Seeing stars – why do I love my Gemini?

Affordable Gemini catamarans are designed by British boat builder Tony Smith, who established his company Performance Cruising in the USA and went on to build more than 1000 of this production boat. They have become one of the most popular cruising catamarans in the USA.

My partner Simon and I have lived aboard our Gemini, Ebb Tide, for four years. As with living in a house experience has illuminated some issues as well as nurturing our affection for and appreciation of our floating home.

Ebb Tide is a baby among catamarans, we have been invited aboard many that are larger and far more grand. Yet for two people Ebb Tide has been a comfortable home and reliable sailing boat. Ebb Tide is 15 years old so it is not surprising that newer Geminis have some changes and improvements.

While many Gemini catamarans have crossed oceans, we know of one that has circumnavigated the globe, we have found Ebb Tide to be perfect for coastal cruising. We can enter and anchor in shallow bays and estuaries as well as venturing inland up rivers, without needing to be greatly concerned about the depth. This is fantastic in the far north in cyclone season as we are able to go much further into mangrove creeks and enter smaller, shallower creeks than many boats, which reduces the potential danger posed by other boats breaking free from their ropes.

Ebb Tide is usually more heavily loaded than would be the case if we just sailed on weekends. Catamarans are often admired for the speed but we do not break any records. In a good wind we travel at six to eight knots and we are happy with this. We have gone quite a bit faster than this (up to 13 knots in strong winds) but find it is less comfortable so not as enjoyable. We are cruisers after all.

Features

Three cabins: one queen forward and two comfortable single aft cabins, these are advertised as ¾ double but they are only comfortable for one person.

Bathroom head in forward port hull. Galley in starboard hull/saloon.

One inboard 20 kilowatt Westerbeke diesel engine is connected to a retractable drive leg. We have two 65 litre diesel tanks. The engine provides our hot water.

Water storage is two 120 litre tanks, one under each single bunk down aft. We have a gas fridge and a two burner gas stove and oven.

For long term storage there is a large external forward locker and two large rear lockers, plus two smaller cockpit lockers. The adjustable wooden saloon table links up with the saloon bench to convert into another bed.

Love the hammock seat aft.

Two 55 watt solar panels, with the addition of two flexible solar panels, means we now have a total of 350 watts.

Clip-on and zip-up clear plastic covers were supplied with the boat and keep wind and spray out of the cockpit. It does, however, create a greenhouse effect in the heat. In far north Queensland the breeze is welcome so instead we use custom-made covers to protect the boat from the sun when at anchor. These help to keep the interior cooler.

Why we love her

Ebb Tide suits us for many reasons.

There really is no such thing as ‘down below’. The saloon includes the hulls, rather than the hulls being separate caves that you descend into.

The hulls are only three steps down and the galley in the starboard hull is part of the saloon. This spares the cook from feeling like a galley slave and there is a surprising sense of space and openness for a relatively small boat.

Ebb Tide is no wider than some monohulls of similar length, which means we can fit into the cheaper monohull berths in marinas. Though some have remained eager to charge us ‘catamaran prices’.

The retractable drive leg only needs to be in the water when the engine is being used for propulsion and for raising and lowering the dinghy as the davits are above it. Obviously this reduces concerns about electrolysis.

The shallow draft means we can access many shallow creeks and explore places we could not get to in a deeper drafted vessel. The ability to beach the boat also extends possibilities, we have spent many days at large, flat, wide beaches, able to walk ashore at low tide, or wade or swim ashore when the tide is in.

Being able to anchor closer to the beach than boats with deeper draft, including many larger catamarans, means we can anchor ‘at the front of the pack’. In busy anchorages with strong wind such as Watson’s Bay at Lizard Island there is little danger of someone swiping us due to their anchor dragging. Being close to shore also usually means we are better protected from the wind than boats anchored further out.

Our auxiliary motor is the dinghy engine and we have used it to reduce the depth required by the drive leg to creep into particularly shallow bays.

The retractable ‘kick-up’ centerboards and rudders also help to give peace of mind when entering shallow water, without compromising on performance at other times.

Large windows provide ample light and good visibility from inside.

The relatively narrow beam means we have been able to use monohull trolleys for haul-out. This has increased options and reduced cost. For example, Ebb Tide is one of few catamarans to have hauled out at Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron and the relatively inexpensive Coastguard-run trolley at Cooktown.

The narrow beam means added strength: we do not get the flexing between hulls that can be experienced on wider catamarans.

If I had a magic wand …

The narrowness relative to length means Ebb Tide is not as comfortable in rough weather as wider catamarans.

The low bridge deck, while enabling a larger saloon that includes each hull, does mean there is noise of water slapping underneath when there is chop at anchor. Whether this is annoying depends on sensitivity to extraneous noise. For Simon, who lived for a long time in a quiet rural community, this can be a source of irritation. However, having lived for many years in Melbourne beside busy roads and a freeway, I seldom notice it. Even when I do I usually do not find it unpleasant.

To annoy me it has to be windy enough for the boat to be rocking, which is rare as it would mean we are not in a good anchorage or the wind direction has changed and it is time to move.

If the saloon ceiling above the table were higher it would create more space without resulting in much extra windage. This has in fact been done in later model Gemini catamarans. For the statuesque this would definitely be preferable as numerous noggins have connected with the window above the table, though for all of us the additional sense
of space would be welcome.

We have had to replace the Teleflex rudder cables regularly. The port cable has broken three times since we have been on board and we are now quite skilled at replacing it. An advantage of catamarans, however, is that there are two rudder cables, it is possible to rig an emergency steering system using ‘occy’ straps until the cable can be replaced: we returned to Cooktown from the Flinders Islands with occy straps saving the steering.

For cruisers, a good anchor is arguably the most important item on the boat. Soon after moving on board we found the Delta anchor to be less than reliable so we upgraded to a Rocna, in whose good ‘hands’ of which we sleep well at night.

While we have numerous cupboards including two shallow ‘wardrobes’ for the single cabins and a deeper one at the front of the starboard hull, there is limited storage space for living aboard. So, we use one of the single cabins for storage and we are always mindful of not acquiring anything unnecessary.

We would like to be able to carry more food and water for remote cruising and, although so far we have not starved or died of thirst, this concern has caused us to limit how long we plan to be away from ‘civilisation’.

There is no bookshelf! Simon and I have slightly different views regarding books on board. Though I enjoy e-books and they are wonderful on a boat, obviously a small pile of hard-copy books is also absolutely essential. So we use the shelf above the fridge as a makeshift bookshelf and peace reigns.

The bar fridge is not sufficient for remote cruising so we have added a Waeco camping fridge/freezer, which we keep in the spare cabin.

Lifestyle wins

Ebb Tide is a functional boat, not an outrageously aesthetically pleasing one.

We have been on beautifully designed monohulls with rich wood panelling and exquisite lines, plus also some very well-finished catamarans. We go home to a boat that can seem a tad plastic by comparison, though we do have some attractive teak. Yet we find the trade-off of beauty and style for functionality and lifestyle to be worth it.

There is probably no perfect boat but I believe the best philosophy for cruising is to love the boat you are on. Different boats suit different activities, lifestyles and budgets. Choosing a boat that suits the activities and lifestyle you want is a good recipe for great cruising.

There are not many Geminis in Australia, yet they suit our coastline well. For the price and even with the added cost of shipping to Australia and import duty, Ebb Tide has been a very affordable cruising boat for our relatively modest budget.

More information about Gemini catamarans is at: http://geminicatamarans.com

Explainer

The name Total Care can be seen in some photos. For several years Ebb Tide was known by this name as previous owners had changed the name, presumably to reflect the name of their business. We thought ‘total care’ was better suited to toothpaste than a boat, so we recently reverted to the original name, Ebb Tide. A relatively simple process that we hope has appeased rather than angered the gods.

Pantaenius Sailing
Nav at Home
Jeanneau Sun Fast
West Systems 2
Pantaenius Sailing
M.O.S.S Australia
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Multihull Group