YachtPals: Sailing Catamarans & Trimarans – History of Multihulls (part 2/2… author: Michael Kingdom-Hocking)

…just like to share two short, interesting essays written by the author Michael Kingdom-Hocking about the HISTORY OF MULTIHULLS.
Such historical reviews give me a good feeling about where we are today. It’s a more easy understanding about the boat constructions we see nowadays floating around as the modern contructions mostly are a following up (not in the sense of a revolution but as an evolution) on the basis our sailing ancestors created as pioneers. – Happy Sailing / Skip JayR

…with courtesy to Yachtpals

Boating and Sailing News (17th Jan 2014)

Sailing Catamarans + Trimarans – History of Multihulls (part 2 of 2)


Here’s the rest of the story about sailing catamarans and trimarans, continued from last week’s article Sailing Catamarans and Trimarans – History of Multihulls (part 1/2).

The ocean-going catamaran entered the western world in 1936, when Eric de Bisschop built Kaimiloa in Hawaii in Hawaii. He sailed this Polynesian ‘double canoe’ (he didn’t call it a catamaran) back home via the Cape of Good Hope to a hero’s welcome in France.


Surfing legend and pioneer glider pilot Woodbridge ‘Woody’ Brown left the US and settled in Hawaii after the death of his wife. In 1947, he and Alfred Kumalae designed and built the first modern ocean-going catamaran, Manu Kai, in Hawaii. A superb helmsman, he set up a business, enticing people off the beach to experience hull-flying joyrides in true barnstormer style. Two other people who sailed with him returned to the US to set up businesses building catamarans: Rudy Choy and Hobie Alter. Woody died in 2008 at the ripe old age of 96.

Meanwhile, in England, the Prout family took an interest. In 1949, G Prout and Sons was building folding dinghies and canoes. Brothers Roland and Francis were the current K2 champions in the UK, and tried making a catamaran by lashing two canoe hulls together.

crossbow catamaranThe Prout brothers also represented Britain in the 1952 Olympics and spent two weeks pre-Olympic training in Sweden with the Swedish canoe team. They then carried out a more serious catamaran experiment by trying two Kl racing kayaks together with a bamboo platform and rigging this craft with a mast and sails (the mainsail was a small lug sail and the jib was from a 14ft. International dinghy). This latter experiment was so successful and promising that the brothers decided to design and make a serious catamaran, which when built was called Shearwater. This catamaran, which was eventually known as Shearwater 1, was raced locally and won every race it entered. She was also entered in the ‘D’ Class handicap in the Burnham-on-Crouch annual regatta week in 1954 and won this outright.

Encouraged by well-known dinghy sailors such as Beecher Moore and Ken Pearce, the Prout brothers developed several new Shearwater designs, whose speed attracted attention in both races and speed trials in the UK.

Inspired by de Bisschop’s Kamiloa, James Wharram built a utilitarian catamaran and sailed across the Atlantic with a crew of two German girls. Then he built another one in Trinidad and sailed it back to Britain. His simple designs, easily built by amateurs, opened up offshore cruising to a new generation of yachtsmen, pioneering catamaran cruising.

wharram catamaran

Next to enter the ring was an extraordinary Scotsman. A King’s Scholar at the UK’s elite Eaton College, he majored in biology but seriously considered a career as a concert violinist. IQ is considered to be accurately measurable up to 170, but Roderick Macalpine Downie’s was ‘off the scale’.

crossbow catamaran

He saw a Shearwater Cat while he was chicken farming in Scotland in 1961, and was sure he could design something better, although he had never designed a boat in his life. His Thai MK4 won all six races of the 1962 European “one of a kind” regatta, then followed that by the winning the first International Catamaran Challenge in 1963, and had seven more consecutive wins.

He was the first to try both una rig and wing masts. A series of Crossbow designs won 5 consecutive speed competitions. He died in 1986, aged only 52, with a new Crossbow design partly completed. He believed it was capable of 70+ knots.

Nowadays, there are many successful multihull craft designers, aided by sophisticated modeling software rather than relying on intuition. The French, in particular, have built a series of record-breaking ocean-going catamarans and trimarans, and modern wave-piercing hulls whose efficient damping of pitch and roll are the result of many hours of computer modeling can be driven hard even in rough seas.


There is another innovation that is appearing more and more frequently in both monohulls and multihulls – foils that lift all or part of the craft out of the water, dramatically reducing its drag. Since the forces on them are very high, they only became practicable and affordable with the arrival of modern composite materials. They first became popular in the 11-foot Moth singlehander, where they were cheap enough for amateurs to manufacture them, but then designers of larger craft began to modify daggerboards so that they produced lift as well as preventing leeway, leading eventually to totally foil-riding craft such as Hydroptère and the AC72 catamarans of the 2013 America’s Cup. Now there are even 40-foot monohulls with lift-generating daggerboards that ride downwind in a gale in a manner more reminiscent of a 49er than a ‘boat with a lid’.


We’ve come a long way, but it’s a pretty safe bet that in 50 years’ time people will look back fondly at today’s sailing craft and say ‘now those were proper boats’.

by Michael Kingdom-Hocking for YachtPals.com

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