Boat Review August 1, 2003 Issue

Corsair 36

The new Corsair is a fast cruising platform, light and bright belowdecks, but with a bit less elbow room than you'd find on a 36-foot monohull, and pricy. For many, these are worthy trade-offs.

Twenty years ago, when Corsair Marine first entered the U.S. market with the F-27 trimaran (which PS reviewed in September, 1990), "family" multihulls were not generally thought to have stellar sailing characteristics. They were difficult to tack. They did not sail well to weather. They required large parking places. In ensuing years, Corsair's 24- to 31-footers have helped change the perception in the marketplace. These boats are fast, sail well, and are easily trailerable since they fold to 8' 6". The major shortcoming has been accommodations that are one cut above camping. The introduction of the Corsair 36 has allowed the company to step into the real world of "cruising comfort."

Company History
Corsair Marine was founded in 1983 by John Walton (of the Wal-Mart family), who envisioned production of a fast, easily trailerable trimaran. A compromise would be accommodations limited by the narrow beam of the main hull.

Walton convinced Ian Farrier, a talented multihull designer, to abandon a thriving practice in Australia, move to California, and execute his vision.

The Corsair 36 will cruise at double-digit speeds. It runs under power with a 20-hp. four-stroke outboard, and can fold up to a beam of 9' 10".

In a morning-long session with PS, Farrier, who sees the world only through multihull lenses, elaborated on the many reasons he considers multis preferable to monohulls, not the least of which is that, "Corsair boats are unsinkable. They have watertight compartments, so even if they pitchpole the crew can crawl inside a capsized hull and have air to breathe and protection from the elements. In a monohull, the crew will most likely be adrift in a liferaft."

Walton and co-owner Paul Koch, also an Aussie, succeeded, despite the complicated, people-intensive construction process necessary to produce foldable boats capable of withstanding loads endured at sea and on the highway. A by-product was pricing that ratcheted the boat to the very high end of the market when measured on a cost-per-foot basis.

Prior to introduction of the Corsair 36 in February, 2003, the company's line included the 24-, 27-, and 31-foot models. Boats were built primarily in Chula Vista, California, though the first six F-31s, introduced in 1992, were built at Tillotson-Pearson (TPI) in Rhode Island.

In 1994, Koch purchased Walton's share and consolidated all of the manufacturing operations at the California plant, where boats are now built.

In its first two decades, Corsair has produced 1,260 boats; annual production is typically 72-75 boats, Koch says.

The 36-footer has been well-received; seven have been ordered since its introduction.

Design
Though Ian Farrier is credited with the design of the first three models, and influenced the 36-footer, his affiliation with Corsair ended in the mid-'90s. Paul Koch says that a team of in-house engineers and outside consultants are responsible for the design of the 36.

All of the boat's design elements— hull, deck, and sailplan—bear a strong resemblance to its predecessors, but the extra LOA allows more graceful lines. Her long, low profile is accented by a downward-sloping cabintop and long, narrow, dark windows. Viewed from the bow, the hull presents a fine entry. The amas also have a fine entry, and near-flat sheerline offset by very round shapes and downward curving bottoms.

However, the new model adds enough load-carrying capability to provide creature comforts suitable for extended cruising. She's only 900 pounds heavier than the F-31, and performs as well under sail.

All of the Corsair boats, when folded, have the appearance of a giant Daddy Longlegs. The 36-footer also features a tilt-up rudder and shallow draft that allows her to anchor in less than two feet of water, or sail onto a beach. In tight quarters, she can be folded when at anchor.

With a folded beam of 9' 10" she's wider than other models, so owners may be required to secure wide-load permits in some states. To assist owners in avoiding the expense of acquiring a trailer ($7,638), and, perhaps, more powerful tow vehicle, the company has organized fleets of truckers that transport the boats for $1.50 mile, including the cost of a driver.

After the introduction of hull #1 (the boat we tested), input from dealers and consumers at two boat shows brought about a few design modifications and refinements.

Deck and Rig Layout
The organization of spaces and layout of gear on the C-36 is almost a carbon copy of its predecessors.

The cockpit is as big as those on monohulls of about the same LOA—wide enough to seat a crew of 4-6 comfortably, and narrow enough to allow a shorthanded crew to work large headsails. The regular cockpit seats are well-proportioned, and there's additional seating set into both sides of the stern pulpit. These mesh-bottomed seats are good places to be while underway, since they're elevated, clear of the action, and softer to sit on than fiberglass.

The cockpit is enclosed by a pulpit, and the path forward is atop the cabin or on the trampolines, so a certain amount of agility is required to move forward when necessary. Because of the narrowness of the main hull, shrouds are located on the amas, not close at hand, and the deck is devoid of handrails and lifelines. The trampolines fitted between the hull and amas provide a sturdy, though bouncy, platform.

Corsair outfits boats with high-quality hardware. On the 36, all of the deck gear, including winches, is supplied by Harken or Spinlock.

In its standard configuration she is fitted with Harken B40 self-tailing winches on the cabin top, two Harken B42.2 winches in the cockpit, and two Harken B32.2 self-tailing halyard winches on the mast. Working halyards at the mast instead of leading them aft to the cockpit makes sense, according to multihull sailors, because multihulls sail flatter, and a walk to the mast and back doesn't present as much of a challenge as it does on a heeling monohull. It also reduces cockpit clutter and friction.

The mainsheet is located at the end of the boom and led to a Harken traveler track that spans the stern, an arrangement that produces excellent sail shape, allows the helmsman to trim the sail, and also reduces the amount of clutter in the cockpit. The system is fitted with a Harken Big Boat Series double-block and tackle led to cockpit winches.

To maximize performance off the breeze, a spinnaker control kit ($3,720) adds two winches in the cockpit, carbon fiber bowsprit , and sheets, blocks, control lines, and cleats necessary to complete the installation.

Corsair is constructing aluminum masts at its factory from extrusions produced by Sparcraft. Our test boat was equipped with a double-spreader rig with swept spreaders and stainless steel wire rigging. At the time of our test, Koch was considering replacing the double spreaders with singles, because, "the second set was redundant." He has since made that change.

The standard rig is a 3/4 fractional. With the addition of spinnaker gear and bowsprit, a second stay is attached to the mast approximately one foot higher and terminated near the end of the sprit.

The rotating mast is deck-stepped on a ball atop a Delrin bearing that allows it to rotate 45 degrees. Its movement is controlled by a block and tackle arrangement and stainless steel ring on the aft side of the mast. The result is a significantly more aerodynamic presentation of the mainsail to the breeze, which translates to acceleration and speed when sailing to weather or on a reach.

Two steps on the stern provide access for swimmers. Since the rudder is transom-hung, an outboard is located off-center in a hull recess.

Belowdecks
When Corsair stretched the F-27 to 31', owners were rewarded with living spaces large enough to be marginally comfortable on an extended trip. With more stretching, the C-36 still doesn't have as spacious a main cabin as a 36-foot monohull because of her narrow beam—but she closes the gap significantly.

The accommodations are an excellent example of what can be accomplished using fiberglass and other weight-saving materials, since virtually all of her components are exposed. In fact, there's so much exposed white in the fiberglass and headliner that only the red cushions and cabin sole provide some relief from the brightness. In addition to concealing wiring, the headliner also acts as a sound deadener. It's stuck to the overhead with hook-and-loop fasteners. We were concerned about sagging, but found it difficult to remove. If the glue behind the hook-and-loop tapes fails eventually, it will be easy enough to replace.

The area is well lit by two ports on each side of the cabin, and light entering from the companionway. Our test boat had hatches only over the head and the forward berth. In subsequent boats Koch has added a third in the main cabin.

Given more volume below, designers were able to increase standing headroom to 6' 6". The saloon measures nearly 6' from companionway to the head on the port side. A proper C-shaped, elevated dining area, also to port, converts to a 6-foot berth, tapering in width from 41" to 30". The galley is to starboard, aft of a second settee that can double as a berth for a small person, and the V- berth.

Stowage space in the boat is at a premium. Although the amas have large storage areas for light gear, accessing those spaces can be a pain, as is true on all cruising trimarans.

The dining table is constructed of fiberglass, but finished to give the appearance of a shiny wood grain. Similarly, the vinyl sole looks like teak, but is a lightweight composite that comes with a 10-year guarantee. Since the boat has no nav station, the dining table is a likely candidate. Odds are, the VHF radio will be mounted on the companionway bulkhead, and instruments on the companionway hatch, close at hand to a navigator working below.

The galley on our test boat was equipped with an optional stainless steel, two-burner propane stove, and double stainless steel sink. A clever arrangement is a recessed faucet that pops up when needed. All are mounted in a fiberglass cabinet with a tiny storage area below. An insulated ice box is standard; refrigeration and pressure hot and cold water are available as options.

The head is a low-maintenance, smoothly finished fiberglass pan measuring approximately 40" x 35", consisting of a molded vanity/sink combination with a medicine cabinet outboard, toilet, and handheld shower. It will prove functional, utilitarian, and just large enough for average-sized adults. It will not be confused with the space on a typical 36-foot cruising monohull. The head shares space with a fiberglass shell housing the daggerboard. The shell is so well finished and fitted in as to be nearly invisible. (The daggerboard is constructed of balsa encapsulated in fiberglass.)

The V-berth offers accommodations for two in an enclosed area that has a hatch overhead and Halogen lights and ports on each side. The berth measures 6' 4" long on the centerline. It's 5' wide at the head, and fitted with 4" thick cushions. The hull liner is a combination of fabric and shiny fiberglass. Storage and a holding tank are under the berth.

A second berth with a queen-sized mattress is located below the cockpit sole. It's accessed via two hatches aft of the cockpit, in what would be called the lazarette area, or by removing companionway steps. Two ports provide ventilation at anchor. This is the most spacious sleeping area, and will be fun for kids to climb in and out of (especially since it also hosts the transparent escape hatch). However, the mattress will be ruined quickly if people climb down there with dirty or wet deck shoes, and the space will be noisy if used while underway.

A large storage area under the steps provides a bed for an optional diesel engine. In our view, the 20-hp outboard and a solar panel or two will be the better choice. Don't overburden a butterfly.

Construction
The high cost of Corsair's boats is attributed to several factors, not the least of which are tooling costs associated with a boat that has more than 30 different moldings, including 10 in the deck and hull, and 11 in the areas belowdecks, as well as two amas, four akas (crossbeams), and all the precision-engineered parts that allow the whole thing to be folded up.

In addition, the company uses high-tech raw materials, including vinylester resins, carbon fiber, double-bias fabrics with Kevlar, and a vacuum-bagging and curing process that relies on precise blends of fiberglass, resin, and catalysts.

Since light weight and high performance are closely related, Koch says hull #1 was built to within 200 pounds of her design weight. Subsequent boats have been further reduced by 100 pounds, mostly by eliminating a set of spreaders and their related parts.

The lamination schedule consists of a layer of NPG gelcoat, a skin layer impregnated with vinylester resin to prevent blistering, and multiple layers of uni- and bi-directional fiberglass. Kevlar is laid in high-stress areas on the bottom, daggerboard trunk, and at bulkheads.

Akas are constructed of layers of fiberglass, carbon fiber, and foam, which increases stiffness. Additional strength and buoyancy in the amas is afforded by watertight bulkheads.

Performance
PS editors have sailed most of the Corsair boats over the years, often in racing conditions, and can attest to their speed under sail and their strong construction. This time, we wanted to see if the company could add creature comforts without compromising performance.

Koch's hopes were for a 15-knot cruiser. "I was surprised," he told us, "when she sailed at 20 knots during early testing of a prototype in Australia."

Aside from the long waterline and low wetted surface of the main hull, and the light overall weight of the boat, the biggest contributor to performance is the rotating mast, which supports a square-topped, full-battened mainsail with oversized roach. The advantage of the rotating mast is that it presents a clean, aerodynamic shape to the wind, as opposed to the slab of aluminum of a fixed spar. As we learned during our day-long test sail, trimming the main involves driver and trimmer coordinating their point of sail and mast position. In heavier air, "de- rotating" the mast brings it closer to the apparent wind, flattening the mainsail, and spilling wind to prevent heeling.

We sailed on Biscayne Bay in winds that built from 5 to 15 knots. We had a crew of six—one crewmember stretched out on the V- berth, another snoozing on the trampoline, and four of us trimming sails.

Several manufacturers were testing their new products to see how they performed, using a two-year-old Corsair F-31 as the rabbit. Koch's goal was to compare the performance of the old and new boats.

From a mechanical standpoint, the boat is easily managed from the cockpit, except that the main is hoisted at the mast. The genoa is on a furler, and main and jib sheets are close at hand.

With Steve Marsh of the Finish Line, a dealer in Stuart, at the helm, we sailed close-hauled in 8-12 knots of wind with boatspeed consistently registering 8-10 knots. She sailed higher and tacked faster than other boats in the fleet, and as quickly as the F-31. She seems to pivot on her daggerboard, and tacked through 95-100°.

When the wind angle moved deeper than 35°, we hoisted a "screacher," essentially a high-clewed, 180% drifter, and speed increased to 12-15 knots. She heeled 5-10°, carving through a modest chop on the surface. Performance in these conditions was as good or better than the F-31.

The sheeting angle of the headsail is adjusted via a canvas strap attached to the hull beams. It allows the clew position to be moved in and out, much like a barberhauler.

As the wind backed, we punched through small swells by elevating the height of the screacher tack, easing the tack line from the cockpit.

A big difference between monohulls and multihulls is that when a puff hits, most monohulls will use up some of that force by heeling to it, while a good multihull will stay firmly on its feet and use the force for acceleration. The C-36 does this admirably.

Steering through a jibe with a screacher on the sprit-equipped boat is challenging, since the screacher moves between forestay and furler. Once the boat is headed dead downwind and the boom centered, the jibe is completed by quickly turning to weather to fill the sail while the crew tensions the new sheet and the mainsail is eased.

The boat moved easily through the harbor at 5-7 knots with the quiet 20-hp. four-stroke outboard.

Price
The current base price for the Corsair 36 is $199,000, including the 20-hp. motor, FOB Chula Vista. In reality, a well-equipped boat will cost closer to $215,000-$225,000, including sails and trailer ($7,638) but without race gear or spinnaker. Options include the propane stove with hot water system, ($875); pressure water ($2,275); Standard Eclipse VHF radio and antenna ($645); spinnaker control kit ($3,720), and screacher controls ($1,969), which require the spinnaker controls.

Conclusion
When we first examined Corsair boats years ago, it was with a skeptical eye. While sailing characteristics weren't questioned, folding tris are complex. We worried about the lightweight construction methods and durability; the toughness of the ama-aka combination; viability as a trailerable vessel, and high price.

Time has alleviated most of those concerns, even the ones about cost, because, in this case, you're paying for things that work.

The C-36 is certainly fast. Not many boats this size, even other multihulls, will cruise easily at 12-15 knots. She's also versatile. Her shallow draft offers opportunites to picnic on the beach, or anchor close to shore, away from the mooring field, and yet her foldability means that she can hover in crowded areas when necessary. And she can be towed down the highway for cruising or racing far afield.

Corsair says the boats can be rigged, unloaded, and ready to sail in an hour. Based on real-life observations, we think the time will vary with the size and physical prowess of the crew.

Cockpit seating is large enough to seat six comfortably underway or at the dock. Down below, it's bright and clean-looking, but creature comforts don't compare in size or appointments to a middle-of-the-road 36' monohull equipped with nav station, wine rack, and entertainment center—if that's your bag. On this boat, the entertainment is found underway.

The high initial cost for trailerable folding trimarans tends to produce sticker shock, since a similar-sized monohull can be purchased for 25% less. On the upside, well-maintained, newer used tris are selling for 75-85% of their original price.

This new boat will appeal to sailors who prefer sleekness and speed to "cushiness," which is not the same as "comfort." Aboard boats, comfort is linked to function, and by that definition she's comfortable enough.

 

Contact - 877/FASTTRI, www.corsairmarine.com

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