CHRIS WHITE ON DESIGN AND THE ATLANTIC 57
Chris White Designs was founded in 1983 and has consistently specialized in the design of high performance cruising catamarans and trimarans. Chris’ work is innovative within a framework of proved yacht design principles and sound structural engineering. The forward cockpit/pilothouse layout of the Atlantic series catamarans, and the patented MastFoil rig are two examples. Each boat is designed and engineered to exacting standards of performance capability, structural integrity, ease of handling for a small crew, and comfort underway.
Chris White Designs works closely with owners and builders, providing personalized service to boat owners, including construction oversight, brokerage of CWD boats, and ongoing consultation.
Cruising sailboats are compromises in every sense. The boat that functions best tied to a dock often is the worst boat to take offshore. The great offshore boat often has features undesirable for lounging at anchor. But that's life. Compromise is essential.
Appearance, cost, safety, performance, accommodation, ease of handling, resale value, maintenance and longevity are all very important factors to take into account when designing a boat. Successfully blending these conflicting requirements is the crux of yacht design. There is no magic formula, nor can a computer do it. First hand experience is crucial. Extensive cruising, racing and boat building experience are required background for quality yacht design.
It is also very important for the designer to acknowledge from the outset of the design process that he does not know everything, nor can he possibly envision all the combinations of circumstances that could cause damage to the boat or injury to the crew. Many yacht designers wax poetic about their ability to calculate and predict every aspect of the performance their designs, thus claiming that they can create the “optimum” design. Unfortunately, the real world often treats “optimum” designs very harshly. When the unforeseen happens (and it will) the “optimum” design often fails catastrophically. At the very least, structural failures are usually expensive to fix- possibly extremely expensive if the boat is far away from the required facilities. But worse is the potential for personal injury as well as complete disruption of a long cruise. In some cases minor structural failures compound themselves to create even larger problems, causing the complete loss of the vessel.
Therefore, I have always considered it crucial that the essential structure and systems of a cruising boat, which by definition will sail far from home and be exposed to an enormous variety of conditions, be executed not only with a decent factor of safety but also with certain areas intentionally overbuilt to prevent failures in one area from progressing to another. This does not mean that the entire vessel should be overbuilt or unnecessarily heavy. Multihulls need to be strong and light in order to work well. But certain critical structural areas need to be amply strong to deal not only with the expected loads but also for the unexpected, unforeseen and unknown. I always design my boats with this in mind.
I built my first trimaran in 1973 and have been involved with multihull sailing, design and construction ever since. My yacht design business began in 1983 after I returned from a 2 year cruise on a 52' trimaran (Juniper) that I designed and built. I believe that cats and tris offer the cruising sailor the best combination of features for long distance cruising and am dedicated to developing the most advanced designs for fast, safe and comfortable cruising boats.
My design drawings are accomplished with computer aid. Hulls, decks and crossbeams are modeled in 3D. Construction drawings are CAD based and carefully prepared; all the parts of the boat fit accurately together. This level of construction drawing takes a great deal of time to prepare but results in time saved in construction, and in higher quality throughout
Chris White designs are built professionally by a number of quality boatyards around the world but occasionally are constructed by qualified amateur builders. In every case I remain in close contact with the builder throughout the process.
Atlantic 57 Catamaran
Frank Middleton, owner of A57 Nogal, is circumnavigating with his family and friends. Here's what he had to say about their Atlantic crossing:
"By the way, the boat handled like a dream on Atlantic Crossing (Canaries to Caicos) - 3700 miles in 17 days, in spite of the fact that we blew out the A3 after 8 days and stopped to catch a ton of fish along the way. We hand steered the entire trip and never handed the wheel over - my crew literally fought for time on the wheel the entire way - averaging 9-11 and surfing at 20...What a boat!"
"Fast, Safe, and Comfortable"
Those three words were used in the very first advertisement for an Atlantic Catamaran in 1985. It is what I believed sailors wanted then and what I believe they want today. In the 30 years since there's been steady progress in making all of the Atlantic Cats faster, safer and more comfortable. As a group, they are now recognized in far flung cruising harbors all over the world as “the” cruising cats of choice.
While other catamaran designs are packed with trendy features and try to appeal to people looking for the sizzle rather than the steak, we put a perfect steak on the platter and hand you a sharp knife.
The Atlantic 57 is a refinement of the proven Atlantic 55. While the interior layouts of the A55 and A57 are nearly identical, there are a variety of changes that improve the already fantastic performance of the Atlantic 55.
Adding a little hull length is almost always a benefit to a catamaran, and in the case of the A57 the additional length also allowed a slight increase in the fore triangle area. Adding sail area to the staysail helped to fill the gap in wind range between the small self tacking jib and the larger genoa.
Another interesting modification was the change to asymmetrical daggerboards. The A55s used either swing up centerboards or symmetrical daggers. Both worked well, but it seemed that windward performance could be ratcheted up from excellent to spectacular by using a daggerboard that created extra lift. The result is evident when sailing the A57 to windward as she makes no noticeable leeway.
There are numerous small changes in the interior accommodation. Refrigeration space was increased, lockers in the sleeping cabins were enlarged, access was improved into the forepeaks and the interior lighting plan refined. A significant alteration was made to the aft deck area - the deck level was lowered, which allows fixed seating along the forward side and a deeper bulwark along the aft side.
Additionally, the A57s are lighter due to refinements in construction techniques and materials, and changes in installed equipment. The A57s are coming in about 1500 lbs lighter than the A55s, which translates into several percent more boat speed under sail.
Diesel propulsion is provided by twin 55 HP engines coupled to saildrives and three blade folding props. The A57 can go nearly 11 knots at full power and has fantastic fuel economy cruising at 8 kts.
While aluminum spars can be used, all of the A57s thus far are equipped with carbon fiber masts. While the cost is higher than metal spars, there are benefits to a carbon mast. It is lighter weight than aluminum and often is quite a bit stiffer, which reduces the need for precise rig tuning. The Atlantic cats with carbon rigs do feel different sailing through waves, and in most conditions it is an improvement.
The actual construction process of building an A57 is every bit as important as the design. Without proper execution, the greatest catamaran design in the world will be just one more ordinary boat.
The Atlantic 57 is currently built by Alwoplast, SA, with vacuum bagged glass and carbon fiber using 100% epoxy resin and foam cores. There have also been several A57’s built in the USA by Aquidneck Custom Composites. Both of these builders exercise great care in making sure that the epoxy composite structure is properly fabricated and the designed weights are maintained. Just as important, their business models keep overhead costs low and allow for the expenditure of many thousands of man hours devoted to careful fairing and painting of interior hull, deck and bulkheads rather than the quick and heavy “cover up and hide” process commonly employed by the large manufacturers. The added care and quality control is immediately evident. Check out the photos, or better yet arrange for a visit.
Many cruising sailors think that a 57’ cat is too large a boat for a small crew to handle. I disagree. In common with all the Atlantic cats, the A57 is set up precisely for shorthanded and singlehanded sailing. It takes essentially the same number of lines located in the same places to sail the A57 as it takes to sail an A42. In fact, it's actually easier to tack the A57 than the A42 because of the self tacking jib on the larger cats. Just turn the wheel and it's done. Or if you're really lazy like me, just push the tack button of the autopilot remote control!
There are certainly differences between sailing a 42’ and a 57’ cat, the main one being that you need to follow the correct procedures for sail handling on the larger boat. On a smaller boat someone’s physical strength can overcome sloppy seamanship. But there are limits to what one person can muscle around. When sailing a cat like the A57 alone or with just one crew you need to let the boat do the work by guiding her carefully and pulling the strings in the correct sequence. This is not difficult to learn and is just part of the natural process of getting to know your boat.
In summary, if you are looking for a high performance cruising cat that is big- but not too big- you've just found it. Performance of the Atlantic 57 under sail is far superior to any of the cats made by production builders. The Atlantic 57 has also demonstrated equal performance to significantly more expensive one-off catamarans such as the Gunboat 66.
While stellar sailing performance is important and highly sought after, it is only half the story. Safety, durability, comfort underway and at anchor matter every bit as much to the cruising sailor. The Atlantic 57 excels on all counts.