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How catamarans won over sailing community

By Colin Thompson

Sailing Correspondent

There was a time when multihull yachts were frowned upon by sailing traditionalists.

Not anymore, thanks largely to the influence that the catamaran has had since its controversial introduction in America's Cup sailing.

The catamaran made its debut in the Cup in 1988 when the San Diego Yacht Club's Stars & Stripes H3 successfully defended the “Auld Mug” against New Zealand challenger KZ-1, a 90-foot monohull, in one of the biggest mismatches in the history of the prestigious regatta.

Stars & Stripes H3's successful defence symbolised a great victory for multihull enthusiasts the world over and since then trimarans and catamarans have appeared in the America's Cup.

“We feel vindicated to a large extent because when we were racing the Tornado (catamaran) here there were a lot of people who said those really aren't boats,” recalled Ed Williams, past president of the Bermuda Tornado Class.

Glenn Astwood, the Bermuda Olympic sailor, added: “Us multihull guys were kind of shunned upon by all the traditionalists. They said we were not racers but here we are in 2014 and the America's Cup is in catamarans.”

The 35th America's Cup, to be hosted by Bermuda in 2017, and preceding America's Cup World Series will be contested in the foiling wing-sailed AC45 and AC62 catamarans both capable of reaching speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour.

“I think most Bermudians, including myself, could never fathom a sail boat moving at those kind of speeds,” Mr Williams added. “When people start seeing a sailboat actually sailing on its rudders and it foils at 50mph, it's just going to be the most awesome thing that anybody has ever seen. It's just the ultimate in high tech where the hull now spends very little time in the water and they are on foils so they have subsequently reduced the wetted surface and the boats are sailing two and three times the speeds that they did when the hulls actually sat in the water, so it's pretty exciting.”

When the America's Cup World Series commences in the Great Sound next October, it won't be the first time that the venue has hosted a world class regatta featuring catamarans.

In the 1980s, Bermuda hosted the Tornado North Americans and Tornado World Championships. The Tornado catamaran is a forerunner of the modern day AC45 and AC62.

“I started the Tornado class here around 1981 and when we brought so many sailors down they saw that the Great Sound was such a great place to race that it wasn't long before we were asked would we be interested in hosting the Tornado North American Championships and then the Tornado World Championships,” Mr Williams explained.

“We had a Tornado World Championships here in Bermuda and for the longest while it was one of the best Worlds the guys have had because we had some of the heaviest winds. I believe in the second race of that regatta the winds blew up to 50 miles per hour and most of us were sitting up there saying ‘what the heck are we doing out here'.

“The entire event was one that people just enjoyed from the racing to the hospitality and just the beauty of the place and it wasn't long before we had another Worlds. We actually had two world championships here in Bermuda for the Tornado class.”

Mr Astwood reckons that the conditions in the Great Sound are a perfect fit for the AC45 and AC62 catamarans.

“The conditions will be good for them because it will be flat water,” he said. “There is no real big chop unless the wind is out of the north, so anywhere from north east to north west is going to be choppy and anything south of that is going to be flat water and they can have good wind and a lot of speed. The AC45 and AC62 are a lot bigger than the Tornado and will be going a lot faster, so the track will be a lot smaller and it will be interesting to see them flying across the Great Sound. There will be a lot of manoeuvres, obviously, and I am looking forward to it.”

Speedy: Glenn Astwood (right) sailing in the Tornado catamaran

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Published December 18, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 18, 2014 at 1:01 am)

How catamarans won over sailing community

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