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Endearing Multihull

2008 November 7

There is nothing intimidating about the Contour 30 -- except its speed

The design brief for the new Contour 30 MK II swingwing trimaran was ambitious to say the least. Contour Yachts of Erin, Ontario, asked designer Cole Beadon to modify his already successful Contour 30 design. "We wanted to create the fastest 30-foot cruising boat afloat," explains Rob Lambden, marketing director of Contour Yachts, "and we demanded a boat that maintained good performance in both light and heavy conditions. We also wanted state-of-the-art sail controls to make the boat easy to sail single-handed or for a couple. And the finished boat had to sell for less than $100,000 including a trailer." While this is a tall order to be sure, surprisingly, the Contour 30 MK II meets its objectives. And the sailaway price? $89,000.

There is no denying that trimarans are fast, but where can you tie up a boat with a 24-foot beam? This practical dilemma led to the creation of folding and retractable tris, including the F-27, Corsair F-31 and the Dragonfly 1000. Unlike the F-boats, the Contour 30 MK II uses retractable amas (the outer hulls or pontoons) that fold inward and remain upright on the same water plane as when open. The amas actually drop deeper in the water than when retracted, which gives the boat added stability and makes it easier to move around when maneuvering under power or at the dock. In a matter of minutes, the boat added stability and makes it easier to move around when maneuvering under power or at the dock. In a matter of minutes, the amas can be opened or retracted by one person from the comfort and safety of the cockpit and while motoring slowly. The only retracting or swing-wing amas is that they need to be removed for trailering, which adds less than an hour to the overall trailering process. The main hull of the Contour 30 MK II is quite flared and has elliptical underwater sections, and in profile, has a pronounced rocker. The stern section is full, which prevents crew weight from dragging down the transom in light air and corresponds to a high prismatic coefficient that is a measurement comparing hull volume to hull volume amidships. A high prismatic coefficient translates into overall speed and the MK II routinely sails at more than 20 knots. The overall displacement is only 3,250 pounds. Fully immersed, the amas represent 180 degrees of designed displacement and there is incredible form stability with 24 feet of beam. The rudder is semibalanced and kicks up. When the high-aspect daggerboard is down 5 feet, the draft is 5 feet, 9 inches.

Building a trimaran, especially a retractable one, is certainly more challenging than building a traditional monohull. The MK II is pieced together from 58 different molded sections. The main hull and amas are cored with Baltek Contourke endgrain balsa, except in areas where the extreme radius and ama sections require solid glass. Carbon fiber and Kevlar reinforcements are applied to critical load areas around the chainplates and at the points where the amas attach. The main hull is stiffened with structural liners and longitudinal stingers. While I don't like liners in general, there really is no other option for a boat like this. The main forward bulkhead gives compression support for the mast and loads from the forward amas, while the cockpit bridgedeck aligns with the aft amas. The amas themselves are streamlined foil shapes made of biaxial carbon fiber and Kevlar. Each ama has three watertight compartments and is very buoyant. I could tell the overall engineering and construction of the MK II met a high standard, because when the boat was under sail, it felt like one rigid unit.

The MK II was easy to spot in the congested Annapolis Harbor for two reasons. It was the only boat around that was nearly as wide as it was long and it was the only boat moving along smartly in the light afternoon breeze. We eased alongside in the chase boat and Lambden welcomed me aboard.

The problem with most folding tris is that the cockpit seems to be an afterthought. This is not the case on the MK II. A clever seating arrangement using the stern pulpit for support really opens up the cockpit space and affords the helmsperson great visibility. The tiller is easily handled from anywhere in the cockpit. All lines, including the simple amas controls, are led aft. A Harken main sheet traveler system runs across the substantial bridgedeck, which supports the amas and increases the structural integrity of the deck. There is a decent-sized locker under the cockpit area and, coupled with lockers in each ama, it provides surprisingly good storage for a boat that sparingly metes out its precious space.

Once you get used to it, the deck plan is versatile and comfortable. It is hard not to like the idea of lounging on the leeward tramp while the boat zips along at speeds that make a monohull sailor like me weep. When you do rouse yourself into action there are catwalks on the side decks, providing security when moving forward. The double-spreader spar is aluminum. While it would seem logical to put a carbon fiber stick on a speedster like this, that would push the price up more than $100,000. In keeping with the latest trimaran design, the shrouds don't run to the deck. Instead, the forward checkstays and runners are led to the mast at the hounds.

The primary motivation for developing the MK II was a complete redesign of the sailplan. The plan includes just four sails. The main has been increased by adding a much larger roach, which means that the working jib can be carried in lighter winds. The 100-percent jib is completely self-tacking, using a track forward of the mast. The third sail is a 345-square-foot furling Mylar screacher. According to Lambden, when the wind drops below 8 knots, the jib is furled and the screacher, which tacks to the short bowsprit, is unfurled. The last sail is an asymmetrical spinnaker complete with a snuffer. This sailplan was developed by North Sails of Toronto to provide for the simplicity required for singlehanding while maximizing the MK II's speed potential. I like the fact that with just four sails you can sail in most wind conditions and the sail inventory is kept within an affordable price limit. However, in extreme conditions, you would need an alternative to the furling jib and reefed main.

The interior is obviously limited by the narrow beam of the center hull and the need to keep the boat light for the pursuit of speed. Still, designer Beadon has used the space he has very well. The 6-foot, 2-inch headroom at least means that you don't have to stoop while you move around below. The forward V-berth is quite large and there are two Lewmar opening portlights for ventilation and canvas bags for storage. Next aft is the completely enclosed head. The saloon has two, 6 1/2-foot-long settees and a centerline table that seats four comfortably. The table drops down to form a huge double berth. The galley has a small sink, a single-burner stove and an icebox. It isn't luxurious, but the interior is certainly functional and nicely finished.

In 6 to 8 knots of breeze, the MK II charged off toward the Bay Bridge with the screacher drawing nicely. Coming up into the wind, I was impressed with how smoothly the mast rotated and how quickly the boat accelerated. Easing off the wind, we rolled in the screacher and set the spinnaker-the entire operation took less than a minute. Although the wind was light, the boat moved very well.

The snuffer ate the spinnaker and we rolled out the working jib. I was curious if the boat would tack in light air without having to back the jib. Bingo. We came through the wind not unlike a light monohull and started to gather speed while sailing very close to the wind. Lambden claimed that the MK II points like a J/35 and, while I think this is a bit of an exaggeration, there is no disputing that the MK II goes to windward faster than most monohulls. This is not a great surprise because the Contour 30 MK II does everything faster than most monohulls.

Steering back to the inner harbor, I found myself admiring the flat, smooth ride. I had expected the boat to be more difficult to sail, for there to be more of an adjustment for an old monohuller like me. But there is nothing intimidating at all about the Contour 30 MK II. The only adjustment you have to make is getting used to arriving at your destination much sooner than before.