Forward Cockpit 2

And my notes. Not nearly as poetic as Richard’s.

Every so often a catamaran design appears with its helm forward, usually just aft of the mast. The old Searunner trimarans had that configuration also. With a sort of amnesia, observers get quite excited about it as a new design phenomena, every time. And I now hear the phrase “If Gunboat does it, it has to be good.”

It does solve the classical problem of the helm person having to see over or through the house cabin. Beware however the unintended consequences.

There are several. And long ago I learned that just because the famous do something doesn’t make it right. Gunboat also eschews traveler cars and tracks.

Most important, protection from wind and water is almost totally gone. Especially monohull sailors have no idea that a sweet looking cruising cat can do 25 knots on a reach. Subsequently they have no idea how much exploded water will be deluging them at speed. With no protection, even with no waves, it is cold, especially at night.

In a storm, the connection to inside is a door on the front of the cabin. When there is a firehose of white water blasting the front of the cabin, nobody will dare open that door. 

On modern cats, the big sailing engine is the mainsail. That is aft of a helm forward. On a traditional helm aft, one can keep an eye on the mainsail trim and still watch where you are going. With helm forward, that will be cricking your neck to keep an eye on the power sail back up behind you. 

Related to the mainsail as the power engine is safety. How often does the traveler car or the mainsheet block jam during a tack? If the problem is out of sight and 7 meters behind you, that is a safety problem. More, if a mast fails, or a mast base block explodes, the helm person is right in that impacted area.

On modern, powerful catamarans, being able to release the mainsail in literally an instant in the event of a crisis is critical. Having the entire mainsheet line in clear view and easy access is so important.

 In the real world, the benefit of shorter halyard lines, and down low clear view is far outweighed by the exposed and dangerous location of that helm forward.

3 thoughts on “Forward Cockpit 2”

  1. I’m not a fan of big mainsails. I remember very well a few times when I had to wrestle with them and a few small accidents. Center cockpit makes sense on a ketch (I had one).
    You are correct about having all the controls within 3-5 feet.

  2. I’ve sailed from Port Lincoln to Melbourne onboard a Chris White 46 mk2 catamaran. We had pretty benign weather conditions for the trip so I cant comment on suitability for rough weather. The Atlantic’s have an inside and outside helm. The visibility from the outside helm is superb and you have a nice cockpit for cruising it would be great for young kids as there is no risk of them falling off the back of the boat in general sailing. While it’s true some other hazards become greater a simple guard around the base of the mast would reduce the risk of an exploding block. I don’t see the risk as greater in some respects as if you’re located directly adjacent to an exploding mainsheet block or traveler as that is hardly healthy either or if you sail a flush decked multihull with a mast that is set well aft. I think that is a chance all multihull sailors take with heavily loaded running gear and maybe full protective gear should be mandatory when at the helm or crewing but I doubt that will be popular. I have real concerns about safe access to the mast base on some catamarans like Schionnings for example with their curvaceous beidgedeck surfaces with minimal handholds I’d have real worries about being able to get forward in certain sea states and weather conditions.

    The owner (Charles) has raced the boat extensively and also competed in the Three Peaks Race in Bass Strait in really tough conditions. It seems a different bunch of compromises but whether it’s a bad idea per se I’m not convinced he certainly swears by it and he has owned rear cockpit multihulls in the past.

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