Getting Into Yacht Rodding


September 26, 2002
Courtesy Peter Wormwood, J. Meric

From the moment any of us buy a boat, we start looking for ways to improve it, but we’re usually limited by class rules or rating penalties. In open and offshore multihull racing, however, restrictions are rare, and consequently, the performance evolution in multihulls is rapid.

Recognized multihull designers and builders have contributed much to this evolution, but many of the big gains have come from grassroots sailors tinkering with their boats. In the 1970s, the 27-foot Stiletto catamaran was launched and soon attracted the hot rod subculture of the cat world. The builder, Force Engineering, had only been in business a few years when they held their first national championship. Even then, they had to create a “modified” class for the boats that had been souped up beyond the class rules. The stock Stiletto was a fast boat, but it had been created with an eye toward family daysailing and overnight camping, rather than pure speed. Some of the company’s early customers had come out of hard-core beach cat racing and wanted to extract the speed potential they saw within the basic boat. They took matters into their own hands and from their garages their “yacht rods” emerged.

Twenty years later, old Stilettos are being bought, restored, and sometimes extensively modified. Ron and Andy Nichol’s Stiletto Catamarans, established in 1983, has created a cottage industry of buying Stilettos and restoring them, as well as serving as a source for many of the odd parts that are unique to Stilettos. While the Nichols typically restore a boat to its original, stock configuration, they do occasionally modify one for an owner.


The boats have endured because they were extremely well built in the first place. At a time when hulls were predominantly a single skin, mat, and roving construction using polyester resin, Force Engineering turned to the aircraft industry for their construction methods and materials. Hulls, decks, and cockpits were constructed with fine weave E-glass pre-impregnated with epoxy resin, vacuum bagged onto Nomex honeycomb, and cured in an oven. The hulls are as light and stiff today as when they were built. The stock boats have held up, but what haven’t stood the test of time are the hardware, paint, and sails–all items that are relatively easy to replace.

Most Stilettos are only slightly modified, but occasionally the changes are extensive, as they were with Deuce Coupe–a cooperative on-and-off three-year project I undertook with my brother. When Christopher and I bought the boat, the sails and hardware were shot. Somewhere along the way, the boat had acquired a coat of navy gray paint, but it hadn’t been sanded before painting, so the paint came off in long strips. The boat was ugly–but cheap! We were armed with the same vision that possesses a hot rodder when dragging an old rusted car out of a barn–we knew that under that peeling paint and corroded metal was a true speed racer.

At first, our plan was straightforward; repaint, replace the hardware, replace the single centerline daggerboard with one in each hull, and buy new sails. But three years later, we’d changed virtually every part of the boat. We started by adding winches to replace the original 2-to-1 jib-sheet system. While that sounds simple enough, there wasn’t any place to mount the winches that would make them easily accessible. So, we borrowed a traffic cone, turned it upside down, shoved a plywood disc slightly larger than the winch base down into it to cap off the apex, and had ourselves a mold for winch pylons we could then glass to the cockpit sole. We later discovered that the tops of the pylons moved around when we sheeted in hard, so we then added bracing panels that boxed in the front of the cockpit (see photo). Within the box, we built a fuel tank and compartments to hold a soft cooler, halyards tails, and winch handles, which cleaned up the cockpit clutter.


Since then, in addition to accomplishing the original goals, we have completely redesigned and reconfigured the distinctive Stiletto canopies. We also added 18 inches to the bottom of the mast, moved the headstay and front beam forward 22 inches, redesigned the sailplan to eliminate the genoa in favor of a Solent jib, filled out the bows to change the entry, filled in portlights and then added others. We rebuilt the rudder system, redesigned the front trampoline, and added structural elements everywhere. In true rodding spirit, we were out to improve anything that could be improved, that is, within the limits of maintaining the trailerability of the stock boat. We also avoided the costs associated with replacing the rig with a new mast and even bigger, more powerful sails.

The result? “Well I’m not braggin’ babe so don’t put me down, but I’ve got the fastest set of wheels in town¿” In fact, the boat is much faster and easier to sail. As an indication of the speed, the PHRF rating dropped from the stock 60 down to 15. At the recent Stiletto Nationals Deuce Coupe was the fastest modified boat in attendance.

The costs of such a project will vary. In our case, we paid about $9,000 for the boat and then put $25,000 into it, including a full suit of racing sails. Because of the extent of our modifications, Deuce Coupe took a lot more time than most rodding projects should take, about 1,800 hours. For that investment of time, money, and energy, we have a virtually new boat–the boat we started with was little more than raw material. If we were to value our time at a typical small shop rate of $30 per hour, the boat is worth about $80,000. Putting that in perspective, a new F-28R trimaran, which has the same PHRF rating and intended use, costs slightly more. So, we’ve kept the project within reasonable financial bounds, saved on the hard currency by doing the work ourselves, and have created a boat exactly the way we want it. And Christopher and I have shared wonderful, creative hours in the process.


If you’re one of those people who can’t let well enough alone, think you know a thing or two about creating boatspeed, and are handy with tools and fiberglass; think about buying an old, reasonably fast boat, and turbocharging it. It needn’t be a Stiletto, or even a multihull. The fun is in creating something uniquely yours–something better for the work that you’ve put into it. And, of course, there’s always the fun of getting to show it off!

As for our boat, well¿ “She’s my little Deuce Coupe, you don’t know what I got.”

For more details on this upgrade visit the Stiletto 27 class website


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