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Corsair 36

2003 August 7

A folding trimaran just right for fast passages between thin-water cruising grounds

What elements combine to make the perfect cruising boat? Of course that is a wildly subjective question, the kind of question that can ruin an evening among friends and strain an otherwise good marriage. Still, for the sake of argument, lets start with: seaworthiness, stability, ease of handling, shoal draft and comfortable accommodations. Now add terrific performance, an unsinkable hull, solid construction and low operating expenses. Toss these ingredients into the blender and what do you come up with? No, not a frozen drink. How about the new Corsair 36 folding trimaran? Surprised? While it may not be the perfect cruising boat for everyone, it is certainly one of the most innovative.

Launched earlier this year, the 36 is the flagship from Corsair Marine, the Chula Vista, California, builder that has produced nearly 1,300 trimarans since 1985. Australian Ian Farrier developed the concept of a folding trimaran in the 1970s and all Corsairs trace their roots to his original 18-foot Trailertri. Corsair Marine's best-known boat is probably the F-27, which is no longer in production. Today the company produces a 24, 28 and 31. All of its models are folding, trailerable and extremely fast under sail. When hull No. 1 of the new 36 turned up in Florida this past spring, photographer Walter Cooper and I arranged a SAILING Magazine Boat Test.

We joined Corsair dealer Steve Marsh on a quiet canal just off the north fork of the St. Lucie River. Marsh, a multihull enthusiast and owner of Finish Line of the Treasure Coast, Inc., had recently displayed the boat at the Miami Boat Show.

"Sailing back up the coast after the show we touched 20 knots," he said as we powered away from the dock. "And that was in about 20 knots of wind yet the ride was incredibly smooth."

The details
When you examine the Corsair 36 on paper you quickly realize that there are two sets of figures, those for when the boat is assembled and spread like a butterfly on the water and those for when it is folded up for trailering or docking in a conventional slip. The speed potential is obvious-the LWL is 35 feet or about 98 percent of the LOA, the sail area is 758 square feet and the approximate weight is 5,500 pounds. You don't have to be Bob Perry to realize that these numbers translate into raw speed.

The main hull shape has a fine entry with U-shaped midsections trailing into a broad flat run aft. Rocker is kept to a minimum to encourage planing. A retractable daggerboard drops the draft to 6 feet when fully deployed. When in the raised position, the draft is just 20 inches and of course Corsair can't resist using beautiful pictures of the 36 beached on the sands of an idyllic island in its brochures. The 25-foot, 7-inch beam creates a lot of initial stability, in fact the angle of heel is usually around 5 degrees and almost never surpasses 15 degrees. The folded beam is just 9 feet, 10 inches.

Once past a sneaky shoal that would give most monohulls grief, we slipped into the broad expanse of river. We canned the 20-horsepower, four-stroke Honda outboard, lowered the daggerboard and raised the sails. The standard sailplan includes a full-batten square-top main and a roller-furling jib set on a fractional forestay. The boat was also fitted with the optional "screecher," (an oversized reacher) set from the retractable carbon fiber bowsprit and an asymmetrical spinnaker. The aluminum rotating wing mast is deck stepped. The mast is 47 feet, 6 inches long for trailering considerations while the air draft is just over 50 feet.

The acceleration was impressive. With moderate winds ranging from 10 to 15 knots, we quickly powered up to double digits under main and screecher. The cockpit is small but mesh seats stitched along the aft rails prove to be the ideal steering position, freeing the cockpit area for sail handling. Tiller steering is standard and natural, it would be a pity to clutter the boat with a wheel. The boom is quite long and the mainsheet traveler is placed all the way aft, keeping out of the way and effecting efficient purchase. Most other sail controls are led aft to a port side winch and port and starboard rope clutches perched on the deckhouse.

On deck
There were five of us aboard and the boat did not feel crowded. Of course that's an advantage of a trimaran; there is plenty of space between the hulls to stretch out on the bow and wing nets. Moving from the cockpit to the outer floats can be tricky, the only real handhold is the single upper shroud. There are storage lockers in the floats and a small anchor locker forward. Offsetting the outboard engine slightly to starboard allows stern steps on the transom. The standard engine is a 20-horsepower, four-stroke outboard, although an inboard diesel is optional.

The Corsair 36 has a very solid feel in the water, if you didn't know it you would never suspect that the boat actually folds up. The hulls are foam sandwich construction. This coring material not only provides excellent stiffness and impact resistance but also contributes flotation that makes the boat unsinkable. Carbon fiber and Kevlar unidirectional glass fabrics are employed to reinforce high-load areas. Vacuum bagging is used throughout the laminating process to keep the glass-to-resin ratio as high as possible. The cross beams are stiffened with multiple layers of unidirectional carbon fiber.

Down below
Two easy steps deposit you into the bright, airy cabin. Corsair Marine is proud of the level of comfort, or as they call it, luxury, achieved in the 36. And, the design does an ingenious job maximizing the available space, but there still isn't a lot of space in the center hull to work with. The galley is to starboard and includes a two-burner alcohol stove and a clever folding sink with hot and cold pressure water. There is storage behind and below, and when the stove and sink covers are down, there is a decent amount of counter space. Opposite the galley is a C-shaped settee draped around a table that also converts to a double berth. The electrical panel is on the aft bulkhead, making it prone to wetting in rough weather.

An enclosed head is to port with a straight settee to starboard. The head is a molded unit that is easy to clean and maintain. The forward V-berth is long enough to sleep comfortably and there is a well-placed hatch overhead. There is a large locker to port and additional storage underneath. The interesting feature of the interior plan is the aft cabin. Tucked under the cockpit and accessed from a large hatch on deck, this is a genuine double berth with a nice view of the stars when the hatches are left open. Technically the 36 sleeps up to seven, but that would be like a troop ship. It is, however, well suited for two couples or a family with a couple of kids.

Under sail
Back out on the water we rolled in the screecher and hauled up the asymmetrical. The boat reached another speed level as we screamed across the river at 14-plus knots. Sailing nearly as fast as the wind, we kept bending the apparent wind forward, creating ideal reaching conditions. We executed a series of jibes and the boat, and all its 25 feet and 7 inches of beam, came through the wind with alacrity. The entire crew at Finish Line of the Treasure Coast, Inc., took the afternoon off to sail with us and they tweaked and primed and were never satisfied until the center hull hummed. The sea state was minimal, creating ideal conditions for speed sailing.
We eventually dropped the chute and unfurled the jib. We sailed fairly close to the wind and it was obvious from landmarks ashore that we were tracking effectively. That's where the 6-foot daggerboard really pulls its weight. With the true wind around 12 we sailed close-hauled at near 8 knots, and with minimal heel. The helm was light, especially for a tiller.

Reluctantly we made our way back toward the dock. I asked Marsh about the practicality of owning a 36-foot folding, trailerable trimaran. He explained that most people will likely leave the boat assembled and try to find a T-head or side tie dock to accommodate the wide beam. However, folding and unfolding is really not a major operation and the 9-foot, 10-inch folded beam opens up a lot of docking avenues. Corsair does not use corrosion-prone wire braces on the float to beam joints. Instead, they rely on solid aluminum folding struts with stainless steel pivot pins. As to the practicality of trailering a 36-foot boat, Marsh explained that most people will likely only trailer the boat between major sailing areas or at the end of the season when you can park the boat in the driveway and avoid winter storage fees. A loaded boat and trailer weigh less than 10,000 pounds and can be towed by a good-sized pickup truck.

Of course, you could just sail the Corsair 36 between major sailing areas and leave the Interstates to the maniacs on wheels. The Corsair 36 will no doubt follow in the illustrious wake of her smaller sisterships whose accomplishments include transpacific and transatlantic crossings. I won't be surprise to learn that a Corsair 36 sailed around the world in a few years. Open-minded sailors looking for a true performance cruiser should take a good hard look at this boat, it just might change your perspective.