I've sailed alot of boats over the years. Each has their own characteristics and is suited to a unique spectrum of sailing. Some are better for light wind, some heavier winds, some turn quicker while others sail faster and so on. The boat you get really depends on you, your skill level and physical attributes and where you will predominatntly sail. And so its hard to pick a favourite, and in an ideal world you would have several boats for the various conditions you would sail in.
I actually got to see a SmartKat this weekend which was great because when I started this business I secured SmartKat distribution rights but then relinquished them because they were not agreeable to me carrying MiniCat's or other catamarans, so seeing one in person for the first time satisfied my curiosity about the brand. So I went on to focus on MiniCat and other brands instead like Tiwal and XCAT.
MiniCat's come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and configurations which was one of the things that drew me towards the brand. This way I could own and provide a different boat to different people depending on their conditions, circumstances and environment.
In Toronto we are not graced with strong winds and more often than not we suffer through light wind doldrums. The MiniCat 460 has a much bigger sail area and is boomless like the Olympic Nacra boats making it ideal for these conditions. It's long and narrow airplane wing-like sail is great at harnessing light wind yet still staying controlled in heavier winds and gists. The boom-less design is clean, safe and efficient. Even though 20-30% bigger than the 420 it is only about 5% heavier overall. This boat was flying in the lightest of breeze.
I also liked that it turned incredibly easy for a catamaran. The blades on the bottom of the hull are nicely positioned in the middle which provides an effective pivot point making tacks fast, effortless and consistent. Turns also take place in tight, short radius and had their been waves it would have been effective in catching and riding surf. The blades are also a decent enough size that it points well, but I found that tweaking the rig tension got the jib luff tauter and able to point even better.
I also like the way the hulls bend and absorb the chop. It gives a lot of confidence knowing you are unlikely to pitch pole but also makes the ride very comfortable and stable. By reducing bounce it is very effective in maintaining laminar air flow over the sail. I find many rigid hulled boats bounce in the chops and wind flow stalls making sailing slow and tacking arduously difficult. Some cats actually require you to sail backwards to tack them in certain conditions. In the MiniCats I am able to tack while maintain excellent speed.
I didn't get to try the downwind genoa but can't wait to do so. Most boats do not perform well further a lee than a broad reach but adding an asymmetrical sail does wonders... and the MiniCat 460 is the only portable sailboat that offers this feature. I imagine the experience will be exhilarating in the least.
I also love the build quality. The tolerances are incredibly tight a sign of the manufacturer's 10 years of experience in designing and building portable sailboats. The components are top quality throughout and easy to rig, adjust, use and maintain. There are a couple of things I would have done differently but then again I am also an engineer at heart and have an opinion on how I would have done everything or anything differently. The 460 is a great boat over all and built very well.
The cleats are abundant and positioned well well to be handy and effective. All lines were neatly laid out and stowed. There is a pouch and tie down spots for your lines making the sailing environment clean and well organized. The hiking straps are nylon mesh like and I do wish they were padded for that extra comfort but they were adjustable and worked well. I love getting my feet under the straps and leaning backwards, arching my back to dunk my upside down head in the water as I sail and the straps provided me the sure footing needed to do this maneuver.
I didn't get to try righting her from a capsize but I think the kiting lines will be effective as they come from around the hull and appear as if they would provide excellent leverage. I do wish MiniCat had a mast head float option though. However you should be able to rig a pool noodle to the top of the sail as a custom mod for this purpose.
This boat is very light and I was able to rig, launch and sail her solo but ideally it is intended for double handing. If you are smaller in stature or have less experience you should go with the 420 or 310. But for me, the 460 was great. I sailed the 460 in light to moderate winds and while the sail shape is great at spilling wind and handling gusts all sails have wind ranges, so solo sailing in heavier winds using this larger sail may not be ideal even though the boat does come with a jib furler. So if you sail in very windy places like Chicago or South Africa, the 420 might be the better choice for you.
One option is you own several boats so you can sail in different conditions, but this is not feasible for most people. The dream of one boat for all conditions is an elusive one. So to address this I did something unique, I rigged the 420 sail and boom on the 460 to see if it would work. Why? Simple really, in heavier wind days I could just use a smaller sail and maybe achieve the dream of 1 boat for most or all conditions.
Let's be clear, the manufacturer does not recommend this but I wanted to try for myself ... and ... it worked! Next I want try the 310 sail but I don't foresee any issues there either. I did this because I wanted to see if I could only own and travel with just 1 boat... could I own a 460 with 3 different sails for different conditions - and I think I can.
Again -- this is not recommended by the manufacturer who does not certify it for this use but me personally, for myself only, I believe one of the things about owning boats, cars or other gear is tinkering and trying new things. With proper caution of course and while accepting responsibility for one's owns actions, this is how innovation happens. Im sure the Wright brothers used wheels from bicycles that were not certified for other uses. So if this is something you try please understand you do so of your own accord, at your own risk and accepting responsibility for your own actions. Neither myself, Mystic Point Water Sports or the manufacturer, MiniCat, are responsible for how you use or rig your boat and litigiously speaking you should follow all instructions and you are responsible for your own actions.
So for myself, talking responsibility for my own actions, this is something I wanted to try. Ive tweaked many boats and have always looked to ways I can enhance the experience. If it works, the ability to use different sails on my 460 would give me 1 boat that I can use in a variety of conditions! Needless to say - I love this idea.
At the end of the day so much of life is compromise and rarely is there a one thing does it all product... In bikes you have road, mountain, hybrid, wide wheels, etc. In kiteboarding or windsurfing you have a quiver of gear to lug around. In Skiing you have powder skiis, slalom skiis, etc. By experimenting with different sails my goal is to have one boat with many sails that I can take with me anywhere and sail in a wide range of conditions. And I think I found the solution!
Again this is my solution, if you want to do this it is at your own risk. But i intend to try this over the next few years and over a variety of conditions so that I realized my dream and have my one boat for the widest range of possibilities. Few other sailboats offer that level of flexibility!
So because I can do this and sail in a variety of wind and water conditions, and because the MiniCat 460 is light and I am able to solo it or bring friends aboard, and because it sails so beautifully, comes with a jib furler and has a genoa option and trapeze wire option, and because I can attach a motor for emergency backup or use it as a motorboat on its own, and because I can add inflatable seats for extra comfort and a front tramp to stow additional gear, and because i can pack it in 2 or 3 bags and take it with me for the weekends or on road trips, this is my favourite MiniCat!