dave reed headshot
One of the best regattas of my life was one in which I stumbled around the racecourse like an absolute kook, capsizing, pitch-poling, and cartwheeling. The two of us on the boat were out of control, but in my defense it was the first time I’d ever crewed on a catamaran. To this day, I chuckle at the notion that I thought I could show up to a Hobie 16 world championship and have a chance at getting past the qualifying rounds. Visions of grandeur, indeed. It was a humiliating week, but it was beach cat sailing, and it was an incredible experience.
I returned from that event fired-up on multihull sailing. My eyes had been opened, and the conversion from monohull sailing, I thought at the time, had been set in motion. I started searching for affordable used 16s, but for a number of reasons, I remain cat-less today. I’m still itching to have my own cat, or maybe even a cat-and-a-half (for an explanation of this moniker, see Herb McCormick’s “A League Of Their Own,” p. 34). This is what the multihull experience does to one’s mind: it’s easy to become a fanatic, and it takes but a single spin. Many a “leaner” (again, see McCormick) has gone to the other side, never to come back.
But if the multihull experience is so powerful and transcending, why is it perceived by the sailing world at large as some foreign, otherworldly subculture of our sport? Why, at major multi-class events, are multihulls set off on their own circles and treated like some carnival exhibition? Why isn’t everyone sailing multihulls?
I’ve thought long and hard about this, and my inclination is that it has to do with the human condition, the fear of stepping outside one’s comfort zone. As junior sailors we learn on safe, pokey little monohulls, and perhaps
it’s impossible to get beyond that experience. As a result, multihull sailing remains a realm for those who are simply wired differently.
But we’re starting to see signs of change as multihulls become much more visible in the mainstream. Let’s start at the top, the America’s Cup. When Larry Ellison’s BMW Oracle Racing called “bull” on the Spanish challenger of record for the 33rd Cup and lodged its own, it did so with what is arguably the most incredible sailing craft ever conceived. And wouldn’t you know, it’s a trimaran. Two monster tris engaging in a high-speed dial-up would put a compelling chapter in the Cup annals.
Then, with all this business about multihulls in the Cup, other AC big shots, including the defender itself, jumped on the bandwagon and dispatched teams to last year’s iShares Cup (see “Extremely Balanced,” p. 22). I’ve witnessed this Extreme 40 action firsthand and will vouch for its huge potential to pull would-be sailors off the fence. Throughout Europe, this traveling catamaran circus is putting sailing in front of a lot of eyeballs. It’s a bit NASCAR-esque, but there’s no series like it.
Offshore and around the world, too, multihulls continue to make waves. As we were going to press, Frenchman Thomas Coville had just finished his solo circumnavigation onboard the 105-foot trimaran Sodeb’o in an astonishing 59 days. Then, there is the technical wonder of the 131-foot Banque Populaire V (p. 72), which has the potential to wipe clean any standing ocean-passage records.
It’s incredible stuff, and it prompted us to create this special issue. I realize this themed issue is risky because a good number of you will flip the pages and think, “This multihull stuff doesn’t apply to me.” But dig into the stories, and you’ll see the similarities. Multihull sailors are drawn to the sport by the speed, the challenge, the camaraderie, and first and foremost, the love of being on the water. If you’ve yet to experience their world, the next time you see one rigging up or sitting idle, ask for a ride, and see for yourself what it’s all about. You might just become a fanatic, too.