I don’t know how much feedback you get from builders once their boats are launched. For what its worth this is a summary of my experience!
I launched Dragon my Tiki 38 (plan 80) on 4 April 2004, which was also my birthday. I was told it was also the year of the dragon in the Chinese calendar * tho I have no personal knowledge of this. Whatever, this was a very auspicious occasion.
She had taken me 3 years to build in a warehouse in Durban, South Africa. A friend of mine built the hulls while I built the rest. After the first year pretty much most of the construction was complete which left the glassing painting and fitting out. All of this was done single handed at night and over weekends.
I have not sailed a large boat single or short handed so it was with some trepidation that I took Dragon on her first cruise in December 2004 to Richards Bay with my friend Hilary as mate. This was the first passage Dragon would be making, some 180 nm there and back. Not only did we venture off short handed but commenced the trip at night crossing the bar at 20h00 into a strong head wind which was forecast to swing to give us a close reach. Well it didn’t swing and we beat most of the way there! We beat into a nasty short steep wave train and Dragon handled it very well. To stay out of the current we had to tack up the shore and as it got shallow put a hitch out to sea. We took very little solid water over the deck. Most of the trip was done with either 2 or 3 reefs in the main and foresail and at times the storm jib for a headsail. We found that we would be heading too fast into the waves with more sail up. As it was we were doing 5-6 knots. We were becalmed for an afternoon and evening and during the night the wind at last freed and we stormed into Richards Bay doing 12 knots at times.
We had two nights at sea which is really what I wanted and it tested Dragon well and if there were any defects in her build or rig I was sure they would show up. None did.
Our return trip, apart from a massive thunder and lightening storm was uneventful. Although I have to say that I had taken reefs in as a precaution when the storm approached, it was of course nighttime. I later shook them out as the storm receded. But it wasn’t all over, a gust hit us from astern and the wind strengthened very quickly with all sail standing. Hilary was at the helm and I yelled to keep her down wind while I tripped all halyards and sheets and got the headsail down before it thrashed itself to shreds. While on the bows, the spray was being atomised by the wind. I then got the foresail and main down. It really proved that the wing sail can be lowered in gale conditions. With all sail down and lashed we were doing 6 to 7 knots under bare poles. About an hour later the wind had moderated enough and our nerves calmed to put up some sail to get us into Durban.
Our next trip was to Inhaca off Maputo on the Mocambiquan coast over Easter 2005, some 600 nm there and back. I had never been there before so this was a real adventure for me. Again Dragon performed beautifully. Our first day gave us 165 nms again two handed, which meant we were sailing conservatively. We averaged 6 kts there, which is good seeing we were butting against the current. On the way back we averaged 7 to Richards Bay and then 8 between Richards Bay and Durban.
I have done some personalisation of the layout from a sail handling point of view. The first was to have a bow tube across the front to take the forestay and a trampoline. This provides a stable and safe place for doing headsail changes.
All the sheets are led to the pod and are secured through jammers. A single self-tailing winch provides the power for the headsail and asymmetrical spinnaker. The helmsman can trim all the sails without moving from the wheel.
These first trips were done without any self steering so were quite tiring. I learnt of the tyranny of the wheel. Before sailing to Inhaca however I had made a self-steering vane per your plans but had not installed it due to lack of time. While up there I put Dragon on a sand bank outside the hotel and lashed on the trim tabs and fitted the connecting steelwork. The system worked save that I had made the wind vane from scrap ply and was a bit heavy. I didn’t use it on the way back as I wanted to make refinements and get some confidence in it before leaving Dragon to the vane’s command.
I have since made a quiver of wind vanes of different sizes from foam/glass sandwich that are lighter than the ply prototype. I have also reduced the friction in the system and now the vane does pretty much all the steering when wind and traffic allows! I am very pleased with the system and have confidence in its dependability for holding a good course.
Two and a bit years have passed since her launching and I have sailed her most weekends and Wednesdays during the summer. Conditions have varied between calms to 30kts and 4 metre waves, which if I were sailing a bridge deck catamaran would have destroyed the internal furniture through slamming. The bows have never buried once. At all times she has been easily manageable and I have been able to reef on every point of sail and wind strength.
So from a sailing point of view I am delighted. I have been rolled and pitch poled in monohulls (on 2 different occasions) and I have found Dragon to be the most seaworthy boat I have sailed. Her sea keeping is superb.
From an accommodation point of view I have kept the insides varnished as I am a wood lover. The warm coloured interior is a delight and I find her very comfortable to live in. I converted the gas locker into the heads and moved the gas locker aft. This has worked very well. I have had my fill of blocked heads so Porta Potti it has been.
Before building Dragon I had no thoughts of doing long term cruising. Dragon’s sailing ability has changed all that. My daughter has 2 ½ years of school left. She lives with her mother and although I have tried to get her into sailing it really isn’t her scene. Pity. So my present partner and I plan to leave the rat race when Amy leaves school and cruise the east coast of Africa and make the crossing to Madagascar. I would then like to cruise across the Indian Ocean to Thailand and thereafter to Micronesia. I will leave the rest to the fates!!
I have been disillusioned by modern life and find myself more aligned to your philosophy and what I have read of Moitessier and Slocum. There has to be more to life than being a consumer and working for the means to keep consuming!!
I find peace in being at sea in Dragon for which I thank you and Hanneke. This has been a wonderful project which has opened up possibilities I had not thought of.