"Time for Respect"

         THE NEED FOR SPEED, a column by Garry Hoyt

In the realm of sailboat design, multihulls have long been the Rodney Dangerfield of the sport. Now, it's time they received their just due.


0ne of the persistently amazing things about the sailing scene is the inordinate amount of time it takes for

clearly sensible ideas to penetrate into actual sailing practice. Leading in this category of stubborn resistance in the face of irrefutable performance facts are the sailing world's longstanding and deep-seated suspicions, misgivings, and prejudices about and against multihulls.  

As early as 1662, Britain's Royal Society timed a 20-foot multihull at 17 knots - an unheard of speed for that size boat at that time. But this clear-cut superiority went for naught against the already encrusted preference for monohulls. Here in the United States, perhaps all the prejudice began back: in 1876, when Nat Herreshoff had the temerity to trounce all the too contemporary racing boats with his catamaran Amaryllis. Practical genius that he was, Herreshoff was led (or guided by previous Polynesian example) to multihulls as a natural solution in the quest for speed.

On the face of it one might reasonably assume that better speed is a natural goal for racing sailors and. that progress in that direction would therefore be warmly embraced by the racing sector. Dead wrong. The first reaction of the racing sailors was to ban Amaryllis for her high crime of better speed. Whether this was out of pique at being thoroughly beaten -- or economic fear of seeing their racing toys made instantly obsolete is hard to say, but banning is always a popular reflex to unwelcome progress. Perhaps to cover the inherent illogic of their position, to the ban they added social scorn, false rumor, and the discredit of risk, to create the totally unfair image under which multihulls have labored ever since.

It is to be hoped that in this column our focus on sailing speed should free us of philosophical blinders and create an open receptivity to whatever works best -to sail fast. Along these lines I recall a racing experience where I and a highly trained crew were intently racing a conventional keelboat when we were rapidly overtaken and unceremoniously passed to leeward - by a pair of laughing recreational sailors on a Hobie. A non-sailor female guest in the crew asked, "Why is that boat so much faster?" I dismissed her obvious naivete with a curt explanation: "That's a multihull." Tactlessly, she was not appeased by my evasive non-answer and persisted with the query, "Why are we racing so hard to go slowly if multihulls are faster?"

That simple, penetrating question is one which the monolithic, monohull sailing world would do well to ponder - particularly those whose enjoyment of sailing is enhanced by better speed. The evolution of the multihull has proceeded apace, with a steady diminution in the disadvantages that were once - correctly or incorrectly - ascribed to earlier designs. The new reality is that multihulls have now full arrived in terms of compelling performing assets for both the racing and cruising sailor. They are significantly faster and more stable than monohulls of similar size and the new cruisers have just as much if not more living space, along with the considerable benefit of shallow draft. It is only the acceptance of the yachting world that has lagged behind this new reality of multihull legitimacy. Yachtsmen have created an artificial separation between monohulls and multihull sailboats that is not unlike certain forms of prejudice in its unfair discrimination.

For example, suppose you wanted to race your cruising catamaran or trimaran; it is doubtful that if the regatta were being run under the auspices of any one of the more popular ratings systems that you would be allowed to do so. Is that a fair and rational system? Have we really progressed from 1876 when Amaryllis was banned? When a single woman, Florence Arthaud, can sail her boat across the Atlantic faster than anyone (including the males) and yet her vehicle is somehow still excluded from regular sailboat racing competition, something in the system is seriously disoriented. Clear-cut superiority is not logical grounds for disqualification.

The reason I feel it is appropriate for this column to address this question now is my personal realization that as a designer interested in speed, one is inevitably drawn and driven to multihull solutions - just as Herreshoff was. To fret over the fractional speed gains that are available to better, displacement hull shapes, more refined keels, or tighter forestays seems laughable when compared to the quantum. leaps available to the simple expedient of shedding the lead and adding hulls for stability.

'Without getting into the issues of propriety, the real lesson from the last America's Cup was how ludicrously simple it was to beat even the finest monohull with a multihull. The old shibboleths about catamaran capsize increasingly have a hollow ring to them. The danger of tipping over a modem

cruising catamaran or tri is no greater than that of tipping over your family car, which is certainly not a prospect that anybody worries much about. Of course if you singlehand a racing cat and push it hard you are operating on the edge, just as a race car driver is. But that is not the norm, and accidents on the racetrack have little bearing on the normal use of normal designs.

Admittedly, the wide beam of racing cats and trimarans is a problem for marinas, but ingenious designs like the F-27 and the Dragonfly have neatly solved that with folding amas - and thrown in trailerability to boot. Answering the old arguments about headroom, the new Beneteau and Jeanneau cruising catamarans have amazing space and comfort along with (easily obtained) better speed and stability. As you slip along with small effort and no heeling at 18 knots - in three feet of water - what's not to like?

Instead of begrudgingly banishing multihulls to the Siberia of a separate category, it is high time the sailing world simply saw them as an attractive variety of sailboat with an impressive array of superior qualities. Recognizing the acceptability of multihulls for all aspects of sailing does not mean sounding the death knell of monohulls - which are assured of their permanently sound station - but multihull progress should spur monohull design to some badly needed new levels of speed and stability. Speed sailors, whatever their personal preference, should lead the way in bringing multihulls more fully and fairly onto the sailing scene.

This is not a question of arbitrarily promoting one type over another, but rather of redressing a longstanding and unreasonable prejudice against multihulls. The hard-won nautical facts are that multihulls have earned a fully equal place on the ballot of acceptable choices for the discerning sailor.

Reprinted from Sailing World



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