Multihulls have been around for a long time. The Chinese reportedly sailed double-hulled junks as early as 2700 BC, and ancient Polynesians used a variety of multi-hulled craft to colonize the South Pacific. The Englishman William Dampier was the first Westerner on record to use the word “catamaran” back in the 1690s during a trip through the Tamil region in Southern India. The word itself comes from kattu, the Tamil word for “to tie” and maram, the Tamil word for wood, or tree. More recently, Nathanael Herreshoff built several catamarans in the 1870s, including the 33-foot Amaryllis, which was banned from racing because it was so fast. In 1820, John C. Stevens, one of the founders of the New York Yacht Club, experimented with a small catamaran named Double Trouble. Unlike another Stevens racing boat, the schooner America, it was a failure.
Few of these boats could be called “performance” multihulls in the modern sense of the word for a simple reason: inadequate materials. Working with steel fittings and basic organic materials such as wood planks, hemp and Egyptian cotton, it was impossible to create multi-hulled sailboats that were strong enough and light enough to sail to their full theoretical potential.
Then along came World War II, which brought the widespread use of fiberglass, plywood, Dacron, plastics and aluminum. It wasn’t long before a handful of visionary sailors and naval architects began using these materials to create boats the likes of which the world had never seen.
Many of these multihull pioneers endured both ridicule and scorn, but they ultimately prevailed, making the sport richer and faster—much faster—in the process.
Breaking New Ground
The 46-foot Aikane was the brainchild of Woodbridge “Woody” Brown, a New Yorker who moved to Hawaii following a stint in the South Pacific during World War II, and Hawaiian boat builder Rudy Choy. A descendent of a 38-foot catamaran named Manu Kai, which Woody created to take tourists daysailing, Aikane (which Choy designed and built in Los Angeles) was one of the world’s first modern oceangoing multihulls. Among other accomplishments, she unofficially beat the entire monohull Transpac fleet to Hawaii in 1957 and 1959, after race officals banned multihulls from the event.
In 1962, the International Yacht Racing Union (the precursor to the ISAF) created four restricted classes for beach catamarans, the A, B, C and D classes. Unlike one-design classes, restricted classes encourage innovation within a set of design parameters, and the result in the C Class has been innovation on steroids. It was aboard these 25-foot speedsters—whose international championship regatta is called the “Little America’s Cup”—that rigid wing sails came into their own, and the class remains a test bed for wing-sail technology. Much of the theory and technology that went into BMW Oracle Racing’s wing sail in the 33rd America’s Cup originated on C Class cats.