Three people have sailed the W17 so far. Andrew Johnson, GM of Melvest Marine, who typically builds fine composite Farriers; Luigi Manzi, owner and expert skipper of several boats and a Hobie cat champ, and Louis Casambre, an analytical sailing enthusiast who has built a number of fine boats and crews regularly on Hobies. In the first 3 days since being launched, Louis has now sailed on the W17 every day—about 130 miles! This included crewing in the 'All Souls Regatta' with 20K+ winds and some 3ft seas, with Luigi at the helm.
So I asked his frank opinion of this prototype through a short questionnaire.
Here is his response:
Mike: What were your first impressions when sailing the W17?
Louis: It's very stable. Feels very strong and has great upwind performance.
Mike: How was the steering? (light, heavy, enough feel? Turning ok? Enough rudder etc etc)
Louis: Very light, perhaps even too light for me as I'm used to feeling a fair pull from my tiller. But I am sure when we find time to play with the mast rake or the dagger board or both, it's balanced enough that we can tune in whatever a skipper needs.
We did in fact have the daggerboard rather aft when sailing, to limit the inflow of water up the case in the rough conditions.
Mike: How was tacking? Better than a Hobie or not?
Louis: Very easy… easier it seems than a Hobie. In fact by habit, I tended to backwind the jib too much.
Mike: How was the balance (weather — lee helm etc) and were you able to adjust it?
Louis: Seemed immediately balanced but maybe the balanced rudder had something to do with it. As noted above, we'll try a little more mast rake next trip and we can also move the board forward and farther down.
Mike: How did the boat point and otherwise compare to others around you?
Louis: Seemed to point as well as the big monohulls.
Mike: How was the comfort…the ride, the wetness/dryness etc?
Louis: Fine when the waves were 2ft or under, but got pretty wet in the rough stuff we were out in* (see below)
Perhaps the forebeam fairing apex could to be raised a bit and the forward part of the rubrail shaped differently. I also think this issue can be fixed with fairings extended to near the bow of the vaka—as shown as an option on the original plans—but we had no time to fit them.
Since this time, the missing canvas spray deflectors were fitted at the bow, and made all the difference, with the boat MUCH drier.
*The W17 was the only boat under 21' to race in these conditions—therefore the smallest by a wide margin, over 20%. Many onlookers were surprised as to how well it handled the conditions.
Mike: Any slamming etc?
Louis: Again, not normally, but quite a lot of it in the rough stuff.
Designers Comment: The builder of this first boat missed the fact that the bottom panel up forward is to be brought to a small VEE. Since then, the plans have been clarified to make sure it's not missed again. This will certainly lower any slamming, though if a flat bottom is allowed to totally exit the water in rough conditions, it's to be expected that some impact will be felt on re-entry. This happens only rarely though and the width of the flat sole is very low.
Mike: How was the self draining cockpit?
Louis: Very useful! …but our drains were initially far too small.
The cockpit floor is pretty close to the waterline right now so for more comfort, one might look to slightly raise it or build on a box around the daggerboard opening of say 6" in height.
Designers Comment: Since this initial trial, a 'surge suppressor' has been developed for the daggerboard case and the drain hole sizes have been increased significantly in size and the cockpit floor raised 1". Tests have since shown all solutions were effective.
Mike: When sailing, does water drive in at the front or rear of the DB case?
Louis: A little forward but mostly at the rear, but our bulkhead hatches needed to be made more watertight.
Designers Comment: With the above noted changes to the cockpit, water no longer challenges the hatch seals.
Mike: Things you really liked (and why)?
Louis: Stability and speed. Lots of riding space (cockpit, tramps, flat ama decks etc). Solid structure.
Mike: Things you'd like to see changed (and why)?
Louis: Could the bow have some deadrise so it doesn't slam too much? (already there - see note above). Adding the bow spray deflectors (nets) so less water comes over the deck and, find various ways to reduce the water in the cockpit. (larger drain holes now specified, surge suppressor added & floor slightly raised)
Mike: How was the mainsheet rigged finally ? Was it effective downwind to keep the boom down?
Louis: As the curved track had not arrived, we used a narrow rope traveller only but on the downwind runs, I had to sit on the boom to keep the main sail leech tight enough! Without this difficulty, our downwind performance might have matched the fine upwind.
Mike: Have any comments to add, coming in from various others who saw or tried the boat? Good or bad. Be great to have the 'who said what' also.
Louis: …not yet, but I'll probably have some for you in the coming weeks. The boat did get some 'thumbs up' though.
Thanks for this and hope you enjoyed yourselves! We certainly DID!
POSTSCRIPT 2019 This first boat was finally sold to a proud new owner in 2019, after being raced and cruised over 2000 n.mls. Even its delivery was made by sailing about 300 n/mls, with one open-water stretch of 60 miles. Congrats to Aussie owner/builder Andrew Johnson who now sails a larger tri. May fair winds be with you always Andrew!