Having long been interested in the concept of putting a parallel or “biplane” rig on a catamaran, I was very happy to have a chance to sail the new Radical Bay 8000 catamaran after the 2010 Annapolis sailboat show. The cool thing about sailing the boat was that I really had no idea what I was doing. Even the guy who built the boat, Ian Morse of Radical Catamarans, is still unraveling its mysteries.
The aerodynamic complexities of sailing with two separate main-and-headsail rigs side by side can indeed be mind-boggling. For example, during our sail the boat’s leeward mainsail jibed to windward as it got sucked into the draft of the windward sail while we were running off on a broad reach. I’ve sailed wing-and-wing before, but never with all spars turned inboard.
The boat is based on a DIY kit put together by Australian designer Jeff Schionning, and in ramping it up for production Ian made a few changes. He put wishbone booms rather than fixed booms on the two unstayed rotating carbon-fiber masts and added the two jibs, which furl on their own luffs. He builds the boat in epoxy, and the two resin-infused hulls are cored with Corecell foam.
The Radical Bay is certainly fast. During our sail we hit speeds well over 8 knots in 12 knots of apparent wind on a close reach; running dead downwind we topped 5 knots in 4 knots apparent. The boat is also reasonably closewinded. Closehauled with the daggerboards down, we sailed at a true angle of about 45 degrees. If you play the jibs right—backing the leeward jib back as you begin turning into the wind, then furling it and unfurling the other jib on the new tack—the two hulls turn smartly through the wind.
Ian claims he’s had the boat sailing as fast as 18 knots in 25 knots of wind, but notes the deck is extremely wet in such conditions. As on any cat, weight is critical. Ian admits the boat sails poorly when heavily loaded; he also says it would probably sail faster with just one mast in the middle.
The boat’s best feature is that it is remarkably stable. With a low center of effort, and with sails planted on both hulls, it is nigh on impossible to fly a hull, much less flip the boat over. In the moderate winds we had, I found I could turn in any direction I wanted without worrying at all about what the sails were doing.
As such, the Radical Bay should make a great little high-speed camp-cruiser and weekender. There are minimal, yet adequate accommodations in the two asymmetric hulls, which have crouching headroom (5ft 8in), three berths, a small dedicated galley, and a simple head and shower. The boat can be disassembled and trailered, though Ian estimates it takes about a day to put it back together.
To really enjoy a boat like this, you have to be comfortable climbing a steep learning curve. In the short time I spent aboard, I had lots of fun experimenting with the sails, but learning to sail the Radical Bay really well would probably take me a season or two. If this doesn’t sound like fun to you, you’ll probably just find the boat frustrating. For folks who prefer to stay inside the box, the Radical Bay can now also be ordered with one mast instead of two.
SPECS: LOA: 26ft 4in DRAFT: 12in HEADROOM: 5ft 8in SAIL AREA: 441 sq ft DISPLACEMENT: 2,425lb DESIGNER: Schionning Designs
Photo courtesy of Radical Catamarans