Corsair 24: Multiplying on the Bay

Corsair 24 TrimaranCorsair 24 Trimaran

Erik Simonson / Www.h2oshots.com

Corsair 24 Trimaran

At the Sperry Top-Sider San Francisco NOOD, Ross Stein’s Origami, with Henry van den Bedem and the author crewing, stay ahead of Richard Allen’s Nowhere Fast.

Rafi Yahalom’s new Corsair Sprint 750 accelerates around the first windward mark with a sizeable lead. The starboard ama of Lookin’ Good flys over the water as the crew eases the sails. Yahalom turns down to a reach; we hoist the screecher, furl up the jib, and take off at 14 knots.

“Do you like the color of the screecher?” Yahalom yells over the wind in his thick Middle Eastern accent, the red earflaps of his fleece-lined cap dancing in the breeze. “My daughter and granddaughter picked them out.”

Before I have a chance to comment on the bright purple and orange hues, Yahalom’s slightly frazzled crew Chris Harvey interjects, “Rafi, all you care about is looking good—I’ve got to help you actually race.”

“It’s true,” Yahalom admits. “Hey, that’s even the name of my boat!”

The discussion is tabled for the moment, but it’s already too late. Perennial multihull champion Ross Stein, on the Corsair 24 Origami, is barreling toward us, sailing lower angles, faster, with his spinnaker flying. Having won all four of the previous day’s races at the Sperry Top-Sider San Francisco NOOD as a fill-in crew for Stein, I was looking forward to giving him a taste of his own medicine, but Lookin’ Good isn’t up to speed. Stein is an expert at reaching to get the boat on a plane, then soaking low with the waves, which opens up wide passing lanes on San Francisco Bay.

For Yahalom, on the other hand, it’s just his second day on the boat, and while he’s a passionate multihull sailor—he races a Hobie 20 with his daughter—he’s still figuring out the trimaran. His buddy Ron Kitowski is helping him out, as is Harvey, who offers a wealth of knowledge gleaned from racing high-performance multihulls, including his F-27, on the Bay.

In the NOOD’s multihull class, the Sprint 750 is also at a disadvantage downwind. To muster the requisite six boats for a class at the regatta, Stein had to come up with a way to even out the speed differences between the Corsair 24 and its newer siblings: the Sprint 750 and Dash 750. The older boats, also called F-24s, were built in San Diego in the 1990s. The newer tris, which have been built in Vietnam since 2006, are the same length and width, but a taller mast, bigger spinnaker, and lighter hull give them a speed advantage. “Our strategy, to keep things simple, was to ask the 750 sailors not use their spinnakers,” says Stein. “The Bay Area Multihull Association (BAMA) said, ‘OK, well they will still rate faster than you even if they’re not using their spins.’ But the feeling in the Corsair fleet was that it was still a plus because the more those guys get excited about this style of racing, the better off we’ll all be.”

Stein’s Origami, with the crew of co-owner Bill Pace, and Stein’s 20-something daughter and son-in-law, pass us before we reach the leeward mark. We finish third, behind the F-24 Gaijin skippered by Peter Adams. Spirits remain high onboard, even though Lookin’ Good has dropped a few places. Over the course of the day, the breeze comes on stronger and stronger, so we reef the main, ditch sailing with the screecher downwind, and hang on for dear life. Or maybe that was just me.

When I catch up with the guys onshore, Adams, who is the perennial runner-up to Stein, confirms what I’ve gleaned from the day. “The only way we could beat Ross is if we tied a lawn chair to his boat,” he says.

Rafi Yahalom, Ron Kitowski, and Chris Harvey (l to r) brave the spray. Photo by Meredith Powlison.

Adams’ crew Bill Cook, who also owns an F-24, nods in agreement and adds, “It’s competitive, but everyone sits down and has dinner together after.”

The fleet’s camaraderie is most evident when the guys start talking about their annual summer raft up, dubbed the Harmonic Convergence, on Lake Tahoe. Conceived and initiated by Harvey in 2000, the far-out sounding rendezvous takes place the Thursday before the 45-mile Trans-Tahoe Race out of Tahoe YC in July. A dozen or more Corsair sailors trailer their boats up to the lake and sail to the southern end of Emerald Bay with their friends and families. The state park allows them to set up camp; with sterns to the shore, they lift their daggerboards, and anchor their bows. From there, the racers-turned-cruisers-turned-who-knows-what step off transoms that just kiss the beach and go about doing … harmonic things I can only imagine.

Camaraderie is also one reason that Adams and his other crew, Dan Mone, will endure the 25-mile sail across San Pablo Bay and back home to Benicia, Calif., after the NOOD awards are given and the rum pour ends. Sailing the distance is more appealing than using a suspect trailer on the I-80. And a beehive of multihull activity on the Bay lures Adams to make the commute under sail.

The recent uptick in multihull sailing on the Bay is the result of a number of factors, says Bob Naber, the commodore of BAMA: “It’s a combination of things: more visibility, growing the base, greater interest, and neater boats available.”

There’s been no shortage of media spotlight for multihulls with the big cats of the 34th America’s Cup and AC World Series training regularly on the Bay. The fastest trimaran in the world, Hydroptère, has set up base camp for the winter in San Francisco after waiting in vain for a weather window to attempt to break the Transpac course record from Los Angeles to Hawaii. In fact, the trimaran was anchored just a stone’s throw away from the NOOD partygoers at Corinthian YC in Tiburon, Calif.

Multihull divisions were embraced by more events on the Bay this year as well. Two weeks before the NOOD, a handful of catamarans competed at the Rolex Big Boat Series—a staunchly traditionally monohull event—for the first time. Naber says it was the third year they’d attempted to add a multihull fleet to the regatta. “It looks like we’ll be back next year,” he says. “It would be great to expand that core fleet and maybe add another one.”

BAMA has used its 35-year-old connections to yacht clubs in the area, along with other organizations, such as the Singlehanded Society, to integrate smaller multihulls into the scene, too. The blossoming Weta Trimaran fleet, which includes many BAMA members, has been a focal point. “We got the Wetas into the Golden Gate YC beer can series,” says Naber. “We were able to leverage that to get small multihulls [Wetas, F-18s, and A-Class catamarans] permitted at the interclub series.”

The A-Class catamarans have grown into a unique role in San Francisco. “In the last couple of years, it’s really coming alive because it’s a cool boat, it’s singlehanded, and it’s high-performance,” Naber says. “A lot of the America’s Cup guys are using them for recreational sailing and racing, and just as an alternative component to training programs.”

BAMA’s further grown interest by promoting the use of GPS tracking and archiving races back to 2008 on their website. Sailors can send their tracks to BAMA to compete on the 10-mile “BAMA Racetrack” around the Bay anytime they care to. From the windward ama, which Stein has dubbed the “geriatric trapeze,” it was easy for a newbie like me to see why Stein, along with his trimaran compatriots, take their fair share of stabs at the racetrack: The boats are wet, wild, and fast. And with multihull ranks swelling around the Bay, they’ve got lots of sparring partners, too.

Click here to see more Corsair sailboats.

seaboatreview