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Two W17 builder/sailors write-in after 3 seasons

Stories from two W17 sailors ..,,, Jonathan on Lake Michigan, and Jim on the Maine Atlantic coast.

(for those who do not know the area, Lake Michigan is over 22,000 sq.m in area, nearly 1000 ft deep and rated the 5th largest lake on the planet.  Waves over 20ft high have been recorded).

From: Jon-J, C101, Harbor Springs, Michigan, USA

Now my 3rd season and really enjoying the boat.  I would not change a thing.

I often take others out and the word that comes up most often from first-timers, is how smooth the boat sails.   It’s so quiet and efficient that you only realize how well you are moving when you pass something fixed, like the shore or a buoy.  When the wind pipes up the boat just accelerates with no big heel like a monohull.   

The next most repeated comment is probable about its comfort.  I usually sail with 2 friends, two in the cockpit and one standing on an ama.  We take turns driving but it’s nice to stand once in a while.  (I do enjoy sailing alone but friends frequently ask to come along :). 

The helm is pretty neutral so you can let go of tiller for boat or clothing adjustments. I may experiment with more mast rake.  We often get speeds of 9 or 10 knots going to weather and although the boat handles rough water remarkable well for its size,  it’s awesome in flat water.  When the wavelength is long enough, (this is lake Michigan so these develop 5 or 6ft tall) the boat cruises up and over them with ease, again 9 or 10 knots and this feels awesome. 

Waves 3 to 5 ft seem to be the challenging ones.  We once buried an ama a foot under not paying full attention and most recently stuffed the bow under water almost to the crossbeam. ( I went forward to get a jacket as we were flying down a wave into the next one …. in hindsite, not a good move.)   The stern went several feet in the air!   But both these events happened broad reaching when trying to see how fast we could go on that day (~13kts with 3 up), and both times the boat stopped, shrugged the water off and carried on, seemingly much less concerned than the crew were!  The point I’m making is that the boat seems pretty forgiving ‘when old dudes do dumb things’.  So always looking forward to the next adventure on my W17.   Never experienced a boat quite like it … lots of fun and not a wet boat either.

And from Jim-V in Little Deer Is, Maine, USA ….builder & owner of ‘Merlin’ C-132, a W17 also with the 8m race rig. 

Back in June 2020, Jim wrote this to me …. “I trailed my ‘yet to be named’ W17 to our place on Little Deer Isle, Maine and we launched her on Saturday. It was very exciting and gratifying. I still marvel at the combination of complexity yet elegance that the design carries, and the wing-mast is simply awesome.   As the moment is somewhat overwhelming, I don’t know what else to say”.

But now also completing his 3rd season, here is Jim’s latest letter, late Sept 2022.

Hi Mike

I got in a lot of sailing in the late August and early September.  During part of that time, friend Rufus was visiting and he has become very enthusiastic about sailing after taking a week long small boat sailing class in Burlington, VT over the last two summers so was eager to go out on Merlin with me.  We sailed four days together and had a great time.  The wind normally picks up about noon so there is a good four or five hours to enjoy. We had winds varying in both direction and strength and one day we sailed well out beyond Eggemoggin Reach which is always fun. 



On our last day, the forecast was announcing a “Small Craft Warning” but it was also the day I needed to haul Merlin out so seemed like a good day to put the storm mainsail up and see what fun we could have.  We changed out the sail at the mooring and went out into the Reach.  There were already white caps, so over 12 knots, and it was building from the North and blowing down the Reach. We took a long tack north westward and sailed into the incoming tidal current of about 1.5 knots making a steady progress of  6.5 over ground (so about 8kt boat speed).  The fine hulls were parting the 18” waves very cleanly, so despite our speed we stayed quite dry and very comfortable. 

At the northern end of the Reach, the waves were building and as we started to miss a few tacks with the now 2ft plus waves and 15+k of wind, we choose to turn around.  We realized that in this chop we needed good timing to bring the bows up into the wind and then let the jib backwind a little to push the bow through to the new tack. We missed a couple but made more than we lost.  All in good fun and perfect safety and control. I never felt that the wind was over-powering the boat.  I was watching the leeward hull for too much immersion but found it easy to control by turning out of the wind a bit or easing out the sheet to spill air.  We were sailing with the full jib and never felt I needed to reef it.  (One day earlier in the summer I was out by myself with the storm mainsail and the wind blew up to be strong and occasional stronger gusts.  I reefed the jib simply with the furler but didn't tie it off as you suggest, because I felt the wind would fall to a tamer state as I worked away from an open stretch of water.  That was the case so it was easy to unfurl it),.  

While sailing down wind and wanting to turn around I found it easier to gybe and can do that with perfect control by keeping the boom under control with the sheet close to center on the traveler.  This way I could easily come through the wind and be under power, slicing easily through the chop. By mid afternoon, the height of the waves and the increasing wind kept us from making strong progress to windward, so we decided to head to the ramp to haul out.

But I have to tell you that Rufus was so impressed with the spirit, efficiency, dryness and pure fun and capability of the W17 that he wants to write you to say that.  I don't think he had sailed a boat anything like this before, just as few of us had before building this remarkable W17.  I told him you would appreciate that, so have passed him your address.

(Mike did receive a kind and generous note from Rufus, in which he shared these thoughts.

[“Merlin seemed such a happy spirit out in this rough water with her finely balanced helm, and I sense she wore a big smile all the time, just as I did.   It was indeed a magical experience and an appreciated pleasure to experience your great design, not to mention Jim’s fine craftsmanship.  Thanks so very much”.        Sincerely, Rufus-Z ]

If you have any tips on how to tack more consistently in heavy wind and waves, that would be great to think about before next season.

Best,  Jim (Maine)



Suggestions passed to Jim

So for the high wind tacking ...yes, it does take practice and concentration, but there are some basics to understand that I think will help.

First of all, remember this is a trimaran ..ie 3 hulls, all designed to go straight, so turning more than one will certainly take longer.   But the problem is, we tend to sit in the middle of the boat when tacking which typically now puts all THREE hulls in the water .. well, on-and-off due to waves.   So we need to sit off center and heel the boat while turning, so that there are only 2 hulls in,  Then, your overall beam (on the W17) will be cut from 14ft to about 8ft.  That will be very helpful ,,,, but the question is then, which two?   

Instinctively, we will probably dive across, heeling the boat to the outside of the turn.   But personally, I do not think that's the best.  I suggest to stay on the old windward side and turn with the new leeward side lower. ..  while sitting on the INSIDE of the turn.  Although with a regular dinghy this might risk a capsize, its actually the way we were shown while racing them, as then, once on the new tack, you throw your weight to windward and this brings the sail towards you with quite some momentum , giving the boat a shot-in-the-arm that propels it forward to regain speed more quickly.

With the W17, there is little if any risk of capsizing by initially staying to windward as you turn ..just discipline to break the habit of rushing to the new high side.  Wait until the boat has gone through the eye of the wind and is starting to get wind again on the new side, before changing to the upper side.

Another trimming trick is to move your weight aft so that the bow lifts out a little during the turn, and the rudder stays low.  Both these aspects give better turning, but remember to trim forward again as soon as you are around.  Easing the mainsheet on a tack is also important.

The other factor is the jib, as in strong winds you need just the right amount.  If you have the full jib, that's now a lot a windage preventing you from turning.   But if you have no jib at all, the boat will typically barely reach the eye of the wind and then fall back, meaning that you may have to bear away and gybe, assuming you have left enough space with obstacles to do so.    But if you pre-roll the foresail up about 2/3rds, that cuts the windage and yet there's still enough to back you around on to the new tack.

Ideally, you want to 'sail' around, as ANY jib backing is actually a brake to your forward speed and then the rudder quickly becomes ineffective ... until it starts working again in reverse .... as you drift backwards;).

But turning on two hulls and not three will help to make the turn faster and therefore still with speed. Ideally you do not want the speed to drop below 2-3 kts at the slowest point ... but, like everything else, this takes practice,                                        

A few times I have been caught out in 20kts with wild 30 kt gusts and genuine 1 meter waves.  You have to be on your toes but it’s exhilarating and the boat handles it remarkably well with almost nothing coming on board.    I have heard from two others who have sailed her in ~5ft waves.  Jon on Lake Michigan, and Andrew in the China Sea on a 40 mile open sea crossing where they were likely longer than on a lake. ..even a big one.    Both hinted the weakness was more their own skill and reaction time, rather than the boat.   We also have the great advantage of now having the 4.4 m2 storm mainsail nestled efficiently behind the wingmast, while they were sailing reefed down.  I personally find the added efficiency of the narrow, smaller storm mainsail is well worth it and feels less 'hang on for dear life' than with a reefed main. 

The stormsail makes sailing in the wild stuff, much safer and very doable, so very enjoyable even for the older sailor, so whenever I head out for more than a couple of hours, I now always take the storm mainsail with me .. and really, the boat is not slower.  I have in fact hit 14kts with it up! ... and it’s much easier to gybe, easier to spill gusts and far more efficient upwind.  No mono I have sailed can go upwind in the rough stuff like this W17 when using the flat high-aspect stormsail and wingmast ... nearly doubling a mono's speed of the same length.

Just make sure the beam hinge area is shimmed out with fine, short cedar wedges, so that there is no slop there.  Allowing movement adds stress to the connection, like 'hammering the hinges loose', so a clear "no no"..

Be prudent, but have fun ... I can envisage still sailing this boat at stimulating speeds even at 90 ;)    Stability-wise, the amas do almost all the work!

Hope this helps, Mike