When the time comes for Boat of the Year judge Chuck Allen to test the RS Cat 14XL, he jumps on board and quickly organizes ropes and control lines before cinching the chin strap of his goofy hat with a long neck flap. He pushes off from the Highfield RIB and looks upwind for the next big gust. The catamaran’s tall heavy-duty mainsail fills, and he leans forward, snugs the jib sheet and jets away, with rooster tails spitting from the roto-molded transoms of the catamaran. Soon, the weather hull is skimming above the surface and the boat is in perfect balance. Flying along at speed with ease and grace, Allen’s cap flap is streaming behind his head. He’s perched in the weather hull’s concave seat, comfy and cruising with a cool-guy cat-sailor pose.
He’s digging the experience, as is RS Sailing representative and professional cat sailor Todd Riccardi, who says the $11,000 RS Cat 14XL is a recreational beach cat that’s not just for youth sailors. It’s big fun for big kids too. “It has a sweet groove upwind,” Allen says. “For a 14-foot roto-molded boat, it really hums along. I had no problem climbing to weather once it got going, and when you get the weight in the right place, the weather hull just skimming, it’s really fast.”
Recreational sailing is RS Sailing’s wheelhouse, so much of the design and hardware consideration went toward making the RS Cat 14 a versatile platform to start with. The standard boat has a main and jib, and the XL brings a spinnaker, trapezes and a lot more sizzle. Its wave-piercing bows work excellent in short chop, so it’s a forgiving ride, and an aluminum spreader bar prevents the bows from flexing, a problem common to catamarans. If there’s one thing to be said of the boat, Stewart says, it’s that it’s stiff. Integration of the crossbeams and reinforcements at load-bearing locations in the hulls keeps it all tight.
Rigging the boat and handling the sail controls is child’s play. With a single-line hoist for the spinnaker, you simply pull the halyard a few times, and up it goes. Same in reverse. Simple 2-to-1 jib sheets, spinnaker sheets and a 6-to-1 cunningham will keep a forward crew entertained while the skipper has a mainsheet and traveler led from the aft beam.
The traveler can essentially be left alone, Allen says, because fun is apparent-wind sailing. With the Cat 14XL, you’ll be sailing higher angles, so you can set and forget it — most of the time. Judge Tom Rich learned this on his first go. Downwind, in strong breeze, if you ease the main too far, bad things happen. Things like pitch-poles. “If you ease the main too much downwind, it pressures the top of the sail and encourages a pitch-pole,” Riccardi says.
After being plucked from the water, Rich confesses that his “epic capsize” only happened because he was hot-dogging for his fellow judges.
“It’s a fun boat to sail,” he says. “I think I had it going upwind pretty good, with the hull up and going really fast. It feels great. But downwind, I struggled to find a comfortable place to drive and trim the chute at the same time. With practice, I’m sure I would be much better. It’s well laid out, easy to sail and peppy enough in the light winds.
Rich’s capsize recovery, however, is a challenge for the team’s senior judge. He douses the spinnaker from the water, climbs on board and hangs like hell on the righting line, with no avail. The flotation pod at the top of the aluminum mast is doing its job, preventing the boat from turtling. He tries righting it several times more before resorting to sliding back into the water and swimming the bows into the wind. Problem solved.
When it’s his turn, Allen keeps the boat upright, and only relinquishes the helm when forced to do so. “I can see someone going out and sailing this boat all day long,” he says. “When it’s windy, you’re going to want to sail it all day long, just sending it. Even with just the main and jib, it’s plenty fast. You really don’t even need to hike, so you don’t have to work hard to go fast. Just play the sail, lock it in and fly hull.”