I began my May web letter moaning about the hard work to anti-foul, clean and polish the topsides of my/our 63-foot catamaran ‘Spirit of Gaia’ at her Greek sea base in Gouvia Marina, Corfu.
The Fembøring ‘Patronen’, built 2004 (replica of ‘Drauen’ built in Tromsø in 1847 for cod-fishing in Lofoten and Finnmark).
Costa and Irena on their French catamaran.
Lunch on deck with David and Ellie.
You can see the ‘wing’ shape of the sails with the very clean leading edge.
For six days we have been back in Devoran, our Cornish land base. To keep fit and enjoy Devoran’s beautiful scenery, each morning Hanneke and I go for a walk along the tree-lined estuary. On that walk can be a digression up a steep hill. Normally it needs two or three stops to “admire the scenery”. In fact, it is to rest and get our breath back to normal. Since our return from Corfu and its “hard sailing work”, we are striding up that hill without a stop and able to converse without gasping for each breath.
This fact opens a discussion on the subject of Yacht Design. For the last ten to fifteen years yacht design has increasingly evolved to enable sluggish, unfit urban people to enjoy the “joys” of sailing without physically and mentally making any personal adaptations.
Now, I am not going to take up a moral stance on this subject. As you will see, I have commitments to both sides of the discussion. But I do think that yacht magazines should discuss this subject more so that their readers can make their own choice, because boats where people adapt themselves to sea living are much cheaper to build and to service.
As an example of people adapting themselves to sea living this year, we saw a 39 foot replica of a Norwegian Fembøring, which overnighted in Gouvia. She is a type of open craft that for hundreds of years has been a workboat for fishing, passengers and light cargo in the cold, stormy seas of north Norway. A craft with no decks and loose rock ballast that in no way could meet the European Recreational Craft Directive Rules. Fortunately, in the hundreds of years of sailing before 1998 (the legal beginning of the RCD), sailors and builders were not constrained by secret RCD committees issuing diktats on what they constituted as “safe”. So this economical, superb all-round craft was able to develop.
This year we developed a friendship with an Englishman, Dave Wilkins and his American wife Ellie. Dave and Ellie are sailing and reconstructing a classic catamaran, namely the 30-foot Oceanic, designed and built in the finest of woods and plywood by Bill O’Brien 40 years ago.
This design was built for a Mr. Irons who at the time had a 14-year-old son called Nigel. Now Nigel Irons is one of the leading multi-hull ocean racing tri and catamaran designers in the world – for example, Ellen Macarthur’s round the world racer B&Q (see May 2005 issue of ‘Yachting World’ and many other yacht magazines).
Dave (from Essex) has been a multi-hull racing man all his life, beginning with the Prout 16-foot Shearwaters, moving onto other catamaran racing day-boats in the 1960s to 1980s, with a particular connection to the fabulous C-class catamarans (around 20 feet long). These C-class catamarans were the first racing catamarans to extensively develop the aerodynamic wing mast and on one design, an around-the-mast wing sail.
Wing sails were first experimented with in the 1920s by a Dane called Lungstrom, later in the C-class catamarans and in the late 1970s on the Freedom cruising boats by Garry Hoyt. None of these sail designs were practical for Mr and Mrs Average Sailor in all-round sailing conditions.
When I suggested to David that the wrap-around Tiki sail, or ‘Wharram Soft Wing sail’ (developed by Hanneke and I in 1981 and used on hundreds of our designs) had solved many aerodynamic problems, he raised a very sceptical eyebrow, particularly when I commented that it worked close to the wind, even as a schooner rig (schooner rigs give a low centre of effort which equals more stability and ease of sail handling).
David’s sceptical eyebrow was typical of the world of yachting attitude to the Wharram wing sail. Because it has a short Gaff, or head stick, heavy batten, call it what you will, to give extra sail control, it looks like a Gaff sail. Therefore, it “cannot sail to Windward”!!
The lack of adventurous spirit of enquiry in modern sailors I find depressing. We suggested that Dave and Ellie sail on the Gaia for a few days and test the rig out for themselves.
Also in Gouvia was a twenty-eight-year-old Wharram enthusiast, Costa, of Israeli nationality, born in the Ukraine, and his Israeli partner Irena (born in Russia). Costa is a professional paid skipper of a well-known luxury type of catamaran, widely used for charter.
I met him whilst he was cursing a failed electric pump that is necessary to operate his craft’s toilet, and the worry was the owner was expected to fly in soon! His own sailing dream is to sail “to where the coconuts grow with three girls” on the simplest boat to operate. You can see why he is a Wharram enthusiast. We invited Costa and Irena to join us for the sail. They could manage just one day before getting back to the work of preparing their boat.
‘Spirit of Gaia’ was designed in the late 1980s, just as the modern, luxury, high-freeboard/windage catamarans were evolving. Design elements of Gaia’s hull form were adapted from our studies of ancient Pacific sailing craft.
Hull accommodation is in 6 separate compartments, divided by watertight bulkheads, and is described as “Flexispace”, in that there is no typical Western-style cabin furniture in the boat. People who go backpacking across the mountains or explorer types who visit un-Westernised South-East Asian peoples will know what I mean. You relax in a reclining mode or cross-legged. Seeing others naked, dressing or washing themselves, is not a “shock, horror” situation.
Washing dishes, often with seawater, is done in large plastic bowls on deck. Showers are of the hand-pump, garden-spray type. Hot water comes from solar black bags. Water is carried in plastic Jerry cans. Extra water is often supplied by rain catchment. Water is carefully used to where the word rationing could be applied.
Engines are two 9.9 four-stroke Yamaha outboards. There are no electric sheet winches. Navigation is the simple hand-held Garmin GPS, paper charts and a back-up sextant. We also have electronic wind and water speed/depth instruments, which failed in one aspect or another in about every two to three years of use.
The Gaia is not a boat designed by a “consumer focus group”, but in her twelve-year use, including an around-the-world voyage, she has made dozens of people happy by giving the mental liberation from accepted urban values. Why, is a complex debateable study in the psychology and subconscious needs of our species, and is outside this web letter.
David and Costa were primarily sailing on ‘Spirit of Gaia’ not to discuss philosophical attitudes on accommodation and yachting gear, but to see how well the boat could sail, particularly in very light airs, where most modern yachts need to use their engines. Here is the letter written by David after his 4 day voyage:
Does this mean that Wharram Catamarans can only achieve their sailing ability with the Spartan sailing comforts of an ancient Pacific double canoe craft or a modern high-speed ocean-racing catamaran? Fortunately, no, and George Gritsis has proved it.
Hecate sailing up the Red Sea.
The deckpod galley is lit by red LEDs when sailing at night.
George and James in discussion in the cockpit.
The RIB dinghy is stored on a full width ramp ready to slide into the water.
The ‘woven’ netting, beautifully made by the Thai builders is very comfortable to lie on.
Islander 55 ready to go into the water.
Trying out the spinnaker on first sail.
George Gritsis is a Greek sailing hero. While in the Navy he served on the Greek replica Trireme. He twice sailed around the world on small sailing boats, passing through the Magellan Straits and wrote books about them. Last time, on a self-built plywood 26-foot sloop! He described the Magellan Straits as “when it is not blowing a gale of snow, it is an incredibly beautiful place”!!
After being a skipper of a 55-foot mono-hull charter boat, he commissioned Günther Nutt of SeaScape in Phuket, Thailand to build two of our 52-foot Pahi designs, specially fitted out for charter guests (with plans for more boats in the future). In February/March this year, he sailed his first Pahi 52, ‘Hecate’, from Thailand, across the Indian Ocean, and up the Red Sea to the Aegean and the Greek island of Paros – his home and charter base.
He saw a possible pirate boat off the entrance to the Red Sea, but outran it with the spinnaker up at 12 knots. Two weeks ago Hanneke and I flew from Corfu to view and test sail his boat. There had been a slight blur in communication between ourselves and Günther the builder. A brief inspection on stepping on board and we realised why. My God, there are five toilets on board – one for each of the en-suite bedrooms (we call them cabins) and one for George’s personal use. Here is a list of “goodies” on George’s boat:
|Gaia's Performance Statistics (Click to enlarge)|
Figure 1 - Wind Force 2-4
Figure 2 - Wind Force 5-7