A new boat construction project provides an opportunity to revisit the possibilities for reducing dependence on fossil fuels and attaining energy autonomy, and Puffin is no different. While the holy grail of 100% renewable energy supply is unfortunately still not realistic, we can get closer to it with a light, efficient sailing boat that isn’t weighed down with the appliances we’ve come to depend on when living ashore.
The 4X doesn’t have the load carrying ability of the larger 5X, so we have to pay closer attention to what we bring aboard and also what systems we install. Robin and I have evolved as cruisers over the years, to a point where some of the equipment we felt we couldn’t live without on our Catana, now seems completely unnecessary. Our Catana had air conditioning, a clothes washer, AC powered watermaker, a dive compressor and a diesel generator to power it all. On our 5X we went further down the path of simple, light and fast and passed on all of the above except air conditioning. On Puffin we will have none of these items, and we’re not worried about it at all.
The air conditioning on Wildling was never needed when away from the dock, and while it was certainly nice to have in a marina, we spend very little time on our boat in a marina, so it’s not something we used much anyway.
Our clothes washer on the Catana was never used. It always felt that if we had enough clothes to wash in a machine, we had too many to fit in the tiny marine clothes washer on board. These days we hand wash the clothes we wear on passage, and when we arrive at a port we go to a laundromat or use a laundry service.
The new DC powered Dessalator watermakers are very efficient and run off our solar panels and lithium batteries. (I will do a future post on why I prefer the Dessalator over the Spectra watermaker we had on the Catana.)
The dive compressor was nice, but we find these days we go diving with local dive operators and use their tanks, and freedive the rest of the time.
The generator on our Catana was a constant source of maintenance and headaches and I am glad to be rid of it. We didn’t have a generator on Wildling and never missed it.
It would be great to have enough solar capacity that we could install electric engines instead of diesel, and power all of our onboard equipment as well, but the reality is the amount of solar required is too great to be viable, and the weight penalty of the extra batteries needed to give a reasonable range when motoring, exceeds the weight saved with electric motors. The practical alternative is to add a diesel generator to make up the difference, which puts us right back where we started with a diesel power source, only now we have a single point of failure for all our energy systems and propulsion. Perhaps one day the technology will evolve to a point where electric motors are a viable option, but for now, I can’t make the math work, so we are staying with our two 30 hp Volvo diesels. Because our boat is light, we don’t need big thirsty engines, and we can sail more in lighter winds, so we don’t need to carry as much fuel. That’s good, but we still need to power our autopilot, instruments, electric winches, refrigeration, watermaker, pumps, lights and computers, without relying on the alternators on our diesel engines to charge the batteries, and for that we need renewable energy charging systems.
Our main source of renewable energy comes from 4 x 150 Watt solar panels mounted on the davits. These are charging two 180 Ah lithium batteries. I know from experience that 600 Watts isn’t enough and we will need to run the engines to top up the batteries using the alternators. My ideal capacity for our needs is around 1000 Watts of solar, so we needed to find another 400 watts, and for that we turned once again to our friends at Gunboat!
Gunboat uses an array of flexible solar panels on the salon roof to provide their renewable energy needs with good results. In the past Outremer has advised against flexible panels as they had high failure rates on boats that used them, and they lost a substantial amount of their capacity in the heat. The new panels that Gunboat are using are much better in both regards, so Outremer is willing to consider them on their cruising boats.
I worked with Matthieu at Outremer on a design that added three flexible panels to Puffin’s cockpit roof. Since this had never been done before on a 4X, The engineering team at Outremer needed to work out the mounting system and cable routing. The result is an extra 354 Watts, giving us a total peak capacity of 954 Watts. The real output will be less, because the cockpit roof has some shading from the boom, and the flexible panels will still have a reduced output in hot weather, but it’s still a meaningful increase over the davit panels alone. The other benefits of the flexible panels are that you can walk on them, and they are very light weight.
One technical detail to be aware of when adding panels, is that each group of panels needs to have a separate charge controller. This is because shading on any one of the panels will reduce the output of the entire group, so each area needs to be independent. This allows you to get maximum available power from the system.
Solar is great when the sun is shining, but when on passage at night a lot of energy is needed to drive the autopilot, winches, radar, chart plotter and instruments. For this we have a Watt & Sea hydro-generator. This will be the racing version, the same as we had on Wildling. It produces 600 Watts peak output and in most cases will handle all our energy needs when on passage.
There is a lot of debate around the real-world reliability and benefits of these hydro-generators. We used ours frequently on Wildling, and it worked very well, easily providing all the power we needed during night passages. On long voyages, some owners have experienced broken propellers. There are two causes for this. Something hitting the prop, which can’t be avoided, and propeller over-speed. The over-speed issue only occurs on the cruising version which has fixed pitch blades that get destroyed if they spin too fast for extended periods. The racing version uses a micro-processor controlled hydraulic pump to reduce the pitch of the blades as the speed increases.
There’s no way to protect against hitting something on passage though, so we carry spare blades. Replacing blades on these units is not difficult, but you have to keep a close watch over the hydro-gen to make sure you can quickly find and fix any issues.
For times when we are at anchor and there’s no sun for several days we can resort to the diesel engine alternators to keep our batteries charged. Since we have two engines, there is some redundancy so even if one engine or alternator fails we can use the other. On a boat where we depend on power to produce drinking water, this level of safety factor is very important. And as a final stage backup, in case of an emergency, we have a hand operated watermaker!
Meanwhile, at the Factory
Lots of progress being made on construction. Here are some photos from this week:
Choosing the sails and sail handling setup on Puffin was a fun part of the process, but also a bit nerve-wracking as there are so many factors to consider and trade-offs to make. It’s difficult and expensive to fix mistakes after the boat is built, so every detail has to be thought through. It took a lot of discussions and research and I really want to thank Benjamin and Matthieu at Outremer for their detailed advice and patience with all my questions!
I feel like sails and sail handling systems are possibly the most critical areas of the selection process when purchasing a new catamaran. I’ve had poor setups in the past and they make it a frustrating experience to handle and trim the sails and can be downright dangerous in certain conditions. A good setup gives you the confidence to handle any conditions you encounter, and can make your boat a pleasure to sail, so it’s well worth the effort to get it right.
The basic setup on the 4X is good, but after previous lessons learned and my goal of configuring Puffin for easy single-handed sailing, I needed to go over every detail to make sure we would end up with a solution that meets all our needs. In this post I will go over what we are trying to accomplish with our sail plan and the solution we have chosen for Puffin. I’m going to cover the important things I wished I had known when I bought my other boats, and what I have learned from my earlier mistakes. This post gets a bit technical, so for those that want to skip the science lesson, here are the top three things I wished I knew when I was buying my first boat:
- It’s a sailboat. Sails matter, a lot! Don’t skimp. Good sails and sail balance can make you love sailing your boat. Poor sail balance can make you hate it, and can put your boat and lives at risk
- Most manufacturers put cheap sails and grossly inadequate sail handling systems on their boats. They do this to keep the price low, and because virtually nobody attending a boat show wants to talk about sailplan design. Beware of this, you’re buying a sailboat not a motor boat, see point 1!
- Work with a manufacturer you trust, and talk to them about your sails and sail handling. Good manufacturers like Outremer are happy to do this. When they give you advice, listen to them! They have seen just about every scenario you can imagine and they know what works and what doesn’t out on the water.
Our design goals
Let’s get started with Puffin’s sailplan. In order to determine the best solution, I had to first define our goals. Here’s what is important to me on our boat:
- Excellent light wind performance – I talked about our goals for light wind sailing in the Chasing Performance post. A lightweight, well designed boat is fundamental to this, but we also need sails that can provide maximum power with minimum weight.
- Easy reefing – We want the minimum amount of sail up at any time to maintain our desired boat speed. This means that we will spend a lot of time sailing with one or more reefs in the mainsail. We need to be able to easily take and remove reefs, and we need to make sure there is minimal wear and chafe when sailing long distances with a reefed sail.
- Balanced rig – As we reef the mainsail we also need to reduce the headsail area to keep the boat balanced and minimize the load on the autopilot. The headsail area has to be easily adjustable and the location of the center of effort must move back towards the mast as the headsail area is reduced.
- Controls at the helm – We want to minimize the need for going forward to make changes to the sails, so most of the operations need to be done from the helm station.
- Single-handed operation – All sailing maneuvers on the boat need to be as easy as possible when performed by a single person
- Storm mode – We need to have a storm configuration that’s simple and safe to configure and can handle winds in the 40-50 knot range
There’s no one or perfect answer in any of this, so every decision becomes a compromise. I had to determine my priorities for choosing among different alternatives. I decided that I would start with high performance sails, but after that I would put ease of single-handing above performance when making tradeoffs.
We chose North 3Di Endurance for our 68 square meter mainsail. The sail is fully battened with three reef points. We added three colored lateral bands to assist with trimming. Although the sail in the image has numbers on it, we deleted the sail numbers from our sail. They’re ugly and unnecessary for cruising.
North mainsails are almost half the weight of the equivalent hydranet sail and they are able to keep a good airfoil shape in light winds. The downside is they are not as tough as hydranet and they will chafe if not handled carefully.
For our 55 square meter Genoa we chose North 3Di Endurance.
We get the same benefits with the 3Di Genoa as the main. Significantly lighter and holds an excellent airfoil in light winds, so more power. There are two donwsides to 3Di genoas. They have less resistance to chafe, and they don’t roller reef very cleanly. Our Genoa is on a roller furler and because of the molded airfoil shape of the 3Di sail they work best when fully unfurled. When furling partially to reef, they develop creases along the luff and lose performance. This sail uses a new system by North to reduce the creasing along the luff when reefing. I’ve not seen or used this, so will have to report back later on whether it works or not.
We are adding a staysail to Puffin, which is not standard on the 4X, but is offered by Outremer as an option. In my experience, catamarans over 40-45 feet should have a staysail (I explain why below). We added this on Wildling, and it completely changed our sailing experience. We were able to point higher and drive the boat easily upwind in strong conditions, and we maintained helm balance as the sails were reefed.
Our staysail on Puffin is on a movable inner stay which is tensioned in place when needed. I expect to be using the staysail a lot when sailing upwind, so we are rigging it to use the self tacking track. This is the same track the Outremer 45 uses for its self tacking jib, which we don’t have on our 4X. Because it’s on a movable stay, we are not using a roller furler, instead the sail will be hanked on, with a single slab reefing point.
We had to make a tradeoff here. The optimum staysail size recommended by North is 32 square meters, but that would require the sail to be rigged slightly overlapping the mast and not self-tacking, making it more work to route the sheets when deploying and more work to tack. From past experience I know we will spend a lot of our time upwind under staysail, so because my tradeoff criteria favors easy single-handed sailing over performance, I went with the smaller, self-tacking staysail.
The storm jib takes care of winds in the 40-50+ knot range. It hopefully won’t see much use. I needed ours on Wildling when we sailed 12 hours in 45-50 knots and was damn glad to have it, so there’s no question for me about getting one on Puffin.
The Balance Problem
One of the lessons I learned the hard way is the importance of rig balance when sailing upwind in developed conditions. This is so important, and so seldom mentioned by boat manufacturers, that I’m going to go into the science behind it a bit to explain what it is, and why I care. Let’s start by looking at a boat with full main and jib in balance to understand the forces involved.
Imagine that our boat is sailing upwind with the wind at around 45 degrees to the bow. There are three important locations where a force is being exerted on the boat:
CE-main: This is the center of effort of the force pushing the mainsail sideways
CE-jib: The center of effort of the force pushing the jib sideways
CLR: The center of lateral resistance. This is like the post of a weather vane and opposes the sideways movement of the boat.
You can imagine if the boat is in balance and the force acting at CE-main is increased, the stern of the boat will tend to get pushed away from the wind. Also, if the force at CE-jib is increased the bow will get pushed downwind. If they are equal the boat will not rotate and will be balanced. You will feel this on the helm. The boat will sail on course with no helm pressure. When the forces are out of balance, the only way to stay on course is to compensate with the rudder. A small amount of rudder is fine, a large amount will overcome the auto-pilot, and if the force imbalance gets too large, the rudder can no longer compensate and the boat can no longer be held on its current course.
The relationship of forces can be represented by a simple lever diagram. In our high school physics class we learned the mass (or force at the CE for us) x distance on one side of the center of resistance is equal to the mass times the distance on the other side when the system is in balance.
Moving M2 further away requires a reduction in the force to maintain balance.
Just for fun, let’s do the math on our theoretical 4X diagram above. I’ll just pick a number for the force acting at CE-main because it doesn’t matter what the actual force is, what we want to understand is the balance relationship between the main and jib as a percentage of the mainsail force. So I’ll just use 100 for the force at CE-main and then solve for the force at CE-jib. This gives the following:
forceCEjib = (forceCEmain x D1) / D2
forceCEjib = (100 x 2383) / 3365
forceCEjib = 71
Balance ratio = 1 This rig is perfectly balanced
Everything is good here. Both sails are balanced around the CLR. The boat will maintain course, driving well with no helm pressure. (In reality the forceCEjib would be a bit less than this, and there would be a small amount of pressure imbalance turning the bow towards the wind (weather helm). This would be overcome with a degree or two of rudder, but that’s not important for this discussion).
Now, let’s see what happens when the wind builds and we reef the sails. We’re going to take two reefs in the main which will reduce it from 68 m2 to 41 m2 (about 40%) and we’re going to furl up our jib 40% as well. This is shown in the next diagram.
This configuration shifts both the CE locations forward, but it’s not until we do the math that we realize the magnitude of what’s really happened.
We can find the new balance ratio as a percentage of mainsail power by comparing the magnitude of each side of our balance equation. We will reduce both the main and jib force acting at the CE by 40% (by taking two reefs) and use the new distances measured on the drawing. Here’s what we get.
forceCEmain X 60% x 1768 = 60 x 1768 = 106,080
forceCEjib x 60% x 4960 = 42.6 x 4960 = 211,296
Balance ratio = 1.99 The jib is exerting double the mainsail force sideways
This dramatically changes our ratio of forces, and now the jib is generating twice the force of the main. The bow of this boat is being pushed hard to leeward and the rudders may not have enough surface area to compensate. The only solution is to keep furling the jib until the rudders can exert enough pressure to maintain course. Unfortunately we have to furl a lot because as we furl, the CE-jib keeps moving forward. With the further reduced jib we lose a lot of our power, the boat starts to slow and can no longer drive as well through the waves created in these conditions, this slows the boat down ever further. The dagger-boards lose lift as the speed reduces and the boat gets pushed to leeward making it even harder to maintain course. This leaves the helmsman with two choices. Change course or start the engines. On most catamarans at this point, the sails get stowed and the engines take over.
So What’s the Solution?
This problem is very solvable, but it requires a different upwind headsail setup. What we need to be able to do, is move the headsail CE backwards towards the CLR of the boat as we reef the sails. Our staysail will do this for us because it’s rigged on an inner stay, much closer to the mast than the roller furling jib or Genoa. The following diagrams show our sailplan configuration on Puffin, incorporating a staysail at different reefing points.
This is why a staysail is such an important safety feature on a catamaran and why we are adding it on Puffin. I mentioned in the performance post that we anticipate sailing a considerable amount of time with reefed sails, so having a staysail is even more important because we will so often be in a sail configuration where the staysail is the ideal headsail for the conditions.
Sail Handling Systems
Now we know what our sail configuration is going to be, the next step is to look at how we will raise, lower, reef and trim the sails to suit the different conditions.
The standard 4X sail handling design is very good, but there were a few changes that I wanted to make to make it a bit easier for single-handed sailing.
Fixed Carbon Mast
The biggest change to the base 4X design was my choice of a fixed, carbon fiber mast instead of the standard rotating mast. We give up some performance, but we gain the following benefits:
- Rope clutch for main halyard moves from the side of the mast to the salon roof in front of the helm station. A rotating mast needs to be free to rotate, so the halyard has to be blocked on the side of the mast. This means going forward every time the sail is raised or lowered and adds steps to reefing operations. The fixed mast lets us move the halyard blocker to the helm station.
- Rope clutches for reefing lines move from end of boom to the salon roof in front of the helm station. Same as above, the rotating mast requires crew to go to the mast end of the boom to release and secure the reefing line blockers. This is not needed with the fixed mast as these relocate to the helm.
- Removed mast angle control lines and blockers – The rigging for controlling the mast angle is not needed. This saves weight and cleans up the salon roof and helm station a bit.
- Simplified instruments – The mast angle sensor is not needed, which eliminates a potential point of failure and maintenance. Also, we can locate the radar dome on the mast spreader and not have to worry about the unreliable software compensation for mast angle when displaying radar plots.
- Redundant navigation lights – A fixed mast allows us to add a tri-color nav light at the mast head, in addition to the standard set of deck level lights. This is an extra level of safety and protects us if (when) we have a nav light go out.
Mainsail Reef Hook
This hopefully solves a problem I have struggled with on both my previous boats. When reefed, the line that secures the mainsail clew to the boom is under constant tension. It is the source of loud creaking noises, and the contact with the low friction ring at the clew causes a lot of chafe. We sail with reefs in a lot, so I really wanted to solve this issue. I discussed it with Matthieu, and it turns out Outremer are now offering an option on their boats that addresses this problem.
The Facnor Reef Lock captures the clew reef shackle and takes the load off the reefing line. No more chafe, and no more creaking! We are adding this to Puffin on our 1st reef point, which is the one we use the most and also places the most load on the reefing lines.
Remote Control Furling
The final sail handling modification was the addition of electric winches and remote control buttons so that the headsail can be furled on all points of sail single-handed. We converted the port cockpit winch to electric for ease of headsail furling. We made one of the port helm position winches electric to make it easy to raise the mainsail and spinnaker halyards and to lift someone up the mast. And we made the winch on the starboard side salon roof electric to make it easy for Robin to trim the Genoa if (when) I get injured.
The port cockpit winch handles the furling line for the Genoa. I want to be able to furl single-handed on starboard tack so I added an extra high speed winch button behind my feet at the helm station. To furl I put the furling line on the cockpit winch, go to the helm station and put the Genoa sheet on the winch, then ease the sheet as I push the furling winch button with my foot.
We added another remote control button for the port cockpit winch at the starboard side Genoa sheet winch position. This allows me to furl the Genoa single-handed when on port tack. To furl I put the furling line on the cockpit winch, go to the winch at the starboard side of the salon roof and put the Genoa sheet on the winch, then ease the sheet as I push the cockpit winch button with my foot.
What about downwind?
Downwind sails were pretty easy. I used the heck out of our Code-D Gennaker on Wildling, so I’m going to get another one for Puffin. It’s just so easy to hoist, stow and furl compared to a spinnaker, and what it lacks in performance it more than makes up for in ease of use and low stress sailing. The only modification I made to standard is that I am using a Karver KF8 furler for the Code-D. These things are bullet proof and very low friction, so they make it easy for either Robin or I to furl our Gennaker in windy conditions.
I’m also adding a (highly controversial) symmetric spinnaker. Most performance cruisers hate these things, but I like them. Ours is small with a heavyweight fabric (for a spi) and I use it when we’ve got moderate wind but large waves. In these conditions, it can be very uncomfortable sailing on a reach and I find I can keep everyone on board healthier and happier by dropping the main, setting the symmetric and going dead downwind. We’ll never set any speed records with this sail, but in some cases the relief it provides in nasty conditions is worth its weight in gold.
The build is progressing well at Outremer. Last week they bonded the deck section to the hulls and continued the interior fitout. The deck bonding process is an example of the value of things you don’t see at a boat show. Most manufacturers use an adhesive to glue the deck and hull sections together. This provides a watertight seal and a strong joint, but it can vary in quality depending on the process and workmanship of the factory. Outremer does this too, and then they go along the entire join from the inside and layup an additional layer of fiberglass mat and resin to provide an extra bonding layer. This makes the joint much stronger and ensures there are no weak points anywhere along the join. When pounding into big waves and gale force winds, it’s reassuring to know our boat is built to take it!
On the transport front, Robin and I went to the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show last weekend and were able to catch up with the Australian team at Sevenstar yacht transport, the company we are using to ship Puffin from Palma to Brisbane. It’s been a bit difficult trying to understand all the details of the shipping process: where the boat has to be and when, how it gets loaded and secured, how to protect it during the voyage and how to deal with the paperwork and customs on each end. It was good to talk to the team in person and they reassured me that this is pretty routine for them and not as scary as it appears. I was able to get most of my questions answered, so now we are working through the preparation details for our September shipping date.
A few things I have learned so far:
- Sevenstar recommends against any kind of vinyl wrap or plastic protection on the exterior gelcoat surfaces. Their experience with voyages of this length show that the wrapping will not last the voyage and will often damage the gelcoat surface as it comes loose and is buffeted by strong winds
- Sevenstar use their own ships with engine exhaust stacks at the stern, so the black residue that gets deposited on the decks of transported yachts during general deck cargo transport is not an issue
- They can’t give an actual shipping date until 3 to 4 weeks before departure. This makes it difficult to arrange transport to the loading site as we don’t know when we have to be there
- The actual destination port in Australia isn’t fixed ahead of time. Might be Brisbane, or maybe Newcastle. I guess getting it to Australia is the important part, so no point quibbling over where in Australia it’s going to arrive!
Here are some photos of progress during the past week.
I stopped in at the Outremer factory last week on my way back home to Brisbane, and got to see Puffin for the first time. Things are looking really good, and they are right on schedule. The deck went on at the end of last week. Here are some photos of the deck section being lifted into place.
I was also given an update and demo of Outremer’s new customer support ticketing system that they are getting ready to roll out. The new system will help Outremer be able to track customer requests more effectively, respond more quickly, and give customers more visibility into the status of in-progress support cases. They are doing a nice job of implementing the new system and all the internal process changes required to incorporate it into their business. As readers of my blog know, the level of after sales support provided by boat manufacturers is one of my key criteria when purchasing a boat, and one of the reasons I am purchasing my 2nd Outremer
When we purchased our first catamaran, I thought performance was important because at some point we might want to race, and going fast is more fun than going slow. We bought a Catana 471 because it was regarded as a performance cruising boat that was well designed and fast. Well, as they say in the military – “No plan survives contact with the enemy!” and when we started making offshore passages in our “performance” catamaran. I learned two things:
- Sailing offshore is often uncomfortable and stressful
- How fast we were going was much less important than being comfortable and relaxed
Our so-called performance catamaran was a beast to manage in 25+ knots and large waves, and took over 12 knots of wind before we could sail at a reasonable speed. We had to run the motors when winds were light, and got beat up sailing when it was windy. I quickly realized I knew nothing about the design characteristics of a boat that can handle real world conditions in comfort and safety.
Now we’re buying our third catamaran, and we have more sea miles and experience behind us. After owning an Outremer 5X for our 2nd boat, I have a better understanding of what’s important when choosing a catamaran and configuring it for offshore sailing, and there’s no question in my mind, high performance is the answer!
Because we’re cruising sailors and not racers, it’s not obvious why performance is important, and trying to understand performance by discussing it with a naval engineer can be very unsatisfying, because they live in a world of complex details and tradeoffs, where there is no single or simple answer to any question. I did a lot of research and read a bunch of theory, but I didn’t really understand which performance characteristics are truly important to cruising sailors until I experienced them for myself. Wildling was a great learning experience and now we are applying what we learned to the design of Puffin.
In this post I will go over the performance characteristics that I think matter the most for offshore cruising, and some of the innovations that we are building into Puffin to achieve our goals of comfortable, low stress offshore sailing. It turns out we are building Puffin at the perfect time, because Outremer has figured out how to take resin infusion optimization to the next level. They are able to build lighter boats without having to add more expensive carbon fiber. It’s an important breakthrough, and I think we’re looking at the future of affordable, high performance, series production catamaran construction.
Performance is not all about going fast
It’s easy to think high performance just means going fast, and for racing sailors that may be true. But cruising sailors have different objectives. First and foremost we want to keep our family, friends and crew safe and comfortable. We want to be able to handle a wide range of conditions without a lot of effort and stress, and we want to get to our destination quickly and efficiently.
It turns out that in many cases going faster is actually not what we want. When at sea on a passage, as the wind builds so do the waves. Going fast in developed offshore conditions is uncomfortable, stressful and it’s not any fun. Robin and I prefer to sail between 9 and 12 knots on passage upwind and slower when conditions get rough, so we slow the boat down by reducing sail as the wind builds. This protects the boat and allows us to relax, rest properly and maintain a two person watch schedule. It also gives us a safety margin when we get hit by unexpected gusts.
In light winds, we want to be able to sail rather than motor. The old adage: “There is either too much wind or too little” is unfortunately true! When the wind is light, the sea is calm, and things are really pleasant, but it’s no longer pleasant when you have to run the engines. My ideal scenario is to be able to turn off the engines when the wind reaches 5 knots. That way we can sail more and motor less, and we can be sailing when other boats are stuck at the dock waiting for a weather window.
High performance boats are easily driven in light winds. They spend more time sailing and less time waiting for wind or motoring. They log more miles in relaxing, light wind conditions, and they have higher daily averages over time because they can maintain a more constant speed range in changing weather conditions. In higher winds, they use less sail area for the same speed. Smaller sails are easier to handle and generate less force. Less force means less stress on the rig, lines, winches, fittings and crew and fewer breakages.
The most important features
So, performance for us is all about driving the boat at reasonable speeds without engines in light winds and being able to easily and significantly reduce sail area as the wind builds, while maintaining a high average speed and keeping a comfortable motion.
In my experience there are four important design elements that a boat needs to have to meet these cruising performance goals. The more of these that are present and done well, the more comfortable, safe and fun the boat will be offshore.
- Hull length and shape: long, narrow hulls require less power to drive than short, fat hulls, they also slide more easily through waves. But too narrow and there’s not enough room to live comfortably aboard. It’s important to have the right balance.
- Weight distribution: keeping heavy items (like engines, bunks and systems) away from the ends of the boat and keeping the boom low and the mast and rig small and light all reduce the amount of fore and aft pitching. More pitching means less comfort and a big speed reduction as the boat is diving further in and out of waves instead of driving forward
- Weight: lighter is faster and greatly reduces motion in a developed sea
- Sail area: more sail area is faster, but harder to handle and manage as conditions develop. The goal is to have the minimum necessary to drive the boat at the speeds we need.
If a boat manufacturer does a good job with the first 3 items, the boat can have a shorter mast and smaller sails. A heavy, wide hulled boat that pitches a lot will need to put up a lot of sail just to get moving, and will have to carry comparatively more sail in higher winds. This places higher stress on the boat and requires more work and vigilance for the crew. I had to hand steer in developed conditions on our Catana because the boat became very unbalanced due to the amount of sail area we had to carry to make reasonable speeds. With our 5X, we went plenty fast with deeply reefed sails and used the autopilot instead. A completely different experience!
You can see what I’m talking about by comparing a heavy slow boat like the Lagoon or Bali with a Schionning or Outremer. The Bali boats are focused on comfort at the dock and are more oriented to motor sailing in light to moderate winds. They have wide hulls to accommodate their big cabins and living spaces, they have cabins in the bows, and engines far back in the stern, they weigh more than twice as much as performance boats of the same length and they have double the engine size and triple the fuel tank capacity because they spend so much time motoring instead of sailing. Nothing wrong with that, as long as your goal is not long distance offshore cruising.
It’s also interesting to watch different catamarans at anchor. You can see the fat, heavy boats are rocking and pitching, while the performance boats hardly move. Performance is the gift that keeps on giving, it’s even an advantage when you’re stopped!
Our design goals for Puffin
I’ve talked about general characteristics, but here I will be more specific about what we are trying to accomplish with Puffin:
- We want to maximize the amount of sailing we can do in light winds. It’s super annoying to be sailing at speeds less than we can comfortably motor. For us, that’s about 5-6 knots on a single engine. I’m sure everyone is different, but I’ll sail all day at 4-5 knots, rather than turn on an engine. So if our goal is to sail in winds at 5 and above, we have to be able to sail at or very close to the wind speed.
- We need the best motion at sea possible to maintain our speed and comfort aboard. Staying high in the water and minimizing pitching is important, so we need narrow hulls, light weight and good weight distribution.
- We want to be able to easily reduce sail as the wind builds, and have some margin for error so even if we get caught with too much sail up, the rig is not so large, or the boat so light that we risk damage or flipping.
- We want to live aboard in comfort with well designed spaces for entertaining guests, relaxing and sleeping. We need enough space for storage and comfortable cabins.
Armed with our design goals, I needed to find boats that could meet them. This is not so easy to do because manufacturer’s published data is notoriously inconsistent and inaccurate, so I looked at boats that met our light wind performance criteria and then used them as a benchmark to compare boats that have a similar design. I hoped this would help me find the boat with the best blend of performance and comfort.
An excellent example of high performance catamaran designs are the Schionning boats, for example the Spirited 480 and G-Force. There are a few of these in and around Australia so I have some real world data to do a reality check on their published specs.
I know that a minimally loaded Schionning can sail at or slightly above the true wind speed in 5-12 knot winds. They have fine hulls and excellent weight distribution with cabins and engines located towards the center of the boat. This makes them a great reference point for performance criteria. I believe Schionning’s published specs are pretty accurate, so I took the light displacement weight and sail area of the Schionning boats to calculate a performance ratio. Not a completely scientific approach, but it gave me a starting point for further comparison.
Here are the results of my simple performance ratio calculation using Schionning data
|Boat Model||Length (feet)||Light Displacement (kg)||Sail Area – Mainsail + working headsail (m2)||Performance ratio|
|Schionning Spirited 480||48||8,000||125||15.6|
|Schionning G-Force 1500C||49||8,000||128||16.0|
So why go to the trouble of calculating a performance number? Why not just buy a Schionning and be done with it? Well the reason is that I like the performance of Schionning boats, but I don’t love their interior design and cockpit layout. It’s not bad at all, just my personal preference. I’ve been sailing French catamarans for a long time, and there are many design elements that I really like about them. I also like that they are built in a production series with a global after sales support network, rather than the one-off kit based approach used by Schionning, so I wanted to see if it was possible to get a production boat with similar performance to a Schionning. And for that I needed a way to compare different boats.
Using the same methodology as above, I looked at a range of performance series production catamarans:
|Boat Model||Length (feet)||Light Displacement (kg)||Sail Area – Mainsail + working headsail (m2)||Performance ratio|
This approach is only valid when comparing boats that have very similar length, hull shape and weight distribution characteristics. The Balance 526 is a bit of an outlier here, because it has lower performance geometry and weight distribution than the Outremer and Schionning boats, but I was curious to see how it stacked up just the same.
The numbers for the 4X are not too far off the Spirited 480, the difference being due to the 4X being heavier and having a bit less sail area. As a reality check, our 5X would reliably get within 0.5 knots of true wind speed upwind in light winds. We sailed against a 4X in France and they were always a bit faster upwind than Wildling, so that indicates that for boats around 48-50 feet with these hull shapes and weight distribution, a performance number around 15.5 should be a good goal for a true wind speed capable boat.
As a quick aside, I think it’s important to understand why the 4X is heavier than the Spririted 480 and G-Force. Even with the use of carbon fiber on the 4X the other two boats are still lighter, and I believe the reasons for this come down to two differences in manufacturing.
Schionning boats are built using prefabricated Duflex foam cored panels. They don’t use fiberglass matt layup in molds with resin infusion. Constructing a boat out of Duflex panels is a very labor-intensive process, but it works well for Schionning because most of their boats are home built from pre-cut kits, so material costs are more important than labor costs. The Duflex panels create a lighter structure because there is no wasted resin penetrating the core, so for a given surface area, a Schionning will be lighter than a typical resin infused molded boat.
In addition, Outremer does not use a foam core below the waterline. Instead they use a solid fiberglass structure. It’s heavier, but it is also stronger, and it’s an important safety feature on Outremer boats, because it gives them high impact resistance. This has been put to the test multiple times by Outremer owners surviving groundings and collisions with floating objects with no loss of integrity or safety to the boat.
Pushing the 4X envelope
In the meetings regarding our 4X design with Matthieu at Outremer, I asked him what could be done to boost the performance a bit more on the 4X?
He explained that the 4X design is a collaboration with Loïck Peyron to create a version of the Outremer 45 that was more oriented to occasional racing without compromising comfort and seaworthiness. They extended the Outremer 45 hulls by 3 feet, reduced the weight by 500 kg using carbon fiber in various places, and they replaced the self tacking jib with a larger genoa to increase the working headsail area. The option of adding a taller mast with more mainsail area was also considered. Loïck basically said “don’t do it!” He felt that adding more mainsail would only add stress and fatigue to the crew, because reefing would require more vigilance and more effort. Better to be stress free, knowing the boat can handle a wide range of conditions in safety!
This design philosophy demonstrates Outremer’s uncompromising focus on performance cruising versus racing and makes a lot of sense to me, so no changes to the rig, but what about the weight? This is where an unexpected twist of fate led to a breakthrough that would give us the solution I was looking for!
The Rhum test
The 2018 single-handed race across the Atlantic Ocean, the Route du Rhum, was unique in that for the first time, production cruising catamarans were entered in the Rhum Multi class. Longtime Outremer employee and offshore sailing instructor Jean-Pierre (JP) Balmès entered the race sailing a 4X. They encountered 3 major storm systems that decimated the fleet with winds over 60 knots and 6-8 meter seas. Jean-Pierre and his 4X came through unscathed and took 5th place! He beat all the other production multis by a huge margin, and was only beaten by some racing trimarans, and unlike them, he had a toilet that flushed, and could take a shower without using a bucket! A truly remarkable performance.
JP’s 4X was a stock boat, with some of the bedding removed to keep it light and no changes to the sailplan. But, he made an important change to the hull construction to reduce the weight by 300 kg! We were all curious to see how his 4X was handling the extreme conditions. His feedback was the boat was fine, very strong, but didn’t need to be any lighter!
With JP’s design modification, his light displacement was reduced to 7,900 kg, giving his 4X a performance ratio of 15.4, which is right on the performance number I was looking for. Not only that, JP had just tested the boat in the worst conditions imaginable and had no issues at all.
Help from Gunboat
So what did Outremer do to JP’s 4X to drop the weight by 300 kg, without using extra carbon fiber or compromising strength or safety? The answer comes from an unexpected collaboration. In 2016, Grand Large Yachting, the company that owns Outremer, acquired Gunboat and moved their manufacturing to a site next door to the Outremer factory in France. Gunboat are high performance, all carbon fiber, luxury cruising catamarans. And while the majority of their light weight comes from the use of carbon, they also use a different process for doing foam core resin infusion that saves a lot of weight.
The typical method of resin infused layup with foam core uses sheets of foam with narrow grooves cut into them in a cross hatch, creating 1 cm squares over the entire sheet. This allows the foam to conform to the curves of the hull surface and maintain an even core thickness. When the resin is pumped into the molds under vacuum during the infusion process, all of these little grooves act to channel the resin so it flows evenly over the entire surface, but they also remain filled with resin, and over a large area this constitutes a significant amount of weight that has no structural benefit.
Gunboat takes a different approach. They use solid foam sheets with no grooves, and they cut and shape multiple sections to fit together and form curves around the mold surface, with very little space at the joins. They make tiny holes in a grid over the surface of the foam core to allow the resin to fully penetrate and flow between the inner and outer layers of the fiberglass layup during infusion. This process is more labor intensive, but it yields the lightest possible weight for resin infused fiberglass sandwich hulls. The result is an infusion process that approaches the efficiency of the Duflex panels used by Schionning!
Outremer took the Gunboat approach and applied it to the hull sections of JP’s 4X, and achieved a 300 kg weight reduction.
Innovations on Puffin
Matthieu proposed we use the same approach on Puffin as JP’s 4X, and in addition to the hulls they would also apply it to the molded deck section on Puffin, for even more weight savings. Since this hasn’t been done before, we don’t know yet the total weight reduction, but it’s estimated to be over 350 kg.
I wanted to get as close as I could to the 7,900 kg light displacement of JP’s 4X, but since I am adding about 150 kg of additional weight to Puffin that is not on JP’s boat, I needed to find a way to reduce Puffin’s weight even further to compensate. Here’s the estimated installed weight of the extra items we are adding to Puffin:
- 3 x electric winch motors and wiring @23 kg each = 70 kg
- Extra bunk bed in the port forward cabin = 29 kg
- Extra freezer in the galley = 25 kg
- Extra solar panels on the bimini roof and wiring = 26 kg
TOTAL = 150 kg
When we apply the 350 kg weight savings from the light foam core option, then add back the extra weight of our options, we get a light displacement for Puffin of 8,000 kg. Not bad, but can we do better?
On our 5X we had the salon roof constructed out of carbon fiber, which was a good weight savings but this wasn’t an available option for the 4X as Outremer had never done it. I asked them if we could add it, and after some engineering study they added this to Puffin for an extra 50 kg savings.
That brings Puffin’s theoretical light displacement down to 7,950 kg and gives us a performance ratio of 15.3, pretty close to JP’s Rhum 4X. We now have the great Outremer design layout that we love, the safety of solid fiberglass below the waterline, the extra systems and features we want for comfort and sail handling, and we hit our target performance ratio. Mission accomplished!
Of course we will have to be careful not to load Puffin up with a lot of extra weight when we go cruising, but even if we do, we know that we always have the potential to configure her as a fast, safe and comfortable, light wind sailing machine, and who knows maybe we can even mix it up with those Schionnings in next year’s Brisbane to Gladstone race!
Our 4X is number 44 in the production series. That doesn’t mean that Outremer have made 44, 4X boats, but rather the 4X shares the production numbers with the 45. The 4X is identical in most ways to the 45, and they both use the same molds. The 4X uses more carbon fiber, has a modified sailplan, has some weight saving changes to the interior, and has a different standard options package, but aside from that it’s the same as a 45. In any case, it’s good to know that Outremer have had 43 previous boats to practice on, so they can build us a perfect 4X number 44 🙂
The 4X is a well-designed and complete boat, with many of the options required for offshore cruising included in the standard package. That gave us a good starting point, but there were still some things that we wanted to add and change to better optimize the boat for our needs.
Some of the design decisions are standard for any new boat, such as choosing among the available color options, interior surfaces and layout choices. These are pretty quick and easy to work out. Other decisions such as selecting sails, electronics, instruments, communications and safety equipment are more complicated because there are new products and changes to existing products being released all the time that need to be researched. In addition to the standard design choices, there were some modifications I wanted to make that Outremer had not done before on a 4X, so a solution needed to be developed by the Outremer engineering team.
On the list of more complex adds and changes are:
- Options for reducing the overall weight of the boat
- Sailplan design and sail selection to give us maximum performance with minimum weight, along with the flexibility to match the sail area and configuration to a wide range of wind and sea conditions
- Sail handling optimizations to make it easier to sail single handed
- Electric power and battery charging systems design, to give us adequate power to operate all of our onboard systems and keep the batteries charged with a minimum use of fossil fuels
- Liveaboard cruising features to set the boat up for how we like to live on passage and at anchor
I’ll go through all of the major items above in detail in future posts. In the rest of this post I will go over the 4X standard features which we kept and some of the minor things we added and changed. This is not an exhaustive list, I’m just going to focus on the more significant features on the boat:
The 4X saloon is an excellent design. I think the saloon and cockpit design of all the Outremer boats really sets them apart from the other catamarans I have seen. The 4X saloon is a scaled down version of the 5X, which we loved, so no changes needed. Blinds and mosquito screens on all the hatches are standard, which is an important feature.
- Caframo ventilation fans – We had air conditioning on Wildling, but we can’t afford the weight on Puffin, so we will have ventilation fans instead. We hardly ever used the air conditioning on Wildling, so it wasn’t a big sacrifice to do without.
- Extra USB charging points
- Removable, external shade screens on the salon windows, same as we had on Wildling
- We had the saloon table that can be lowered and converted to a bed on the 5X and used it all the time, so we ordered that for Puffin also
The standard 4X galley is very good, so no changes needed to the work surfaces, sink, oven or stove top.
- A freezer under the port side aft counter. We kept the standard fridge on the starboard side. Having just a fridge with a tiny freezer compartment isn’t enough when passage-making.
- A Seagull Nature Pure water filter and tap at the sink so we can drink filtered tank water and not have any plastic water bottles aboard.
- A bio waste tube on the counter beside the sink to drop foodscraps overboard when doing dishes underway
- A seawater tap at the sink to save freshwater when rinsing dishes. We also added an expansion tank to the seawater pump. This reduces the amount of rapid on/off switching of the pump when opening and closing the tap, which extends the life of the pump and pressure switch.
- A 12V, 100 liter/hr Dessalator watermaker
Navigation Station / Chart Table
The nav station is pretty much identical to the 5X. A very important feature on any boat, as we spend so much time there when on passage, and particularly during night watches. I find too many boats overlook the design of the nav station, and I don’t understand why. We loved our 5X nav station so we’re not making any changes on our 4X.
Here’s a diagram of how the instrument layout will look.
Starboard (owner’s) Hull
The starboard side is the owner’s suite in the 4X. It’s a good layout and feels very spacious, with a queen size bunk aft and plenty of room for storage. There are no solid interior doors on the 4X to save weight, instead there are zipper fabric dividers for the bathrooms.
- Electric flush toilets – don’t leave the dock without these, they are awesome! Easy to use by sailors and land-lubbers alike, and in our experience after 3 years on Wildling, not a single problem, ever!
- A Sea water supply valve to the toilets that can be selected when offshore to save fresh water
- Fans in the aft bunk and also in the bathroom (Robin always wished we had a bathroom fan in Wildling)
- A privacy curtain to close off the aft bunk, so guests can share the master bathroom and shower without disturbing the poor old, tired, off-watch skipper!
Port (guest) Hull
The port side has an aft queen bunk and a single bunk forward, with a shared bathroom in the middle. To reduce weight, there are zipper fabric dividers instead of solid doors for privacy in the guest cabins and bathroom.
- Electric flush toilets same as starboard side with sea water supply valve
- Fans in the cabins
- An extra bunk bed in the forward cabin so we can sleep two single quests – This adds weight “OUCH” (the bunk not the guests, Robin tells me it’s impolite to weigh the guests as the come onboard) but we found some ways to compensate with our weight saving design changes.
No changes needed to the standard cockpit design. The 4X uses two removable fabric canopy panels on each side of the cockpit bimini roof. We had a full solid roof on the 5X, and I was concerned that the fabric panels would leave the cockpit too exposed to the sun when they are removed when underway, but after seeing them at the factory, I realized this is a clever design. Being able to remove them is a great visibility aid when maneuvering in port and reduces windage in a storm. If it’s too windy to have the panels up underway, we would most likely be inside anyway. Also, when the panels are up it makes the cockpit feel bigger and more airy than a full solid bimini roof, not to mention the weight saved versus a solid roof. This was a case of needing to see it in person to understand the benefits of the design.
No changes to the basic helm station design, but a few optimizations:
- Remote control for the anchor windlass at the helm
- Some changes to the sail handling setup to facilitate single-handed operation. More on this in an upcoming post
- The helm seats beside the carbon tillers on each side of the boat are really great. We had white plastic versions of these on Wildling and we used them constantly. My favorite place at night to watch the stars and the waves slip by! The problem I had with the 4X seats is that the standard carbon seats are black and would get way too hot in the Australian sun, so we exchanged them for the basic white plastic seats. Not much of a weight difference, fortunately.
Engines & Drives
Nothing to change on the engines, two little 30 hp D-1 Volvos are standard. I’ve never owned anything but Volvo in my boats, so can’t say if they are better or worse than the alternatives. The important point is I know how to fix them, and Outremer uses them exclusively, so they know how to set them up and they provide good after sales support.
The 4X standard configuration is saildrives with folding Volvo props. We discussed using shaft drives instead to save weight and move the engine weight further forward to minimize pitching. This is theoretically the best design, but it would have required a lot of changes to the interior layout, so we decided it wasn’t worth it. I’m compensating by choosing an ultra-light carbon dinghy with electric outboard to keep weight out of the back end of the boat.
Mooring & Safety
The mooring setup is pretty much up to the owner to decide, so I will list what we chose below. The standard safety equipment is very complete, so there were only a few items needed.
- A Liferaft mounted at the port aft end of the trampoline (standard location)
- An EPIRB mounted in the salon
- Anchor – We chose a 27 kg Ultra anchor. We have cruised extensively with Spade, CQR, Rocna and Ultra anchors. The CQR was worthless and dragged constantly. The others were all excellent. I chose the Ultra because I don’t think the Rocna will fit on the 4X davits, and the Ultra sets better than the Spade on a short scope. I’ve used a Spade and an Ultra in the same anchorages on different occasions and the Ultra would reliably set at 3:1 scope where the Spade required 4:1. This is an advantage in light wind, crowded anchorages where putting out more scope increases the risk of swinging into another boat. (Increasing scope as the wind builds to improve holding, is of course required for all anchors).
- 50m of G7 chain + 50m nylon rode – this is a smaller, high strength chain size to save weight. We had to also select a different size windlass gypsy to fit the G7 chain
- We chose lightweight inflatable fabric fenders. There is a tradeoff with using these fenders. The light weight is really good for handling them and saving weight when on passage, but they are at times too light when at the dock, because they get blown around by the wind, leaving the boat sides unprotected. We used to put some water in ours on Wildling to weigh them down when we are at a marina for more than a few days, or if it gets windy
That’s about it for the standard options and additions on Puffin. In the next post I’ll go over the details of how we took an already lightweight boat and made it even lighter!
Welcome to our website where we are sharing our experiences aboard PUFFIN, our Outremer 4X catamaran that is currently under construction at Outremer Yachting in La Grande Motte, France.
You can find a brief description of our background and what’s coming up on this site on our Welcome Page.
I explained here why we had to change our plans to sail WILDLING in the ARC rally and then continue on across the Pacific. I received many kind words of support from the readers of our sailwildling blog (thank you all) and some helpful advice on the available options to transport Wildling from France to Australia. In the end, although it was certainly possible to transport WILDLING, the change in plans forced us to really consider if WILDLING would be the right boat for us to have in Australia long term. Most of our long distance sailing from now on will be just Robin and I, and we aren’t getting any younger. So we explored the possibility of “What if we had a smaller boat that either of us could sail solo if needed, and still meet our needs”
In order to find an alternative boat (if one even existed), we listed our criteria as follows:
- Must be strong, safe and comfortable for extended offshore passages
- Must have a large salon and cockpit and a galley up!
- Needs to have a dedicated owner’s hull
- Needs to be able to sleep 6 people for when we have guests
- Must be able to sail single-handed by either of us
- Must have good sailing performance, able to achieve close to true wind speed on a reach
Because we want the boat in Australia, the ideal solution would be to find a boat either already in Australia or have one built in Australia. There are only two catamarans available in Australia that I could find that met our criteria:
Schionning G-Force 1500C – This is a nice boat and certainly has all the sail handling and performance features we are looking for, but we don’t like the small cockpit or the layout of the salon.
Spirited 480 – Another very nice Australian boat that would meet all our criteria. These are built from plans and kits, so we would have to find a boat builder to work with. After seeing how challenging it is to get all the details correct on production boats, where they have the benefit and experience of many previous models to refine and correct design and manufacturing details, I was concerned there would be too many problems to manage with a one-off build.
Back to France
With nothing available on the Australian market that worked for us, we decided to look at the European boats, and Outremer in particular. I really liked the concept and design of the Outremer 4X, which Outremer released a year or two after the 5X. It’s very similar to the layout of the 5X, just smaller, so we know we like the design. It’s light and fast, and can be setup to be sailed single-handed. We also had a great experience with Outremer with our previous boat. They are a company that builds high quality catamarans and they take care of their owners with excellent after sales support, no matter where in the world the boat is located.
The other model in the Outremer line that was a possibility is the 51. Another great boat, but geared more towards comfortable cruising and does not have the performance of the 4X.
Choosing a 4X
So we decided our next boat will be an Outremer 4X. The next steps were to work with the Outremer design team on all the features and options we want on the boat, and to find a shipping company to transport the completed boat to Brisbane.
This involved many meetings, a lot of research and detailed discussions with Outremer, and we now have a design that I am really happy with! The Outremer team was easy to work with, and really gave me great advice to help refine the dozens of details that need to be considered when ordering a new boat.
PUFFIN is scheduled to be completed in August, 2019 and we have booked passage on a Sevenstar Yacht Transport ship from Palma, Majorca to Brisbane to bring her to Australia.
I’ll go through many of our design choices and custom options for PUFFIN in future posts, along with photos of the build process. As always, sailing and cruising is a continuous education process, and I will share what we learn along the way.
In the meantime, welcome to our new website, and welcome aboard PUFFIN!