Civilised cat

Barry Tranter | VOLUME 23, ISSUE 1
The lasting impression of this boat is how civilised it is.
Seawind Catamarans’ 1160 multi hull cruiser strikes a balance between straight forward sailing performance and civilised onboard living.

Not so long ago, boating people lived in a sort of cultural divide. Power boat people were power boat people, sailors were sailors, and never the twain did meet. And sometimes, when provoked, the twain were downright rude to each other. And then came catamarans…

To my mind, sailing catamarans represent a sort of third category. They have the quiet and romance of any wind-driven yacht, but they incorporate the stability and civilised behaviour of the power boat; a case of having your cake and eating it. As a result, the sailing cat is much-loved by families; dad can sail his heart out, while mum and the kids can remain oblivious to the vagaries of nature as their sailing habitat remains horizontal and quiet.

Seawind’s new 1160 model was given inboard auxiliaries, but she has two other very important features – the unique tri-fold door and the self-tacking jib, which is right up there with the powered motor mower on the list of all-time great labour-saving devices.

The tri-fold door system, between cockpit and saloon, is worth scrutiny. To open up, you fold the two outside panels onto the central one and attach an overhead line to the foot of the doors. Then, using a sheet winch, lift them up until they are flush with the roof. Lock in place and ignore. It takes longer to write this than to do it. The result is that cockpit and saloon become a large, congenial socialising space. In addition, when your day out is complete, you lock up and the boat is secure.

So, if you don’t want to sit in the cockpit, you can sit at the saloon table, drink coffee, eat cake and still be part of the action.

I first sailed an 1160 a couple of years ago on a cold day with a brisk sou’ westerly. I steered and chatted with the guests, who were seated at the saloon table, as we tacked our way along the lower reaches of Sydney Harbour. I was comfortable and so were the others. And when people are comfortable, they enjoy their sailing.

SIMPLICITY

The 1160’s configuration is simple, with a fixed, low-aspect ratio keel on each hull. “There is no place for daggerboards on a cruising boat,” Seawind founder and driving force, Richard Ward once told me. The 1160 has twin 27hp Yanmar diesel auxiliary engines with Saildrive. The mast has no backstay, but is secured on each side by two heavily-angled shrouds (uppers and lowers) and by jumpers running over swept-back spreaders to stiffen the centre section of the mast.

The mainsheet is mounted overhead on the targa bar, which spans the aft end of the cockpit. The mainsheet traveller is wound back and forth on its track by a winch on the vertical section of the bar on the port side.

The mainsail is raised by a 2:1 halyard. The options list includes a bowsprit and furling and deck gear to handle an MPS/screecher (multihuller’s jargon for “spinnaker/reacher”).

Reefing is by a single-line slab system, which can be performed from the helm so the crew does not have to leave the cockpit in worsening weather. There are three reefing points in the sail and two reefing lines. The line from the first reef is led to the third reef using snap-shackle blocks on the sail. For this, someone does have to leave the cockpit.

The dining table in the saloon rotates and is mounted off-centre on its shaft so that the table top can be nearer the settee seats for coffee or dining, but can be moved away for buffets. It also lowers on to removable bump stops to form a double bed.

The galley, in the starboard hull, is a bright and airy place to be. On one sail, I met a guest who suffered from claustrophobia, but she was happy to help in this galley.

STEALTHY CAT

My most recent sail on the Seawind 1160 was on a quiet autumn day. It’s hard to judge wind speed because a cat moves so quietly that the usual physical sensations are damped. There is no angle of heel to give an indication of effort or pressure. Cats have relatively narrow hulls so they part the water with a minimum of fuss.

Onboard we had an experienced sailor (he is also power boater). I waited until the end of our sail to ask the guest skipper his impressions. “Beautiful,” he said, “nice and easy to sail – quite sensitive to the helm. I am particularly impressed by her tacking ability in light airs; always a test on a cat. There is good visibility through the windows, you can see the whole horizon.”

The 1160 never hesitated to tack, though when it was really light the self-tacking system was occasionally reluctant to change sides, corrected by easing the sheet.

It’s easy to move around on the 1160. The steps that lead up from the cockpit to the side decks are logically placed and spaced. If you walk to the foredeck, you will find anchor, chain and electric windlass in separate lockers ahead of the mast. There is lots of stowage in this area.

The lasting impression of this boat is how civilised it is. If you want a cup of tea, you happily head below knowing that the galley and the stove will remain parallel with the horizon. It will move up and down as the boat follows the surface of the sea, but you won’t have to wedge yourself in.

To summarise: the 1160 is nicely finished; a lot of the interior is moulded and is easy to clean; the timber trim is beech, lighter than honey in colour.

Sailing her is undemanding; living onboard is also undemanding. And if everyone is comfortable when sailing, they will want to go again.

In writing this review, I now realise that the years are passing rapidly. When I first sailed on a big cat, some time in the late 1960s, the attraction was speed. Speed under sail will always be interesting, but these days no more interesting than being able to have a decent cup of coffee when I want one, and staying out of the breeze when things get gnarly. Which, I suspect, says a lot about the modern catamaran, but even more about me…

SPECIFICATIONS: SEAWIND 1160

LOA: 11.6m

Beam: 6.5m

Draft: 1.15m

Displacement: 7000kg

Fuel capacity: 360lt

Water capacity: 750lt

Power: Two 29hp Yanmar sail drives

Base price: $499,620

Price as tested: $570,000, with a long list of options including being built to survey, safety gear, MPS, navigation gear, Gori folding props etc.

For more information, contact Seawind Catamarans

(02) 9810 1844 or www.seawindcats.com.

Rise of the social regatta

At each major sailing regatta, the country’s yachting press converge like seagulls on a hot chip to record, photograph and gossip their way through the races that constitute the series. At Sydney Hobart time, the numbers swell to take in the popular press, even internationals, because the race is one of the world’s classics.

Meanwhile, across the nation, the concept of the social sailing regatta has spread. They receive little coverage, of course, because the public interest in them is zero. No news is generated by the social regatta. That is its nature, and that is its redeeming feature.

While the popularity of organised big-boat yacht racing slowly ebbs, lightly-organised yacht racing is thriving. The phenomenon is like those loose-knit, after-work soccer and touch footy competitions. The social regatta makes even a twilight race look like the last heat of the star class world series.

Baz Tranter investigates the growing phenomenon of social sailing regattas and comes away with a new appreciation for the participants’ sportsmanship, sailing skills and style.

I saw two social regattas this spring, only a week apart. They were completely different, but they had one thing in common: every fleet was comprised of two distinct classes: the ‘tryers’ and those who were there for the fun. Priorities are easy to distinguish. The tryers sail aggressively off the line, as the less-committed fall into place based on their dedication to the social aspects of the race.

By Barry Tranter

At the monohull regatta, the fleet was split into spinnaker and non-spinnaker boats. The spinnaker crews were race-hard, dedicated people with grim faces. When I pointed the camera at them and shouted “smile!” they glared back. Not a glare, perhaps, more a vacant stare. Maybe they didn’t hear me. The crew was obviously deep in concentration, counting in the next gust (“pressure in five…”), watching their nearest competitor, the distance to the mark and whether the skipper was going to lay about them with his cat o’ nine tails or his tongue, whichever was the more vicious.

As the fleet passed us, the demeanour of the crews changed. On the non-spinnaker boats, the crews smiled at the camera, shouted insults, perhaps even threw something at the camera.

The crew was not lined up on the windward rail; instead they were lounging around the cockpit. Some were even – (gasp!) – lurking to leeward, watching the bow wave and the seagulls. Some were – (shock, horror!) – drinking beer. On one boat, a dedicated young crew member was sprawled in the cockpit reading a book.

A prime example of the social regatta is the annual event run by Seawind Catamarans. Every year, marketing man Brent Vaughan organises a fleet of Seawinds to assemble on Sydney’s Pittwater. Friday is arrival day; there are two races on Saturday, followed by a big barbecue dinner on the beach at The Basin. Sunday is for another race, then the trip home.

Once a year, the Seawind fleet – 32 of them in 2007 – turns up on a November weekend for a three-day regatta. I think it was 32; the six of us on board the committee boat got six different counts before we settled on 32. The official entry list says 34, and some 200 people. Roomy, those Seawinds.

It’s a light-air, windward start. Two starts, in fact, because the quicks go off after the first wave. Again, I notice that, as the boats pass us, crew attitudes change until, towards the back of the fleet, some of the crews are showing exhibitionist tendencies.

The fleet includes several Seawind 1160s, which are longer than the 1000s, have inboards instead of outboards and self-tacking jibs. The newest Seawind is the 1000XL, a 1000 with extensions grafted on to the sterns. They, too, have self-tackers, but there were none with roachy mains. There is one 1200 (a pure cruiser), two 850s (forebears of the 1000) and one 24, the open-deck Seawind that started it all.

As Alize comes past our committee boat towards the end of the first race, we see a crew member unhook the vang, which has been controlling the clew of the headsail (the trailing edge) when sheets are freed. This crew likes to sail well. At the other extreme of dedication are the pirates on Margaritaville, who are hurling water into the cockpit of another competitor. At the barbie that night, the Margaritaville crew wins the prize for best-dressed, a highly sought-after prize, judging by the efforts on display. One boat is dressed overall in glitter. Another crew wears green and gold Viking helmets, for reasons hard to define.

The raft-up lunch is another social highlight. A photographer is winched up a mast, others copy. Kids jump in the water. A bloke on the boat next to us pulls his shirt up and does a belly dance. His mates call for him to take his pills. Each year Finlease hires the cappuccino boat to provide free coffee and ice cream. This usually starts a stampede.

FOREST OF FIBREGLASS

Waves of Seawinds arrived at the first mark up four abreast – it is worth remembering that a Seawind 1000 is 5.9 metres wide – but they got around OK. The second mark provided more excitement than a Sydney Hobart start, or an America’s Cup mark rounding or the V8 start at Bathurst. There was a forest of fibreglass, stainless steel, people, sails, dogs (yes!) and mayhem. In fact, considering many crews are once-a-year racers, the amount of contact was remarkably light.

But the only contact that matters here is social. There are no protests, no lawsuits. As the America’s Cup players lurch from courtroom to courtroom in New York, making it the longest running litigation series on the planet, as the obsession with winning dominates common sense, the Seawind crews end their races without rancour and are interested mainly in the party to follow.

They will drink a bit (they sleep on their boats), presentations will be made, which will include one for the Best Dressed Boat (the sparkly boat wins), Best Dressed Crew (the pirates) and one award called “Many Mermaids”…

Perhaps this is the way sport should be – a knockabout competition with little importance attached to the results.

But you have to concede that the crew on Alize would be feeling good after winning overall. And I would like to think that on that long, light-air, off-wind leg in the first race, I would be in the cockpit, having a beer with the others. But I know I wouldn’t be; I would be worrying too much about how the boat was sailing. And I know I would be down on the trampoline, setting up the vang to steady the jib and try for every tenth of a knot of speed. Silly me…


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