Over the years I’ve enjoyed some pretty special moments under sail: steering a big sloop downwind in the Pacific trades en route to Hawaii, crossing the Atlantic on a powerful 60-foot cat, rounding Cape Horn under spinnaker on a stout steel cutter. But nothing — and I mean nothing — quite prepared me for the pure, sheer joy of driving the exquisite HH66 on a tight reach on Chesapeake Bay.
Sitting in the comfortable molded seat outboard and aft on the portside quarter (an identical helm is situated to starboard), with one hand I grasped the light, balanced tiller; at the same time, the fingertips of my other hovered over the push buttons in the armrest that controlled all the critical sailhandling and performance features. Without even moving, the traveler (up and down), main and jib sheets (in and out), and daggerboards (raised and lowered) were at my command. So too was the “panic button” you’d press to immediately dump and de-power the mainsail and vang in the unfortunate circumstance of becoming suddenly overpowered in a gusty breeze. One must pay close attention when driving this steed.
I must confess that it was hard to do while tearing across the bay in a sweet 12- to 14-knot breeze. Bearing off in the lulls and feathering up in the puffs, steering the boat was a dynamic experience, like driving a Porsche on a winding road. Meanwhile, the speedo ascended in ever-increasing increments: 8.2 knots, 10.4 knots, 12.5 knots. It seemed effortless, as if it was all unfolding in slow motion. That is, until you glanced over the side and saw the water rushing past in a blue blur. That, my friends, is entertainment.
Our Boat of the Year judging team was justifiably impressed with the cat. “Holy moly, it’s a carbon 66-foot catamaran that displaces less than 40,000 pounds,” said Tim Murphy. “This clearly is not for mere mortals; it’s a boat that’s intended to be sailed with a professional crew, and they’d need some serious training to handle it. It’s designed by Morrelli & Melvin, and it’s a boat where they talk upfront about flying a hull on a big cruise-worthy catamaran, as if it were a Hobie cat. Along with foiling, as we saw in the America’s Cup, this is a new concept in how we sail our boats. To go out there and do that on purpose is remarkable.”
“I’d agree with the excitement as far as the sailing performance goes,” said Ed Sherman. “With the tiller in hand (there is also an inside steering station like the one on the HH55; see “The Future is Now,” opposite), and the ready access to the sailing controls, it was a great experience because the tiller is so light and easy. The boat just snaps to with every move you make. So that was quite a treat. But I do agree that this isn’t a couples boat, or at least one that a couple would sail alone. There’s just too much going on. I don’t see a middle-aged husband-and-wife team sailing this boat around the world, at least without having some people on board to help them out.”
“I didn’t know that sailing a high-performance 66-foot catamaran with a tiller was on my bucket list, but I’ve added it to my mine and checked it off!” said Bill Bolin. “You’d want some experienced hands to help sail it. I think I counted 19 ‘strings’ — halyards, sheets, reefing lines and so forth — in the forward cockpit, where all the actual job of sailing the boat takes place. That’s a lot to keep track of.”
“Our heads were spinning,” seconded Murphy, to which Bolin replied, “Exactly right!”
Like its 55-foot sister ship, the workmanship on the HH66 is simply impeccable. The construction materials and details are similar to the smaller boat. It would be impossible to describe all the neat features of the boat in a short review. The staterooms are luxurious, and the builder encourages customization in the accommodations plan. A locker with the generator, hydraulics, batteries and so forth is located forward, for ideal weight distribution. The coachroof of our test boat was adorned with a couple dozen flexible solar panels to maximize energy independence. Heck, the bloody boat we inspected had a built-in piano!
Of course, all this technology and craftsmanship comes at a cost, in this example north of $4 million. It’s obviously not for the faint of wallet. But as a testament to how far contemporary boat design and execution has evolved, it’s nothing less than an engineering marvel. As for sailing the HH66, some would call it a near-spiritual experience. And they’d get no argument from me.
Herb McCormick is CW’s executive editor.