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

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  • 36ft Mirage open deck catamaran

One of the current fashions is the forward cockpit, but for life of me I cannot see why anyone would want one.

The first obvious problem is of course the total lack of protection for the crew; not just from waves but also from the wind. "That's OK" you say, "I'm planning to sail in the tropics or you may say, "I use the autopilot when cruising".

We spent the winter of 2008 sailing down the east coast of the USA from Annapolis to Miami prior to a crossing to the Bahamas. It was very cold and windy for much of the time and we really needed to be able to hide behind a cabin. And you have to hand steer as the ICW is too narrow and crowded to leave the helm to an autopilot.

I remember being anchored one day in the Bahamas, next to a boat with a forward cockpit. Although the sun was shining, a bitterly cold north wind was blowing. We enjoyed the afternoon sun in our sheltered aft cockpit. Our friends had to sit below, it was too uncomfortable to be in their unprotected cockpit.

In other words, you first have to get to the tropics before you can sail there, and once there you'll find the open ocean waves are larger than you find when coastal sailing. However warm the water, being drenched in salt spray is not most people's idea of fun - you might just as well be sailing a monohull!

Imagine beating to windward in the dark and into 25 knots of wind. Autopilot on and crew safe and warm inside, yet on watch. The wind gets up and you need to reef. On a boat like Eclipse or Romany with single line reefing and halyards led aft it literally takes a couple of minutes to put in a reef and all the while being protected by the cabin/cuddy.

If you have a forward cockpit you have to open the forward door, trying to judge the moment when a wave isn't washing into the cockpit and thus filling the saloon... You get the idea.

I always think, when considering something that affects the performance and sailing of a boat, that it is sensible to look at what top race boats do. If they don't have a forward steering position it has to be because it's slower.

Very definitely everyone agrees that one of the reasons the last Vendee Globe was won by Michel Desjoyeaux was because he had a more protected steering position than the others - "never mind the extra weight and windage, I want to stay warm and dry". Many powerboats motor slower than catamarans can sail, but you don't see forward cockpits on those boats.

I don't know about you, but I look up at the sails a lot when I'm sailing, and pretty much all the time when racing or trying hard. Like everyone else, whether a monohull, dinghy or multihull sailor, I find it best to do that from to windward and from well aft. Otherwise why don't race boats have their helmsman further forward?

A forward cockpit effectively means you must use a self-tacking jib with all the disadvantages that entails. While for safety the cockpit has to be kept small, so everyone gets in each others way when tacking and hoisting sails - again you might just as well be sailing a monohull!

Obviously to get to the cockpit you need a forward door from the saloon. Most forward cockpit boats also have a saloon door aft, so there is less room in the saloon as an access passageway must be kept both fore and aft. This access area is roughly the place you'd expect to see the mast (and its associated high compression loads). I know you can design a structure to take any load, but it does seem un-necessary to deliberately make life hard for yourself by cutting a hole there.

Boats usually steer better when going forward than going astern so, given the choice, I prefer to be near the back with a good view of the sterns when maneuvering in close quarters.

Most people anchor when cruising; the aft cockpit is protected from the wind and, in many areas those prevailing winds are easterly (like the S Pacific, Caribbean, Bahamas, Greek Islands for example). People like watching the sun set into the sea. You cannot do that from a forward cockpit.

Update: The Gunboat 60 was one of the first to use a forward cockpit. And, because it is a very expensive boat with excellent publicity behind it, others have jumped on the idea.

But look at this video, from say 20secs in. It isn't even a rough day. Looks very wet to me. Fortunately the water was warm!

http://vimeo.com/109571715