Home . Articles . Boats . Boat Test . Lightwave 38

Lightwave 38

2001 August 7

This cruising cat from Down Under couples a well-thought-out interior with good performance

The designers of cruising catamarans are spoiled. While maximizing every inch of interior space is an obsession with monohull designers, cat designers have almost too much square footage to play with. Imagine Carl Alberg's horror picturing a 40-foot boat with four double staterooms and four heads! Alberg felt extravagant when he added two inches of beam and a second hanging locker to the redesigned Cape Dory 36.

Still, in spite of all that interior volume, the basic tubular shape of cruising cat hulls makes it challenging to create innovative interior layouts. This task becomes even more difficult in cats less than 40 feet, especially if adequate bridge-deck clearance is maintained for seaworthiness, thereby limiting the saloon area. It is important to prioritize interior features.

In the Lightwave 38, Australian Tony Grainger, an experienced multihull designer, has done a fine job of blending a functional, comfortable living space with an easily driven hull and flexible sailplan. While designed as a family cruiser, the boat still delivers plenty of performance and offers bluewater capability. It's not a surprise that it was named Australia's multihull of the year in 2000. I recently sailed the Lightwave 38 on Miami's Biscayne Bay following the Strictly Sail Miami boat show. We had everything we needed-ex-cept enough wind, which wafted out of the east at 5 to10 knots.

The details
The Lightwave 38 and its near identical 35-foot sistership (the only difference is that the 38's hulls are extended aft for more hull speed) are built by Overell Stanton Yachts on Australia's Gold Coast. The fiberglass hulls and deck are hand laid in female molds and stiffened with a Divinicell foam core. This sandwich construction creates a strong but light boat. It is imperative to keep the weight down to maintain good performance in a cruising cat. The Lightwave 38 displaces 11,000 pounds, which is 1,000 pounds less than the comparable-size Athena 38 by Fountain Pajot.

The hulls, which are laminated with vinylester resin, are also treated with epoxy before the bottom paint is applied, providing a little strength and extra blister protection. The hull-and-deck joint is fiberglassed to make it both strong and watertight. Bridgedeck clearance is 30 inches, which will help prevent pounding when sailing offshore. The molded keel stubs are integral to each hull. The draft of 3 feet, 5 inches is slightly deeper than some other cats in this size range, but these keels will help the Lightwave 38 track effectively, a sailing characteristic that is sorely lacking in many cruising cats. A draft of less than 31/2 feet still qualifies as shoal draft, and in the event of a grounding the keels are deep enough to protect the rudder blades, which are molded fiberglass with stainless steel stocks. All bulkheads are foam core construction; again, to keep the weight down. There are watertight collision bulkheads forward.

On deck
The Lightwave 38 features a substantial bridgedeck, which lends a feeling of security when working around the mast. Two large forward lockers house sails, fenders and tanks. Tight mesh trampolines span the hulls, which are joined forward by a stout aluminum crossbar with an A-frame bridle for support. The anchor roller extends forward, and ground tackle is led aft to the chain locker. An anchor bridle, fitted between the hulls, is standard. In fact, a Muir electric windlass and 40-pound plow anchor with 100 feet of chain are also standard. Eight stanchions are through-bolted and support triple lifelines. The side decks are essentially two-tiered and wide enough for easy and safe access to the bridgedeck and tramps. The nonskid is molded in. There is terrific access to the walk-through transom steps on each hull, complete with stainless steel swim ladders.

The spacious cockpit is, for the most part, functional. The helm is perched to starboard with a cutout in the hard top for visibility. This arrangement requires the helmsperson to stand or lean out to steer the bulkhead-mounted Edson wheel. A new option features a raised double helm seat and a modified hard top, allowing for a helm bimini and dodger. Also, canvas side panels affixed to the hardtop keep the cockpit dry.

The Harken mainsheet traveler system is well designed and easily adjusted under load. The open design of the cockpit forces it to be a little on the short side. But in practical terms it may be a more user-friendly setup than some wide cat travelers that can run away when tacking or jibing, often fouling their extra long mainsheets. Anderson stainless steel self-tailing sheet winches are perched on the aft end of the deckhouse. There are five lockers of various sizes, including an insulated cooler. Australians clearly consider quick access to cold beer a vital design priority. One drawback is that the molded seats are not long enough to stretch out on. Of course, what are those forward trampolines for anyway? One feature I like are the stout doors leading into the saloon. Many cats sport sliding glass doors that look like they belong on a back patio, not a sailboat.

The Lightwave 38 has an airdraft of 51 feet and a total working sail area of 721 square feet. The full-batten main provides most of the horsepower, at least sailing upwind, and a small self-tacking jib makes coming about simple. The main, which comes standard with three reef points, has a built-in sail cover with lazy jacks, making it self-stacking and convenient to douse. When sailing off the wind, an optional bowsprit kit facilitates flying either an asymmetrical spinnaker or a furling screecher, which is essentially a large drifter.

Down below
The saloon, or as builders Nathan Stanton and Roger Overell call it, the "bridgedeck saloon," is entered directly from the cockpit. A large U-shaped settee drapes around an ash dining table. It takes a bit of getting used to seeing the lack of fiddles and handholds in a multihull. Wraparound tinted acrylic windows keep the cabin well lit with natural light and also offer good visibility from inside. The molded fiberglass finish is all white, and in fact, the cabin is so white it seems a bit sterile. Of course, once you add a few personal touches the area will spring to life and help accent the rosewood and ash trim. There is storage beneath the settees, shelves for books and a built-in entertainment area.

The arrangement in the hulls works very well. There are double cabins forward, with fore and aft berths set into the bridgedeck structure. This allows for wider, queen berths and useful floor space and dressing seats. Each cabin also has a hanging locker, bookshelves, reading lights and an overhead hatch.

The starboard hull houses the galley just forward of the saloon steps. A four-burner propane stove with oven and grill is standard. The double sink has pressure hot and cold water, and like most cats, the 12-volt fridge is side-opening-remember, these boats don't heel very much. The counters and lockers are molded fiberglass with acrylic sliding doors that are easy to clean but somewhat bland in appearance. Side portlights keep the light flowing. Continuing aft in the starboard hull is another double cabin with an athwartship bunk. This is a good watch cabin as it is within earshot of the helm. An optional arrangement converts this small double cabin into a second head.

The nav station resides amidships in the port hull. The chart table is large, as is the drawer underneath. Instruments are designed to be flush mounted. The standard layout has a single head aft to port. I think this is a great arrangement, since instead of cramming in several tiny head compartments, Grainger has created one spacious, well-thought-out, well-ventilated head. There is a full-size separate shower with a seat. There is also a vanity with a bench and plenty of room for dressing.

The standard engines are 29-horsepower Volvo Penta saildrives with three-bladed fixed props. The American importer, Southern Ocean Yacht Sales in Miami, fitted our test boat with three-cylinder Yanmar diesels with saildrives and folding props. Saildrives are quietly gaining a larger share of the sailboat market, and they make sense in weight-conscious cats. Also, because they eliminate the need for a shaft, stuffing box and strut bearing, they are much easier for builders to install. Fuel capacity is 55 gallons in a fiberglass tank, and that will keep these efficient engines running for a long time. Despite the wide beam, cats handle extremely well under power. Once you get the hang of handling twin screws you can maneuver a big cat like a sports car.

Under sail
The fickle breeze taunted us. One minute it seemed like it was going to settle in at 10 knots and the Lightwave 38 accelerated quickly and began to gather speed. The next minute, it dropped to near nothing. We persevered and eventually a light but steady northeast wind allowed us to get the feel for the boat under sail. Our test boat was set up with the optional bowsprit. We doused the small working jib and set the screecher, which has a luff ProFurl system. Snatch blocks on the aft rail controlled the sheet. We immediately gained speed, slipping over 6 knots despite the light air.

The helm station was more practical under way than I had suspected. Sitting outboard, there was good visibility. Of course, the nature of a cat, especially one with a bulkhead wheel, requires either crew or an autopilot for trimming. We were fortunate to have builders Stanton and Overell aboard, and they were determined to impress me with the Lightwave's light-air performance. On a close reach the Lightwave 38 sailed consistently at more than 6 knots, and maintained 5 knots running, despite an apparent wind of the about the same speed. The helm was light, not surprisingly, but the steering was very precise. Bringing the boat back up on the wind, I was impressed just how close we could sail while carrying the screecher. Unfortunately, the small wavelets on the bay didn't offer any sense of what the motion would be like in a seaway.

With a new U.S. price at around $230,000, the Lightwave 38 is an attractive alternative to more expensive European and South African cruising cats. The builders are young, talented and enthusiastic. I wouldn't be surprised to see more Lightwaves turning up in U.S. waters.