“B 52”


Ever flown in a B 52?

Well, me hearties, ship aboard the “B 52” for the ride of a lifetime.

The “B 52” is a 52 foot high performance sailing catamaran, now about 6 years old, the creation of my host for the Anzac weekend, Bob Burgess.  With new IT now I will post images as we go, once the text is up on the blog, so readers may wish to wait for the final version with links and images placed through the text of the story.

B 52 at anchor. Fraser Island

Custom built of high-tech composite with alloy spars, the “B 52” is a very fast boat, even faster than the 80 ft plus maxi yacht “Hammer of Queensland” I sailed several years back. As you can see above, she sports an 85 sq ft main, working headsail on roller, and a separate screecher on roller which can be purpose set on a bowsprit.  Her profile is sleek, low, and fine. Speed potential under sail is in excess of 20 knots, and she is very easy to sail. The main accommodation in the hulls carries forward to about the end of the trunk cabin to fixed structural bulkheads.  Further forward are hatches to access the interior of the forward part of the hulls, for storage, and teenage guests. Underneath there is a wave splitter between the hulls; in this run electric cables. The aft end of each hull houses the Nanni diesels, which are light for their power, and provide for a highly manoeuvrable craft.

I have known the boat’s designer and builder, Bob Burgess, for several years now.  I have had to be patient, as he does not hand out a sail easily, so it was a privilege to be aboard for the first time.   Bob is a quiet, soft-spoken fellow, with an obvious passion for multi hulls, and a real need for speed under sail. In multi hull circles in Australia, and overseas, our home-grown Bob is regarded as an innovator and a pioneer.  During the weekend, he recounted some of his experiences designing, building and sailing “multis”,  which paralleled the evolution of racing and cruising multi hulls of the last fifty years.  He built his first boat at the age of `ten, and has gone from strength to strength from there.  Bob got interested in multi hulls early on in the piece.  His reckons his best creation was the “Adios” a 10 m trimaran.  He built 5 of these, but usually builds just one-offs.  “Adios”, or “goodbye” in Spanish, is usually what this flyer said to the rest of the fleet! Probably the most innovative boat he created is the “Pronto”, a catamaran actually built from the outer hull molds of the “Adios”.  A word on multi-jargon–the outer hulls of a trimaran are called “amas”, and the main, central, hull is called an “aka”.  This l’ll ripper weighed in 440 kg,  was  9 m overall, length was two times the  beam on the centreline (so 4.4 m beam, for as he points out any more beam than this on a cat and the tripping moment is less than the righting moment i.e. the boat will pitchpole before tipping), and cost just $18,000  in materials to build from scratch. Bob builds affordable boats, in basic materials, and all his boats hold together.  He eschews the use of carbon (fibre), saying there is no point unless the engineering of the boat is very sophisticated, and  stuff costs four to five times the price of conventional fibreglass.  His biggest boat was based on the “Pronto” concept with minimalistic sailing hulls, with the accommodation all located in a 25 sq m “blister” supported by the cross beams centrally.   “Ama 2” is a very sporty boat,  just under 60 ft overall, and had a deluxe fit out.  He and his French wife cruised her to New Caledonia, one of Bob’s favourite cruising grounds.  The build of B 52 is strong without being heavy.  Instead of a hull to deck join which typically is the weakest point, the boat is joined for and aft, as he describes like the halves  of an egg, thus the join occurs on what he calls the “neutral axis” of the boat. After building a plug from household plaster, he creates a light weight mold, and lays up from there, and believes in gelcoat for a fibre glass boat, rather than painting, for better finish, durability, and lower cost. By comparison, a 66 ft monohull I know about just had a $40,000 paint job. I am old enough to remember when that amount of money would buy you a nice 40 ft sailboat.

The above image shows the forward section between the hulls, with mesh trampoline.  The anchor chain is brought back to a windlass at the base of the mast.  The windlass is also used for hoisting the main halyard.  Through the access hatch the forward hand, me, stacks the chain as it comes in. A spare Danforth anchor is carried forward, and the central walkway allows passage to the base of the forestay, and anchor roller.

Multihull concepts are not new.  Historically, they trace their origins back to the Egyptians with their balsa reed catamarans, and to the Polynesians, famous for their epic voyages across the Pacific. The natural and rapid evolution of building multi-hulls using high-tech materials is a relatively recent event in the history of sail.  Much of this process, was due to the development of light-weight materials including foam coring, kevlar, and carbon fibre, together with improvements in fibreglass technology–still an evolutionary process. Looking back not too many years. things got going in the 1960s with the development of something we take for granted, plywood.  This new material allowed Arthur Piver and others to build light-weight (for that era) trimarans; ply does not go around corners, but designs were created using chine construction, and many of these doughty trimarans are still cruising, although Arthur Piver was lost at sea in one of his designs  I was there, in the mid 1970s with my first multi hull, a Ron Given designed 14 foot Paper Tiger catamaran (with the somewhat lewd name of “Chocolate Lips”–bestowed on her by the builder).  She sported  beautifully shaped chine hulls, and varnished decks.  Fully the back third of the hulls was effectively a planing surface, and she  went like the clappers.  Well built, she held together after I rolled her in an inadvertent jibe off Rangitoto on the Auckland Harbour one winter’s day.  In an ignominious finale, it took the assistance of a launch, to tow her upright, and home to Devonport.  Over the next few years. the fibreglass small multis came along, with the Hobies, Maricats, Windrush, and finally a Tornado in glass.  My next boat was a Windrush 14, designed for the surf conditions of West Australia, strongly built with asymmetrical hulls, and shallow rudders, but nevertheless a surprisingly good performer to windward, especially with brother Allan stacked out holding the thing in the water. I liked the simplicity of rigging compared to the “piano tuning” exercise with the Paper Tiger.  This go boat had orange hulls, white decks, and a multicoloured “Tequila Sunrise” (recall the Eagles were all the rage in those days) banded main sail, with a jib on a roller.  I must have been an aggressive sailor, and almost came to grief in the surf at The Mount, when I rolled the boat and bent the mast. Perhaps I was just an early advocate of the hard-man principle that if the boat doesn’t break it is too heavy and if it breaks, it is too light in build! Readers may want to have a look on the blog site at “Sailing, My History” and “Beyond II” to see where the story goes from there.

Windrush 14 Image from http://www.ourdeal.com.au/

The offshore racing world was soon to be turned on its head. Lock Crowther, an Australian, designed and built a trimaran built out of plywood, 40 ft overall, named “Kraken” which cleaned up maxi yachts everywhere.  Bob describes its performance as “scary”, and in his typical turn of phrase says the boat “horizoned” everything else. In 1966 a Kraken 40 won the New York to Bermuda race with Crowther aboard.

The next leap forward occurred in the 1980s with development of composite materials, which had significant advantages over ply, namely strength for light weight, and the ability to build curves.  These new composite materials were actually pioneered by the Lear Jet Corporation of the United States.  This technique  was not well taken up initially in aeronautical engineering, but was soon adapted to boat building   It was initially resisted by the establishment–in America, the government would not approve it for airplanes; and, in Australia, not for boats–until the Armed Forces commissioned a boat in composite, and then it was okay.

“Enza New Zealand” Catamaran Image from www.solarnavigator.net

The next high performance multis to shake up the monohull fraternity, were designed by Englishman, Nigel Irens.  Last year I was privileged to have a conversation with Nigel, and believe he is one of the great gentlemen of sailboat design.  Bob comments he is the most intuitive multi hull designer ever born. His trimaran designs are famous.  In 1980 the “Gordano Goose” did six Atlantic crossings, and in 1982  his design “IT82” won the round Britain Race against the maxis.  In 1984 his 80 ft cat “Formule Tag” sailed 518 miles in 24 hours; ten years later,  now renamed “Enza New Zealand”, this cat in 75 days sailed around the world in record time.  In the race for performance, the tris were the winners.  His high-speed trimarans almost overnight made the Formula 40 cats obsolescent.  Following on from “IT 82” Nigel designed an open  50 ft class, as exemplified by “Nootka”,  about 20 years ago.  The next development was the ORMA class, with 60 ft tris.  The Open Ocean Performance Sixty, or Open 60, has only a minimum of basic restrictions–LOA, bowsprit length, mast height, maximum mast chord, and 15 new sails every two years, with few other regulations on design of materials.  A process of multi hull natural selection was ignited, and competition within the class  led to further innovations and progress in multi hull technology.  In 1990 he launched “Fujicolor” and a series of sister ships. These boats will reach full power and begin to fly a hull in 13 knots of true wind.   In the quest for more speed, Nigel Irens has pioneered the  use of foils on the amas, using the boat speed to lift the hulls out of the water. When this happens the wetted surface is reduced and the whole dynamic changes with the craft going more on than through the water. At this point, displacement no longer limits boat speed.  Foils though do incur heavy loading, and as Bob says there can be focal stresses, which is where things can go as he says, “horribly wrong”.  The trick with foils apparently is to realize their value only at high-speed do they  provide predictable lift, but at low-speed they may slow the boat and interfere with steering.

“Oracle” Images from oracle-team-usa.americascup.com

Racing multi hulls are sailed to the limits (and then some) of their construction. Witness the current America’s Cup cats, big highly technical 72 ft craft. “Oracle” literally flew apart, and just this week a boat came to grief when  the forebeam gave way, the boat literally fell to bits with a crew fatality. Those that do stay together have cracked the records for speed under sail set by the clipper ships.  For example, in 2006 Lionel Lemonchois shaved more than 4 days off the record in the Route de Rhum,  crossing the Atlantic in less than 7 days.  France’s Francis Joyon is a world-leader in busting single-handed sailing records in Iren’s trimarans.

Image from Sailing World

In our part of the world, the ORMA boats, despite their detractors,  live on, and  are represented by Sydney based “Team Australia” (nee “Banque Populaire V”) which holds the speed record for the Brisbane-Gladstone race in 17 hours.  The New Zealand based “Vodafone” periodically pops across the “ditch” to take on all and sundry in Australian waters.  The “Vodafone” has a cantering mast some 110 ft hight, and is square in shape, measuring 60ft by 60 ft, but weights only 5 tonnes. On these boats there are gauges at the mast base that measure loading, which may be on the order of 9 tons (thus greater than the weight of the boat), and the numbers are monitored to avoid excessive healing moment, that could result in an irreversible flip.   They are some of the fastest yachts on the planet, and can reach speeds of nearly 45 mph.  There currently is talk of another coming, as I hear Bruce Arms is planning another crack at the round Australia record, which he currently holds in a Chamberlin cat, “Big Wave-rider”.  You read it first here.

A few words of recognition of the role of the French, who have been the great leaders in multi hull development, in part due to corporate sponsorship.   The home of multi hulls in France is La Rochelle. The late Eric Tabarly was one of the famous names, whose exploits I followed in my twenties.   In a sad nautical irony, he was lost overboard in the North Sea when hit by the gaff boom on his Fyfe classic yacht (a monohull) he was thrown overboard, and  drowned.  I am proud to say we Australians have been in there as well–Ellen MacArthur, the fastest woman to sail non stop around the globe,  built a 75 ft trimaran at Boatspeed factory in NSW and is an international campaigner.

“Crepes Whaou” Multi 50 class Image from http://www.mondial-infos.fr

Racing tris are getting bigger, as designs evolve. There is a new Swiss-backed class the MOD 70 which may replace the 60s, although they are running it as a tightly regulated one design, even with alloy masts which I think is a retrograde step.  Nigel Irens has designed  a new Multi 50 class which is more affordable and less extreme.  At  least three  boats with somewhat crazy names like “Crepes Whaou!” and  “Prince de Bretagne” (a Brittany, France vegetable wholesaler as sponsor), though they decided to build a new 80 ft boat, after their 50 footer lost its starboard ama in sea trials before the race. A French company will build you a high-tec “Crepes Whaou” for E 850K. He comments that the 60 ft class was more popular, attracting younger more “hair shirt” racers.

Sailing at 12kts

It was a hot day, Anzac Day, 2013; I left home before dawn to drive to Urangan, to meet the ship.  Bob had pulled into a $55 a night marina and had the boat watered and gassed up.  We soon had loaded what seemed like a ton of stuff aboard, put the wine and champagne on ice; and set sail for Fraser Island.  The afternoon breeze was cooling, as it was hot as a furnace in the marina. The waters north of the Sandy Straits north into Hervey Bay, on the west coast of Fraser Island, are dotted with sand banks, so best stay to the channels and navigate carefully to open waters. We were soon blasting along at 12 knots, and set course across this massive stretch of water known as Hervey Bay,  for the sandy bluffs of Fraser Island.   It was a lovely afternoon, and we opened an icy-cold French White Burgundy to enjoy with our prawn salad  and grain bread lunch.

Fraser Island, an ecological marvel, is composed of sand aggregated over eons of time. It stretches over 123 km in length, and is 22 km at its widest point. Fraser Island is exceptionally beautiful, with long white sand beaches, colourful sand cliffs, and in the interior there are over 100 freshwater lakes and ancient rainforest.  It is a must see in Australia. I had visited the island couple of times in the past, staying at the Kingfisher Lodge.  There are excellent tours that can be taken from there to gain insights into the flora and fauna of the island.  In the winter season, Whale Watching is a very special experience, as the waters of Hervey Bay attract the breeding Humpback whales. From the perspective of a cruising yachtsman, I was surprised at the extent of white sand beaches on the west coast, they literally go for miles.  There was excellent shelter from the prevailing SE winds; but potentially dangerous with lee shore in anything from the west. The northern end of Fraser really is a fantastic place to cruise, and hardly anyone was about on this Anzac weekend.

Arch Cliffs at Platypus Bay

We hauled up at the Arch Cliffs off Platypus Bay and anchored in 15 ft of water. Once the ship was tidy, we launched the dinghy from the central davits (most convenient) and set about exploring the beach.  We fossicked around the wreck of the “Spartan”a ferro cement yacht which is beyond salvage. This beach has a unique shell, we called them “Opera House Shells”, and Bob reckons he has never seen a live one. Water was oozing from the sand cliffs, and sandflies  were on the prowl.  We had some lessons from Bob about surf landing techniques in the dinghy, where the dinghy is turned to face the waves, and the stern man jumps in to hold the boat into the waves, while the others disembark. The moon rose a huge orange ball over Fraser Island and played counterpoint with the setting sun.  Sunset is my favourite time on a cruising yacht.  We were treated to a rare sight on the Eastern seaboard of Australia, the setting sun entirely over water.  Dinner was soon on, and featured garden salad, and home-made Spaghetti Bolognese, which was washed down with Clos des Porretts , St. Georges, 2006 with balanced fruit and fine tannins, quite an acceptable “Vin du village”.  All hands settled early into their bunks, hearing occasionally the plaintive call of the wild dingoes on the island.

On the middle day of the trip. we decided to cruise north along the coast.  The morning tradition on B 52 before getting underway involves a team effort to do the dishes from the previous day, with Cap’n Bob down the stern doing the salt water rinse, me on suds, and the Chef on the hot water rinse and drying.   The work was done in short order, and we were ready to go sailing.  It was a glorious day as we blasted along up to 12 kts under full main and working jib.  This had to be multi hull sailing at its finest, although I was hopeful that time would permit going out into the ocean to really put her through her paces.   There is a long reef along the northern tip of Fraser, which extends northward from the lighthouse at the Great Sandy Cape  so not enough time in this voyage.
From this lighthouse, the extended reef goes further north to Breaksea spit, with a floating lightship marking the Northern tip.  Early afternoon, we anchored up just north of Rooney Point.  The profile of the island going further north is lower but there was good shelter from the wind as we anchored in 15 ft of water.  It is necessary to anchor carefully along Fraser as the rise and fall of the tide is of the order of 9 feet.  This time our intrepid photographer actually took his camera ashore, and was rewarded with wild flowers as shown in the gallery, and some Caribbean-like beach and blue sea photographs.   Fraser Island is a mecca for four-wheel driving-camping-fishing holidays.  We did see some tracks but were far from disturbed by the traffic.

It was another hot day and the Queensland sun was relentless.  After the exertions of the shore party, all hands had dip off the stern, but hold onto the rope as the current was running at 3-4 knots.  The aperitif today was Villmart Premier Cru Champagne, chilled on the last of the ice, and was delightful.  For lunch we finished off the prawns, with salad, King Island Cheese, and bread.  At that point I went to sleep.

Our sunset project, on this day, was to get set with cameras, for photos of the sun set and moonrise, which are shown.  It was steak for dinner, and Chef improvised in the wok, but it was delicious nevertheless, and accompanied by a Penfolds 407 Cabernet Sauvignon, 1994, an iconic Aussie Red whose delicious floral mint overtones graced the setting sun .  Anchored a ways ahead was a power yacht, and I did learn new vocabulary–it was called  an “Aristotle” synonymous for Gin Palace, or other derogatory terms given to Stink Pots by pure sailors like us.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of a cruise is sharing the pasttimes of others, and I look forward to bringing home new music, literature, and recipes, to name a few of the benefits  Our Cap’n Bob has substantial library of CDs, and we enjoyed his favourites in the evening.  We particularly enjoyed Carla Brunei, with old favourites like “Quelqu’un m’a dit”, and “L’amoureuse”.  The beautiful Carla Brunei is from an old Italian noble family, and was once in the top ten models in the world. I rank her as one of the most accomplished women of our era, not only did she qualify in law, and was the girlfriend of Mick Jagger, she is an accomplished song writer, singer, and instrumentalist.  Her marriage to Mr. Sarkozy, well perhaps leave that for the French to comment on. Nigel Kennedy is a fantastic jazz violinist, and has teamed up with greats like Yehudi Menduin,  Stephane Grappelli, and Ravi Shankar to produce some extraordinary music, so check out the “Heroes” album.  Did you know that  Norah Jones is Ravi Shankar’s daughter?  Worth getting is the last album Ray Charles did, with Norah Jones.  As the sun set, we enjoyed classic songs from Nat King Cole, and “Red Sails on the Sunset” by Alfred Apaka an oldy-mouldy from the Hawaiian Village Nights, which nearly brought a tear to the eye.

Sunset over Hervey Bay
B 52 at speed

The next morning, I was up early to have my coffee in the cockpit, then tackled the dishes single-handedly for which I was bestowed the honour of making breakfast, so it was soon into the cereals with fresh milk and strawberries, with hot coffee and bread and jam–what crew ever feasted as well? Although the sky was a little unsettled, anticipating some eased sheets sailing,  we set the screecher,  and as a precaution put a reef in the main.  The wind was southeast but veering from east to south, so the sail back along Fraser Island was on a lead, a fast point of sail for B 52, and we were sizzling along up to 14 knots at one stage. It was a pleasant sail, and in a few hours we fetched a lagoon, where we anchored for lunch.  There we conversed with a French couple in their Outremer 55 catamaran, which Bob considers the best production cat made in the world.  I was puzzled by the staying arrangement of the alloy mast, and I think it had Bob a bit perplexed as well. This couple with young family were voyaging on to Indonesia.  For us, however, it was “Home James”, and from our lagoon, it was a short jump under motor back to the marina at Urangan,  We docked quite smartly at an inside marina, and soon had the ship unloaded.  It was then a 4 1/2 hour drive back to the Gold Coast which was quite tedious after the freedom of sailing.   I left the Cap’n with a well provisioned larder including steak, ham and vegetables, plus the obligatory bottle of Herbert Pinot Noir from Mt. Gambier, so I don’t think he will be coming home for a while.

B 52 gallery

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