Part II of our Glitter and Gold article…
We met blasting around the Sakonnet River on shortboard windsurfers. It doesn’t surprise me that you’re a total speed nut in your cruising, too. What led to the creation of FINN?
Let me just say upfront that speed is safety. Speed means you can pick weather windows, outrun systems, and get away from bad stuff. It also means you can go farther and explore more. I got into multihulls when I bought a Ketterman Tri-Foiler in the early 1990s. It was stupid fast and a lot of fun.
I’ve had three multihulls. The first was a Chris White Atlantic 42 Light Speed in the 1990s. It had daggerboards and I was figuring it out. I spent winters in the Caribbean. It was a ton of fun. I really enjoyed the forward cockpit and being out there with the wind in my face.
I lived across the water from Peter Johnstone. I wanted to build a larger cat and he wanted a large monohull to sail around the world. He was sailing a 60-foot monohull that wasn’t faster than my 42-foot cat. Pete Melvin came out to work with us and Johnstone and I wound up splitting the cost of the molds and we each did our own boat in 2001. It was really well built and done right. I spent the next years sailing between Roque Island and Grenada and lived aboard homeschooling our son for a winter.
I came away with two impressions after sailing Safari: Catamarans are like driving a tennis court. And, with all these people onboard with four cabins, I wound up being the moderator of the sandbox. One group would want to go for a tour on land, others windsurfing and I’d end up being nothing but a manager. I needed to get back to the purity of sailing. Having more than four people is a pain in the ass. Kids are pliable, but you can’t do that with adults, it’s always a discussion. Crew just adds to complexity.
Anyone I know would totally dig cruising on a Gunboat. You had that. Where did you see improvements?
Complexity is the enemy of sail. Big cats have two heads, two engines, larger fridge, more food, water maker. Even if you have a paid crew, you can’t escape these management issues. If you have a bigger closet, you fill it.
One thing I wanted to get back to was that loose feeling I had when I started windsurfing in the ‘70s. Pure wind in your face and that sensation of, ‘Wow this is just awesome!’ Flying over the water on a sailboard, there’s nothing better.
I restarted my work career and sold Safari in 2006. All these years I was thinking of what’s next. High speed tris were still a mystery to most. The mission was to build the safest, fastest, most luxurious platform for coastal and long-distance cruising. That’s it.
At the very outset I had to decide if I was building a cruising or racing boat. The trend has been to try to make cruising boats into part-time race boats. But I see racing and cruising decisions in the design stage as a fork in the road. Trying to do both leads to compromise. But blending both leads to an incredibly fast safe boat.
You don’t see too many large cruising trimarans. What gave you the confidence to be bold and design one from scratch?
The 2010 America’s Cup showed that tris are much faster than cats. I worked with Renaud Bañuls who had designed the Oracle trimaran and Bruno Laurent who designed our foils, hardware and layout. Renaud is currently lead designer on105-foot foiling Sodebo Ultim trimaran. The French are clearly showing that there’s no turning back.
A cruising boat can be very fast but with a different nod to comfort and amenities. That’s what I tried to do with FINN.
A tri is safer than a cat. A cat is safer than a monohull. Multihulls are stable upright on the surface and stable upside down on the surface. A monohull is stable upright on the surface or stable upright on the ocean floor. Monohulls sink in 90 seconds. A multihull, should you flip it, you have a survival platform.
It’s more expensive by far to build a trimaran but it’s stronger than a catamaran. The mast is supported by the main hull. On a cat, headstay tension is an issue because the mast is on an unsupported bridgedeck. A tri, when sailing is really a cat, with one ama always flying.Therefore you have greater righting moment because of the leverage of the flying hull. In addition, the leeward hull that is in the water is skinnier and has less wetted surface than the larger leeward hull on a cat. The result is far greater stability in any condition, and a faster more robust platform.
FINN was built at McConaghy Boats in Hong King next to the International Moth Mach 2 manufacturing wing. They built Wild Oats XI, one of the most famous modern ocean racers. You were in good company! Explain some of the construction and design features?
Take a look at the bows and especially the ama bows. These directly come out of what Renaud has learned on the AC try and the big offshore tris. They slice and dice the waves, but due to the large volume at the forward crossbeam, I can press FINN very very hard in complete safety.
FINN’s X crossbeam construction is lighter and stronger because it resists the longitudinal forces on the amas. The wave piercing bows create less pressure on the amas due to greatly reduced pounding. In addition, it requires less reinforcement on the center hull and is therefore lighter. It is, however, much more expensive to build. The mantra for the boat is build it right, not cheap.
While Im on the subject of skinny hulls, look at the waterline on the main hull. It’s very narrow, yet the interior is the opposite. The illusion on the interior is created bu the bump-out at shoulder level. We judge space by where our eyes are, not by where our feet are. The bump out also keeps the 25ft wide cockpit spray free.
We took the foil molds from the MOD 70 and the steering system is the same, too. FINN has three rudders with a kick-up main rudder. If you catch a lobster pot doing 20 knots, the rudder kicks up but you’re still in complete control. Triple redundancy.
FINN’s rig has no spreaders. The rotating, high modulus carbon wing mast is always in tune. On all racing tris, which are optimized for robustness, the spreaders are eliminated to get rid of the failure points associated with spreaders and end fittings. Beam is your friend and allows for the canting spreader less rig.
To take the rig off, you pull three pins at the end of the stays. When stepped again, the rig is always in tune. Saves big $$ in rigging costs and tuning time.
I can’t tell you what a big freaking deal the canting is. With a monohull, you heel then go. With a cat, you heel a little and go more. With this tri, you just go!
Compared to a cat, the canting rig and the windward flying ama combine to provide enormous righting moment. With the wave piercing bows, you have stability and a very smooth ride.
Like a sailboard where you step back when power reaching, FINN, like the racing boats she is modeled after, has a stern ballast tank. If you are ever in serious offshore conditions, just push down on the snorkel in the hull and add 800 litres to the back of the boat ( located under my bunk in the stern). I should add that the boat is so safe that I have never used it for power reaching in big waves. The second function of the ballast tank is as a sea chest for the water maker. As a result, we can make fresh water endlessly without air bubbles or weed stalling it.
For power generation, I used a Watt&Sea racing leg. These units are phenomenal. Even after using hydraulics for winches and running the lights and freezer, we have 100% battery charge offshore. Sick!
Renaud did a phenomenal job balancing the boat. The combination of MOD70 foils and the mast over the rotational point of the daggerboard creates perfect balance. It’s just unreal how well this boat sails. You know why it feels like crack? You’re flying over the water. The rig is canted over for added drive and righting moment, and you can literally take your hand off the tiller for two minutes at 20 knots. It’s effortless.
Designing on paper and then sailing the real deal is such a long term date with reality. FINN as designed by Renaud, built by MCB and commissioned by Laurent, far exceeded my dream. It’s easier, faster and safer by a long shot. And comfort is addictive. After the Gunboat, I knew my next boat had to be at the same level.
Last year you were on your third lap of New England. Blasting to Nantucket from Newport for day trips and heading to Maine on a whim. No cruiser I know can do that under sail. And now you’re taking your granddaughter everywhere on FINN. The boat is perfect. Now she’s for sale. Why stop now?
I got in a car accident in September of 2016 on the Newport Bridge. Major concussion. Neck f’d up. Hard to look up the mast to check trim. Last summer, because of balance issues from the accident, my wife insisted I get help sailing the boat. I’ve got to start throttling back. FINN is a complete freaking masterpiece. It’s my passion project. Bittersweet for me.
Both my sons grew up cruising with me. I built this boat so the whole family can sail. The reality check is that my older son is a VC and teaches at HBS, and my younger son has a full-bore film company. Everyone is just too busy.
FINN needs to go to someone who really, really loves to sail, someone who gets it. Take a closer look.