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The ‘to windward’ Debate 1992 by Ian Holt, Yachts and Yachting

The 90-mile Plymouth to Falmouth race, was dominated by Richard Woods designs; his craft won two of the three legs in 0-30 knots of wind. Leg One took the fleet from Plymouth to Falmouth, with the multis starting 5 minutes behind the monos. In 25 knots the Woods’ own screaming yellow Sagitta ‘Sagitta’ rounded the windward mark 15 minutes after the start, just astern of a Sigma 38 whose owner had earlier declared 'I would buy a multi if only they sailed better to windward.’

A 15-mile spinnaker run to the Eddystone was followed by a fast two-sail reach with the first multis passing all the monos, and the Banshee ’Dasher’ pulling ahead to finish a clear 20 minutes in front of ‘Sagitta’ and over 40 minutes a head of the first monohull; multis took the first four places on elapsed time, with the Banshee also winning on handicap. The second leg took the fleet on to Fowey, with the multis showing off their Achilles’ heel by losing out to windward in only 7 knots of wind. In these conditions cats can either point high or foot fast ... but not both.

The high wetted surface area of two thin hulls make them uncompetitive, even with daggerboards and drifters. The multis began to pull back on the 20 mile close reach to Fowey, with ‘Sagitta’ finishing fourth after a gybing battle with the Selection 37’Tide Chaser’.

Leg number three took competitors back to Plymouth. It is traditionally a pursuit race aimed to produce a mass finish, but a complete calm for the first 90 minutes meant that the slowest boats were only one mile from Fowey when the last boats started. With most of the course a reach or run ‘Sagitta’ and ‘Dasher’ pulled ahead of the fleet, with ‘Sagitta’ gybing downwind to finish two minutes ahead of ‘Tide Chaser’ with the shortest elapsed time for the whole race.

Having shown the West Country monos that multis can go upwind as well as down - so long as there’s enough breeze - the Woods’ next event was the two-handed Plymouth to Fowey race, let down by a disappointing multi entry a week before the Plymouth GP.

As usual the multis started last, but soon pulled ahead in 30 knot conditions that had the monos broaching wildly on the run down to the wing mark and counting the cost of sailing with so few crew. Firebird ’Phoenix’ raced ahead until Mike Tebbutt decided to drop the spinnaker, which promptly went under the boat and round the rudders, forcing her retirement.

Still carrying her kite, ‘Sagitta’ pulled into a clear lead ahead of the Banshee ‘Cracker’ which had blown out its newly repaired spinnaker, taking three hours 40 minutes for the 40 mile race at an average speed over 11 knots.

After it was over, Richard asked himself, ‘Why do so few multis turn up to race?’ He believes many cruising multi owners think they can never win, because they don’t have the latest racy designs. However, they forget the beauty of the PY system which allows anyone to win providing they sail well - the PY is a personal yardstick and unlike a rating rule is unaffected by the boat’s design.

Maybe crews are also daunted by the expense of all the safety equipment needed for racing; yet racing implies other boats being in sight, and should you really go cruising without the minimum safety gear required by the racing rules? Others are maybe worried about breaking gear; Richard and Lilian find that having taken part in a strong wind race makes them much more efficient in the boat when they’re next out in bad weather.

Richard finished by saying: ’Twenty years ago there were regular fleets of 20 boats; now many more multis are sailing, but the fleets are no larger. The Multihull Offshore Cruising and Racing Association’s most urgent priority is to get more boats to the start; not to worry about race rules or even results. The races are organised, so what are you waiting for?’