Drawing the Line on Boat Design

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A New Zealander greatly influenced by the traditional craft of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, famed multihull designer Ian Farrier understood that an enduring design goes through several evolutions. Proas, the small sailing craft of Micronesia that inspired his visionary folding trimaran design, presented a perfect example of this.

In simple terms, a proa is a sleek sailing canoe with a single outrigger. The sailing rig is not tacked but shunted, so that the bow becomes the stern for each direction change.

When Magellan arrived on the Pacific island of Guam in 1521, the local sailing canoes had evolved over centuries, undergoing thousands of refinements along the way. Francisco Alvo, who sailed with Magellan, described them in his logbook as sailing so swiftly they seemed to be flying. To the European explorers, the boats appeared to be enchanted by some hidden magic.

Like most multihulls, the F-24 trimaran reviewed this month carries the proa genetic code, but it incorporates several features that mark it as its own distinct species. The most notable detail is the ability to fold to trailerable dimensions.

From the time he first invented his folding trimaran system in 1973 until the time of his death last October at age 70, boat designer Ian Farrier was diligently working on perfecting this design. It was as if he would not rest until he had created a craft as novel and capable as that of his Micronesian forebears.

In the era of molded boats, improving a design often means retooling. Retooling requires more money. And money is almost always the first wedge to open the fissure between builder and designer. A tireless quest for perfection does not mesh with the bottom line.

Seven years after John Walton (son of Wal Marts founder Sam Walton) helped launch Corsair, the California builder of Farriers designs, the builder-designer relationship strained. According Farrier, it was a growing dispute over changes to his F-24 and later, the F-31, that prompted him to finally sever connection with Corsair in 2000.

Although Farrier never spoke with us about what specific changes irked him most, in nearly every conversation we had with him, he emphasized unsinkability and seaworthiness. Several sailors have made remarkable ocean crossings in his F-27, although Farrier was explicit that, though capable, the boats were never designed for this purpose.

Farriers death was unexpected, a monumental loss to the sailing community. He died while fine tuning one of his most ambitious projects yet, the high performance F-22, a sleek folding trimaran that would not only fly like a Micronesian proa, but have a price that could compete with the Asian-built multihulls (including Corsair, now owned by Seawind Catamarans).

I focus on Farriers split with Corsair not because it should overshadow all his achievements, but to illustrate a point. It is innovators like him, willing to compromise but unyielding on points that matter, who chart the course toward real and lasting progress.

Fair winds, Ian Farrier, may your life inspire all who ride in your wake.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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