Three Times Three
|The Telstar 28 offers good cruising amenities, including a workable galley and a convertible double berth in the nicely sized saloon. The amas fold in, so you can keep the boat in a monohull-size marina slip.|
When it comes to cruising multihulls, the trimaran often plays second fiddle. The main reason is the sheer popularity and growth of cruising catamarans, thanks in no small part to the charter trade. But trimaran sailors have come up with a rather amusing handle for their beloved vessels: a cat-and-a-half. There's some truth to the name.
If part of the reason one goes cruising is for a quality sailing experience, it's hard to beat a well-executed tri. With shallow draft, they can easily poke into the shallows or up on a beach away from the madding crowd. And many midsize trimarans can be folded up and trailered for a cruise to Maine or the Florida Keys. As one tri sailor put it, "It's sweet to go to windward at 65 miles per hour."
I had the opportunity to sail a trio of cruising trimarans over a variety of waters and with an array of avid sailors and builders. Interestingly, the respective boats and venues-the Telstar 28 on Chesapeake Bay, the Corsair 31 on Massachusetts' Buzzards Bay, and the Dragonfly 35 in the U.S. Virgin Islands-seemed especially well suited for one another. All boats are compromises, and trimarans are no different: Unlike cruising cats, which can handle those hefty payloads and multiple staterooms, tris are limited in space and accommodations by the parameters of their layout. But when all was said and done, I came away with a fresh appreciation for the viability of a relatively compact tri as a terrific, even exhilarating, coastal cruiser. Here's what I discovered.
Telstar 28: Bred on Chesapeake Bay
The result of an exacting evolutionary process, the Telstar 28 is the proud creation of expatriate British multihull designer Tony Smith, who's been testing and refining his notion of what makes an appealing triple-hulled pocket cruiser for almost four decades. His Chesapeake Bay-based business, Performance Cruising Inc., is very much a family affair, with his wife, kids, and son-in-law all prominently involved.
Smith launched the first incarnation of the Telstar, a 26-footer, in England in the early 1970s, eventually building 300 of them before relocating to this side of the Atlantic. A 1981 fire put the Telstar on hold while Smith shifted his emphasis to producing the Gemini line of cruising cats. But earlier this decade, he brought the trimaran out of mothballs and began to fine-tune his original vision, going through more than half a dozen prototypes before he was satisfied that he had a boat worthy of the marketplace.
For Smith, a hard-core multihull racer in his youth, the tug toward performance has always been strong. But with the Telstar 28, he wanted a boat that would be fun and fast under both sail and power but that could also serve for weeks at a time as a floating home, possessing features and systems that are foolproof and strongly engineered but dead simple to apply. A foldable, trailerable cruising boat sounds good, but it's much less so if operating it is a chore for the owner.
And so Smith and his son, Neil, went to work, experimenting with rig size, outrigger shapes, and engine horsepower. They fussed with float deployment, steering systems, construction techniques, and numerous ways to raise and lower the mast. The goal was straightforward: a boat that sailed simply and well and that a couple or small family could enjoy. When he had everything just so, Smith made a couple of trips to Florida, by himself, trailering a Telstar. He launched and retrieved the boat, put the mast up and took it down, and went sailing, all alone. Only then was the reincarnated boat ready for prime time.
The revamped Telstar, now 28 feet long, has been in production for several years, and nearly 70 new boats have been built. On a visit last August to the boatyard on the Chesapeake's Back Creek, Will Hershfeld, Smith's son-in-law, gave me the tour.
Smith is especially proud of the arrangements for folding and deploying the outriggers and for stepping and striking the deck-stepped spar, both of which a lone sailor can do almost effortlessly in no time flat. The outriggers can be deployed or retracted on the trailer or in the water utilizing an ingenious rotary-pivot joint that reduces the maxed-out 18-foot beam to a mere 8 feet 6 inches in collapsed mode. The mast can be winched up (or lowered) from the cockpit via a set of four A-frames that work in tandem to support the stick during the evolution. Neither the sails nor the boom need to be removed for the mast's raising or lowering, which maximizes the efficiency of the task.
Somewhat less heralded but also extremely clever is the tiller/outboard connection. With a single pin in place, the tiller and engine operate in tandem for optimum steering control under power. Under sail, the pin can be removed and the engine raised, thus linking the tiller directly to the rudder. The standard engine, incidentally, is a 20-horsepower Honda that scoots the boat along at a tidy 7 to 8 knots. A 50-horsepower Honda that will reportedly deliver 15 knots of boat speed is an option to form a sail/power version of the boat.
Belowdecks, the immediate and biggest surprise is the spaciousness of the central hull, particularly the 6-foot standing headroom. A large head compartment is forward of the saloon, which includes a pair of 6-foot-long settees flanking a folding dinette. With a series of slats in place down the main thoroughfare, one of the settees can be converted to a generous double berth. On either side of the companionway, a small galley with a two-burner stove and a simple navigation area addresses the essentials for dining and piloting.
Thanks to vacuum-bagged infusion for the outrigger assembly and a foam-core laminate in the main hull, the Telstar 28 weighs in at an almost unbelievable 3,000 pounds. The working sail area, augmented by the mainsail's generous roach, measures 524 square feet. The power-to-weight ratio seemed promising, and I was eager to see how it translated to speed under sail.
The Chesapeake was in a cooperative mood as we powered out of Back Creek and set the main and 150-percent genoa in 12 to 15 knots of true wind. Sailing closehauled at about 30 degrees apparent, the boat slid along respectably at 6 to 7 knots with a well-balanced, fingertip touch to the tiller. We threw in a few tacks, and a couple of things were quickly apparent. First, the combination of formidable side decks along the main hull and fabric trampolines (not nets) between the outriggers made for an extremely dry ride, something I wasn't expecting. But the 50-horsepower outboard on our test boat was a slight burden, dragging a bit, even when raised, on starboard tack. Our performance spiked when we flipped over to port and the propeller completely cleared the water.
The Telstar really came alive when we set the 400-square-foot screacher off the sprit. At 50 degrees apparent, we bettered 10 knots, and when we fell off to a beam reach, we topped off at a very lively 13.2 knots. A small chop was building on the bay, however, and it definitely slowed us down slightly, as the light boat just didn't have the inertia to muscle through the wavelets. It's a small quibble: I was already impressed. This child of the Chesapeake-an ideal cruising ground for this quick, shallow-draft trimaran-had displayed plenty of gumption on its home waters.