Peter Aschenbrenner has been fascinated by high performance trimarans since the mid-1970s. He not only has watched the breed evolve, but has also made three attempts to build a dream boat of his own—a fast cruiser that could sail the oceans with complete autonomy.
His first project, with John Shuttleworth in the early ‘80s, was called off so he could get married and buy a house. The second attempt, with a Nigel Irens Class 50, was aborted when the company he worked for went bankrupt. The third try, though, was a charm, and Paradox was launched in the spring of 2010.
No holds barred
Designed by Nigel Irens and Benoit Cabaret, Paradox was built by Marsaudon Composites in Lorient, France, out of resin-infused carbon and foam laid up in female molds originally built for the legendary ORMA 60s Fujifilm and Banque Populaire. Although much less extreme than her ORMA cousins, Paradox is still a blindingly fast boat that can cruise comfortably at sustained speeds of over 20 knots, touching 30 knots when sailing flat-out.
The name Paradox refers to the inherent contradiction of building a cruising boat on an ORMA platform—not unlike building a recreational vehicle on an F1 chassis. Irens/Cabaret, who were one of two dominant naval architecture firms during the heyday of the ORMA class, applied much of the basic ORMA technology to the design of Paradox, but in a significantly detuned format.
With an all-up weight of about eight tons, Paradox is two tons heavier than a typical ORMA 60, due to several factors, including resin-infused construction versus pre-preg; more volume in the main hull for accommodations; and a host of cruising gear, such as a much bigger engine, dual battery banks, electric winches and a hydraulic mainsheet, an auto-deploying anchor with 120 feet of chain on an electric windlass, hot water heater, shower, refrigerator, a proper stove, and an electric head and holding tank.
In light of this heavier platform, Irens and Cabaret reduced Paradox’s beam from 60 feet—typical for most late-generation ORMA designs—to 48 feet, which still gives the boat an extremely healthy righting moment. Needless to say, she is exceptionally stable, but also can generate immense power when Peter chooses to “let loose the beast,” as he puts it.
Irens and Cabaret also gave Paradox a significantly smaller rig, with a mast about 18 feet shorter than that of an ORMA 60, and she flies her gennaker from the bow instead of at the end of a 6-foot bowsprit. As a result, Peter can carry full sail in true wind speeds of 20 knots or more. The boat’s 75-foot carbon wing-mast rotates up to 45 degrees to each side, providing an aerodynamically efficient leading edge for the mainsail. Running backstays are used only to stabilize the mast when reefed in heavy conditions.
Paradox has three working headsails: a Solent jib and staysail, which are permanently mounted on furlers, and a storm jib. The mainsail has three reef points, with all lines and the mainsail halyard leading aft, so that taking in or shaking out a reef is mostly done from the safety of the cockpit using the electric winches. The sailplan is designed so that successively smaller headsails are used with each mainsail reef position, thereby ensuring the center of effort stays just above the daggerboard. This way Paradox can throttle back while retaining a balanced helm even in very strong winds.
The French sailmaker Incidences built all the working canvas using Spectra reinforced D4 fabric. Paradox also carries three large specialty headsails that are tacked out to the end of the bow. These include a Cuben fiber gennaker used at a true wind angle of greater than 110 degrees, and a large asymmetric spinnaker and a Code 0 “blade” for use in light air.
Paradox has two independent electrical systems: a 24-volt system for high-power traction loads (winches, anchor windlass and mainsheet hydraulics) and a 12-volt system for navigation and house loads, including lights, a watermaker and a refrigerator. There is also an inverter to power AC loads. The 24-volt system is charged by a dedicated high-capacity alternator on the engine or via a 12-24 volt DC/DC converter from the 12-volt battery bank.
To save weight, Paradox has small-capacity batteries making up its banks, but a variety of charging systems, including 900 watts of high-efficiency solar panels, a methanol fuel cell delivering 10 amps (used mainly at night), and a Watt & Sea hydro-generator delivering 40 amps of charging current when sailing above 10 knots. This diversified system allows Paradox to make extended ocean passages without ever running the engine.
On an ORMA 60, it can take two men 10 minutes or more to grind up the mainsail using a pedestal winch, but a quartet of three-speed electric winches makes sailhandling aboard Paradox a breeze. A hydraulic cylinder hung under the boom and driven by an electric pump aft handles mainsheet loads.
Paradox has four tillers: one on each side of the cockpit for use at night or in heavy weather, and one each at the port and starboard outboard helm stations. The tillers are linked, both to one another and the main rudder, via a system of carbon rods inside the crossbeam. Quadrants under the outboard tillers are connected to rudders on the amas via a push/pull cable system.
A forward-facing bucket seat and footrest at each outboard helm position not only provides exceptionally comfortable seating, but allows the helmsman unobstructed views both forward and of the entire sailplan. There are push buttons at each of the four steering stations for controlling the mainsheet, and the double-ended traveller can be adjusted either from inside the cockpit or using winches mounted next to the two outboard helm stations.
Peter’s philosophy regarding accommodations can be summed up as “all of the essentials, no frills.” With this in mind, Paradox’s interior features amenities such as standing headroom in the saloon, an enclosed head, a proper galley with refrigerator, a stove and dual sinks, a folding dinette table that seats six comfortably, six berths (two doubles and two singles) and a shower.
Beyond that, however, the aesthetics are pure performance, with carbon fiber in all structures—including the aforementioned table and its supports—and a complete absence of any kind of wood trim.
The result might not be everybody’s cup of tea. But the clean, stark lines are perfectly in keeping with the look topsides, and it certainly does contribute to the boat’s speed.
“Paradox covers a lot of miles when cruising. Our typical daily runs are between 300 and 350 miles, so I can take a couple of weeks off work, do an Atlantic passage and still enjoy a few days of island hopping when we arrive,” Aschenbrenner says.
“I enjoy racing occasionally,” he adds, “as it provides a good excuse to push the boat to its limits, but I am also perfectly happy sailing by myself or with friends. Paradox is such a blast to sail—she is super responsive, particularly at 20 knots of boat speed or above. Just like a dinghy, you can put the boat exactly where you want to. Reaching downwind at speed in big waves is like skiing the moguls, lots of fun.”
Hard to argue with aesthetics like that!