Tony Smith: Multihull Pioneer

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Tony Smith (above) was a British multihull pioneer back in the 1970s, when the yachting establishment regarded cats and tris as a crazy fringe element and dubbed their skippers “Hell’s Angels of the sea!”

At the ripe old age of 19, Tony bought a set of plans for a 24ft Arthur Piver trimaran, finished building it in 1964 and sailed it solo from Britain to France. In 1967, a year after crewing on a 33ft Piver tri in the first Round Britain Race, he built a second 25ft tri to his own design in foam-cored laminate in his parents’ garage. The knowledge he gained was put into his third trimaran, the innovative folding-wing 26ft Telstar, which began production in 1970. More than 270 were built over the next decade in his factory in Sandwich Marina, on England’s South Coast, where fellow pioneer Derek Kelsall was also based. In 1974 the first of eight Telstar 35s were built.

In 1980 Tony decided to try his luck in America. He shipped the molds and moved with his family to Mayo, Maryland, setting up a new company called Performance Cruising.

A few months and 12 Telstars later, the factory and molds were destroyed in a fire. Out of the ashes, Tony designed and built the Gemini catamaran using some hull molds shipped from the UK. Appropriately, the first boat was christened Phoenix. Over the next 30 years, some 1,000 Geminis were built in five different versions.

Tony’s philosophy has always been to make boating affordable and to encourage a new generation of sailors on to the water. The Gemini’s success gave him the financial stability to design a bigger Telstar 28 in 2003, with a sailaway price of $62,500. The new boat had a beam of 18ft and sported a clever new ama-folding mechanism and a new mast-raising system. About 80 hulls were built alongside the Gemini production line before the recession hit and Telstar production stopped in 2009.

Tony still hankers to try a lucky third re-launch for the trailable Telstar, which offers great cruising potential with double-digit speeds under sail and power. As a semi-retirement project, he has customized a Telstar 28 for long-haul liveaboard cruising. He trailed this boat 3,000 miles with his wife, Sue, to the Pacific Northwest and cruised in Alaska with the author this summer.

Paul Gelder is a lifelong sailor and was recently elected chairman of the Yachting Journalists’ Association in the UK, which among other things runs the prestigious annual Yachtsmen of the Year awards

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