A cat in the family
How does a chap persuade a sceptical, never-sailed-before wife with two tiny children that embarking on a three-year, round-the-world cruise is a great idea? A vessel with all the home conveniences helps. Lawrence Schäffler has the story. Pictures supplied.
German couple Tobias and Nicole Janke – and their two girls – pulled into Auckland’s Westhaven marina earlier this year, some two years after starting their voyage in France. Their vessel – Invictus – is the latest-model 16m Lagoon 52 catamaran, a spacious, modern and finely-appointed yacht.
I took the opportunity to quiz them about the decision to sail on a cat with two small children – picking up the boat from the Lagoon factory in Bordeaux, France, sailing her across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific – to fulfil a life-long dream and cruise the world.
With her tall mast, high-sided hulls and 8.74m beam, she’s an imposing sight and sailing her, you’d imagine, would be quite a handful for a relatively-inexperienced couple.
“She’s anything but,” says Tobias. “Yes, she’s a big yacht, but really easy to sail single-handed, and to be honest, she became my most powerful ally in motivating Nicole to buy into the adventure.”
The couple’s cruising decision is all the more intriguing considering they’re both from landlocked Bavaria in Germany. Sailing hadn’t featured in Tobias’ life until he began working in Hong Kong, where a friend introduced him to the sport. Nicole had never set foot on a yacht.
Why a Cat?
Tobias was introduced to sailing on monohulls. Why the shift to a catamaran? “A more pertinent question,” he countered, “is why not a catamaran? Other than occasionally needing a bit more space in a marina – particularly in Europe – I can’t think of a single disadvantage to cruising on a catamaran.”
Nicole offered a more detailed clarification: “I wanted normality – insofar as extended cruising can be called normal! I wanted stability – definitely no heeling – with safety, space and comfort. And all the conveniences you’d find in a modern apartment to cater for a small family. A decent kitchen with a proper fridge/freezer and oven, a dishwasher, washing machine, air-conditioning – and plenty of fresh water.”
“These accessories are all accommodated easily in the Lagoon 52 because she has so much room,” continues Tobias. “Fitting them all into a monohull would require a really, really big boat, with much bigger sails. It would be hard to replicate this cat’s space and equipment on a 52-foot monohull.”
The simplicity of handling Invictus, he adds, comes down to the flybridge concept. “It offers great views – particularly useful when manoeuvring in close quarters – but more importantly all sail controls come back to the helm. Our purchase was guided by a simple philosophy: the boat should be able to be sailed single-handed – and she meets this requirement perfectly.”
Tobias upgraded Invictus’ numerous winches to electric models, particularly useful for eliminating any back-breaking grinding when hoisting the cat’s large, deep-roach main sail.
Simplifying sail-handling further, the Lagoon 52 is equipped with a self-tacking jib – and it’s a decent-sized model thanks to the cat’s much larger fore-triangle. Compared with her predecessor (the Lagoon 500) the 52’s mast has been moved a long way further aft. Where the 500’s mast came through the coachroof at the front of the saloon, the 52’s is near the centre of the saloon.
The larger jib offers a lot more versatility in downwind sailing, but when we want to ‘turbo-charge’ Invictus, says Tobias, we use for the code 0. A further advantage of having the mast further back in the saloon is the uncluttered, panoramic views through the surrounding windows.
Speed, Tobias points out, was another factor favouring their cat decision. “Being able to cruise comfortably at 10 knots makes long ocean passages more palatable – and with her minimal draught she’s ideal for anchoring close to tropical beaches.”
And accessing those beaches, Nicole says, is also a lot easier than with a monohull because Invictus’ inflatable rides aft, on davits between the hulls. “It’s quick to launch and retrieve – so you’re much more likely to respond to a spur-of-the-moment request from the girls for a beach visit.”
All of Invictus’ home conveniences run off 240VAC. They include the dishwasher, washing machine, fridge/freezer, air-conditioning, dive compressor and watermaker. While she carries a generator, the power usually comes from 1,500 amp-hours of batteries via an inverter.
The cat’s powered by twin 75hp Yanmar engines with substantial alternators, but in the tropics the batteries are kept happy feeding off the 1,000-watt array of solar panels.
How have the children coped?
“When we moved on to the boat,” says Nicole, “our youngest had only just started to walk. They are now four and five, and they’ve loved it. They’ve never really known any other home, and we believe this experience is priceless.
“They are both doing correspondence school – but I think a major memory for them will be the friends they’ve made along the way. We’ve come across so many other boats with children aboard. So they’ve had a good social life – at one island there were more than 20 children from the various yachts.”
Accommodation options in the Lagoon 52 are numerous and the Jankes have selected the ‘owner’ version. This sees the entire starboard hull dedicated to a ‘suite’ – with the port hull divided between a forward cabin and a ‘guest’ cabin aft. Each of the port cabins has an en suite bathroom, and the guest cabin has its own, separate entrance from the cockpit.
That guest cabin has seen plenty of use with friends joining the family at various stops along the route. Tobias’ Mum was visiting during the New Zealand stopover. “Until she’d been aboard a few weeks, she couldn’t understand what this ‘sailing’ was all about. She’s been pleasantly surprised, though it’s fair to say she is more in love with New Zealand than with the boat.”
Where to next?
We’re not sure, say the Jankes. “But as any cruiser will tell you, part of the attraction of this lifestyle is not having a schedule or deadline. It’s all very open-ended. Our philosophy is maximising the time in the places we find the most beautiful, rather than completing ocean crossings for the sake of it. The South Pacific is magnificent, and rather than rushing through it, we’ve taken our time and enjoyed it.
And no regrets with the catamaran?
“Not for one second,” says Tobias. “And remember, I know both worlds – a cat is just fantastic and I am a full-blooded convert. For the catamaran sceptics, I would say it might require a mindset shift, but it’s a very easy one.”