CRUISER-RACER CONFUSION: Scow Bow Revolution 29 and Gunboat G4 Capsize

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Revolution 29

This is something I ask myself quite often: can a modern truly cutting-edge high-performance racing sailboat also be a cruising boat? In certain ways, of course, the old ideal of the true cruiser-racer, per the glory days of the Cruising Club of America rating rule and boats such as Carleton Mitchell’s famous yawl Finisterre, evaporated many decades ago. Yet still it is an ideal that both boatbuilders and boat owners incessantly aspire to somehow realize in a modern context, and it is fascinating to watch how these aspirations manifest themselves. Take, for example, the Revolution 29 (see image up top), a new cruising design developed in France that is directly based on David Raison’s radical scow-bowed Mini 6.5 in which he won the Mini Transat in 2011.

Raison’s Mini was not just radical in appearance; it was radically fast and won the 2011 Transat by a large delta, setting a new course record in the process. This success was so significant that other important monohull racing classes—Open 60s, Class 40s, TP 52s—pretty quickly banned scow bows for fear their existing fleets would instantly be rendered obsolete. Development of the concept continues however within the Mini class, which has long been a leading hotbed of high-performance monohull sailing innovation.

TeamWork Evolution

David Raison arrives in Brazil aboard TeamWork Evolution in 2011 after crushing the rest of the Mini fleet

What’s interesting about the scow bow, of course, is that it is one of those few racing innovations that immediately and obviously has critical advantages in the cruising market. As in: if you make the bow of any boat much wider you have lots more space inside for accommodations.

Revolution 29 interior

Interior of the Revolution 29. A whole lot of space for a boat this small. Note there is also a predecessor design, the Revolution 22, more directly based on the 22-foot racing Mini

But putting a scow bow on a cruising boat obviously doesn’t instantly make it a “cruiser-racer.” What makes the scow bow super-competitive is that it facilitates a boat’s ability to plane, and the other key factor in that equation is always weight. Or rather the lack of it. Load up a boat with lots of furniture and gear and you will seriously inhibit its ability to plane regardless of what shape its bow is. As always, a certain balance must be achieved and compromises must be made.

To get an idea of what a competitive scow-bow boat looks like under sail, watch this viddy here of TeamWork Evolution drag-racing against a conventional Mini.

You should note in particular the boat’s insanely huge sail plan. Prototype Minis are renowned for these, and obviously the rig on any reasonable cruising boat would want to be quite a bit smaller. One question in my mind is whether you in fact need all the extra sail area to make the scow bow fast. Could it be that with more cruiser-sized sails the scow bow might actually be slower than a conventional bow?

G4 in flight

The new G4 does its flying thing

Another question being openly discussed right now, thanks to Gunboat and its new G4 foiling catamaran, is whether foils make any sense on a “cruiser-racer.” As I mentioned in my previous post on the boat, it is the first fully foiling boat with any sort of accommodations, and Gunboat has been marketing it as a coastal cruiser-racer. And now in its racing debut at St. Bart’s the svelte little beast has capsized in dramatic fashion, which has prompted some forum trolls as well as a few otherwise polite people to wonder out loud how this could possibly be termed a cruising boat.

Wipe Out from Gunboat on Vimeo.

Watch the viddy here first and then ask yourself: did the boat capsize because it was foiling, or did it capsize because the crew was unable to release the mainsheet for some reason? To me it definitely looks like the latter and that this would have happened, given the issue with the sheet, to any performance cat whether it was airborne or not.

G4 flip

Actually in this image it looks like that helicopter might have been a precipitating cause

Johnstone post flip

Gunboat CEO Peter Johnstone, post flip

So maybe we shouldn’t be focussing on the foils so much. After all, as I understand it the G4 was originally developed as a straight performance cat and the flying foils were added later in the process. Like the AC72s in the last America’s Cup go-round, the G4 wasn’t born a foiler, but evolved into one. Also, of course, it is perfectly obvious that the boat capsized because it was being raced and not cruised. The crew was pushing the boat to its limits, and just because it has a limit (like any boat) doesn’t mean it can’t be cruised. For example, I have a friend who once owned a heavy full-keeled Tayana 37 that was dismasted during a distance race because he declined to take his spinnaker down when conditions got strong. The spinnaker in a gust just pulled the mast right off the boat. Which obviously doesn’t mean you can’t go cruising in a Tayana 37.

I think the real question to ask is: is there a point at which a boat becomes too performance-oriented to really be termed a cruiser? Which really is just another way of asking: what exactly is a cruiser-racer?

Back in the days of Carleton Mitchell and the very conservative CCA rule it was a pretty simple concept. A cruiser-racer was a boat designed to cruise that you could also race, and basically all you had to do to do that was take a ton of crap off the boat and—if you were very serious—bend on different sails. Back in those salad days, that was all it took to be competitive at the highest levels of racing.

These days there are many more variations of the species. There is a vast universe of older boats racing mostly under the PHRF rule in local beer-can series that are very obviously cruising boats that are being raced just for fun. We have a few what I call “captive venues,” the best example being Swans, where there is a small universe of very active racing focussed usually around a brand, where an honest-to-God cruising boat can engage in some pretty serious racing with other cruising boats. We have fancy expensive “performance cruisers” with luxurious interiors that can be raced if desired with minimal changes to the boat (this is pretty much the category the larger Gunboat cats fall into). We have a few even more insanely expensive performance cruisers with wholly interchangeable interiors for both cruising and racing. (I have even seen boats with interchangeable keels!) We have various folding trimarans with cramped accommodations that can be raced in various events. We have families with small children cruising around the world in modified open-class ocean racers. We have “buckets” where enormous super-yachts, obviously designed for cruising in the most obscenely opulent sense of the term, can race against each other.

And on and on and on. The market for sailboats that can be both raced and cruised has become so complex and variegated it is impossible to say where it begins and ends.

Really the only advice I can give to help make sense of this spectrum is that the terms “cruiser-racer” and “racer-cruiser” should not be used interchangeably. Rather we should agree on two specific definitions. As in a cruiser-racer is a boat designed to cruise that can also be raced, and a racer-cruiser is a boat designed to race that can also be cruised.

The G4 I think is certainly a racer-cruiser, and perhaps to some it is an extreme example, but I for one would be very happy taking it out for a week’s worth of high-octane gunkholing.

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS: There’s some buzz on the Sailing Anarchy forums that the Gunboat 55 Rainmaker, abandoned after being dismasted back in January, has been spotted again, afloat, but with her coachroof torn away (remember, this is an open-bridgedeck boat, the roof is merely shelter). There’s even one guy claiming the boat has been towed in somewhere, but so far there’s no confirmation of this. I have heard confirmation of the boat’s being spotted, and of the damaged coachroof, from the boat’s designer Nigel Irens via third parties.

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8 Responses
  1. Charlie

    @Damon: That is the question, for sure. Even if it’s still fast to windward, I bet it’s not exactly comfortable. One advantage of the shape is the waterline area is likely very symmetrical when the boat is heeled, but I guess the bow must pound something fierce.

  2. Tom Young

    I think the answer to your question is, yes.

    This type of fast – cruising, would be different than what cruising has evolved into since the Finessterre days.

    Today, cruising can mean a life choice/commitment of living for decades on a sailboat. The cruising sailboat that must serve as a home at sea has evolved into a complicated and commodious(and expensive), vessel.

    To cruise in a high performance boats like you’ve posted, means going light. Backpacking as compared to RV-ing. The speed could be a whole new adventure and lure for younger sailors. But it will come at a cost of comfort and maybe will become less of a time commitment, as back packing is(not many backpack open-ended, for decades).

    It appears less people today are jumping into the life choice cruising mantra of the 60’s and 70’s. Yet sailing is as popular as ever with young and old(around me).

    I see this notion of a lighter, smaller, faster(cheaper), sailboat on a ‘sail’, as having appeal to a new generation of sailors my kids(and their friends) age, as they grow into a life(and the means), that includes sailing.

    Speed is good and will take skill to tame(I love 4kts)!

  3. Barry Spanier

    I am drawing a 42′ idea, 14′ beam, looking at 10-12 as a good speed for us elders (me 69, she 66). assy lee boards, unstayed rig, two winches, lots of hatches and deck openings. I built an Atkin Ingrid in 1969-74 and sailed her from San Fran to NZ. As a sailmaker who raced 5O5 at WC level for awhile, the slowness and poor performance upwind of that double ender shape was always tough to trade for some speed. not to mention low and wet. When i hitched a ride from Tahiti to Maui on a Cal 39 it really showed me how nice the speed could be for comfort as well. Better wave synch etc.

    thirty years of windsurfing speed and early foiling tri’ experience (Longshot) leave a deep impression about how fast we can go… but 10-12 will do for this stage of my ocean travel dreams. plus, samantha isn’t comfortable with the whole concept yet. got to make it comfy. our Westsail 42 is growing on her, and she’s getting used to that scale of living aboard .

    thus, i’d love to hear from anyone who has had some experience with these shapes in head seas. i’m right there with the french concept. so happy to let them find out these things before my paper becomes a boat.

  4. barry spanier

    bob johnstone sailed the grot baer across oceans. he probably wasn’t in a hurry. but he must have been comfy enough. if you are truly voyaging, and not sight seeing on a plan, you rarely need to go to weather. it’s a choice. you just have to be flexible about destination and time, no schedules.
    with today’s weather magic on the net there is even more choice of routing underway for comfort… as long as you are more about the voyage than the destination. obviously i approve of aimless wandering… and have a wife who loves the easy sailing, hates the other bit, and is willing to just be out there,

    if that is what it takes to bring her on board happily, i’m on with it. it’s all a bunch of compromises, for senior citizens like us to be voyaging viable for another bunch of years, then end up in freemantle or perth with a nice liveaboard until you can’t get up/down/in/out, that suits us.

    i expect our vessel will sail very well. a good compromise.

    and that pounding thing. i see mushy pushing, throwing the spray off. the slab side forward when heeled? might that pound? i busted the bow bulkheads out of a ranger 37 pounding to weather. once. maybe mushing is better.

    i really am imagining all of it more and more. hope to feel the water doing whatever it wants ASAP.

  5. Robin Tan

    I was watching the wave action and the helmsman action. He did the right thing to release the main but it was not enough. Secondly the person responsible for the genoa sheet was pulling in when he should release. It does appear that the chopper is the culprit to give them dirty air washed down from the blades. Lastly why is it that not a single one was wearing lifejacket in this kind of boat. It is a different class of sailing and may not appeal to some mundane sailors but is it such fun to the adventurous types. Keep it up!

  6. Dan

    I think anyone who’s ever noticed the sink and wood trimmed mirror down below in a J 24 knows the Johnstone’s tendency to put accomodations into boats which aren’t really safe to cruise in.

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