This swing-winged racer is full of surprises.
The first swing-wing trimaran I ever saw was built in England in the 1960s, designed by John Westell who gave us the 505 dinghy. The trimaran’s floats swung aft when at rest and settled under the flare in the main hull, like chicks snuggling under mum’s feathers.
But the crossbeams were a lattice of tubular metal and looked like a Meccano set. Remember Meccano ? No ? Oh, well. The Farrier vertically-folding system has held sway ever since, used on home-built tris to Farrier’s designs and later on bigger Farrier production tris built in the US.
How many remember the Farrier-designed Tramp day sailer built by Haines Hunter ? No one ? Oh, well.
In the late 1980s, Danish trimaran builder Borge Quorning and his son Jens developed a new horizontal-swinging system for their Dragonfly 800. They now build four models, the 800, 920, the new 35, and the 1200, a cruiser.
Local yacht importers Windcraft have the Dragonfly agency here and landed their first tri, a 920 Extreme. The Extreme means it has more sail and wider beam than the standard 920. In modern trimaran terms this boat is far from extreme, more a cruiser/racer with plenty of sail. Both models have carbon masts and alloy booms.
The Dragonfly’s swing-wing system is based on fairly simple gate hinges at the inboard ends of the crossbeams, and swivels in the floats. There’s a trick, though; as the floats swing inboard they lower in relation to the main hull to stabilise the folded boat.
The folded craft is 3.2m wide. The boat is supplied with a shipping cradle, so it can be trucked easily. Or you can order a trailer (expensive, says Windcraft’s Peter Hrones).
How do the swing-wings work ? We will get to that in a minute.
The Dragonfly Extreme is extreme only in that it has more sail and wider overall beam than the standard model. Hull and floats are quite conservative in design and specification and below decks the main hull is nicely trimmed in traditional style, white mouldings with teak trim.
There’s a double bed up front and the two saloon settees fold out to make single beds. The head contains a manually operated toilet; there is no shower. A black-water holding tank is optional.
The two-burner cook top, aft on the starboard side, is hidden beneath a tinted panel; opposite is a sink. The interior is neat and comfortable for a family for a weekend, a couple for longer. It is not as roomy as a monohull of the same length, to state the bleedin’ obvious, but for the right people the accommodation is appropriate in a country where we live outside when we go boating. I do, anyway.
How does it all work ? We fire up the 9.9hp Yamama four-stroke and motor out of the marina’s innermost berth where water depth is limited. The motor is attached to the tiller by a strut, so that when you turn the rudder you turn the motor.
We lower the centreboard (carbon, like the rudder blade, on the Extreme), which has a kick-up cleat, which releases if we hit anything. Then our skipper runs a line to one of the winches on the gunwale and winches away until the float is fully extended. He locks it in place with a diagonal strut. He does the same thing the other side.
Then he goes forward and runs out from the main hull bow a cable, which attaches to the outboard end of the forward beam. There is one each side. So, there’s a restraint both forward and aft each side which will prevent the wings from folding up and, presumably, leaving you swimming.
Then you tension the two backstays. If this sounds like a rigmarole, there is no urgency to the procedure as the boat sits quietly, like a well-disciplined hound waiting patiently to be unleashed.
We raise the main, on a 2:1 halyard, unfurl the jib (after removing its protective sock) and sail away. This boat has the optional folding seats, which get you outboard where you can see the headsail and you get a better feel for the angle of heel and for the boat’s responses.
And respond she does. Cats have their attributes but good tris are more responsive and more tactile to sail, not as good as a refined mono but good enough. The headsail sheets very close so the boat points high, up to 30 degrees Apparent, but no multis are happy pinching.
There’s a barber hauler system for the jib, which maintains good sail shape when the sheets are eased, and there’s a vang system for holding down the boom when the mainsheet is sprung.
An extension of the barber hauler system allows you to haul the tack of the spinnaker out to the windward hull, so you can run square. You can also fly it from the bowsprit in the conventional way. The sprit, by the way, I forgot to mention it folds up to save marina space.
How does she go ? The breeze was up and down and light. We squeezed her up to 7 knots upwind in 10 knots or so, then as we bore away we got a little gust and she jumped to 11 knots in a second or two, with enough acceleration to give us a buzz. Under two sails the builders reckon she will give you 11 knots in 15 of breeze on a tight reach, 17 knots if you bear away.
Hoist the kite
Hoist the kite and the fun starts. They reckon 10 knots of wind will give you 15 of boat speed, 12-15 knots should generate 19 knots. The highest speed they have seen is 25 knots.
Our skipper has had her out in 25 knots of breeze and reckons the lee hull had plenty of reserve buoyancy when pushed hard.
So she is equipped to race well but she will succeed as a social sailer because she is both responsive and docile, and the low angles of heel (5-8 degrees say the builders) mean novices won’t panic as they do on a mono when the world tilts beyond their imaginings. I watch her sailing at the same time as the Pittwater multi-hull fleet, and she sails at a lower angle of heel than the F28R tris, the production boats nearest in concept to the Dragonfly.
Like the insect it is named after, this Dragonfly has two distinct travelling modes. It is capable of a gentle hovering pace for those who like to cruise, but if you pull a few ropes, it is suddenly capable of rapid acceleration.
This a nicely built craft, very cleverly designed and detailed, which is the Scandinavian way. She is fast and handy, and the narrow beam overcomes any storage problems.
Who will buy her ? The only rule about predicting boat ownership these days is that you cannot predict it. People are happy to spend a millon dollars on their first boat. They buy $500,000 yachts as their second boat, when their first was a dinghy 30 years before.
David, who owns this boat, may or may not be a typical Dragonfly customer. He sold his 48ft fast catamaran to take on the Dragonfly. He no longer wants to cruise long distances and will use the tri for day-sailing and racing, partly because his kids are no longer available for long periods of time.
Will she attract only multi-hull devotees or is she versatile enough, attractive enough and so well built she will convert the uninitiated ? Time will tell.
What about price ? Multi-hull prices can make you wince because a lot of material is involved in their construction.
I expected the worst but was pleasantly surprised. The 920 Extreme costs $329,400. The 920 Touring returns $100 change from $300k; $299,900. You could compare that figure with cats and monohulls but there is no point. For what this boat has to offer, speed with refinement, it is good value. There is nothing quite like it, a quick and handy boat with this level of interior trim.
As I walked back to the car I remembered the first modern tri I sailed on, a 31ft Kelsall design in Britain. Then it struck that was almost 40 years ago!
WORDS : BARRY TRANTER