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.
Dragonfly 35: A Trade-Wind Rocket
The marvelous Danish-built Dragonfly 35 stands apart from the other pair of trimarans in this roundup on multiple fronts, the most notable of which are size, cost, and accommodations.
In the protected harbor of Great Cruz Bay, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I met Dr. James Clayton, the proud owner of hull number 11 in the Dragonfly 35 run. Looking for a bit faster ride, with roomier accommodations and better sun protection, Clayton had moved up to the 35-footer from the 33-foot Dragonfly 1000, a boat that he loved and which is no longer in production. The 35 comes in two versions, Touring and Ultimate, the latter, which Clayton owns, boasting a slightly taller carbon-fiber mast with exotic, high-tech Vectran/Technora sails and strong, lightweight standing and running rigging.
Clayton obviously enjoys a boat that performs well, but he also likes creature comforts, and he's loaded the boat with a variety of options, including an Andersen 46ST electric winch for mainsail hoisting, a watermaker, a three-bladed folding prop (instead of the standard two-bladed version), a diesel heater, and even a bow thruster, which is employed via a "garage door" that lies flush to the hull when not in use.
It seemed odd to choose the high-tech version of the boat and then load it up (and weigh it down) with such a long list of amenities. But Clayton had good reasons for his choices. The bow thruster proves very handy in controlling the fine, light bow in close quarters on windy days, and the heater was welcome during a cruise through Nova Scotia.
The Dragonfly 35 employs the builder's Swing Wing system to fold the amas, but with a 12-foot-10-inch beam when the outriggers are retracted (down from a graceful, sweeping 26 feet 11 inches in sailing mode), trailering isn't an option. Still, the folded boat will fit into a standard marina slip.
The accommodation plan doesn't enjoy the interior volume of a contemporary 35-foot monohull, but it's a clean, modern design that makes excellent use of the space. There are generous double berths on either end: a V-berth in a dedicated cabin forward, and another double beneath the cockpit. An enclosed head is situated forward of the main cabin, which has 6-foot-4-inch headroom and features a long settee to port, a cozy but handy navigation station at the foot of the companionway, and a lengthwise galley to starboard, with an abundance of counter space and good storage. The Volvo diesel, with saildrive, is located in a dedicated aft compartment.
The deck layout and corresponding sailhandling systems are also extremely well executed. A retractable carbon sprit in a sealed, dedicated tube is just forward of the recessed Facnor headsail-furling gear. Four flexible 9.5-amp Sunware solar panels do a fine job of topping off the house batteries. The single-line reefing system is led aft to the cockpit, an extremely comfortable space with a large bimini overhead and a rounded helmsman's backrest aft. The traveler is mounted on a central beam just forward of the helmsman, while the double-ended mainsheet is close at hand.
There's good visibility for the wind and speed instruments mounted over the companionway, and clear sight lines exist to the Raymarine chart plotter mounted on the rear of the coachroof. A portable beam can be removed to provide walk-through access to the transom and the aft deck shower. Finally, each of the amas is equipped with a rear hatch, through which can be stashed a pair of 17-foot sea kayaks. The Dragonfly 35 can most definitely be classified as a sport utility vehicle.
We sailed the boat on a day of moderate easterlies blowing at 12 to 14 knots. Upwind, at roughly 30 degrees apparent, the boat made anywhere from 7.9 to 8.4 knots, and as we eased sheets and bore off, the speed ratcheted up accordingly, to 8.5 to 9 knots. Frankly, I was somewhat disappointed in the sheer speed (Clayton has made more than 18 knots in breeze ranging in the 20s), but as I mentioned, we were carrying a boatload of extras. It was a choppy day, but the Dragonfly was in no way hampered by the seaway. The V-sectioned central hull cleaved nicely through the waves without hobbyhorsing, providing a smooth, purposeful motion and leaving the smallest of wakes. And steering the boat was a real joy, with the Jefa rack-and-pinion steering system offering true fingertip control. I'd love to sail a 35 in big breeze.
Corsair 31CC: Island Cruiser
The final stop on my Magical Trimaran Mystery Tour was Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, the site of last summer's annual Corsair Trimaran Nationals. That event was a fun, lively occasion with lots of action on the water and fun off it. No sailors, it seemed, were more excited about their boat than Charles and Hilary Badoian, who were spending the New England summer living aboard and cruising their Corsair 31, Ship o' Fools.
The Corsair 31, originally designed by Ian Farrier and updated in recent times by Corsair Marine, has been in production now for well over a decade, with nearly 300 of them built. Originally produced in Australia, today they're built in Vietnam. The 31 has been tweaked considerably from its inception, and it's now available in four different models: the 31UC (Ultimate Cruiser), the 31AC (Aft Cockpit), the 31CC (Center Cockpit), and the 31-1D (One Design).
The One Design version comes with streamlined accommodations and a carbon-fiber rig with a retractable bowsprit as well as racing sails and modified foils, but it should be noted that every new Corsair 31-all of which now feature rotating masts-can be ordered with carbon rigs and retractable sprits.
The Badoians had been wandering through the Elizabeth Islands, southeastern Massachusetts, and Cape Cod for several months, and while they enjoyed the liveaboard lifestyle, they were also conducting, from their compact underway home, their full-time business as event planners. They'd come to the rendezvous to meet like-minded sailors, compare notes, and enjoy watching the racing from the deck of their own 31CC. Former owners of a Catalina 30, they'd made the switch to multihulls and were certain of one thing: After the easy speed and shoal draft of their trimaran, they weren't going back.
Their 31-footer was actually an older model, built in 1996, but there are many similarities that have carried on through time. The most important was the basic layout of the center-cockpit version, which still features a V-berth forward, an enclosed head in the central cabin-along with a settee, a small dinette, and a surprisingly workable galley-and a second separate cabin aft, which is ideal for guests or storage.
The deck layout is also conducive to efficient shorthanded sailing, with the traveler and mainsheet well aft, easily within reach of the helmsman yet behind the tiller, making tacking and jibing a hassle-free maneuver. (In the Aft Cockpit version, the traveler is forward of the tiller.) The Badoians also were enamored of the roller-furling boom, another item that's been passed down the line. Reefing, they said, was a snap.
The couple said they regularly enjoyed boat speeds ranging from 9 to 12 knots on Ship o' Fools, which isn't equipped with a bowsprit or a screacher. Unfortunately, on the day I sailed with them, the wind hovered between 5 to 8 knots, with only an occasional puff of around 10 knots. Still, under main and genoa, when it blew 5 knots, we made 5 knots. And when it topped 10 or so, we eased along at an effortless 7.5. In the flat water, steering from well outboard to get a clear view of the telltales, the sensation was almost more akin to flying than to sailing.
Corsair dealer Bob Gleason, whose Massachusetts brokerage firm, The Multihull Source, was hosting the Corsair Nationals, said that newer models far exceed the performance potential of older boats, thanks to a slightly taller rig, the aforementioned standard rotating mast, and the addition of a screacher mounted on a pole that retracts into a tube mounted in the forward cabin.
Gleason said the rotating masts also aid in raising and lowering the spar, as the outboard shrouds aren't connected to the main hull; a pair of temporary shrouds are used to facilitate the operation. The amas of the Corsair 31 are also easily retracted and deployed via the longstanding Farrier Folding System, which hinges on just four bolts. The boat can be set up or put away by an experienced sailor in about half an hour.
The Badoians at some point may upgrade to a larger trimaran, but for now, they couldn't be happier with their Corsair 31.
One of my fondest sailing dreams is to someday hop aboard a fast, zippy multihull, skip across the Gulf Stream from Florida to the Bahamas, and spend a long winter poking into every nook and cranny I can find. Without reservation, I'd happily take the Telstar, Dragonfly, or Corsair on such an adventure. That said, my time aboard left me with several observations about each boat.
The Telstar 28 is an extremely well-reasoned boat, but it was also first conceived in the 1970s, and unless you find beauty in utility, the profile is a bit boxy and certainly not as sexy as the other boats in this roundup. But with a price tag well under $100K, especially considering its portability in these days when moorage is at a premium, it's also a good bargain.
The Dragonfly 35 is the gold standard in this collection, and given its $370K cost, it certainly should be. It's foldable, yes, but not trailerable, and for some sailors in well-populated locales, finding a place to permanently moor it may be an issue. However, it's also a solid, superbly crafted vessel that with its systems and potential for extended sailing, will take one anywhere in high style.
The Corsair 31 tilts toward the high-performance end of the spectrum, and for some sailors, it may be a handful. But there are options galore in the four respective versions, and other sailors will relish the competitive opportunities with a vessel that also provides more than reasonable accommodations for coastal forays. It may be the most versatile boat of the three.
In short, when buying any boat, it's ideal to have choices. And if you're in the market for a small multihull-no matter what your budget or intended plans-with this segment of midsize trimarans, there's an excellent selection.
Herb McCormick is a Cruising World editor at large.
LOA 27' 6" (8.38 m.)
LWL 26' 3" (8.00 m.)
Beam (amas out/in) 18' 0"/8' 6" (5.49/2.59 m.)
Draft (board up/down) 1' 0"/4' 3" (0.30/1.30 m.)
Sail Area (100%) 524 sq. ft. (48.7 sq. m.)
Displacement 3,000 lb. (1,361 kg.)
Water 30 gal. (113.5 l.)
Fuel 12 gal. (45.4 l.)
Engine Honda 20-hp. outboard
(Honda 50-hp. optional)
Designer Tony Smith
Dragonfly 35 Touring
LOA 35' 0" (10.68 m.)
LWL 34' 5" (10.50 m.)
Beam (amas out/in) 26' 11"/12' 10" (8.20/3.90 m.)
Draft (board up/down) 1' 10"/6' 3" (0.55/1.90 m.)
Sail Area 904 sq. ft. (84 sq. m.)
Displacement 8,598 lb. (3,900 kg.)
Water 37 gal. (140 l.)
Fuel 21.1 gal. (80 l.)
Engine Volvo 30-hp. diesel
Designers Borge and Jens Quorning
Dragonfly Sailboats USA
LOA 30' 10" (9.40 m.)
LWL 30' 0" (9.15 m)
Beam (amas out/in) 22' 5"/8' 2" (6.84/2.5 m.)
Draft (board up/down) 1' 4"/5' 6" (0.41/1.68 m.)
Sail Area (100%) 647 sq. ft. (59.9 sq. m.)
Displacement 3,850 lb. (1,747 kg.)
Water 25 gal. (94 l.)
Engine 9.9-hp. outboard
Designer Ian Farrier/Corsair Marine