Drawing the Line on Boat Design


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
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.