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

From-Sailing Canada, July 1987 By Richard Woods

With Jacqui Durst

Predicting the future is always an interesting challenge for designers. Not only as it forces them to try and decide what the future market will be like, and thus they are better able to design boats to suit that market, but it is of course also fascinating to be able to look back and see if one got it right.

Naturally we have had to base our predictions on the assumption that the world will continue much as it always has done, and people will still buy and sail boats (although at the end of the article we shall make some ‘what if’ comments for readers to think about).

The first thing to remember is that the year 2000 may still seem a century away, but it is only fourteen years and if one looks back fourteen years to 1973 it may help to put the time scale into perspective and may also help give a guide to the next fourteen years. So, what was the sailing scene like fourteen years ago, and could we have predicted today’s boats?

In 1973 dinghy sailing was in its heyday, few people had seen a sailboard as there were only about 100 of them in the world, the IOR had only just been invented and no-one had heard of Ron Holland or Ed Dubois (yes really)! Yet in the field of multihulls the Catalac and Snowgoose had already been in production for a couple of years while a multihull won the OSTAR for the first time, Alain Colas sailing Manureva), and the Olympic Tomado design was already six years old (so who says multihulls are modem and experimental while monohulls are tried, tested and conventional)? Oil was still cheap, the West prosperous and the future seemed secure, all of which may have helped fuel the great interest in self sufficiency during the early 1970’s.

Part of this interest spilled over into boats and many predicted floating self sufficient villages and a big growth in ocean sailing. With hindsight we think we could have predicted the changes in cruising multihulls for the simple reason that the overall trend, whether in home building or production boats, has been one of no change. However, the changes in racing boats have been dramatic. At a time when the trimaran reigned supreme few would have predicted that the catamaran would have become a competitive racer (although we would like to think that we would have done so, as we have never been that enamored by trimarans), while only the fervent multihull crusader would have predicted fleets of 85 foot racing multihulls capable of sailing over 500 miles a day, or crossing the Atlantic in eight days.

So fourteen years ago the main types of boat were dinghies and ‘safe’ cruisers which seemed more at home at anchor than at sea. Since then many owners of the latter group have decided that the problems of owning a sailing boat are not worth the benefits gained from keeping up with the Jones’ and have either given up the sport altogether or have bought a power boat (which must explain why Macwesters, Snapdragons etc. are no longer made, but sales of power cruisers like the Princess range are rising rapidly).

The 1970’s dinghy sailors are now in the 30-45 age bracket and besides having a growing family to entertain (which implies a small - i.e. cheap cruising boat) they still want to sail in the way they used to, implying day - racing and cruising, rather than ocean racing - hence the development over the last fourteen years of boats like the J24, Sigma, Impala and the whole IOR scene. The multihull market has lost out badly over this period, for a Catalac can perhaps best be described as the multihull equivalent of the Macwester, and it was not until the micromultihull came along in the 1980’s that there has been any equivalent to the J24.

Today a large percentage of those who, in 1973, would have raced dinghies, now have a sailboard (hence the decline in dinghy sales), indeed sailboarding is the largest growth area of any watersport. However, in fourteen years time these sailboarders will have discovered that sailboarding is a most selfish watersport (ever tried taking a passenger on a board, even a tandem one) and will have decided that it is time to change. Mind you, they will not necessarily want to give up the exhilaration and speed of sailboarding, nor the ability to sail on and off a beach, while of course they will still want to, carry a board with them. Once again, most will have growing families and so little income left for leisure. Add all this together and an obvious growth area over the next fourteen years will be in micromultihulls (i.e. boats similar to the Strider catamaran).

Of course, changes will be gradual, but this in itself implies that by the year 2000 many micro-multihull. sailors will have already moved up to a larger boat. Some will have become addicted to multihull racing and will own a Formula 40 or Formula 30 boat. At present only the former, exists, mainly in France, where they have taken over from the 85-foot maxi-multihulls (the expense of building and repairing these boats means that it is extremely unlikely that they will still be sailed in fourteen years time). Formula 40 is a restricted class of 40 foot boats, with a maximum of 900 square feet of sail and a two ton minimum weight, Festival de L’Orient is the best known boat in the UK, as the IOR One Ton spawned Quarter Ton, Half Ton etc., it is reasonable to assume that other racing multihull classes will emerge. The micros are equivalent to Quarter Tonners so a Half Tonner will be the next sensible size, which probably means a 30-foot class being formed in a few years time.

But what of today’s J24 Club racer, monohull sailors, and existing micro-multihull owners? In fourteen years time they will generally be in the 45-60 age group, their children will have left home, they will probably be in a higher income bracket - all facts implying more money and hence the potential for a larger boat. Most will have been sailing for 20 plus years and thus will have far more experience than the average sailor of today. This means that not only can they have, indeed they will insist on, a more demanding better sailing boat, but they will want the comfort that increasing age usually requires and they will have the knowledge to select only the best.

Most experienced sailors know that boats over 35 feet are hard to handle by two people and that regular crews are hard to find, so we predict a high growth in the numbers of boats (both monohull and multihull) around 35 feet, but with an emphasis on performance rather than on floating cottage style accommodation. Of course, there are already a large number of monohulls that meet these requirements, but it has only been in the last twelve months that 35 foot performance multihulls have appeared on the market (and when one of those is built by Beneteau it makes one sure that such a market must exist).

Today’s sailboarders and J24 sailors may be the major trendsetters of the future, but they will not be the only ones buying the multihulls we have just described. One of the major reasons for the slow growth in the numbers of multihulls has been the lack of choice. In the past the emphasis has been on home building of plywood multihulls and on ocean sailing rather than on professionally built boats for ordinary weekend sailors, which is what the majority want. In fact, there are currently only two yards in the UK producing what one could call a real production cruising multihull I.E. Prout Catamarans (Quest, Snowgoose etc.) and Palamos Boatbuild (Strider), although other yards like Kelsall, Spectrum etc., build semi-production boats in smaller quantities.

Once other builders and designers see that there is a good market in multihulls of all types, then they will want to get in on the act and this (as happened in France during the last 18 months) will result in a very wide choice of designs which will in turn attract more people to multihulls. Suppose the only production monohull available was a 1970 designed Moody 33, how many people would buy it, how many would rather wait until a newer design went into production? We’re not saying a Moody 33 or a 9 metre Catalac is a bad boat, just that the majority would prefer something a bit more modem.

All that we have written so far are only general points indicating likely trends, but we are sure readers will also want to know about specifics, i.e. what the 21st century multihull will actually look like. It would be fun to say the last monohull ever built was launched in 1997, or that every boat would be built in Kevlar/ epoxy and have a wing mast, and maybe this is what readers will expect. However, we do not think it will happen - at least not unless manufacturers invent nontoxic epoxy or a tri-colour masthead light that does not turn with the wing mast. The French would like to see us all sailing foilers, but how do you get on board from a marina pontoon and how do you dry out or store it ashore during the winter?

As usual, the mundane practical problems will dictate the specific design details not purely theoretical considerations. Production monohulls are all very similar (a quick thumbnail sketch - roundbilge, retrousse transom, straight but angled bow, wedge coachroof.) Details may change, but that description would fit a fourteen year old design as well as a new one, multihulls on the other hand vary enormously, partly because there are more feasible combinations (e.g. two or three hulls, full bridgedeck cabin or open deck etc.) partly because multihull designers, builders and owners are more eccentric than others and are prepared to be different.

One of England’s major problems as an industrial nation is that it has had an insular approach. If one remembers that multihulls make great day, off the beach sailors, are ideal for sailing in shallow water and have acres of level deck space to sunbathe on, and if one considers the number of islands in the Far East, an area of major economic growth populated with people with a talent for production and marketing, then it is obvious that sooner or later a lot of multihulls will be built there. Like Japanese cars, many of these Far Eastern beach cats and micros will be shipped west (two micros together with several beach cats fit in a standard container).

This coupled with the interest the big French yards (like Beneteau and Jeanneau) have in building large cruising multihulls may mean that most 21st century multihulls owners will be sailing foreign built boats, even if they are UK designed.

Predictions are always complicated by things that, in isolation may not seem to have great effect on yacht design, yet in practice affect it greatly. Three such examples are Decca and Satellite navigators, Stugeron anti-seasickness tablets and Hotcan meals. Their use on racing boats has let to boats without proper galleys,chart-tables or bunks and so the crew can stay on deck throughout the race as they know exactly where they are from the cockpit readouts, can ‘cook’ on the rail and they never get seasick. It is mainly because of these factors that IOR racing boats have developed in the way they have over the last five years and not because of new materials, more sophisticated designs or more skillful crews.

Making life even more confusing are the effects of changes outside the world of multihulls (and we do not just mean the possibilities of major economic change, social unrest etc.) which could include the following: 1 What if France wins the Americas Cup and changes the deed of gift so that racing is in 12m multihulls (i.e. Formula 40) instead of monohulls? 2. What if Prince Andrew (who took over the social trend setting after his marriage and after King Charles III and Queen Diana became too involved with affairs of state) takes up aeroplane racing (remember he is a pilot) and the jet setters join him so that the IOR/ 12m/maxi racing scene dies thus putting the emphasis back on ‘ordinary’ sailing? 3. More seriously, what if Information Technology and ’expert systems’ (which are already replacing clerks and secretaries) start replacing engineers and middle management, as many predict, thus implying wide scale redundancies amongst 35-50 year olds on above average salaries - i.e. just the sort of people who currently buy cruising boats? This must be a major source of worry for boatyards (and their customers) over the next fifteen years, but on the positive side it may mean an increase in long distance cruising and the home building of larger boats.

In conclusion, the last fourteen years have seen the multihull emerge from the ‘crackpot’ lunatic fringe into a well developed range of boats which have proven unbeatable on the race course while cruising designs have become ever more comfortable and seaworthy. The new designs have generally solved the old bogey problems of capsize of breakup (for one must not confuse cruising multihulls designed in the 80’s with those early designs of the 60’s, they are as dissimilar as today’s racing and cruising boats). There is a bigger choice than ever before, and this choice will continue to grow; production boats now cater for all pockets, ranging in price from ‘second car’ to ‘second house’ levels, while the home builder has not been forgotten as designers are now able to produce more elegant and sophisticated designs that are still easily built.

Interest in multihulls is growing all the time. As designers we get enquiries from all over the world., In the last couple of years these have been not just from the traditional centers like the UK or America but also from more conservative yachting nations like West Germany and Brazil. Multihull designs to take us into the 21st century are already here, whether the multihull develops in the way we hope will ultimately depend on you, the readers and customers and whether you take full advantage of them.

Jacqui Durst is a Toronto multihull sailor and a founding director of the Lake Ontario Multihull Racing Association.

Multihulls In The Year 2000 was reproduced with the permission of Multihull International Magazine.