Hammerhead 54

by George Jones

Blue Water Sailing
November 2005


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Offshore thoroughbred:
Chris White’s Hammerhead 54

This high-performance cruising trimaran can deliver 300-mile days

Multihull devotees have a bit of the “true believer” aura about them, and John Barry’s enthusiasm for trimarans does nothing to dispel that archetype. His choice for a cruising yacht is a Hammerhead 54, designed by Chris White and christened Rogue Wave. The boat is moored within a hundred yards of his coastal house in Connecticut, ready for an afternoon, or a month, of high-speed cruising.

Rogue Wave is his more civilized “next boat” after Greenwich Propane (ex-Aquila), the 40-foot Dick Newick Panache trimaran he sailed to a multihull course record in the 1996 Newport-Bermuda Race (and a win in the same race in 1990). Greenwich Propane was a proven boat under Barry’s hand; he sailed her to a win in the 1994 TwoSTAR doublehanded transat and two wins in the Miami-Montego Bay race. He was getting ready to do the Route du Rhum when he found himself an exponent of democracy at a family Christmas dinner in 1998.

“My family got together and decided I was racing too much,” he says, chuckling at the memory of the vote. “I was out-numbered, so I bought a cruising boat.”

Rogue Wave was bought from the first owner, who had set her up as a retirement home “with a dopey name I can’t even remember,” he says. The first thing he did was tear out the air conditioning, the heater, the entertainment center. “I had to pull all that stuff out,” he says. He put on a bowsprit and bought a new suit of sails from North in France. “They build all the sails for the high-end multihulls,” he adds. Taking out the extra weight was the right thing to do. Weight is the enemy of performance in any boat, and “you can save more weight with less risk in the interior than anyplace else,” says designer Chris White, adding that sometimes owners are the problem. “They get in there and they want to add unnecessary and heavy things…to some degree that’s my role, to keep on top of the weight and gear problem.”

We had the opportunity to give Rogue Wave a thorough sea trial on a recent delivery, returning with the boat from Bermuda to Connecticut after Barry’s participation in the Marion to Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race. It was Barry’s second Marion-Bermuda race, but for 2005 he was only able to pull fourth of a seven-boat class.

A large, boarding wave managed to flood the battery compartment, killing the lead-acid batteries. Without navigation gear, the boat’s racing performance was compromised.

When we left Bermuda there were still some rough edges on the electronics. We hadn’t cleared the island when the autopilot packed up, so our four-person crew had plenty of opportunity to evaluate the boat’s steering response and ease of helming.

For the first few miles we motored, powering with the 62-horsepower turbocharged Yanmar that sits under the cockpit sole. Maneuvering a boat with nearly 35 feet of beam is not for the timid. It is a bit like motoring a tennis court, and the single prop combined with the two amas makes for large-radius turns.

Once we hit open water the wind was right for bending on the asymmetrical chute. We rolled up the genoa and nearly as soon as the chute began to draw, we saw the apparent wind begin to move forward. This is a boat that makes its own wind. Get it moving and soon, much like an iceboat, a run becomes a reach.

There is something truly magical about a boat that consistently sails in the high teens. I found myself shouting out numbers as we flew along big swells, “20, 23, 24 knots,” finally either outrunning the swell or going down its side and slowing down to what seemed to be a leisurely 16 knots.

Barry has taken the boat on five round-trips to the Caribbean, “and we do 300-mile days easily,” he says. “Our best day was 380 miles. She’s a very fast cruising boat, great offshore.” He has tried to race her, but “I can’t push [Rogue Wave] as hard as [Greenwich Propane]” he says. Rogue Wave is a cruiser, not a racer, despite Barry treating her like a racer. “We would put on so much sail that we would start breaking things.” He added that he could have kept sizing up the gear, but that he was pleased with how the boat sails and that the boat “isn’t a stripped-out racer anyway.” Cruising looked pretty good to me as we were reaching at 18 knots, aiming for a bright spot in the gathering clouds of a severe squall line. In less than an hour we exited the lowering bank of clouds and emerged into sunlight.

Rogue Wave will tack through less than 90 degrees, sailing as close as 40 degrees apparent, and White stressed that sailors new to fast multihulls often make the mistake of not staying hard enough on the wind when beating. They fall off, observing that the apparent wind doesn’t change but speed increases. The cycle continues and “before you know it, you’re reaching, not beating,” he says. “I call it ‘reachitis.’”

Creature comforts, while not of the luxury monohull variety, are certainly there. The center cockpit and saloon are roughly the size of what one would expect on a 35-foot monohull, but the forward berths, perched high above the sole to avoid the rather narrow beam at waterline, are comfortably sized. The berths don’t have lee cloths, although, according to White, they were specified in the drawings. We agree. We felt a bit nervous at times as we rocketed along at 18 to 22 knots. The motion of the boat has a lateral component to it, and, sleeping in the forward berth, we found we were more comfortable after pulling a bag of sails up to the berth to help hold us in.

The head is a cozy affair in the bow, and you reach both the forward cabin and the head by squeezing through a narrow passageway that passes through the carbon fiber main crossbeam. The boat doesn’t heel to any significant extent. The stove isn’t gimbaled and never seemed to need gimbals. While the amas were often underwater, it was more often the result of diving into a wave than it was heeling.

With the tri's ability to sail on the level, there is no need for a gimbaled stove

The saloon has good standing headroom, with the galley immediately to port after passing through a large doorway that, to our surprise, lacks any semblance of a bridgedeck. To starboard is the nav station and a table with an L-shaped settee. Directly opposite the table is another settee. The saloon sole is slightly above the DWL, with the various tanks located underneath it.

The cockpit can be a wet place. We didn’t have a dodger, and when the forward arm connecting the hull to the ama dove into a wave, water would hit the angled forward portion of the arm and fly nearly straight up. Carried along by 20 knots of wind it didn’t take long for the water to get back to the cockpit. A good dodger would go a long way in keeping the crew dry.

We had a wide range of wind conditions on the return from Bermuda. There was nearly a full day of dead air, and a tri doesn’t motor significantly faster than any other boat. But with even a little wind you can then begin to motorsail. The added wind soon gives the speed a boost and suddenly you are doing 10 or 12 knots.

The boat doesn’t like to sail very deep. With an afternoon of winds blowing dead on the rhumbline we hardened up to 130 degrees apparent in 14 knots true wind, and made a steady 12 to 13 knots. Sailing this boat requires regular attention. The speed is so high and the potential for performance so immediate, that apparent wind angles can change in seconds.

On a sunny afternoon with the wind requiring reaching, we crept up, in 12 knots of true wind, to 40 degrees apparent, and saw the speed drop from 15 knots, with the wind at 60 degrees apparent, to 9.2 when we pinched up. Some of that windward performance is due to the centerboard, its trunk artfully placed below the saloon sole. With the board up Rogue Wave will sail in 29 inches of water. Admittedly it won’t point very high, but it will sail, or power, in water no deeper than a child’s wading pool. Drop the board (which has to be done in a positive manner, since, by design, it floats) for a full nine feet of draft and you have a very different boat. Barry is fond of telling stories of outpointing monohulls, passing them to windward with wind at the shy end of 40 degrees apparent. The centerboard has much to do with this, of course, as the hull and ama shapes themselves don’t provide much lateral resistance.

With the rudder the lowest part of the boat when the centerboard is up, it is good to know that the rudder retracts automatically if it hits anything, and that you can continue to steer with the rudder retracted to hull depth.
When the boat begins to get up to speed you don’t need any instruments to keep her pointed and trimmed for performance. The noise does that just fine. Beginning at about 11 knots, the rudder and skeg begin to hum, with the noise getting louder as the boat goes faster. The sound is loudest in the aft cabin, an otherwise secure and private space with its own head. White says the noise is not a standard feature of the boat’s design and that it could “probably be stopped by adjusting the trailing edge” of the rudder.

There are no accidental choices in this boat. “You get some privacy with the aft cabin,” says White. “One of the problems with tris as opposed to cats [is] you don’t get the degree of privacy you have with a cat. You can do a passage in a cat and never get in the other hull.”

The aft cabin, with its entrance in the cockpit, has its own head and the berths are arranged in a manner very reminiscent of a forward V-berth. Opposite the head, on the starboard side, is a small seat and stowage locker. While it is a fairly cozy cabin, in comparison with many aft cabins shoehorned into increasingly smaller boats, it stacks up well. There is standing headroom and getting into the berth does not require any gymnastics.

A boat must look good in profile, and, with its relatively low freeboard and the matching sheerline of the amas and the hull, a Hammerhead 54 passes that test. The high-roach main, with its small crane and large headboard, looks very businesslike. On Rogue Wave the loose-footed main had three reefing points and a twin headsail rig with a short, fixed boom for the asymmetrical. It made for a wide range of choices, and the amas are excellent for stowing sails and similar bulky but light material. “Everything you don’t want in your berth goes there,” says White.

We are not convinced that a high-performance trimaran is everyone’s answer for an offshore cruising yacht. Fast is certainly fun, to paraphrase Bill Lee, but it comes at a price. Tris (and any multihull) need to stay on a strict diet. Pack too much gear, spares, food (or crew) and not only is the boat slow but the rigging will be stressed.

A tri is, at the same time, too large and too small. Rogue Wave’s 35-foot beam means problems in nearly any marina. Inside, 54 feet looks more like 35, or perhaps a fairly narrow 40-footer. She swings to anchor differently than most other boats, but you will get there days, if not weeks, ahead of anyone else that left with you. The concept of outrunning or outmaneuvering a storm has real validity with a boat as fast as a Hammerhead 54, and who can argue with a boat that will sail in less than three feet of water?

Length overall 54’0”
Length waterline 52’3”
Beam overall 34’6”
Displacement 17,000 lbs.
Draft (centerboard up) 2’6”
Draft (centerboard down) 9’0”
Sail area (mainsail) 858 sq. ft.
Sail area (jib) 492 sq. ft.
Air draft 64’
Engine 62-hp. Yanmar

Chris White Designs
5 Smiths Way
South Dartmouth, MA 02748

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