A family operation with its own launch site and factory on Back Creek in Annapolis, MD, Performance Cruising has quietly ascended to the top tier of the domestic catamaran building segment of the industry since designer-builder Tony Smith and his wife Sue emigrated to the U.S. in 1980.
While completing requirements for a degree in engineering at the University of East Anglia, Smith studied the mechanics of boat performance in the classroom and spent his spare time participating in singlehanded races. He finished fourth in the first Round Britain Race, a 1,760-mile contest.
He began his boatbuilding career by constructing a 24-foot Piver catamaran in a shed in England. In 1969, Smith developed a then-radical method of integrating foam- sandwich coring with fiberglass and produced the inaugural Telstar, which was a 26- foot, folding trimaran. During a 10-year run, 300 were sold worldwide. Along the way, he also was involved in the construction of 30- to 70-foot custom yachts.
Telstar was successfully introduced to the U.S. market with the couple’s arrival. Shortly thereafter, following the loss of the molds in a factory fire, he shifted gears and re-emerged in 1981 with the design for a 31-foot cruising catamaran appropriately called the Phoenix. The first of the Gemini family, this 31-footer was succeeded in 1993 by the Gemini 3400, the first catamaran with a lifting, underhung rudder system. In its current iteration, it is marketed as the Gemini 105MC.
With 800 boats on the water, Smith claims to manufacture the best selling catamaran in the U.S. In 2002 the company’s 20 employees built and sold 54 boats (valued at $8 million) in a 16,0000-square-foot factory. To accommodate the production line for the new Telstar, which Smith calls “T2,” the company is currently increasing its production space by 20,000 square feet.
Of PC’s status in the marketplace, Smith says, “Prior to 911 and the recession, the sailboat industry had become a market for rich people who wanted to retire early and go cruising. The market for bigger boats was enormous. And boats became more like toys. With the recession and loss of paper wealth, people were forced to reevaluate their situations and plan on working for another 10 years. Fortunately, the Gemini did well throughout that period because we continued to produce a product for sailors who were going to buy a boat regardless of what the economy did.”
With an eye to the boatbuilding industry, son Neil Smith graduated from Delaware University in 1998 with a mechanical engineering degree attained after completing a research project dealing with vacuum infusion methods. Bringing his bent for new technology, Neil joined the firm as an engineer shortly after graduation. Daughter Laura and son–in–law Will Hersfeld are also involved in the day-to-day operation of the company.
The manner in which Smith’s firm decided to reintroduce a trailerable trimaran speaks volumes about the differences between the Big Three American sailboat manufacturers, and privately held companies like Performance Cruising, MacGregor Yachts, and a handful of other mid-sized boatbuilders that are not attempting to appeal to a mass market. The decision came about following a Saturday morning meeting of the entire clan.
Explains Smith: “In 2002 Laura, Will, and Neil were looking for something with more fun and excitement than the boats that were then on the market. They’re not retiring, they’re not going cruising, they just wanted to have fun. Trailing and performance were important features. None of the family are bored with Gemini, but Gemini is more suited to the liveaboard cruiser, or people that have more time.”
A secondary consideration, says Smith, was forging a plan for the future of the company, looking toward a time when the management reins would be turned over to the next generation. To that end, the Smiths and Hersfelds opted to use profits from the Gemini sales (a substantial backlog of orders is in place) to subsidize the development of Telstar and pay for construction of the additional production space.
“Telstar will not compete with Gemini for buyers because it is an entirely different boat,” says Smith. He is targeting a market that he describes as “a cross section of 75-year olds looking for performance and a stable platform, former Gemini owners who purchased an RV are now telling us that they want a trailerable multihull that will allow them to travel and still have the option to hoist a sail at a body of water, and, younger families with children who are new to sailing and want to explore the camper-sailing lifestyle with a boat that has enough deck space to portage kayaks and windsurfers, even when folded.”
A symbiotic byproduct of the T2 development, says Smith, will be technological advances in construction that may ultimately be transferred to the Gemini line.
Comparisons of Telstar and Corsair Marine’s line of Ian Farrier designed folding trimarans are inevitable. However, Smith maintains that the boats are distinctively different.
“Corsair boats are built, in my opinion, to appeal to the racing crowd. They are performance boats for the Randy Smyth types.” Further, the mechanical operation of the retractable amas (“outriggers,” as Smith calls them) on the T2 is entirely different than a typical Corsair. When preparing for a sail, the amas on the T2 are deployed by pulling a single line that extends them from the hull in seconds. Netting between the hull and ama produces a seat for crew. The amas on the T2 sit five inches deeper in the water than those of a Corsair 28, so the T2 has more utility as a powerboat. Under power, she’s beamy enough that folding the amas under the center hull produces a stable platform while still offering crew seating. In contrast, the amas on a Corsair fold upwards to produce a shape resembling a spider, so those boats have less form stability when underway. We’ve tested Corsair’s boats and concluded that the Telstar system offers a decided advantage. And one additional advantage of having the outriggers tucked under the main hull is reduced windage on the highway.
The shortcomings of multihulls have historically focused on the lack of pointing ability and the need for wider berths in marinas. However, contemporary multihull designers like Smith and Farrier are producing shapes that have dramatically improved upwind performance. And the development of folding trimarans has resolved the berthing issue while producing boats that are much more versatile.
Comparing his new design with the initial Telstar, Smith says “One difference is that the old 26-footer was measured without accounting for the width of the transom-hung rudder. The new boat has an internal steering system. The actual lengths of the two boats, including the old rudder, are very close.” However, the newer design, which adds a boarding swim-step platform to the stern, includes a steering system that allows the rudder and outboard to be steered simultaneously by the tiller. “That system is at least five times more costly than the original, though significantly better functionally.”
Other changes are more dramatic: The T1 was designed with a 15-foot beam, compared to 18 feet in the T2, which produces a beam-to-length ratio of 8:1; that ratio for the new boat’s amas is 15:1. The T1 carried approximately 300 square feet of sail area; the T2 carries 250 square feet of canvas in the mainsail alone, and a total of 524 square feet when the genoa is included. Add a screacher and you get another 590 square feet of sail area. A retractable bowsprit is an option that will improve offwind performance and sail handling with the screacher.
In order to retract, the original Telstar’s amas were hinged to the main hull-deck structure. Smith attempted to employ the same design, but determined those hulls did not have adequate buoyancy to meet his demand for stability and comfort. The redesigned amas are connected to the center hull by way of 2′ 6″ boxes at the bow and stern that rotate 180 degrees in a lateral plane and move the amas outward over a five-foot span with the simple pull of a line. The redesign is more complex and sturdy than the original and results in roughly 1,000 pounds of additional buoyancy.
The main hull is a “dramatically better shape, more akin to a high performance monohull,” explains Smith. “Thirty years ago the underbody profile was that of a dolphin. The new design has a semi-circular, teardrop shape, and is shallower by four inches, and is six inches wider.” The main hull has a relatively sharp entry and flat run aft to a five-degree deadrise at the keel. The kick-up rudder extends 3′ 3″ under the stern, but may also be used for steering in the upright position. To get under sail, an electric motor raises the outboard engine.
The mast is a deck-stepped, two-spreader section from Selden. The mainsheet is located at the end of the boom and dead-ended out of the way on a traveler that spans the stern. With two sheet winches on the coachroof and the mainsheet nearby, a singlehander can trim the sails with relatively little effort.
“The original chainplates were on the cabinside, but that arrangement gave too wide a sheeting angle so we moved them six inches inboard, and now have a continuous stainless chainplate from the deck to the hull, through the cabin,” Smith says.
Beginning with hull #7, our test boat, buyers will be purchasing a product that will be produced unchanged for the foreseeable future. Though Smith says the basic shape of the hulls and deck are fixed, he continues to tinker, especially with mast and standing rigging. At present, the mast weighs 200 pounds, but is about to undergo a significant weight reduction in concert with the design and development of a tripod system consisting of A-frames that, when fine-tuned, will support the mast and provide a simplified system of stepping and unstepping the rig.
Without a panorama of photos, it is nearly impossible to describe Smith’s patented mast-lowering system; suffice it to say that, when completed, it will reduce the load on the Telstar’s mast to 80 pounds, including the weight of a Furlex headsail furling unit. This system may have universal application for the owners of other trailerable boats.
The cockpit, squeezed into the aft portion of the center hull, offers an unrestricted, 360-degree view, and seating for a crew of four. Seats affixed to the stern rails can accommodate two others. The deck amidships and the netting between the hull and amas provide additional seating area, so it would be easy to overload the boat.
Molded steps in the companionway bulkhead facilitate movement forward, and recessed handrails on the deck make up for the lack of lifelines. Everywhere, deck gear has been kept to a minimum; one winch on the mast is utilized to hoist halyards, eliminating the need for turning blocks and sheetstoppers on the coachroof. Smith explains: “a multihull sails flat enough that moving halyard winches aft is unnecessary.” Two cabintop winches handle the genoa sheets; the addition of a furler, or bowsprit, will not require additions to this complement.
The interior configuration of the T2 is similar to the T1, but is 33 percent larger, according to Smith, and has more than six feet of standing headroom, a plus in the narrow confines of any vessel this size. Spaces are small, but the area is furnished well enough to make it habitable for short periods of time, or when cruising in areas that offer an opportunity for the occasional shoreside meal. The interior is well lit with light pouring in through fixed portlights and Bowmar hatches. The width of the main salon at the back of the settee is 7′ 3″ and the length measured on the centerline from the foot of the companionway forward is 8′ 9″. Our test boat was outfitted with a “Deluxe” interior, which enhances appearance and utility.
The galley is to port at the foot of the companionway, opposite a navigator’s table. Settees port and starboard provide seating at a teak table, which doubles in size when unfolded to become large enough to accommodate six adults (the table camouflages the keel trunk).
The galley on our test boat was fitted with a sink and optional two-burner stove with a broiler. Though there’s no built-in icebox, there’s sufficient space under the nav table to house a 12-volt cooler.
A paucity of counter space in the galley will result in the chart and dining tables doubling as meal prep areas. However, storage for plates and utensils is to port of the centerboard trunk in a bin on the main bulkhead, with additional shelving and cabinets in the galley. And compartments in the amas offer an additional 84 cubic feet of storage area.
The chart table is large enough to unfold a chartkit, but odds are a navigator will operate at the dining table. The instrument panel is to starboard on the companionway bulkhead, so it is possible to access the VHF radio while standing in the cockpit. And this bulkhead is large enough to mount a chartplotter on a swiveling base that could easily be viewed from the cockpit.
Smith claims the boat offers berths for four, but we deem that a stretch. A 6′ 6″ settee to port converts to a double berth that will suit two adults. The single settee to starboard will handle one more. The third berth—a 6′ 2″ by 3′-wide area under the cockpit sole—is suitable only for munchkins or the sleep-deprived.
The head is forward in an enclosed space. It contains a toilet, sink, and shower, the last a welcome addition on a 28-foot vessel.
Excepting that tight third berth, accommodations on the T2 are comparable to most 26- to 28-foot monohulls.
The company’s production facility is a model of efficiency. A Gemini catamaran typically requires five to seven days to proceed past six stations before a forklift launches it into Annapolis’ Back Creek. However, Smith is confident that he will be able to produce T2s at the rate of one a day in the expanded facility.
Gemini hulls, decks, and interior liners are solid fiberglass, the direction that the T2 was headed until Neil Smith began to influence his father. As a result, construction evolved from traditional hand-laid, solid FRP to a vacuum-bagged layup system, and ultimately to the resin-infusion system currently being employed.
The result, say both father and son, is the dispersion of exactly the correct proportions of resin to fiberglass in the laminate that produce lightweight but strong sections. Because it eliminates some of the human involvement in a lamination and produces solid structures, the resin infusion method is gaining momentum in the industry. The tradeoff for a manufacturer is a potentially more expensive process when the cost of equipment and raw materials are considered, in exchange for a reduction in cure time (less than 30 minutes from the time fabric is saturated), and more consistent laminates. Smith’s methods with the T2 include laying Kevlar in high-load areas in the interior of the outriggers as well as in stress points in the hull.
Smith explains that “when we weighed the new boats they were almost at exactly 3,000 pounds—their designed weight—compared to the first vacuum-bagged boats, which weighed closer to 4,000 pounds,” including the weight of the 50-h.p. Honda outboard.
As the construction process evolved, the galley, floor panels, nav station, and furniture were fabricated using the resin-infusion method. “The galley now weighs only eight pounds,” Smith affirms. Though attachment points for deck gear remain reinforced solid fiberglass, Smith is tinkering with alternatives that he hopes will reduce weight in these areas without compromising structural integrity.
Of the raw materials, he says: “We are still researching materials and resin in our vacuum infusion process. The resins need to be a low viscosity with high elongation so they work with Kevlar. Vacuum-infused laminates need special attention when it comes to a secondary bond. The T2’s hull and deck are bonded together using Methacrylate adhesives. The joint is a simple outward turning flange with a riveted gunwale guard for additional strength.
“This is a more complex boat than the one we started with,” adds Smith, who says that he’s still tinkering. “I am not ready to compromise and dive into mass production yet. If it weren’t for Neil, we’d have sold 40 boats using a traditional laminate. So, we’re still working on it.”
We sailed the boat in gusty conditions and an 18- to 24-inch chop on Chesapeake Bay. With wind speeds in the low 20s, we carried a full main and partially furled genoa. On a long weather leg, boatspeed easily hovered between 7 and 7.5 knots as we steered from the starboard seat. Interestingly, the boat knifes through the chop more smoothly than the Gemini we tested in similar conditions two years before, something Smith attributes to “less windage on the Telstar and a finer hull entry angle.”
Surprisingly, this boat pointed to within 30 degrees of the apparent wind without stalling either main or genoa, and we easily sailed over a cruising monohull that was beating to weather. However, the cockpit feels crowded with four crew in the well, and a monohull owner used to longer seats will have to adjust to a smaller, rectangular space. (The cockpit became roomier when two of our crew moved to the stern rail seats.) Singlehanders will appreciate having sail controls within reach of the tiller, but a new owner should plan on installing pouches for sheet tails.
As we eased sheets and bore off in a dying breeze, the GPS registered 9.2 knots of boatspeed in 13 knots of wind, without the benefit of current. Smith was disappointed at the conditions since he says he has pegged the speedo at 16 knots while sailing in similar winds on flat water.
The T2 can motor at 17 miles per hour with a two-cylinder, 40-hp Tohatsu outboard. Newer boats are being equipped with either an 8.9-hp Mercury or a 50-hp Honda outboard. Though the latter option will lift clear of the water for sailing, we feel its substantial weight will be detrimental to performance under sail. Prototype hull #3 was fitted with a jet drive—a failed experiment because the jet’s high rpm level produced cavitation in the hull.
Base sailaway price for the boat is $62,000, including a Beirig mainsail and 168-square-foot hank-on genoa. The Deluxe model, geared to the cruiser, bumps the price up $13,000 for additions that include a laminated interior with teak appointments, folding teak table, full galley with propane stove, 25-gallon water tank, enclosed head, 18-gallon holding tank, a DC power system and deep-cycle marine battery, and transom seats. Potential buyers also should consider the cost of an outboard and trailer; a 9.9-hp Mercury—roughly $3,000, the 50-hp Honda—roughly $9,000; a twin-axle galvanized trailer adds $3,800. In comparison, the base price for a Corsair 28 aft cabin model is $73,455; working sails add $5,700 to that price; an 8-hp outboard and twin-axle trailer are another $7,500. Potential buyers should scrutinize both firms’ lists of standard and optional gear. There are significant differences.
We confirmed that the T2 is significantly faster and initially more stable than a monohull of comparable size. It presents some progressive innovations including its folding mechanism and “power-cruising” mode. Due to its size and limited amenities, we think this boat will best be put into service as a weekender and occasional coastal cruiser, where it should acquit itself well. But we’d be wary of taking it offshore for an ocean passage—particularly with a 210-pound outboard engine hung near the transom and no provision for an escape hatch.
Tony Smith, unlike the majority of boatbuilders, is never completely satisfied with his creations, as evidenced by the fact that he’s still tinkering with aspects of his well-established Gemini catamaran to reduce weight. Adopting the vacuum-infused process in construction of the T2 has eliminated a whopping 800 pounds. “I’ll still be making changes (to the T2) 25 years from now,” he says.
We applaud this persistence in refining PC’s boats. That kind of aftermarket thoughtfulness will ultimately resolve problems like the “berth” under the T2’s cockpit sole (an area better suited for stowage than slumber). And his mast-lowering system, when ready, may ultimately have far-reaching application for many trailerable sailboats.
The T2 is a welcome addition to the trailerable multihull market.
• Performance Cruising 410/626-2720; www.performancecruising.com.