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Initiators of the class Richard & Lillian Woods discuss the Micro

From-South African Yachting October 1990

Micromultihulls are trailable multihulls, under eight metres in length, that have accommodation for at least three people and are suitable for coastal cruising and racing. They have become increasingly popular in Europe since we first introduced the idea in the early 1980’s. This is because sailors have been attracted to boats covering the whole micromultihull spectrum, ranging from high performance micros that can give a F40 or Tornado a good run for its money, at one end, right through to coastal cruisers who rarely, if even race at the other.

Now, it seems, it is the turn of the South Africans to appreciate the micromultihulls’ unique advantages and so the aim of this article is to give an overview to the micromultihull scene as it was initially conceived and how it has developed.

In an article entitled Multihull Racing -The Future. first published in 1982, we compared the differences between monohull and multihull racing. The two big growth areas in monohull racing since the late 1970’s have been in the high prestige America’s Cuppers, WRTW racers and so forth and in boats like the J24 that offer good inshore day racing for those ex-dinghy sailors used to short races who want to get back to the club before the bar closes. In Europe these two groups have grown dramatically at the expense of the traditional ocean racer.

At the time of writing that article, although maxi-multihulls were generating a lot of publicity and were covering many thousands of ocean racing miles, multihull organisations were still trying to offer traditional 24 - 36 hour races to cruiser-racer multihulls. There was no day racing organised and in fact in many countries, including the UK, micromultihull-sized boats were effectively banned from racing. The result was that fewer and fewer races were organised and multihull racing for ordinary sailors looked like dying.

So we finished the article by outlining the parameters for what we felt would create a fast. seaworthy class of inshore multihull that would not be too extreme -and so the Micromultihull class was born. We felt the micro class was a solution to an English problem and so we were surprised when other European countries (notably France, Holland and Denmark) enthusiastically took up the class.

One problem arose immediately, for European sailors wanted larger and more extreme boats than did U K sailors. After a lot of discussion, during which we pointed out that larger boats would be more expensive, harder to trail and launch, and require more crew, while Europeans pointed out that under the U K rules existing boats like the Dragonfly would be out of class, a compromise was reached and the rules amended to allow for a maximum eight metre length, but smaller or less extreme boats would be more favoured on handicap. Although the ultimate goal was to have boats racing on a boat for boat basis, until the fleets grew sufficiently results would obviously have to be calculated on some form of rating system.

Micromultihulls were the first inshore racing class. More recently the F40 and F28 have been promoted and have generated a lot of publicity round the world, but this high profile has not been reflected in the size of their fleets. This has largely been due to the rapidly escalating cost of buying and campaigning these pure racing boats and their correspondingly low resale value. From the very start we have endeavoured to keep the micro class affordable - in one article we wrote that a micro should cost the same as a second hand car, not a second house (in a later article we wrote that some people did not know the price of cars!) -and this has been reflected in the rules.

As a result the most successful racing micros (Dragonfly, Strider, Freely and so on) have actually been cruiser/racers and so have had a role outside racing which increases both enjoyment and use of the boat, not to mention resale values. For example the new owner of our 1987 UK and European championship-winning Strider reported that it made a great fishing boat - try fishing from an old F40.

To encourage sensible cruising boats micros have strict accommodation requirements - a minimum of 1.2 m headroom, three sea berths, sitting space below for two to three of the crew and so forth. These rules not only ensure sensible cabins but encourage high freeboards which imply dry. comfortable boats. Although trapezes, sitting out wings and the like may be acceptable to hard driving day racing crews they are totally unsuitable for family coastal cruising and so have been rightly banned under the rules.

Maybe the boats are slower as a result (but if you have ever overtaken a Hobie 18 whose crew are both flat out on their trapeze in your four berth coastal cruiser and still thought that you were going slowly then you should take up powerboating!), but they will be a lot safer and, more importantly more people will be prepared to race them which must be good news for everyone, even the fanatics. For remember that while there may be 150000 Hobies and even more Optimists, there are only a couple of C Class cats still sailing, showing that you do not need the fastest boats to get the best racing.

We feel that many designers and builders have been overoptimistic when considering people’s sailing skills and as a result have designed boats that only a few people can sail to their true potential. Even the experts can expect to take a year to get the best from their new boat, while most of the problems that have occurred in micro racing can be directly attributed to crew inexperience and not to basic design faults.

Unlike larger multihulls, where cats are more popular, there is a fairly, even split between micro cats and tris. This is because micromultihulls have to be trailable and so the individual hull widths are limited to under 1,2 metres on a cat and there can be no bridgedeck cabin. The inevitable result is two narrow hulls, ideal for bunks and galley, but it is not possible to have a sit round saloon, except under the cockpit tent. The tri, on the other hand, can fold its floats under the main hull for trailing and thus use the full 2.4 metre width for accommodation. The result is a good saloon area, but, like monohulls, a tri is short on bunks and privacy. Perhaps surprisingly, given the tris wide overall beam, deck space is also at a premium as the cockpit is small and only the windward trampoline is useable. We have always preferred the cat layout as micros are daysailed so level, dry deck space is vital, as , of course, is privacy and separate cabins for kids and parents.

So what is it like sailing a micromultihull? The first thing to remember is that they are small boats designed for coastal sailing, and there is little protection for the crew. Although micros have proven their seaworthiness many times, most notably when a Firebird successfully completed the 1988 OSTAR and a Dragonfly the 1985 Round Britain race, it is usually the crew that will fail first. We have sailed over 10000 miles in micros during the last eight years and we now try to avoid sailing at night, which effectively limits passages to about 100 miles.

The main problems are the motion and noise which are clearly going to be much greater when sailing at ten knots than at a monohull's four to five. Although the decks are upright it is actually quite difficult to walk around and stretch one's legs. particularly on boats with trampolines instead of solid cockpit floors. Long trips require careful preparation and planning as it is extremely difficult to do accurate navigation when under way, so allowances for tidal streams and courses have to be plotted before leaving.

One major problem is that if it is windy not only is it difficult to navigate but also the boat is going so fast that you tend to be there before you have decided which way to go! For unlike small monohulls which are limited to five or six knots there is no real limit to a micro's speed. In a force five you could easily be doing 17 to 20 knots, but sailing at this speed requires concentration and is often wet, so you must slow down for comfort. That is one reason why we like a roller reefing genoa, as using it makes it so easy to reduce speed from 14 knots to a more comfortable nine.

The other main difference is that while six to seven crew are needed to sail a 35 foot keelboat effectively only two or three are needed on a micro. We only ever sail with just two crew, and although most boats have three we have found that the extra pair of hands is seldom needed, but with 35 square metres of sail plus 45 square metres of spinnaker in 20 knots of wind the crew certainly have to know their boat perfectly and there is no room for mistakes. Mind you, it does mean that just finishing a windy race without making any boathandling errors gives us enormous satisfaction, even if we do not actually win.

A micro's windward ability will be a surprise to those who still think that multihulls can only reach to and fro. Some six years ago, racing our first micro in the U K's Round the Island Race (1,200starters), we were eighth boat home, having spent the last ten miles short-tacking in company with Admiral's Cuppers. It amused us to think that we were sailing our home built cat as fast as these professionally raced boats, yet our whole boat cost less than their mainsail. Even with two people handling genoa, mast rotation, mainsheet track, runners and so on we can still complete a tack in five to six seconds.

Since that race we have concentrated on increasing our windward speed, we once touched 14 knots close hauled in flat water! Unlike monohull racing it is quite possible to be highly competitive in a home built wooden boat. This is partly because the rules have been deliberately left open regarding hull shapes, construction and the like, but mainly because wood offers much better strength/weight ratio than GRP, or even foam sandwich in this size of boat.

The table gives the outline of the micromultihull rules. Boats are all measured (including weighing) before major championships and a new racing certificate issued. As we said earlier the plan is/was to have boat for boat racing, but it is only recently that enough boats with similar speeds have been built to make this possible. The graph shows some new designs and their predicted speeds, which are all very similar and seem to correlate well with actual results, in spite of the fact that all the boats have been designed using very different philosophies. A new subdivision called F26 has now been formed for those who want to race on elapsed time.

One reason why it has taken so long to get boats sailing at similar speeds is because at first everyone, including ourselves, underestimated the weights of micros. Few weigh under 700 kg, one of our Striders being the lightest at 580 kg in racing trim, including anchor, cooker and full safety inventory. This meant that the rating for level racing was initially set too high, so it is likely to be reduced to 1.25. It is also probable that the rules will be changed to give an allowance (which will probably be about 2%) for boat with low aspect ratio keels instead of daggerboards. There are already allowances for rotating masts, roller reefing headsails and other go-fast details.

Micromultihull racing fleets are now spread over the whole of Europe, with European championships held each year. We have raced in Italy, France, Holland, Denmark and in Sweden this year. Although this latest event only mustered 12 entries, which may not seem to be high (but remember that there were only eight in the half ton worlds), they were from seven countries, including for the first time an entry from the USSR, or Latvia to be precise.

From the start the class has been controlled by IMMCA and there are now moves afoot to make it an official international class. We know that the numbers of micros sailing in South Africa are going to rise steadily, while there is also a growing fleet in Zimbabwe. If sailors from the USSR can now race, who knows, it may not be long before we can have a world championship in South Africa.

Although the bulk of this article has been about racing, cruising sailors should not ignore the racing scene. Apart from the fact that the safety regulations used for racing should also be used when cruising, developments in the racing field inevitably lead to changes in cruisers. Nowhere has this been more obvious than in the IOR which until very recently has forced monohull sailors to compromise their boats.

We hope in the micro class to look to the past and to the experience of monohulls and so avoid some of these mistakes. As more and more beach cat sailors hang up their trapeze belts in favour of a cruising boat with the same speed potential and as more sailboard sailors decide that their sport is unsociable and want to take a passenger (we cannot believe that anyone who has sailed fast will ever be really satisfied with a monohull) so increasingly does the micro movement look set for a period of rapid expansion.

This has to be good news for all multihull sailors for in time the micro sailors of today will buy a larger multihull which in turn means that not only will multihulls get more popular but also that everyone should take note of what is happening in the micromultihull class whether they sail them or not.

We feel we must finish this article by quoting a reporter of one of Britain’s most respected magazines: "Beware - try a Micro and sailing will never be the same again".


All boats to be built in the spirit of the class, i.e. boats to be trailable cruiser/ racers, suitable for inshore races while providing sufficient accommodation for coastal cruising when required. Maximum length overall eight metres and maximum rated length eight metres.
All boats to be legally trailable
Sails are to be limited to one mainsail, four jibs (one to be a storm jib) and two spinnakers per race or series of races. No sail to be more than 20% solid (solid being defined as one that cannot be rolled or folded).
No sitting out aid and/ or"wings". A sitting out aid is anything that, if taken away, would cause the crewmember who used it to fall overboard.
All boats must conform to a static stability calculation. Designers’estimates may be accepted for boats that do not appear to be marginal cases.