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Bob Harris, an Australian by way of Malaya and Quebec, who has been sailing and building catamarans since 1932, offers a more graphic explanation. "If a chap rolls with a rap on the chin, a lot of the force is lost," he says. "But he gets a good jolt if he keeps his neck stiff. A monohull boat heels over in the wind, rolling with the punch; the cat stays stiff and gets the jolt, and transmits it into power." But what happens if a catamaran tips over? Harris just grins at such a question. "A lot of blokes capsized out there," he pointed out last week. "None of them were catamarans."
In the first race, around the first mark and into a tight reach, a pelican was flying comfortably along 200 feet ahead of Clark's Beverly. In a matter of seconds, the bird was flapping alongside. A second or so later, left far behind, the bird descended to the water to watch in disgust as the twin red hulls vanished in the rain. The needle on the press boat speedometer was bouncing between 25 and 30.
Despite the transparent superiority of the cats, scarcely a single-hull skipper in the crowd was ready to call it quits. The great thing about sailboat racing is, there's always an excuse. A broken hiking strap, a jammed centerboard, a badly laid-out course, a capricious wind shift. Another day, another breeze, another regatta. Ah, then things would be different. Long after the race committee had shut up shop, long after the boats themselves had been pulled up onto the beach, the debate raged on and on in the bar at the Coral Reef Yacht Club, ringing changes on the subject as furiously as the bell on the cash register rang up receipts.
"Don't tell me," said one planing boat skipper. "My boat and any other planing hull will eat up a catamaran going downwind. And if the air had been light, we'd have made mincemeat out of those freaks."
"If we'd had a longer leg on a broad reach, we'd have walked away from all the boats," said a centerboard sailor. "We could hardly use our spinnaker."
"I like a boat that's a boat," huffed a blue-water man. "Who'd go to sea in a catamaran?"
"But the test of a boat is going to weather," said a catamaran sailor. "A cat goes to weather like a jackrabbit."
"So does a keelboat," said a keelboat sailor, and added irrelevantly, "Besides, a catamaran is funny-looking."
Funny-looking or not, catamarans are here to stay and they are bound to go on inspiring new fashions in racing as they have already in boating clothes (see pages 40-46). Bemoaning the cats' success in the Coral Reef bar last week, one boatbuilder summarized the findings at the One-of-a-Kind Regatta in bitterly emotional but quite understandable terms. "Come all this way for three piddly eight-mile races," he wailed. "And I'll tell you what the impact of this regatta will be. It's that I won't sell a planing boat for five years, that's what it will be."
The boatbuilder's pain would only have been deeper if he had been down on the dock, where Van Alan. Clark was saying, "I think it's a useful exercise to find out just how fast a sailboat can go. And don't think this is the end of it. We're just beginning to find out how to make these things go fast." A pelican, squatting on a nearby piling, raised its head as he talked, spread its wings and slowly flapped away.