I admit that I was skeptical about racing on a big catamaran for a day at Antigua Sailing Week. My previous cat experience was limited, and I wasn’t expecting much. I’d seen the fleet of exotic-looking Gunboats—three GB48s and three GB62s—dockside on day one of this annual regatta. With their synthetic-fiber halyards strung from Marstrom carbon-fiber rigs and their chisel-like bows practically begging to slice through the warm Caribbean waters, the Gunboats sure looked hot—but how racy could they be? I certainly didn’t expect to become a convert, let alone a believer. Then I stepped aboard the immaculately maintained Gunboat 48 Blast.
My monohull-centric worldview is in jeopardy the moment I see the galley sink. It has the usual sink parts—a drain and a faucet—but it’s the way the tropical sunlight glints off the sink’s elegant carbon-fiber surfaces that catches my eye. Closer examination reveals that while the interior is masterfully finished in African rosewood and mahogany, this is simply a veneer under which resides a composite structure of honeycomb coring set in epoxy. Swing a cabinet door and it feels light, airy, Space Age. The carbon-fiber hulls save weight and create a stiff, powerful platform. But it’s the forward working cockpit (a small pit-like operations center), situated directly abaft the mast with its banks of clutches and carefully positioned winches, that sells me on the fact that Blast is a bona fide raceboat. Step through the forward cockpit doors (also airy veneers over a honeycomb/epoxy core) and you exit a world of comfort and luxury and enter one of utilitarian elegance. Halyards, reefing lines, and furling lines all lead back to this multi-person area, which commands a sweeping view of the bow and the knotless Spectra trampoline, while still affording perfect communication with the helm.
Soon we are en route to the starting line. Gunboat founder and president Peter Johnstone stands behind the carbon-fiber wheel of the semicustom catamaran (Gunboats are built on a semicustom basis, giving owners a lot of options for customizing joinery, interiors, and other features), while a crack crew including Forrest Williams, Torbjorn Linderson, Lia Ditton, Chandler Collins, Warren Oldroyd, Rachel Jaspersen, and Lynn Fitzpatrick prepare various broad-reaching and downwind sails, ensuring that all sheets are cleanly led and that halyard runs are unfettered. I follow the crew around the boat, trying to sort out how the running rigging is set up while staying out of their way.
Antigua Sailing Week is unique in many respects and is one of only two regattas to have offered Gunboat-only starts in 2008. Sitting on the windward rail as Blast maneuvers through the pre-start circle under main alone, I study the other Gunboats. All boast graceful lines, appealing hull colors, big sailplans, and very psyched owners and crew. More important, all the Gunboats that are flying headsails seem to have no trouble sailing to weather.
We soon get the course: a quick downwind leg with a port rounding to a blast reach with a series of buoys that must be left to starboard, to some lengthy upwind work that will bring the fleet south to a finishing line off Falmouth Harbour. The onboard fervor kicks up a notch as Blast ’s crew hoists a jib while preparing the huge white asymmetric screecher, which appears on deck as a massive sausage, its furling drum attaching to Blast ’s powerful bowsprit (integrated into the hull’s forward cross beam) while its head accepts a halyard with a halyard lock.