Three yacht design trends that challenge harbours Pt 2

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40 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds!

In Jules Verne’s much acclaimed adventure novel, Phileas Fogg and Jean Passepartout travel around the world in 80 days. Despite Verne’s vivid imagination however, it is unlikely that he would have envisioned that one day, someone would cut that time in just about half. Travelling not by steamers and rail, but by sail. When the seasoned French sailor and skipper Francis Joyon and his crew crossed the finish line in the early morning of January 26th this year, they sat a truly remarkable, new around the world sailing record.

They not only averaged roughly 23 knots for the entire circumnavigation, they also hit a new 24-hour world record of 894 nautical miles. An average speed of slightly above 37 knots. If you’ve ever experienced the incredibly rewarding and exciting sensation of planing in a traditional keelboat, felt the vibrations in the tiller or helm as you surfed down or overtook a wave, sensed the wind dropping and the sheets become loose as you caught up to the speed of the wind while watching the log rapidly travel from, say 8 to 12-14-16 knots and beyond… Well, then you’ll acknowledge that averaging 37 knots for 24 hours straight is just incredibly fast. Heck, you don’t even have to be a sailor to recognise that. Even speedboat owners will surely appreciate that this is an extraordinary speed for a vessel driven only by sail.

Of course, the 103 foot trimaran IDEC 3 is not exactly a standard production multihull by any measure. Nonetheless, it epitomizes what has always fascinated a keelboat sailor like this author: Multihulls are fast. Flashback some 30 years and I recall the late Paul Elvstrøm and his daughter Trine, shooting by in their Tornado on Øresund, as I was out on the water teaching fellow teens the virtues of sailing. Later, it was Quorning’s Dragonflys that would make me secretly fantasize about quitting the monohulls altogether and becoming a multihull sailor.

The 56´cruising cat Lagoon 560.

But here’s the thing: Talk to multihull cruising sailors and they’ll tell you that it’s not really about speed at all. Or at least, it’s not only about speed. It’s about the smooth and comfortable sailing experience. About the shallow draft that allows you to reach areas and anchorages that are off limits to keelboats. Or getting that 200 yards closer to the shore before dropping the anchor. About sitting comfortably in your cockpit with a glass of white wine that doesn’t spill over, while watching the keelboats further out, sway from side to side as a land breeze picks up speed in the evening. Or in tidal areas, about the ability to safely and solidly beach your boat. And indeed, particularly in modern day cruising cats, it’s about living space. A large platform that allows for a roomy interior. A dining table that’ll seat two families and a trampoline that any kid is bound to love. And hey, let’s be honest: You and I probably wouldn’t shy away from it either.

No wonder then, that multihulls are selling like never before. Fifteen years ago they accounted for about 10% of sales in the recreative sailing boat market and yet today (well, 2015 figures), they’re up to a staggering 40%. This astonishing increase in market share has largely been driven by two factors: a) The charter markets in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and b) A stagnation in monohull sales, mainly due to the financial crisis. However, the figures reveal that even keelboat sailors, still more often opt for a cruising cat when they’re off on holidays to enjoy the sunshine and clear blue waters with friends and families. In fact, the current demand for cruising cats is so high that if you want one of your own, you’ll need to be patient. The waiting lists for the most popular models easily run far beyond a year.

The experienced eye will spot a smaller trimaran berthed between poles here, hulls folded in.

The main downside of multihulls though, leaving aside for a moment smaller trimarans with folding capabilities such as Quorning’s Swing Wing system, is that they do take up more space. While this is not a problem when blue water cruising or anchoring, it does pose a challenge once you enter a harbour. Particularly harbours where berths are separated by poles, as is often the case in Northern Europe. While multihull sailors might tell you that this is no big issue, the main reason is that there is still relatively few of them, at least in Northern European waters. As more and more people experience the joy of multihull sailing however, it’s seems reasonable to predict that we might well experience a spill-over effect in the coming years and that the predominantly charter-driven global sales trend, will translate into higher regional and local sales. If so, this will challenge not only multihull owners but harbours alike.

That leaves me with at least a couple of questions worth pondering about:

  1. Are harbours planning for such a change in demand? Should they be?
  2. Some harbours charge guests and/or permanent berth owners by beam, rather than length. The reasoning is straight-forward, but is it fair to multihull sailors to maintain such a pricing scheme?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

PS. If you missed the first blog post (challenge #1), you’ll find it right here.

Note: Image credit: The image of IDEC SPORT featured on top, was kindly lend to us by French photographer Claude Breton. You’ll find the original image here (and more great shots from the arrival of Francis Joyon and his team, on Breton’s Flickr account). All rights to the picture belong to Claude Breton.

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