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My Experience with NZ Cat1 (Leopard 48 Catamaran)

After some reflection and experience, I have a progression of opinion on the NZ CAt1 process, which I will layout below, but first, for the un-initiated, let me explain a bit of what CAT1 is, and why it should matter to you.

It should be no surprise to anyone in the marine industry, in whatever capacity; racer, cruiser, sail or power boats, that New Zealand is a world leader in almost all areas. From the significant passages of the ancestors of all her Citizens of different races and tribes: long, dangerous ocean passages were a pre-requisite to enjoying the fruits of the land of the Long White Cloud.

The pacific ocean north of New Zealand is sometimes referred to a black hole, that has swallowed up many sailors, experienced and inexperienced alike. While modern technological advancement has improved weather prediction and navigation, we still see even very recently, disasters at sea, that could have been avoided.

Given the collective maritime experience that New Zealand has, the limited Navy and rescue craft and personnel comparatively, not to mention the high costs of ocean rescues, you can see how the NZ CAT1 (Offshore Safety Regulations) came about. Not to mention, with the greatest respect, the ocean tragedies that in a large part formed the regulations by plugging gaps and improving the operations of offshore vessels.

So while the CAT1 regulations only apply to NZ registered boats (which I will cover in a little more detail later), I think it could provide a good framework for any responsible yachtie, with ocean crossing aspirations.

I recall when considering the current boat that we now own, a 2018 Leopard 48, speaking to a few trusted confidants, who were experienced cruisers, and even proud Leopard Catamaran (former) owners. They expressed some reservations on the Leopard 48, due to the (formerly in my mind) controversial front cockpit design, and its suitability for Southern Ocean crossings, and CAT1 suitability. I did my research on this, I spoke to delivery skippers currently employed and formerly employed (to get as much of a non-biased review as I could), and all of them expressed no safety or operation concern at all, with the front cockpit, or its draining capacity.

Also, almost universally, all current and former owners of this vessel that I had spoken to, loved the boat. I too even after only having lived on ARGO NZ for a few months, can see why. She is a solidly built and very comfortable, airy vessel, and has held up very well on my albeit limited, ocean passages so far ( A rather small but growing 1600NM).

While this could start sounding like a paid promotion (it isn't) the details are pertinent to my specific experience with CAT1 and the associated focus of safety on ARGO NZ.

I bought a near new boat, what could I possibly need to do to improve her safety?

Well as it turns out, quite a bit, from the perspective of NZ CAT1 safety inspectors, and specific to our situation of course.

Herewith a list of the things we needed to do:

  • Service Life raft (no small feat for a 8 man Viking , which needs to be removed and transported to the test site, and re-mounted on the boat. Not to mention a fairly significant cost, close to the new price of a similar unit)

  • Have available a storm headsail. Made of a significantly tougher material than the factory Genoa we had on our headsail furler. The fact that we had no spare headsail, which we agreed was a risk - our friendly sailmakers; South Pacific Canvas and executed by UK Sailmakers (NZ) came up with a hybrid headsail, capable of providing some redundancy if needed, heavy air and reefable, into a dedicated storm sail.

  • Reef 3 in Main. Technically NZ law requires a Tri-Sail, but given we have a large catamaran, this wasn't an applicable ruling, as the effect is minimal on our particular vessel. ARGO NZ came with a deep 2nd Reef in the main, which wasn't quite up to the standard required, which is to reduce the main sufficiently, to expose only 35% of the full surface area.

  • Education Both Michelle and I were required to take a Advanced Medical training Course, and an Ocean Survival Course. Good value on both, we would have done this regardless, but still, a requirement for Cat1, and a not insignificant cost.

  • Experienced Crew on 1st Passage This was an insurance requirement also, and could have been a real challenge to find someone to crew for us - especially as we needed to quarantine together in Fiji. This is always a tricky situation, as crew can make or break a passage as I am told, however, we were very fortunate to get 3x crew members to join us and helped us on our trip.

  • Misc Equipment There was a fair list of miscellaneous equipment we needed, from the more significant like a drogue and sea anchor, to new and current flares, flags and buckets. A second horseshow bouy, danbouy and connected lights. I chose a drogue and sea anchor (2 separate and dedicated devices) from Fiorentino, who I was impressed by their thorough testing and deployment instructional content, not to mention the product performance.

  • Window Shutters This is a recent ruling, brought about in a large part from the tragic sinking of SV Essence in New Zealand in 2019. This was probably our most challenging requirement, as we were essentially forging the precedent with our particular design of boat. The New shape Leopards to our knowledge, had not undergone NZ Cat1 certification previously, and there was no referral designs to leverage. Thanks to some practical application of the ruling, and design ideas from SV Keffi, and final design and execution from Chris at NZ Stainless - who reinforced the front facing salon window, internally, and locked in place with a couple tabs, externally. The final result was a far cry from our earlier worried preconceptions, about hanging plywood shutters outside our main salon window, which would have been an eyesore of dubious effect. We now have something, which has improved our safety significantly, as well as the aesthetics of the vessel, which is a welcome bonus.

  • Admin We created several Standard Operating Procedures for the vessel, created a diagram of the vessel with key locations of safety relevant components, such as fire extinguishers, thru-hulls and bilges. The SOP's contained procedures relevant to storm management, reefing, and disaster management, including liferaft deployment, putting our training courses to practical use.

This ended up being a much more significant process than we had initially expected, and there were many times where we were discouraged, and lost morale because of it. However, coming through it now, validates our decision, as new sailors (with young children) that for the most part, these are good ideas. Even though there is an impression that the regulations are a one size fits all, and may not fit everyone's situation perfectly - with some practical application and assessment of the overall ability of the vessel and crew, the inspectors do a great job in getting this right.

This was brought quite clearly into focus, on our passage from NZ to Fiji. We had made good time to Fiji, and entered the trades and South Pacific Convergence Zone, which whipped around the South West corner of Viti Levu - Fijis main island. This created 40+ knots on our beam and combined with confused seas of approx 3m+ waves, a challenging situation for new sailors. We decided we needed to slow down sufficiently to make the main pass into Fiji during daylight, so we made the decision to deploy the drogue. I believe I have covered this in a little more detail, including a video of the deployment in an earlier blog post, but the feeling of control and safety that this device provides, when running with the weather cannot be understated. It is unlikely that we would have purchased this device without the influence of Cat1, and while we were not in any danger necessarily, those conditions can become dangerous should you encounter any failures or make mistakes. Having made the investment in the safety of ARGO NZ and her crew already, gave the piece of mind required to be able to have the confidence to use the knowledge and components, in any situation in the future.

Lastly, the elephant in the room with Cat1 I feel, as was made clear to us by many parties during the process, was why? Why register your boat in NZ, and be forced to do this, expensive (and some may feel, pedantic) process?

Well firstly, the Ships Act mandates that as New Zealanders purchasing a boat in NZ (and for Cat1 specifically - for the intention of offshore passage), we are legally obligated to. How effectively this is monitored or enforced, is not really of our concern, but it does leave a bit of a perceived loophole I feel. To be clear, I am not an advocate for increased regulation, I prefer to remain responsible for my own actions and be accountable to them. In this case, I felt the Cat1 process gave me the framework that I needed, given my relative inexperience, which I leveraged and appreciated. It could be improved with a bit more clarity on how it applies, and to the specific audience it was intended for, but I have faith that this will continue to be improved upon.

Written from the relative safety of a calm bay in Fiji :)

Image content of products and process:

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1 Comment

Colleen Thorne
Colleen Thorne
Sep 03, 2021

Loving my armchair travels and better understanding of all the creativity needed to make it right, as you have done. Well done and hope you keep enjoying the sailing life. Look forward to the updates.

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