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How did Natural-High handle the storm conditions?

I have had a number of people ask me how Natural-High handled the extreme conditions between New Zealand and New Caledonia.  There were also some concerns raised by some who are considering building a 'standard' Wharram Tiki 38 about the loss of the rudder.

The short answer is that there is nothing to be concerned about.  The loss of the rudder was due to a human error with the wrong nuts being on the rudder fittings.  As Wharram owners will know I have departed from the normal steering system because I wanted the use of the aft deck so the problem with the rudder was a unique one for me and not indicative of a fault in either what I had modified or in the Wharram design.  Actually it has worked out very well and I am very happy with the aft deck arrangement.

Now that I have the proper lock nuts on the steering and all the other deficiencies that manifested themselves during the storm I am confident that I will have trouble free sailing from now on.  (As a matter of fact the boat is now in Port Douglas north of Cairns.  I will do a post on that trip shortly.)

OK...back to how it handled.

I have had power catamarans for 45 years ranging from 16' to 76'.  I also commercially fished my 28' power cat for a number of years in all sorts of adverse weather.  About 30 years ago I pioneered the 'Shark Cat' in New Zealand which was a power catamaran which was used primarily for commercial fishing.  I built and personally tested over 90 of them including demonstrating them in the worst weather I could find and on ocean bars.  So, I feel I have the experience to give an honest opinion on how a boat handles (particularly a cat) in adverse weather.

During that period I had been aware of the Wharrams and liked them but I was too impatient to own a sail boat as I like the speed of power.  My thinking has since changed, hence ‘Natural-High’.

In an earlier post I had already alluded to how the boat performed when we struck adverse conditions on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand.  I think that I used the word amazing!  I not only stand by that but am even more adamant that this is a correct description.

I'll try to expand on that further.

Firstly, the canoe shaped sterns are a major factor in their sea-worthiness in a following sea.  Not once did we have a solid sea break over the aft deck.  Had the odd occasion where we got a 'sneeze' through the decking.  In fact, I spent many hours watching the seas rise up way above the aft railings and thinking...this one’s going to dump on the aft deck...but, they never did.  Instead they would break just outside the boat, the stern would rise up and the wave would pass under.

In many cases the boat would surf down the wave reaching 14 knots.  BUT...this is the good part.  It surfed down straight.  In fact, when I compare it with all the other cats I have had over the years even the 76' one, not one of them would track like that.  They would all have a tendency to veer off.  The reason why the Wharram did not do that is no doubt in part due to the canoe sterns, and I am also sure the underwater shape of the hulls also contributes to the sea kindly actions. 

Even when then waves were coming from the aft quarter the boat would still track straight on whatever angle was being steered.  When the boat is running from the aft quarter in normal conditions it is pretty dry except when the seas are confused and you are falling into troughs or running into peaks.  Only rarely did the pod in the centre of the boat get hit with solid water.

However, when we had the seas on the beam or the wind was off the forward quarter, and the seas were still high and confused we did get a lot of crashing and had significant water coming through the decking.  After some days of this we had nothing dry on the boat, but part of that was due to the safety hatches and the dorades leaking, both of which have either been replaced or repaired.

When the wind was blowing really hard from the beam or forward quarter it was very wet, although only a couple of times did we get solid water roll over us and only once filled up the cockpit which is when we lost our electrics.

Even when the conditions were at their worse, over 50 knots and the seas were very confused and the boat was falling in ‘holes’ (and this was at 2am in the morning, with no stars or moon, and no lights) at no time did we feel  unsafe.  It was bloody uncomfortable but the boat was riding it beautifully and at no time was there a situation in which it didn’t something that put your heart in your mouth, thinking that was close.

The reason why I opted to put the sea anchor out was because we were getting very tired and that is of course when mistakes are made and the risks go up exponentially.

 In summary, although I didn’t enjoy it I was very pleased I was not in a conventional modern bridge deck catamaran.  I honestly don’t know how one of those would have fared.  Allowing the water to get through the decking, from top or bottom, even though it is wet is a major safety factor.

With what I have spent on customising this boat to my personal needs I could have purchased a much larger modern catamaran, but, because I intended to do ocean crossing I opted for the Wharram design…and I am glad I did.

Would I have done anything different based on what I have now learnt?  Yes, there are some things and I will cover them at a later time.  One thing which I would strongly advise on and which I intended to do but didn’t take my own advice because I was travelling too much and didn’t have the time…and that was to take it out in storm conditions to find any flaws.  Back in the South Island of New Zealand we frequently have southerly storms where the winds can reach 50+ knots off the end of Banks Peninsular with seas 25’+.   If I had spent a few days doing this I may have uncovered some of the problems and dealt with them before I left and saved a lot of discomfort and cost.

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Reader Comments (1)

Your experience makes me more relaxed about the boat we are building. Stories like this is what made ​​me choose a Wharram. Thank you and good winds

September 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

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