Are three hulls better than one?
By Dan Segal
Small Boat Journal #64, January 1989

For all their simplicity, handiness, coziness, and charm, small cruising boats have their problems. They tend to be slow, wet, and bouncy. They have limited space on deck and have to tow any tender they take along. Those are compromises most of us are willing to make. But they are also compromises that may not be necessary: The five small trimarans presented here offer some alternatives.

To oversimplify for a moment, trimarans have the shoal draft, handiness, and trailerability that we find so attractive in other small cruisers. And they are also fast, weatherly, light, and have large amounts of deck space. Here are trailerable boats with average cruising speeds at least equal to 40-foot mo(lohulls (and which can hit speeds in excess of 20 knots given the right conditions and a good crew), that can sail onto a beach, carry a couple of boats on deck, and have sail areas and controls that are small and simple enough for singlehanding.

Sounds great so far, right? But like all boats, tris have their trade-offs. Accommodations, for instance. To get speed out of these boats, the hulls are very narrow. That means that a 26- foot trimaran has the interior volume of a much shorter monohull. With the exception of the F-27, which puts its extra foot of length and 1,000 pounds or so of displacement to good use in belowdecks liveability, the boats are set up to sleep two adults and possibly one child or two. Galleys on all the boats are small, but simple and usable. Stowage below tends to be at a premium. Argonauta is the only one that makes even a pretense of a hanging locker and 1'd gladly sacrifice the galley sink in the other boats for a similar place near the companionway to hang wet gear. In my view, nothing goes so far toward keeping a cabin comfortable as keeping it dry.

The boats do feel larger below than you might think. Because the main hulls flare out widely above the waterline in order to create beam for seats and berth flats, the greatest width is up at eye level where it wards off feelings of claustrophobia. These cabins are, for the most part, cozy and comfortable. Just don't expect them to be large because the boats are long, and don't plan to entertain too many people below.

Cockpits also tend to be small, though that's not nearly as big a problem in a trimaran as it would be in a monohull. With the big, comfortable trampolines stretching out from the main hull to the amas (the outrigger floats on either side of the main hull), most people don't want to stay in the cockpit of a tri anyway. In fact, there are enough different places to go that individuals and groups seem to find their own favorite places on board. I liked to tie a line to the tiller and steer from out on the weather tramp where I was out of the spray and could easily see both sails and bows slicing through the waves. It's watching the boat you are sailing from outside, and I don't think anyone ever gets over the kick of that. Besides, too many people in the cockpit of a boat that only weighs 1,500 pounds, as most of these 26-footers do, would make it squat terribly.

Dragonfly F-27

Four Boats in One

Cost is another trade-off. Good multihulls aren't cheap. A builder of a trimaran really has to build four boats, more or less: the main hull, the two amas (floats), and the akas (the armatures connecting . the amas to the main hull).

The boats also have to be exceptionally well built and engineeered. Using buoyancy in lever arms instead of ballast produces huge righting moments, putting the boats under enormous strains. For instance, the righting moment of the F-27 is 29,000 foot-pounds, according to her designer and builder Ian Farrier. A comparable monohull would register only 4,000 foot-pounds. And since trimarans have to .g be light in weight to sail fast - which is the point, after all - the builders often use construction techniques and materials more in common with aircraft than with most production boats.

With all that in mind,. the prices aren't outrageous. Base prices range from about $28,000 for the Argonauta up to almost $41,000 for the F-27. In most cases, trailers, sails, electronics, ground tackle, and the rest are extra. However, the sailing hardware supplied with these boats tends to be more complete than with many production monohulls, and is often of the highest quality, complementing the quality of the construction.

There's one other trade-off. Although these boats are all trailerable, assembly or disassembly is not necessarily easy or fast. Only the F-27 and the Argonauta have akas that fold easily into a trailerable width. The other boats have to be retrieved whole - you'll need about 25 feet of ramp width - and be taken apart ("demounted") on the trailer. Even though the parts are light enough for a single strong person to lift (say 70 pounds or so), they are much too large and clumsy for anyone to handle alone. Figure an hour, minimum, to assemble the demountable boats, after considerable practice. The boats with folding akas go together faster. Sail magazine once timed Ian Farrier and his partner at 14 minutes, from the time they hit the ramp with an F-27 to the time they were sailing. In practice, it takes at least twice and often three times that long to get an F-27 sailing. And it goes together faster than the other boats. One person can do it, but it is much easier with two. Even if you aren't trailering, the beam of a non-folding tri will make it difficult to find suitable docking space. Since they are too wide to fit in a slip, about the only choices are to tie up at the end of the dock or to moor; where such space is scarce, a folding boat may be your only trimaran option.