Copyright 2017 - Woods Designs, Foss Quay, Millbrook, Torpoint, Cornwall, PL10 1EN, UK
  • home built Flica 37

  • plywood Romany 34

  • lightweight 14ft Zeta mainhull

  • Strike 15 trimaran at speed

  • 28ft Skoota in British Columbia

  • 10ft 2 sheet ply Duo dinghy

  • 24ft Strider sailing fast

  • 36ft Mirage open deck catamaran

THE 1987 Confederation Life Micro Multihull National Championships, which attracted a total of nine entries to Ocean Village, Southampton, coincided with the Southampton Formula 40 Grand Prix and the MOCRA organised ‘Get afloat - get a boat’ promotion (which was also a great success).

The entry list was dominated by five Woods designed Striders: Double Trouble (David Davies), XXIV Carat (Richard Carter) and Solent Strider (Tom Jarrett) being standard production models. Last year’s winner of the Confederation Life Trophy was Bob Forster with his wooden Strider Cataetyx and Richard and Lilian Woods in Nooit Volmaakt fresh from their convincing victory in the European Championships.

Completing the entry list was Firebird, the stylish new cat from Modular Mouldings sailed by designer Martyn Smith, Scratcher designed, built and sailed by Edward Lee Elliot and Storm Swallow a Rory Carter designed Stampede with excellent accommodation and large rig, sailed by Raymund Koster. Scooby the only trimaran entered was dismasted while on the way to Southampton.

Thanks to sponsorship from Confederation Life, MOCRA were able to hire a crane and load cell to weigh all the boats. Following measurement of sails and hulls, the yachts were issued with IMMCA Time Correction Factors.

The first race on Thursday 23rd took place in the central Solent in Force 2-3 and saw Firebird win by 11 minutes from Nooit Volmaakt, followed a further 25 minutes later by Cataetyx. Despite beating the majority of boats by 40 minutes in a three hour race, Firebird was unable to save her time on handicap, finishing 7th on corrected time. The second race on Thursday afternoon followed a similar pattern with Firebird leading Nooit Volmaakt across the finish line by 5 minutes followed by Scratcher, Double Trouble pulled up to 2nd place on corrected time to Nooit Volmaakt.

Friday saw light winds in the Solent and it was decided not to send the Micros around the Isle of Wight. On a shorter course Firebird again took line honours followed by Nooit Volmoakt and Scratcher. Richard and Lilian Woods won on corrected time by 23 minutes from Double Trouble.

Saturday saw a good Force 3 and bright sunshine and large fleets of yachts out racing in the Solent. Unfortunately there was some confusion over the course to be sailed which was displayed on the Committee Boat, resulting in three boats retiring after they realised they were sailing the wrong course. Cataetyx was unfortunately disqualified for incorrectly crossing the finishing line, but Bob Forster was in good company as Olympic Silver Medallist Randy Smyth sailing his Formula 40 also made the same mistake. Again, Nooit Volmoakt won on handicap, with Double Trouble second.

The final race on Sunday took place in Southampton Water and followed the now customary pattern of Firebird leading round the course but unable to make any impression on corrected time. The overall results of the series showed Firebird was the clear winner on elapsed time, but the convincing winner of the Confederation Life Trophy was Nooit Volmaakt sailed by Richard and Lilian Woods with five firsts from five races. Double Trouble was particularly well sailed to take second place on handicap, considering she did not have a spinnaker and under the IMMCA rule gets no advantage from this.

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This article was originally going to be. a simple report on the 1987 Micro-Multihull European Championships in Cherbourg and the UK Open Championships in Southampton. However, we found it extremely difficult to write about races we actually won, so instead we have decided to write a more general article on which direction we think the micro-multihull class should go.

Much of what has been written recently has been by people who do not actually own a micro. Borrowing money from the bank to buy a micro (as we have done) concentrates the mind wonderfully on, amongst other things, getting value for money from the boat (i.e. being able to sail it single-handed, trail- it easily without buying a larger car, cruise it for a week’s holiday, do well in races etc.), and perhaps equally important, ensuring that the boat will have a good resale value, things that may not seem important from a purely academic design point of view.

Although, with 14 firsts and 1 second in 15 races, we clearly dominated this year’s micro racing in our Strider Turbo Nooit Volmaakt, we felt that we were actually pushed harder than the results indicated. We rarely won by more than a couple of minutes and although we often made mistakes or sailed badly, the windshifts were always in our favour and we never actually had any bad luck. It was obvious though that most of the other crews made more major mistakes than we did, and were sometimes unlucky. Even so, we were only winning by a 1% margin in most races and so it is to the credit of the Rule that the corrected times were usually very close between a wide variety of boat types and that a five year old design could win (something that could never happen in the IOR!).

In fact we are sure that most of our winning margin was because we have been racing micros for five years and have sailed together for over 10,000 miles without any other crew, while of course it also helps to have over 25 years inshore racing experience! Furthermore Strider is now a well developed boat and we have learnt most of the necessary ‘go fast’ tricks, whereas it is perhaps expecting a bit much of the Firebird, for example, to do as well in its first season.

Despite all this it was perhaps inevitable that, having won nearly every race, some people implied that we were somehow cheating the Micro Rules (though how we could do that when Nooit Volmoakt was simply a Strider with a Gwahir rig, and both boats were designed over five years ago, long before the Micro Rules were finalised, no one has explained.)

Rather we believe that one of the main reasons for dominating the results was that we seemed to be the only designers who, instead of designing the largest boat to the Rule, realised that length in particular is heavily penalised by the Rules (and a good thing too, as smaller boats are easier to trail and sail and should be cheaper to buy and maintain), and as micro races are currently won on corrected time there is no point in finishing first. Even if the Rule did not penalise fist boats it is still much harder to win on corrected time with the fastest boat.

Not only can the rest of the fleet follow you, see where the windshifts are etc., but also any mistakes that you make have a much greater effect. For example, in one race we were over the line at the start and had to return and we restarted two minutes later, but surprisingly we still started just ahead of the Firebird. Thus, even before we had started the race we were already two minutes down on the rest of the fleet; the Firebird, however, with its higher rating was 20 seconds behind us on corrected time - 2 minutes 20 seconds behind everyone else, so clearly there is no room for mistakes with a faster boat.

When we launched Nooit Volmaakt we had quickly realised that the higher rated, potentially 20-30% faster boats would have a real job on their hands in order to beat us in a Force 4 or less, conditions when we could do a steady, comfortable and dry 10 knots to windward and 16-17 offwind. A boat with a 1.3 rating would have to do 13 and 21 knots respectively in the same conditions - a real superboat. In fact the results show that both the My-cat and Firebird are close to being such superboats (in the strong wind- races in the Plymouth Grand Prix the Firebird was up with the F-40s, while the My-cat completed the offshore race at the Europeans at an average speed of over 12 knots). Nooit Volmaakt is now for sale and, if sold, we will try and build a faster boat with a lower rating for next year.

We have now cruised and raced three seasons in a Gwahir and two in a Strider, so we know both designs and can see their strengths and weaknesses. The fine-hulled Gwahir (similar to Firebird) is exceptionally fast in strong winds but (again like Firebird) loses its edge over the Strider in winds under Force 4. In theory (although this season is the first for three years that practice agreed with theory) European races are held in F-3 winds and flat water, conditions when it is unlikely that Gwahir could sail near its rating.

All our micro sailing has been done in The English Channel and we have actually sailed more miles in Gwahir than Strider. Although the hullshapes are very similar we found that Strider, was more comfortable and a better sea-boat (for example we found we could sleep in Strider when under way, even at 8-10 knots to windward, something we never managed on Gwahir). The fuller hulls also mean that Strider has the space to carry bottles of wine back from France and the carrying capacity not to feel overloaded when on a three week cruise.

So we decided that our next boat would once again be a Strider. Although our Merlin design is a compromise between Strider and Gwahir and thus could be ideal for us, Strider is a GRP production boat so we could buy the bare hulls and fit them out, saving a winter of boatbuilding. We also felt that it would be better for the class as a whole if it could be seen that a standard production boat, rather than a one-off can win. Clearly it would be easy enough to make a faster Strider (just add more sail and/or make it lighter), but it is hard to keep its rating low at the same time.

Therefore on the new boat we will be putting the emphasis on areas unaffected by the rules, for example by improving the quality of the sails (at the Europeans were one of the few boats without mylar sails), while our semi-elliptic daggerboards will again be the best that money can buy (however, next time we will ensure that the gap between board and box is much smaller, to reduce the turbulence we experience on Nooit Volmaakt). The new rudders will be semi-balanced kick-up ones, like we used on Gwahir, rather than the more conventional transom hung ones we used this year. Even with anti-cavitation plates and great attention paid to the profile shape and leading edge,the steering felt awkward at speeds over 15 knots.

Nooit Volmoakt had a netting beam to take the forestay and, despite bracing wires, we always had a problem keeping the rigging tight. On the new boat we would fit a F-40 style bowsprit. Besides keeping the forestay tighter it is lighter and it also means we can fit a spinnaker chute in front of the forestay. Although observers said that our sailhandling was the best in the fleet, a chute would make spinnaker hoisting more reliable, if not necessarily quicker, and we would spend less time getting wet on the forward net.

We never used our masthead drifter when racing so would not fit one next time, saving the weight and windage of halyard and masthead runners. When the micro race programme was first outlined it was proposed that two offshore and three triangle races would decide a championship. That has now changed in favour of one offshore and four triangle races. Although the offshore race counts extra points, there is a much greater emphasis on windward work than ever before.

We have therefore decided to accept a slight rating penalty and have a higher aspect ratio rig, although the actual sail area will not change much. We have also decided to use foam in the topsides and decks of the new boat, rather than Coremat. This, together with some minor weight savings should result in a boat some 80 Kg. lighter. This would change our rating by about 5% and although no doubt the boat would be that much faster, we have decided to offset some weight saving by making a more comfortable boat, for example by sailing with an outboard (for the first time in five years of micro sailing) and by carrying a boomtent etc.

All these changes may only result in a speed increase of 1/5th of a knot. Not very much you may think but in fact our new boat should be able to beat the Dragonflies, Catman 27 and perhaps the Firebird boat for boat in the light winds we hope will occur next year.

Although we believe that the Rules are doing a good job in encouraging seaworthy cruiser racers and ensuring that boats. i.e. not quickly out-dated, it is clear that there are several anomalies in the Rules (mainly concerning the way the rig is measured), but these are being resolved for next season. Our own proposed changes would actually increase our own rating, while decreasing the My-cat's and Firebird’s. It is also clear that some owners of the faster micros would prefer to race on a boat for boat basis (as do the F 40 and I--28).

In fact while we were in Cherbourg we got as far as suggesting to the F-28 sailors that they merge with the micros and we suggested some new rules that we felt could suit both. Unfortunately the F-28 sailors would have none of it and in fact as far as we are concerned, they have now killed their class because not only have they decided to leave the sail area and weight open, but they have also decided that boats do not need accommodation.

Not only will an ‘arms race’ now ensue, so existing boats will be worth less after each regatta, but also they will have no cruising potential and thus no resale value. Even with a sail area and weight limit, F-40 boats are only seaworthy if raced inshore and in winds under F5. The F-28’s currently racing are already even more extreme.

Next years boat will be like the Roberts 27 with a bigger rig (say a 60 foot mast?), the year after the top boats will have solid C-Class cat rigs, the year after no one will race. So we doubt whether the F-28 class will last long, even in France, while we could not recommend anyone to build a boat purely for racing.

It is a similar problem with the F-40, for having watched several regattas it is obvious that not only will you never win, you will have a struggle even to finish on the same lap as the winner unless you have a new boat each season (and an owner/sponsor prepared to spend $150,000 a year on the boat). Clearly it is no longer a class for amateurs. Despite all the hype, sponsorship etc. we cannot see the F-40 class growing beyond 20 boats racing regularly and it seems unlikely that there will be many meeting outside France.

Perhaps the only hope for the F28 and F-40 is if the top IOR racers join these classes, as the potential return for sponsored boats is obviously much higher in multihulls. than with IOR boats. Many top IOR owners do not actually sail their boats; they manage them as a business. Clearly in that sense they will get as much of a challenge (maybe more considering the logistics of getting the boat to all the Grand Prix round Europe) from a F-40 than a One-Tonner. Such owners may be fine for the F-28 or F-40 but we made it clear from the start that we wanted the Micro Class to be for ordinary sailors and we did not want to create the situation that happened with the Mini-Ton and Quarter Ton IOR boats, where rich men played around with small boats for a couple of seasons and killed the classes for the average owner.

So right from the start we banned kevlar from sails, banned C-class rigs etc. So, to repeat, it appears that the only inshore racing class for ordinary people is the Micro Class. However, it is also clear that micro racing would appeal to more people if (and we said this five years ago) there was also boat for boat, elapsed time racing. We have therefore suggested promoting a ‘Formula 26 class that would race in association with micros. In fact the two classes would be identical (even down to the rating rule and rating limit) and would race over the same course at the same time, but the F-26 prizes would be given to the elapsed time winners.

As there are already prizes for elapsed time results, forming the F 26 class would not actually change anything, but it would make elapsed time results ‘official’ and hopefully encourage more My-cat and Firebird sailors to race. Next year looks like being the best so far for micro racing. The European Championships will be in Holland and the UK Championships in Plymouth. So why not come along?