It seems that over the last year every conversation on a dock or yacht club dealing with multihulls invariably included two boats—the big green tri and the little orange cat that were, respectively, breaking records and turning heads all over the Caribbean. So I was pretty stoked as I packed my bag for Antigua Sailing Week, knowing that Lloyd Thornburg’s MOD 70 trimaran, Phaedo³, and Timbalero III, the new foiling Gunboat G4, would both be in attendance. And I wasn’t the only one. Hell, even the cabbie who drove me down to the waterfront for the first day of racing had heard about them. He was particularly interested in “the one that flies.”
There was good reason for the hype. As soon as they hit the water, both Phaedo³ and Timbalero III made their presence known in the sailing community. Just a week earlier during Les Voiles de St Barths, Gunboat founder Peter Johnstone and Timbalero’s crew were trying to see just how fast they could get their 40ft foiling cat going when they had a very public (and very well publicized) capsize. (They were going just north of 30 knots at the time.) As for Phaedo³, she’d been breaking records ever since Thornburg took her around the serpentine route that is the Caribbean 600, where he and his crew chopped a day and a half off the standing course record.
As I was soon to find out, the crowd in Antigua would not be disappointed with the show these two were about to put on.
For those who haven’t been paying attention to these two rocket ships, here’s a little background.
Lloyd Thornburg took possession of Phaedo³ in January, after two years of looking for his next record-busting machine. Thornburg acquired the boat from Michel Desjoyeaux, the legendary French sailor who had raced her successfully on the MOD 70 (Multi One Design) circuit as Foncia. He worked with Desjoyeaux to get the boat ready for a new round of racing and brought him onboard as crew for the Caribbean 600. Just getting her to the starting line was an eyelash shy of a miracle. Thornburg splashed Phaedo³ in January, got her race ready, then sailed across the Atlantic in nine days in order to make the February start. Thornburg and his crew then set a new course record for the race, beating the time set by the ORMA 60 trimaran Region Guadeloupe, which had stood since the inaugural race in 2009. Not a bad way to start your season.
Timbalero III is Gunboat founder Peter Johnstone’s latest contribution to the multihull world. Purpose-built for Eduardo Perez to win Antigua Sailing Week (which he did), the boat takes the same foiling technology that was developed and implemented on the AC72 cats during the last America’s Cup and brings it into the recreational sailing market.
Johnstone even had ex-Oracle crewmember and Antiguan native Shannon Falcone onboard to race during Sailing Week as the boat’s unofficial “pitch-pull consultant.” Falcone was impressed with the boat’s performance. “This is all about proof of concept,” he told me on the docks after ripping around during Wednesday’s lay day. “Now that we know it works, the next step will be refining the systems, pulling fewer ropes and pressing more buttons. The technology is out there, they’re not reinventing the wheel. We had it on the AC45s.”
By the time I had dinner the night I touched down on the island I got word that Phaedo³ already had another notch in her belt, having busted the 10-year-old Guadeloupe-to-Antigua record by making the 42-mile run in 1 hour and 27 minutes. (The previous record—2 hours, 18 minutes and 42 seconds—was set in 2004 by the 140ft monohull Mari Cha IV). Thornburg and skipper Brian Thompson, in humble fashion, commented afterward that they would have needed to go faster had they been competing against another MOD 70.
The next day they were at it again. Standing on the hills of the island’s western shore during a media event at the soon-to-be-built Pearns Point luxury resort, I watched for the boats running the around-the-island race to start passing by when I saw a boat with familiar bright green hulls come into view. Even in the light breeze blowing that day, the boys on Phaedo³ were scorching around in the island on their way to breaking another record by rounding Antigua (a 52-mile run) in 3 hours, 26 minutes and 9 seconds. “The simple fact is that Phaedo³ has a very high power-to-weight ratio,” said tactician Brian Thompson. “The boat only weighs seven tons and the hulls have very low drag, plus only two of them are in the water at any time. Phaedo³ can harness whatever wind there is and turn it into boatspeed, which is nearly twice as fast as the wind.” So while Phaedo³ didn’t actually take part in the Sailing Week regatta, Thornburg broke two records in short order in Antigua and had a fairly productive few days.
I first spotted Timbalero III as we headed back into Falmouth Harbour after the first day of racing. I was aboard Alize, a 1987 Beneteau First 435E owned by my friend Bill Haynie, a sailing buddy from my Newport years, when we saw it screeching over the horizon. Johnstone and his crew had just claimed the first of many bullets they would take home that week on their way to winning the regatta in their class. In fact, when owner Eduardo Perez arrived just in time for the last day of racing, the boys already had so many bullets under their belt that Timbalero III already had their victory in the bag.
A few days after first seeing the G4 riding atop the waves, I met Peter Johnstone at the dock outside the Antigua Yacht Club. He was wearing his G4 crew shirt, leaning back in a relaxed manner at the wheel of the fittingly sleek Pure Yacht inflatable that was serving as tender to Timbalero III during Sailing Week, looking more like a G4 crew member than the company owner. On our way to meet the G4 Johnstone seemed to get flagged down from every side—a wave, a hello, a request for a chance to go sailing. Here in Antigua Johnstone was the coolest kid in school, the kid with the new bike that everyone wants to ride.
Once we got out to the boat, climbed aboard and stowed our gear, crash helmets and body armor were handed out (a first for me when it comes to boat-testing), and we had the now-standard safety briefing, which was essentially: “If we capsize, hang on to something.” While the mainsail system is currently hydraulic, operated by one of the coolest foot-pedal systems I’ve seen, many of the other systems are still controlled with ropes and winches—for now.
Hydraulics or no hydraulics, the G4 is an absolute thrill ride. In 12 to 15 knots of breeze we hit just north of 25 knots boat speed. This thing can get two couples comfortably around the islands at speeds previously reserved for motor yachts. The helm is responsive and stable, and even though you’re going 20-plus knots it’s never frightening, because you feel like that’s how fast you’re supposed to be going. Riding on the G4 felt like the slowest fast ride ever—everything is so smooth as the foils slash through the waves beneath you.
Both these boats had big plans after Antigua. Johnstone and the Gunboat crew were headed to St. Maarten to get ready for the sail home to Wanchese, North Carolina, where the boat is slated to get some upgrades, including hydraulic systems for the sails and daggerboards. (Johnstone agreed with Falcone’s assessment of “pull less rope, push more buttons.”) At press time, they were getting ready for the fall boat-show season, where, as always, I’m sure they’ll turn some heads.
For Thornburg and the Phaedo³ team, there was, literally, no slowing down. On their way to Newport from Antigua to get ready for the Transatlantic Race, they set a new passage record from Antigua to Newport, making the 1,560-mile run in 3 days, 5 hours, 55 minutes and 12 seconds. While in Newport, they broke the Around Jamestown Record. Then during the Transatlantic Race they squeezed out the fastest elapsed time, making it across the Atlantic in a little over 7 days, 2 hours. During the crossing they hit a top speed of 41.2 knots, and had one 24-hour run where they covered 652 nautical miles. After they got to England, Thornburg and Thompson hopped on a plane and headed to the West Coast, where they jumped on the old Phaedo (a Gunboat 66) and raced in the Transpac. They’ve been covering a whole lot of ocean.
These two boats might be the poster children for the next stage of the multihull sailing scene. On the one hand, the G4 is looking to put foiling into the recreational sailing market. And other builders are following suit, as smaller foiling catamarans are coming to market. On the other hand, Lloyd Thornburg and his MOD 70 just finished laying claim to many long-standing ocean racing records, and who knows how many more they might take down before they’re done. And while he’s got his eyes on the horizon, one has to think that Thornburg is also looking for the next boat and the next crew that will set the sailing world to talking.
Get in on the Antigua Action
Antigua Sailing Week take place every year at the end of April and features five days of racing in the deep blue water off Falmouth and English Harbors, with a mid-week lay day and an optional day of sailing when the Around the Island race is held. The fleet consists of 13 classes that range from multi and monohulled powerhouse racing yachts to bareboat charters, so if you can’t get your own boat down there just get your crew on a plane and there are options for you. It is considered one of the more prestigious regattas in the Caribbean circuit, and it is, quite honestly, a great time—shoreside barbecues and concerts are held most every night, Flamouth and English Harbors turn into a hodgepodge of sailors. Registration for 2016’s Sailing Week is open now. Head over to sailingweek.com for all of the details.
MHS Fall 2015