About Zia

Our boat is of course, much more than just a boat, it is our home and the center of our little universe.  We eat, sleep, play and learn on Zia and with a little effort on our part, she takes great care of us.  We sort of have two separate boats.  When we are barreling along at sea, Zia is really in her element, the wake hissing from the stern and her rigging as taut as a steel bar, a machine made to eat up the miles in speed and comfort.  She skips over the ocean yearning to take flight, shrugging off the waves in a blast of spray when they try to restrain her.  But, when we get into port and are swinging calmly at anchor, she changes personality and becomes a welcoming home with a shady porch and two sets of steps leading down to the pool.   Many of Zia’s  features, both as a sailboat and a home, go a long way towards making our cruising lifestyle work smoothly.

Switch 51 - Hull no. 6

Zia is a 51 foot Switch catamaran built in France in 2002 by Sud Composites.  They built about 20 of them and Zia is number six.  We are the second owners, the first owners being a family much like ours with two kids aboard.  They sailed her from France through the Caribbean, South Pacific and ended up in New Zealand where they shipped her back to the US for sale.  We found Zia with the help of the rare boat broker who has experience in both catamarans as well as living aboard with a family.  Our broker’s advice and suggestions were right on the money, but most importantly, he managed to get us thinking like cruisers rather than dreamers well before we bought a boat.  She is light and powerful with three furling headsails, a high bridge deck clearance and dagger boards for pointing upwind.    She has twin Yanmar 40hp diesels making it simple to maneuver under power.  Her shallow draft (3 feet, 8 inches) was a big plus in the skinny waters of the Bahamas and allowed us to explore cays that were too shallow for the crowds.  I know that 51 feet sounds like a big boat but she is about half the weight of many other 50 foot catamarans.  She is substantially smaller than a Lagoon 50 or a Voyage 50.  Zia weighs in at just under 12 tons with full fuel.  She is stretched out to 50 feet for performance, not for “beds and heads”.

Zia’s three headsails are a lazy sailor’s dream (and a dream for climbing kids).  The center sail is a standard genny that is our default sail for most conditions.  For going off the wind in less than 20 knots apparent, we use the genniker.  Just roll it out, whomp,  it’s like an instant spinnaker and the boat loves it.  We can tack or gybe it just like a genny and when the wind pipes up or we need to turn upwind, we just roll it back in.  When we get into the heavier stuff, we roll out the staysail which is essentially a roller furled storm sail.  All three of the headsails are original from the factory.  Our mainsail is the only sail that we replaced when we bought the boat.  Quantum in Annapolis designed us a strong but fast cruising sail with 6 battens and more roach than the original (“just because we can” they said).   They also added our Zia logo 6 feet high across the top panel of the mainsail.  We have 3 slab reefs that are controlled from the base of the mast – happily this is usually Christy’s job since it gets kind of wet up there.  Tacking through the Straits of Gibraltar, we had two reefs in the main and the full genoa – still plenty of power in 30 kts apparent.  When sailing upwind we lower our dagger boards to increase the draft to 9 feet.  If anyone ever tells you that you don’t really need to sail upwind, they must have a powerboat.  We always seem to need to sail upwind and it would break our hearts to have to motor so much of the time.  We also have a cruising chute for the times when we have to go deep downwind for days at a time.

For those times when we do need to motor, we usually use a single engine since we can motor at 6.5 knots at cruising RPMs and two engines only gets us up to 7.5 knots.  We  almost always use just one at a time.  This cuts our fuel bill in half and I spend a lot less time sweating and cursing in paradise while  maintaining the engines.  The engine rooms have lots of space but I still have to contort myself like a lab rat to reach various spots.

Safety First

We have learned that you really have to consider safety as a way of life when you live on a boat.  All guests get a comprehensive safety talk when they come on board in addition to instructions on how to use the heads etc.  We wear West Marine inflatable PFDs with built in harnesses, rescue flashers  and jacklines at night or in nasty weather.  The kids have form fitting PFDs with whistles attached.   On the stern, we have a MOM 8 man overboard module that will launch a lighted flag with a sea anchor if someone goes over the side.  To get them back aboard again, we have a Lifesling although we would probably just haul them up the swim steps.  We have a Switlick 6 person life raft which they say should only be used in case of fire since Zia is, dare I say it, unsinkable (knock on wood).  We sail with our ditch bag under the nav station that has all of the requisite gear in one handy package should the worst happen.


We are ex computer people so we elected to use a laptop for navigation.  Our trusty Fujitsu Lifebook provides navigation, communication (email and Skype) and entertainment (DVD player).  We use Nobeltec software  for navigation and are very happy with it.  True, the charts aren’t cheap but they are accurate and that is what it’s all about when you are feeling your way into a harbor at night or in fog.   For weather, we use Weathernet from www.ocens.net.  Weathernet offers a huge amount of weather data including GRIB files at a reasonable cost.  You can access it with the internet, email or a satphone.  We can also use sailmail for getting email on our SSB radio, but we have found it much easier to pay a little bit more and use the satphone or internet connection.  We keep an older laptop with all of the nav software and charts installed as a backup and we carry paper charts as well.

We Fly with Wi-Fi

Wifi is getting more and more prevalent everywhere we go.  So far we have been able to get WIFI in about 80 percent of the harbors and marinas that we have visited. Not only do we get email and web capability, but we are able to call friends and family for free using Skype (www.skype.com).   We use an external laptop antenna that we run up the flag halyard and are able to increase the range of our WIFI by a factor of 10.  Having wireless bandwidth aboard the boat is a huge benefit in getting weather, tourist information and just plain old staying in touch.  We are evaluating a few new antenna solutions and we hope to have some feedback and recommendations on these soon.

Living Gear

By far the best modification that we made to Zia for quality of life is our solar array.  We added three 175 watt solar panels above our dinghy davits on a custom bracket made by Eastport Rigging in Annapolis.  The panels receive full sun on the davits and as a side benefit, they shade the dinghy nicely.  We set up the system with an Outback (www.outback.com) controller to harness all of this power and channel it into our hungry battery bank.  It was designed as a “set it and forget it” system and it has lived up to it’s billing.  The previous owner of Zia had to run our 3.5KW genset about 3 hours per day, every day, to keep the batteries topped up.  We use the generator maybe once every few weeks, usually if it has been really cloudy or we have had power hungry guests on board.

No AC but we do have ice cubes!

What do we have that sucks up all of this power?   Although we have no air conditioning, we have almost all of the appliances that we had at home including a washing machine, microwave, toaster oven, coffee pot, fridge and freezer, vacuum, powertools and more.  All of these run off of our Mastervolt 2500 watt inverter so we don’t need to run the generator.

We upgraded Zia’s refrigeration and installed a dual Frigoboat system with keel coolers.  It is another “set it and forget it” system that is penurious with power and silent as well.  We can serve ice in our drinks and keep the fish that we catch frozen rock solid.  The system is in a cabinet under the fridge and is easily accessible.  They  run on 12V and consume about 5 amp per hour when they’re running.

Our watermaker is big help in quality of life on board since we carry only 100 gallons of fresh water.  We have a Spectra unit that makes up to 14 gallons per hour.  Although it is not quite “set it and forget it”, once you learn the tricks, it works well with minimum maintenance.  It is located amidships in the starboard hull hallway.  We try hard to keep three water jugs full and cold to keep the whole family well hydrated.

Racers know diddly about anchoring

As racers in Annapolis, we never thought twice about the anchor except to remember to take it off of the boat every Wednesday night.  It has been a steep but important learning curve to get the anchoring process down pat.  The price for a screw up is a lost night of sleep at best and a lost boat at worst.  We sleep much better at night since we upgraded our anchor to a 66 pound Spade.  We have 225 feet of 10mm chain and we use as much of it as we can in each anchorage.  If we expect a blow, we just shackle our fortress 37 Danforth anchor about 15 feet up the chain from the Spade and set ‘em both.   That is what sweet dreams are made of…… .

Our bimini is a thick aluminum frame strung with the same trampoline material as the bow and covered with Sunbrella.  It shades the whole cockpit and has side and stern shades as well.  It is a great place to sleep, sunbathe or work on the sail.  Shade is a valuable commodity when cruising and a full time bimini is a key piece of equipment for us.

One thing was missing when we launched our ship, a figurehead.  We couldn’t afford to carve some beautiful siren to grace our bows so we came up with the next best thing.  We are kind of a Barbie boat anyway.






                                                            ©2005 Zia Later.   All rights reserved.   Your mileage may vary.   Void where prohibited by law.