multihull and a monohull should be sailed like a monohull. An SUV will not go around a corner as fast as a sports car, but it will give you a lot better warning before it finally loses its grip on the road. Knowledge of the limitations and characteristics of what you are operating is the key to staying safe in either vehicle. As we learned more about catamarans we also became aware of many other advantages to the type, particularly for cruisers. We became convinced that the reasons we weren’t seeing them everywhere was the price, the appearance, and perhaps a little personal prejudice of the type mentioned above. We started looking at specific catamarans with the intent of figuring out if we could find one that would suit our purposes, and that we could also afford.

The more we searched, the more we kept finding ourselves back at the Gemini as a solution. We even got to where we were being biased and deliberately tried to exclude Geminis but try as we might we still found ourselves coming back. In November of that year (2004), I want sailing on PCI’s demo Gemini with Will and was very pleased with the boat. (PCI, Performance Cruising Inc, is the designer & manufacturer of the Gemini – headed by Tony Smith – another Brit!). Will and I managed to outrun and outpoint a monohull of similar length and all with the boat as comfortably level as if it had been sitting quietly in the anchorage after a brisk sail. Pricing was still a problem. Most catamarans in the upper 30 to lower 40 foot range go for pretty close to half a million dollars, which would have meant by the time we could afford one, we would be too old to want to use it. We had a few options in the lower 30 foot range: the Tomcat 9.7 is only CE category C certified (protected waters) which eliminated it right away; we had heard and read nothing but bad things about the inexpensive South African cats. This basically left the choice between the Gemini and the slightly more expensive Maine Cat 30 - a little more research revealed that it would be more expensive to outfit after purchase than the Gemini.

The Gemini however, was still going for more than we ever planned on spending for a boat. The traditional strategy for dealing with this, which works very well in monohulls, is to keep looking at boats that are smaller and smaller and/or older and older, until reaching your budget. We did this when purchasing Prydwen and were able to find a smaller, fairly old boat in beautiful condition for not too much money. There are a few reasons this strategy does not work well with catamarans: catamaran hulls are narrower than monohulls which means that once the length gets much below 30 feet, the hulls become too narrow for any usable accommodation, effectively making the boat a sit-on-top type, fun, but unsuitable for living aboard or long-range cruising. Catamarans of the modern type are a relatively recent innovation, made possible by fiberglass technology and modern lightweight production techniques. Many early catamarans were experimental, one off, or home built boats with widely varying building standards or quality. It has only been within the last decade or so that manufacturers have been able to build catamarans in large enough quantities to have refined, efficient, and effective production techniques and good quality control. We eventually realized that if we were going to get a catamaran, we would have no choice but to pay the increased price. After looking at Geminis specifically we decided we wanted a 105M or newer model because of the new hull shape and safety features. Older 105M or 105Mc boats hold their value very well, and a well equipped boat sells for about what a standard new boat goes for.

The problem is that many Geminis are equipped for marina living, or power intensive short range cruising which tends to make their equipment lists unsuitable for Maryanne’s and my intended purpose. We compared the price of outfitting a few used boats with the cost of getting a new one outfitted just the way we like, and were surprised to find the price difference was usually very small. New boats also have the added benefit of a known maintenance and usage history (just how many times has the engine been run hard without warming it up properly?).

The Gemini became the lead boat on our list of possibilities but there were still some nagging questions we had about its suitability for blue water cruising. At the Gemini 25th anniversary celebration we met Jose Vidal. His account of rounding Cape Horn on his Gemini (surprisingly calm) including being hit by a tremendous storm on the way back (most definitely not calm) and his confidence in his boat, convinced us once and for all that the Gemini was the right choice for us. We made one attempt to get financing but after getting the run around from the bank about being live-aboards and not spending money on expensive stuff we didn’t need (after all we were saving hard for a Gemini) we eventually gave up and decided to save up the amount ourselves. The difference between earning income on savings and paying interest on a loan was so large that we found we would actually be able to pay for the boat in full, one year earlier and thus go cruising by saving rather than financing. The intervening years were very difficult for us. With no actual boat to prepare, the only thing we could do was save every penny possible, and wait……. And wait… and wait. We sailed Prydwen almost every weekend, and on vacations but I could not get the thought out of my mind that I really wanted to go cruise. Really cruise. Without having to turn around and come back the next day.

Jose Vidal talks about his trip to Cape Horn in his Gemini

The bank account accumulated nicely but our day to day lives remained unchanged from one week to the next. We lived on as little as we could, on the same boat, in the same slip, in the same marina. Apart from the moments that we checked the accounts it was easy to feel that nothing had happened since we had decided to get the Gemini so long ago. I felt like a kid on Christmas eve agonizing as the clock slowly plodded out the seconds until the next day. As we approached the magic number it was so hard to resist the temptation to jump the gun and just take off with what we had at the time, but knew in the end we would regret it if we didn’t wait. We kept an eye out for a used Gemini going for less than it was worth, hoping we might get lucky and find an especially good deal. About a year before we were supposed to be able to order a boat from PCI, we found a Gemini for sale by someone we knew who had bought his boat a year earlier, equipped it very nicely, realized his wife did not like to sail and was just trying to unload the boat quickly, even if it meant a loss. By the time we responded to the ad, we were already the backup buyer. That boat eventually sold to another buyer, but the experience of waiting for the sale, got us thinking about the benefits of getting a boat early (if we could). We would be able to outfit over a longer, more leisurely period of time and we would have plenty of opportunity to operate the boat and its systems, learn its quirks and work out any bugs that inevitably arise on new boats. We also would not have to have a gap between selling Prydwen (in the spring when people want to buy boats) and moving aboard Footprint. There would be no need to rent a room or an apartment for a few months at great expense. The new plan would allow us to move directly from one boat to another which would be easier both logistically and emotionally. Maryanne and I have lived aboard for several years now and have thought about nothing but boats. Moving onto land seemed unnatural and unwanted to us – a backwards step. I worked and reworked, and reworked the numbers, trying to figure out a combination that would get us on to the boat early. I tried rearranging any factors that I could think of: price increases, inflation, money saved on rent, taxes, outfitting early or late… everything. Try as I might, I could not make the numbers work, although we were a lot close than I had expected. We still might be able to get the boat a little earlier than originally planned. Then the stock market had a really good day. The entire boat fund shot way up, I reworked the numbers again and figured out that if we got our money out that day we would just be able to afford the boat immediately.

I found myself more nervous than elated as I was still worried that something would step in and prevent it from happening: our stock market gains would be a typo; PCI would raise its prices; I messed up a calculation and was really way off. It was not until all that money sat safely in our savings account that I knew we really could do it. Maryanne sent an e-mail to PCI briefly explaining that we were in the market for one of their boats and gave them my phone number. On Monday November 6th 2006, while sitting in our neighbor Angie’s boat, I got a call from Sue Smith and setup an appointment to place an order for our new boat.

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