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Is it possible to have a boat that can both safely deal with heavy weather and have good light-wind performance? People often talk about the former as a desirable trait for a cruising boat and yet seldom bring up the latter. In my post Do you need a Bluewater Boat, I touched on this subject but I tend to think that for boats sailing predominantly in the Caribbean, that emphasis might be a bit misplaced. This was brought even more to mind during our recent sail to Bequia.

There were a fair number of other sailboats sharing the water with us that day and to my distress, every single one of them that was heading in the same direction passed us while we were on route to Bequia. I wasn’t getting super bummed out about it because I know that longer vessels are inherently faster but still, we were going in the same direction which, of course, meant that we were racing. 😉

On the day that we were to clear out of Trinidad, Rebecca and I watched a beautiful Gunboat come into the harbor and tie up at the customs dock. I met the Captain in the immigration office and struck up a conversation with him, complimenting him on his vessel. He told Rebecca and I that they had just arrived after crossing the Atlantic and when I inquired about how his passage went, he told me that it was awful. When he elaborated about why it was so, his description was not at all what I expected to hear.

Instead of stormy conditions with huge waves and strong winds, it turns out that their boat was becalmed, stuck in extremely light conditions for days. He told us that they blew out their spinnaker early in the passage, limiting their down-wind sailing ability, and that even though they did not have enough diesel to motor through the windless area, they spent days with their engines running at idle just to keep moving. Now this catamaran is a vessel that I would expect would have fairly good light-wind performance and yet even it was stuck without the power to drive it. Imagine if it had been a big heavy monohull with a full keel!

Gunboat 66

Some people might wonder why light-wind performance is important at all. We aren’t in a hurry, are we? Well, as accurate weather forecasts are a very perishable commodity, the longer that one is underway the greater the chance of running into unfavorable conditions. Additionally, the faster that we get our passages completed, the more time we have to enjoy the hospitality of the islands that we are visiting.

So, what would make our boat go faster? There are a few things. The first is that we could remove from it many of the things that we keep around solely for fun. Without the additional weight of two bikes, a kayak and all of the other crap that we keep on board, our boat would almost assuredly have a bit more get up and go. Secondly, we could replace our small self-tacking jib with our 150% genoa. That would be a huge increase in sail area and on the right point of sail, would definitely drive us faster. The third thing we could do is to ensure that our boat’s bottom is perfectly clean. While I do not intend to discard our toys, nor will I be swapping sails until our autopilot is back to working 100%, I did spend a couple of hours yesterday removing the countless barnacles that have stowed away with us since Chaguaramas. Will that help us move a bit quicker on our next passage? I certainly hope so!

I wonder how these two boats would fair in light wind?


  1. I promise you that the autopilot will work better with the 150% than the self tacking jib. It will balance and sail faster. The sail also reefs better (still, reef the main first), as the self tacker has a terrible sheet angle if partly furled. In all weather, I prefer the 150, even if rolled up 50% or more. Really, the self tacker is too small to balance this boat unless 2 reefs are in. The reason is that the keel is way too far forward. Comparing to the sail plan of a boat with a keel in the correct place is wrong.

    I guess you could infer that I’m not a fan of self-tacking jibs. In fact, if it wears out I will replace it with a smaller roller furling jib with a high clew. Had one on the Stiletto, much better; it came with a self-tacker and it sucked too. The Stiletto was in many ways like a small Gunboat (light Kevlar hulls with high aspect rig and dagger boards) and liked a similar sail plan.

    Which leads to a 3rd thought. I don’t think you’ve ever sailed a boat that was power enough to capsize easily or intended to fly a hull. the Stiletto 27 was, and if the wind was up, the sheets (both) were on your lap and the helm in your hand. No autopilot, no way. The Gunboat also requires expert handling when powered up and would be FAR easy to flip through inattention than your cat. That matters. Though the Gunboat is pretty, I think it would make a poor cruising boat for most folks.

    • You are right about our lack of experience with boats like that.

      Re: the 150, do you sheet it as we do, out to turning blocks attached to the rear cleats and back to the winches, or do you have another method?

      • Yes, sheet far aft. I tried some alternatives to move the sheet in but wasn’t happy with them. Up wind I simply sheet it hard on the shrouds. While it doesn’t point as high as possible, it seems to be about the best angle for VMG anyway; it prevents you from pinching.

        But I would like a little Gunboat expereince! The truth is, going really fast on beach cats is more fun; if you ditch, so what!

  2. “Additionally, the faster that we get our passages completed, the more time we have to enjoy the hospitality of the islands that we are visiting.”

    While I agree with your sentiment I think that it also depends on whether one is a live aboard / grab life by the tail cruiser like you folks or a “once every couple of years we get to sail the BVI’s” like us.

    In the short time that we have to sail the Caribbean, from one happy hour to the next, the absolutely best time for me is at the helm. Yes the full moon parties and impromptu gatherings are fun but sailing is my # goal during the short time we have.

    Nancy took one picture of me just before we hove-to while on our way back from Anegada. We were caught inside a wicked squall and rather than follow it we hove-to so it would pass.
    She was inside, I was at the helm, collar of my shell pulled up, baseball hat pulled down as far as it goes over my face, and wearing sunglasses as the ice-like shards of rain drove into my face. There I was, soaking wet, shivering and cold, with the silliest mile wide grin, just having a ball.

    • I hear you but respectfully, if you are the “once every couple of years we get to sail the BVI’s” type, you need a bluewater boat even less! With a quick boat you could sail from JVD, around past the Indians to the Willie T, out to Virgin Gorda and still make happy hour in Trellis Bay.

  3. I agree with Drew, the boat would be better balanced, less work for the auto-pilot, go much better with the 150%. You have a lovely boat. That will suit her fine. Then reef the main first, before you start rolling in the jib.

    Flashy company you keep – Phaedo indeed! She has done a huge number of transats, specialises in speed, likes to show off ‘flying a hull’. Professionals only! But she does look lovely if you ignore the realities.

    FWIW, barnacles have a big effect on speed. Much more than a little bit of weight.



  4. Not a fan of the Gunboat for cruising. Thrilling daysailer/weekender, IMHO. Wouldn’t want to live on one. I seem to recall having a similar discussion with you about a Chris White cat in Grenada. It seems that, from a cruising perspective, speed and comfortable living are usually inversely related; ie. the faster you make a boat, the less comfortable it is to live on. The Gunboat we toured at the boatshow a few years ago was pretty to look at and, in fact, it “looked” really fast just sitting at the dock. The interior, OTOH, was not conducive to comfortable living. When you consider the time we cruisers sit at anchor vs. the time we spend passagemaking, I prefer sacrificing speed for living comfort; and I personally am OK with a little more tankage in the water and fuel department slowing us down. Of course, to each his/her own.
    Completely agree with your point on closing weather windows. So those of us with slower, comfortable boats just stay put longer, waiting on longer windows and enjoying the comfort a greater percentage of the time.

  5. You can always reef down a boat with plenty of sails, but it’s awfully hard to string up more canvas on one that never had enough in the first place. It is, however, really tricky to design a good light-air rig that isn’t too complex, fragile or fiddly.

    Weight, perhaps surprisingly, is unlikely to have a big effect on light-air performance in a boat like the PDQ 32. Below 5 knots or so, her resistance is dominated by skin friction- so it’s the barnacles’ fault, combined with the relatively high wetted surface area of the PDQ (i.e. the twin fixed keels). At higher speeds, the effect of extra weight would become more obvious. Scraping the barnacles: good, will gain you some speed. Switching to the bigger headsail: also good. Ditching cargo: would gain a bit of medium- to strong-wind performance, but likely not much of a difference at ghosting speeds.

  6. I would be interested in an update once the barnacles are banished and you are in a similar sailing situation, how much difference do the critters make?

    • It would be nice to be able to have a scientific comparison but in truth, that’s almost impossible. The wind, seas and currents affect our speed more than the hull condition I suspect. I am going to dive on the boat once more just before we leave here to make sure it’s perfect. I’m not taking any chances. 🙂

  7. No doubt barnacles will absolutely kill your speed. I’ve never met a catamaran that wouldn’t benefit from a bowsprit, screecher and a Facnor continuous line furler. We added this to our last 2 cats and it makes a huge difference in light air usually adding a couple of knots of speed. With the Facnor furler it was easier to handle and roll up than our 90% jib. Now that’s the way to turbocharge a cat!

    • I assume that you only use that when sailing off the wind though. Sadly those conditions are rare here. In this case, the wind was light and we were going to weather.

  8. It depends how you set up your screecher. We could hold ours to maybe 45 degrees apparent but best point of sail maybe 60 degrees apparent. My friend on his Maine Cat 30 runs his up to the upper 30’s apparent but his is flatter cut. On our Seawind 1000 we used the screecher probably 80’percent of the time we sailed.

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