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

Last weekend I raced my Eclipse for the first time. To set the scene... The Plymouth-Falmouth-Plymouth race is the first coastal race of the year and is open to both multihulls and monohulls. 40 miles down the coast to Falmouth on Saturday. Sunday race 20 miles back to Fowey and Monday Fowey to Plymouth. Over the years the multihull fleet has increased (to 12 this year) but the "club racer" monohulls have all but disappeared leaving only the committed monohull race boats (45 this time).

When I first did the race 15 years ago on our Banshee I remember getting back to Plymouth, mooring up, tidying the boat and eating lunch before the second boat had even finished. This year the Banshee was rated slowest multihull. On Eclipse we were rated second slowest, nearly 40% slower than the fastest trimaran. I was sailing with Joe and Mel who had only sailed catamarans for 1 hour before the race. But they are very experienced dinghy and monohull racers.

Saturday Not a cloud in the sky all day, but no wind at the start (not good for the fast boats). We made multihull racing history by protesting a trimaran BEFORE the start. They accepted their penalty turns. Once clear of Plymouth Sound we settled down to a long spinnaker run. On Eclipse we "knew" that there was no wind out to sea and we guessed that the sea-breeze would pick up and swing west with the sun later in the day. So there was no point in going inshore. It also made sense in the light winds to sail the shortest course. Keeping the apparent wind at 135 deg we did very well for the first 20 miles and as predicted the boats that went out to sea gybed back in well behind us. It seemed that we were second or third multihull on the water and there were probably only 8 monohulls ahead.

But then the wind started to head. It took us an hour of frustration to realise that the asymmetric was slowing us down so we changed to our masthead drifter. Then we were at least able to keep station, but not until several multihulls had overtaken. At the finish we still had our main rivals in sight though, so weren't surprised to learn that we won on handicap. On a domestic note we discovered a fault with the fridge thermostat when Mel tried to make coffee and found that the milk was frozen. That evening we watched the TV forecast for Sunday which gave 20 knot NE winds but at least it would remain sunny.

Sunday The wind funnels in Falmouth harbour, but fortunately was northerly not NE. That meant a running start to the first turning mark and then almost hard on the wind to Fowey. We started with a reef and small spinnaker, again trying to sail as straight as speed would allow to the mark. But the wind wasn't as bad as we'd thought so once on the wind we shook out the reef. In flat water all the multihulls were sailing fast. Ideal for the trimarans and they powered ahead into the far distance. We were pulling past most of the monohulls (which had started 10 minutes before us). The genoa wasn't cleated the whole race as Joe played it constantly, while Mel was equally attentive on the mainsail traveller.

But the Banshee behind was hot on our trail. At the Fowey harbour buoy they were only 6 minutes behind us, so ahead on handicap. But due to Joe's clever wind spotting (and a bit of luck) in the fluky shifts going into Fowey we were able to extend that gap to 12 minutes. Result, the fast trimarans were first and second and we were third. That evening we invited the other two Millbrook boats for a meal. The rain came at last and the temperature dropped so while Mel finished preparing the risotto and rhubarb fool, Joe vacuum cleaned the carpets and I lit the fire. We then discovered a social faux-paux - only 6 place mats for 8 guests! Fortunately they were too polite to comment.

Monday A cold NE wind at about 20 knots meant another windward sail in hats, gloves and full oilskins. Again all the multihulls began pulling past the monohulls. As we neared the entrance to Plymouth we were in company with a J29, a J92, a X-Yacht 99 and a SJ320. The faster multihulls ahead seemed to be sailing a strange tactical course. We counted one boat doing 8 tacks to our one, so soon we were catching them up. However, as expected, as we neared the land the wind started to die and very slowly the monohulls overtook and just piped us at the finish (but of course they had started 10 minutes before us).

Even so, its good for the monohull sailors hanging over the windward rail to see smaller multihulls sailing past them, upright and in comfort with dinghies in davits. They certainly no longer believe that multihulls don't go to windward! So we finished 4th on corrected time, but less than 1 minute behind the third placed boat. That result meant we had the second shortest corrected time over the three races. All in all pretty good for our first race series.