Best Multihull: Nacra 15
The Nacra 15 is the result of the International Sailing Federation’s mandate for a new multihull to be used at its youth championships and Youth Olympics in 2016 and beyond. For Nacra Sailing, bagging the bid was more than an opportunity to sell more boats; it was a shot at giving youth sailing a shot in the arm.
The 15 is a steppingstone to the Olympic Nacra 17, but Nacra’s Gunnar Larsen believes the boat serves a greater purpose. As he puts it, it’s better for the sport to have kids sailing in “more spectacular boats” than they are currently.
“We designed and built the Nacra 15 to ISAF’s specifications, but not with only the championships in mind,” said Larsen, acknowledging that the boat is slightly more overbuilt than weight-obsessed cat sailors might prefer. “The ultimate goal with this boat is to have more kids take to sailing as a life sport.”
Whereas the Nacra 15 could just as easily have been another dumbed-down youth cat, instead the company has developed a sensational platform that hits at a level of almost-foiling cat sailing. For teenage sailors, it’ll be plenty fast, and plenty challenging in strong winds.
“It’s unbelievable how quickly young sailors pick [multihull sailing] up,” said Larsen. “It’s like skiing or skateboarding: The kids, [if] they touch it, they do it. They capsize, pull it upright and keep going.”
Larsen said skill level, in all conditions, was Nacra’s biggest concern; they couldn’t afford to go too high-end with materials, pushing the cost too high, or too dangerous with sharp and untested foil packages. Per ISAF’s mandate, the new model also had to accommodate a swath of ages and body types, pushing higher into the weight range.
One lesson learned with Nacra’s 17-foot Olympic cat is that without stabilizers on the rudders, the boat has a tendency to jump when you don’t want it to. Even for Olympic hopefuls, the Nacra 17 is a handful. The 15 had to have a wider margin of error to satisfy parents, coaches and clubs. The boat tested with curved daggerboards (the daggerboard slots accept both curved and straight boards) and rudder winglets on the rudders. However, Larsen said that other stabilizing options for the rudders were being evaluated, given the potential safety concerns of kids, capsizes and sharp edges.
ISAF also required this “Olympic-pathway” youth cat to be durable, so to honor this and keep costs in check, the 15’s hulls and foils are vinylester-infused (in Thailand), and all the spars are aluminum. The test boat presented to BOTY (a near-final prototype) came in roughly 5 percent heavier than expected, said Nacra’s Todd Riccardi, which has proved to be a blessing. “It’s slightly more stable as a result. It’s not as jumpy, so there’s some dampening in the nature of the boat. The handling is toned down.”
Unfortunately, the judges never got a chance to experience the enlightened state of fast youth beach-cat sailing, nor the 15’s toned-down traits. On a sub-10-knot test-sail session, they barely touched the trap wires, but still got a feel for the boat.
“It had plenty of power for the conditions,” said Stewart. “We could still get it humming along. There’s a lot of buoyancy in the bow, so this thing will be no problem for older kids to handle once they’re into it. There was good positive helm in the light air. The boards went up and down easily.”
“The boat is well put together and will be a great first boat for experienced teenage sailors to lead to other high-performance cats,” added Allen. “It’s a super introduction to double-trap sailing.”
For more on the Nacra 15 and other catamarans, check out Nacra Sailing