Issue: June 2005
My wife has a fundamental problem with sailing boats. It is a problem that highlights one of the fundamentals of modern society. It also highlights one of the fundamentals of the modern boat-buying public. Whenever we go sailing on a monohull, and she looks nervous, I explain how the lump of lead on the bottom of the boat will prevent it from tipping over. There are a couple of flaws with this argument. She knows that blokes have been bullshitting to women for centuries about such matters, thus illustrating a fundamental difference between the genders. She also feels nervous when the word “lead” is used in connection with water, as it suggests “heavy” and, by logical association, will sink straight to the bottom.
All this explanation achieves is to convert her fear of capsizing and drowning to a fear of sinking and drowning. My wife is not wrong; anything to do with boats requires a suspension of logic. More accurately, men tend to override caution with what they see as positive emotions, like a love of the outdoors, of colour and adventure. Which is why my wife, and women in general, prefer powerboats. And catamarans. Not many years ago production catamarans were seen as the outsiders of production yachts. In late March 2005, the workers at Seawind Catamarans pulled from the mould the hull of the 150th Seawind 1000, making it easily Australia’s biggest-selling production yacht.
Cruising cats have now moved a long way from fringe to mainstream. Seawind boss Richard Ward, who started boatbuilding when he bought the Maricat moulds in 1982, reckons that selling cats these days is markedly different from what it was 10 years ago. Then, I had to sell the idea of the multihull. Now the market accepts the cat’s obvious advantages. If these days Richard’s cats are part of the mainstream, what makes the Seawind 1000 so successful, Seawind’s first proper cruising cat was the 850, designed by naval architect Scott Jutson .
Building started in 1990, just in time to run head-on into Paul Keating’s recession we had to have. “We built 25 of them”, says Richard, “which was only just enough to keep the business going, but it was a time when other Australian builders were selling no boats” This slow couple of years enabled Richard and his staff to think about what they would change on the 850 for a new and bigger boat. And the answer was, not a lot. The new 1000 would have a similar configuration, sleeping accommodation in the hulls and a large deck saloon sheltered by a full-width folding bimini, because by this time “1994” the Australian public, particularly older members able to afford a $250,000 yacht, had fallen out of love with the sun. The hulls would have fixed keels, as in Richard’s opinion a cruising boat can do without lifting boards, which can cause havoc if the boat runs aground. The moulded keels of this big cat are a bit over 2m long and fit into moulded recesses in the hull’s bottoms.
The new boat was designed to have a choice of either inboard diesels or twin 9.9hp Yamaha four-stroke outboards. Seawind’s experience with the outboard powered Seawind 850 had been excellent, but Richard was concerned that the market wouldn’t accept outboards in a large cruising cat like the SW1000. So, the 1000 went into production and were a hit. Only the first three were built with inboards, single-cylinder Bukh diesels, “a beautiful little motor”, says Richard. Boat No.4 was ordered by a charter company who requested outboard power because of their easy servicing. This turned out a huge success and so that boat, and every subsequent boat, was fitted with two 9.9hp four-stroke extralong shaft Yamahas, mounted on a lifting bracket to keep the powerhead well clear of the sea. The engines are housed in the box which supports the helmsman’s seat each side, and lower into (and drive from) a moulded pod which projects from the inboard face of each hull. A tackle lifts the motor clear of the water, eliminating drag and marine growth. “The Yamahas have been incredibly reliable” says Richard. “We have hoped over the years Yamaha would do a 15, but they never have”
By boat No.20 the builders realised that no one ever lowered the bimini top, so the decision was taken to replace it with a fiberglass hardtop. Since that modification, changes to the 1000 have been in detail only. The original boat had four cabins (one in each bow and stern) with galley and bathroom amidships in the respective hulls. The more popular optional layout now available has a big cabin amidships in the port hull and a huge bathroom aft. A modern cruising cat built using lightweight fiberglass and foam is virtually unsinkable and offers a level of offshore safety not available to monohulls with a ballasted keel.
In the rare event of holing the hull, the monohull sailor has only the life raft for survival. However, in a catamaran the same damage may not even seriously affect the sailing performance, because the boat is sufficiently buoyant. But even after extreme damage the catamaran will still float offering a high level of safety to its crew. The list goes on and from these advantages grow many others. For instance, the way families sail together on a catamaran. For many families the catamaran has meant the kids can bring their friends without overcrowding the boat. Guests do not have to be yachties to enjoy the day and entertaining can be done with style and without stress.
The Seawind team now have a saying, “once a catamaran sailor and you’re hooked for life” Some buyers opt to convert the forward cabin portside to a large wardrobe/storage area, with a desk for the laptop, turning the port hull into a huge owner’s stateroom. The starboard hull retains its two cabins, and the galley. The Seawind has always had the full-width seating aft of cockpit, but the fabricated stainless tube Targa bar overhead has evolved. It now carries the two 120watt solar panels. These are important to the boat’s electrical system, because each panel delivers up to 9amps in ideal conditions.
The standard battery pack is two 150amp/ hour batteries but if the boat is ordered with plenty of electronics and the electric anchor winch, Seawind recommend a third battery to give 450 amp/hours. ‘It is important not to skimp here”, says Richard. “Big batteries will last a long time if they drain down to 70 per cent and recover, but if you drain them down to 30 per cent they don’t like it”. The solar panels keep the 12V Eutectic fridge/freezer running full-time. The Seawind’s rig is straightforward, a fully battened main and headsail. A screecher (reaching headsail) and its hardware are optional. Earlier boats were offered this
The team at Seawind Catamarans take great pride in the workmanship that goes into every boat it builds, so quality control is paramount and at the front of every craftman’s mind. with a choice of charter, cruising and racing mainsails. These days the cruising main is crosscut Dacron, and the racing main, around 20 per cent bigger, is in a vertical-cut Dacron/Mylar, the vertical cut providing superior leech support. Because the 1000 has high-volume hulls and has not put on too much weight during its production run it has always been a lively boat under sail. “It was never meant to be a racer”, says Richard, “and it won’t win races in open classes but it will acquit itself well. They have been delivered to New Zealand and Hawaii and four have been sailed to Perth, surviving 80-knot storms”
The boats are simply rigged and easy to single-hand. “With husband and wife teams you find a percentage of buyers choose a cat because the wife hates heeling, and perhaps she even hates sailing and certainly doesn’t want to do any of the work of boat handling, so the boat has to be easy to sail”, says Richard. The other aspect people love is the way the saloon opens into the cockpit. Everyone likes to be outdoors if conditions are right, and the open saloon means that everyone onboard stays warm and dry and foredeck is a stable platform and in a breeze, usually the windward bow will stay dry. Of the 150 boats built, 50 have gone to the US, the Caribbean and Mexico and many others to spots around the Pacific.
After 11 years, Seawind were so happy with the 1000 that for their newest boat, the 1160, they used the same principles. The Seawind 1000 demonstrates perfectly why multihulls have come into their own. New yachts are selling here in unprecedented numbers, many to first-or second-time owners, and almost all are intended for family boating. The days of blokey, uncomfortable sailing are over, except for the racing brigade. And the racers too, include women in numbers that would not have been dreamt of in 1994, when the first Seawind 1000 saw the light of day.
Words by Barry Tranter