The Multihull Thrill

First published 11/24/89 in several Maryland newspapers

The Multihull Thrill

by Tom Dove

After thirtysomething years of sailing monohull boats, I finally got a chance to find out what all the catamaran and trimaran fuss is about.

As part of my continuing assignment to test new sailboats for SAIL magazine, my wife, Pam, and I sailed a PDQ 34 cruising catamaran and a Condor 30 racing/cruising trimaran in Annapolis recently.

The two boats are as different from each other as they are from the monohull sailboats that most of us own. The only thing they had in common was having more than one hull – unless, of course you include being able to sail faster than a comparable size single-hulled vessel on any point of sailing in nearly any wind condition.

We sailed the PDQ 34 on one of those Indian Summer days that was clear, beautiful and windless. The only way I could determine the wind direction was with a wet finger held in the air, so I offered to reschedule the test.

David Slater, the builder, had faith in his creation and wanted to go out anyway, so we powered out into the mouth of the Severn and raised the sails.

It looked hopeless. A few limp spinnakers hung from J-24s and a new Navy 44 drifted at bare steerageway ahead of us. All the other sailboats had the sense to proceed under power.

But the fat cat moved. The PDQ 34 is not a sleek racing machine, but a roomy cruiser with as much space as most 40-footers, not the sort of vessel that you would expect to drift well in a virtual calm.

We passed the Navy 44, the J-boats and everything else under sail out there that afternoon, slipping along at 2.5 to 3 knots in what seemed to be no wind at all. We simply set the steering wheel and let the beamy boat sail itself as the three of us lolled on the bow trampoline and talked quietly. It was a remarkable demonstration of light air capability.

The trimaran experience was a different kind of revelation. For the Condor 30 test sail, we had perfect conditions: 8-10 knot breezes and a gorgeous day.

The Condor 30 is a well-engineered, well-built racing boat with some cruising accomodations. It has everything it needs to be fast and efficient in closed-course or distance racing and nothing more. One-design and J-boat skippers would feel right at home aboard.

The builder of the Condor 30, Phil Herting of Annapolis, was disappointed that we did not have “enough wind to take us into speed ranges where monohulls never go.” When I asked what speed we could expect from the sleek triple-hulled boat, he said, “Whatever the apparent wind velocity is, up to 15 knots.”

Now, that sounded too good to be accurate, so I bundled up my skepticism and we went sailing, knowing that a monohull does well to make half the apparent wind velocity in normal conditions.

Herting was dead right. Our speed ranged from eight to ten knots (confirmed by Loran) and the sensation was fantastic.

I can list the bigg├│est adrenalin thrills I have had sailing: Planing in one-design racing dinghies, surfing down ocean waves on our Ranger 33 and sailing the Condor 30 in a normal breeze.

The boat handled like a racing dinghy, but without the effort. The rudder was light and positive, the response was instantaneous, and there was never any feeling of losing control. One of us could sprawl out on the windward trampoline while the other steered and grinned.

We paced Solings as they raced to windward in conditions that were perfect for that Olympic keelboat design, but they could not pass us. Kent Island was upon us in no time, so we raised the spinnaker and reached back to Annapolis at more than ten knots with the wake burbling astern and the hulls knifing through the waves.

No sweat, no panic, no pounding, no spray. Just fast.

The wide beam of the tri makes it possible to set a big spinnaker without a pole so this boat will be easy for a small crew to handle in a race. The construction is excellent and I would not hesitate to take the vessel offshore to Bermuda or New England.

The question of top speed came up, and Herting said he has not had this boat over 21 knots. Aw, what a shame. That means you could only pass 80 percent of the powerboats on the Bay on a breezy day.

The Condor 30’s big brother, the Condor 40, has made the trip from St. Michaels to Annapolis in less than two hours, and that includes beating to windward down Eastern Bay. Nobody can say these boats are slow on any point of sailing.

I’m convinced. Today’s multihulls may not have the interior joinery work or load carrying ability of monohulls, but for sheer sailing ability, the best of them can’t be touched. If you overlooked them at the boat shows because the interiors did not impress you, try a test sail with an open mind and then decide.

— The End —

Multihulls offer space, speed and level sailing.