Home . Articles . Columns & Blogs . Full and By . Multi-choice exam: Choose fast, sedate or slightly wacky

Multi-choice exam: Choose fast, sedate or slightly wacky

2013 January 4

Out of touch, behind the curve, technologically challenged, one dimensional, slave to the single digit, you name it, I've got a problem. I'm still sailing on one hull while all the sailing trends are pointing toward multihulls-multiple manifestations of multihulls.

The record for the fastest passage around the world is held by a trimaran. America's Cup races are being sailed in catamarans. The United States Sailboat Show at Annapolis last fall was dominated by multihulls. The most interesting boat at the show had two hulls of different sizes. The most arresting sight I saw while sailing in 2012 was a catamaran/trimaran hybrid competing in an offshore race.

The handwriting is on the water. Two hulls are better than one. Three better yet.

When I say that multihulls dominated the Annapolis sailboat show, I mean in terms of square feet. There may have been more monohulls on display, but multis surely took up more space on the water, given the extravagant beam of some of the cruising models. Square footage, the way houses are sized, would be a better measure of these boats than the LOA we use for monohulls. A 40-foot catamaran with a 25-foot beam should be called a 1,000-square-footer.

A multihull much smaller than that gets my nomination as the show's most interesting boat-interesting as in curious, unconventional, slightly off the wall as a choice to be displayed at a consumer boat show. It's a 31-foot Pacific proa sold as a kit for home builders by Chesapeake Light Craft of Annapolis.

There's nothing new about proas, of course. With two hulls, one of which is an ama or outrigger, proas have sailed in the South Pacific for millennia, making epic voyages of thousands of miles. The kit proa is intended for "fast cruising" for "an adventurous couple," according to its maker.

The boat weighs only 1,400 pounds and has plenty of sail area, so it's bound to be fast. Handling it takes two people, and being adventurous wouldn't hurt. The hulls are double-ended-not double-ended like a round-sterned monohull, but perfectly symmetrical. The sterns can function as bows, and the bows as sterns. There are rudders near each end of the main hull and separate jibs tacked near its bow/sterns. Instead of tacking, one rudder is raised and other lowered, one jib is furled and other unfurled, the old stern becomes the new bow and the boat goes off in a different direction. I'm sure the actual sailing part is fun. The rest, a process called shunting, is probably an acquired taste.

As for that arresting sight, it was a bathtub, mounted on a queen-size bed frame, floating on two pontoons, sailing in the Chicago-Mackinac Race with a micro-rig that would be at home on a racing dinghy.

All right, it wasn't really a bathtub on a bed. It just looked like that from a distance. Closer, it turned out to be Jan and Meade Gougeon's latest take on high-speed, featherlight multihull design, a boat they call Strings.

I guess it's a trimaran, but the center hull, which the Gougeons call a fuselage (up close it does look a bit like the body of an amphibious airplane rather than a bathtub), doesn't touch the water. So maybe it's a catamaran. I'll stick with hybrid.

It's a strange looking duck, for sure, but the Gougeons put function far ahead of form, and by that standard Strings is quite elegant. It goes without saying that it's ultralight, built of a little wood, a little foam, a little carbon and vats of chemicals in the epoxy compounds for which the brothers, inventors of the WEST System, are famous. No doubt, it's fast. Beneath the attention-getting superstructure is a pair of stilettolike hulls that are 40 feet long.

Strings didn't win, but the septuagenarian Gougeon brothers merit a trophy for surviving the passage in a pod (OK, fuselage) that looks to have the space of a generous bathtub.

Multihulls deserve the growing attention they're getting. Their concept is pure and intuitively right. What sounds like the more sensible way to go sailing: On a boat that sails on top of the water rather than through it and stays mostly level rather than heeling? Or on one that has to push water aside in order to move and has to carry an enormously heavy appendage that usually prevents capsizing but doesn't stop heeling and creates drag that slows the boat?

If only it were that simple. To do what they do best, multi-hulls have to be light. Most cruising multihulls, the likes of the big catamarans that lined the docks at Annapolis and had long lines of showgoers waiting to board to view their apartment-size accommodations, are not light and (he said delicately) they don't sail with alacrity.

I've sailed these big boys in the Caribbean and other breezy venues and they were splendid platforms for enjoying the good life on turquoise water, but they never really got going.

The choice for multihulls is pretty much black or white-light or heavy, speed or comfort.

Monohulls are a bit more forgiving. Displacement hulls can have decent accommodations and still sail fast. They are also handier to maneuver, less likely to capsize, able to fit in marina slips and, for those who appreciate it, provide the challenge and enjoyment of sailing close to wind.

Still, I have to get out of my single-hull rut. Maybe the solution to the multi dilemma is multiple boats. I'll keep my monohull and get a multihull to use when I feel like sailing fast and flat. Now I just have to decide between a boat that sails frontwards and backwards and a tri/cat that comes with a fuselage.