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For over 35 years Australian catamaran manufacturer Seawind Catamarans has made a successful run at producing catamarans up to the forty foot mark suitable for family cruising and predominantly the charter boat market.

Ever since its move to the Vietnam manufacturing plant in conjunction with Corsair Trimarans it has really been bearing fruit. Over the past few years the company has branched out into lighter builds of its popular models to enhance capability, using construction methods learned in its trimaran builds. Plus, in our September issue of last year, we tested Seawind’s 1190 Sport model; an extension of the popular 1160 with the inclusion of daggerboards for better performance.

As the company has grown in confidence it has now extended itself once again to construct a 50 foot catamaran using an outside design team of immense talent: Reichel-Pugh. There are a number of major deviations Seawind have undertaken here that makes this build of special interest.

The little things

As mentioned already, the size of this catamaran is possibly the biggest departure from the proven Seawind model. A leap to a fifty foot catamaran shows confidence in its manufacturing capabilities.

Secondly, the use of a renowned naval architecture firm outside of Seawind is also a major step. The use of such a design firm takes them into serious international contention.

After doing the test, I am certain these two big changes have not been detrimental to the recognised brand, while expanding it.

While the third interesting deviation from the accepted standard Seawind may not seem as important; it, nevertheless, once again shows the maturity that the company is comfortable moving away from design features that defined the brand in the first place.

For example, gone is the iconic and ground-breaking triple swing doors that uniquely opened up the interior to the back deck of the Seawind 1000 and later models.

That is not to say that this latest model is similar to the other major production catamarans available. There is still enough individuality to stamp this fifty footer as a Seawind. Part of that difference is due to the use of the Reichel-Pugh team in its first design for a production multihull.

Design concept

In 1982 when Richard Ward was beginning to dream of expanding his line of off-the-beach catamarans into ocean-going yachts he formulated his priorities that would determine every yacht they designed and built to take them to become a world class catamaran manufacturer, which he cleverly converted into an acrostic of the company name:

  • S - sail like a yacht

  • E - engineered to endure

  • A - anyone can operate

  • W - weather protection at the helm

  • I - indoor/outdoor living

  • N - natural ventilation

  • D - don’t waste space.

So this was the starting point for the R-P design team to deliver a recognisable but different Seawind catamaran.

Sail like a yacht

Although not an original departure from the Seawind model, the first design feature to make this an outstanding yacht was to include daggerboards. The difference made to the Seawind 1190 Sport by adding daggerboards to an extended 1160 is remarkable.

I did a twilight race with Sydney’s Multihull Central mob one afternoon and watched Pirate King disappear over the horizon for no other reason than the ability to lengthen or reduce draft. The same thinking puts the 1600 into a craft with sailing performance married with cruising comfort.

While Reichel-Pugh are most renowned for its monohull designs, such as the enormously successful Wild Oats XI plus America’s Cup yachts and many large cruising yachts, they have also previously designed a bespoke catamaran of much the same size. A client approached the firm to design a 45’ offshore performance catamaran.

The client wanted a fast yacht for shorthanded offshore racing, which also featured genuine cruising capacity.

A perfect test bed concept for the design and production of the 1600.

Much the same design principles of modern catamaran hulls are there: full, deep-U bow sections for buoyancy and lift, with the added bonus of interior space enhanced by a chine; some rocker forward to ensure that volume does not compromise manoeuvrability. The canoe body maximum depth of the hulls is immediate but, once past the daggerboards, the stern angles up sharply while maintaining the maximum beam.

Upwind or downwind, daggerboards up or down, this design is made for speed.

To enhance, the mast is an automatic rotating arrangement for best angle to any breeze.

Also added is an extendable carbon fibre sprit for the roller furling headstay, code zero and asymmetrical spinnaker. This means the forward crossbeam can be taken aft a tad to reduce some of the weight forward and thus reduce pitching.

But it is the daggerboards that are the key to the performance of the 1600.

Heading upwind has traditionally been an Achilles Heel for multihulls. Designs have come a long way to mitigate this to some extent but it is usually as a trade-off to speed and manoeuvrability.

Efficiently designed daggerboards, along the lines of modern racing yachts, drops the draft of the 1600 down to 2.6 metres. Not only does this depth significantly reduce leeway, when heading upwind it also provides both horizontal and vertical lift.

Crack sheets and raise the boards a little and you keep your vertical lift on the bows to reduce: drag, pulling on the helm and a wet deck!

The angled hull stern sections give a nice platform downwind with the daggerboards raised, once again letting the forward rocker keep the bows up.

During the day of our test we were sailing out of Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron in a sparkling Moreton Bay. Early morning and we had 13 knots to 15 knots of true wind speed. Crank everything on and drop the daggerboards, we hit a respectable 8kn in that breeze. The most notable point, however, was the steady 35° showing on the apparent wind angle (50° true).

The 1600 sat at this angle with ease. The provided velocity prediction program from the designers shows this AWA is held no matter what the wind strength.

The issue is the daggerboards, they do require tweaking to get the right balance. But, for the potential buyers of this yacht this is what they would be looking for: the opportunity to play with the controls to get the maximum response from a performance craft.

That balance can be difficult, I felt a fair amount of weather helm when steering. Our boards were fully down and I am assured that helm will disappear as the yacht is tweaked prior to handover.

Crack the sheets to 60° AWA, raise the boards a tad and watch the speed jump. In that same 13kn TWS we cruised over the 10kn mark with ease.

On the VPP it shows the 110° angle as realising the best speed potential, one would assume with the asymmetrical out and the boards fully up.

This is not only an easy boat to steer but also a delight as you feel it react to every sail trim change or breeze change. Wave action against the hulls feels reduced with the slight rise in the bows.

Just think about heading north up Australia’s east coast: 15kn nor’easterlies blowing, yet you are doing over 10kn hourly averages with your boards raised to reduce your wetted surface against the East Australian Current. Superb sailing.

Engineered to endure

The standard Seawind 1600 will hit the water at 13 tons, through the use of a composite mix of vinylester resins and Kevlar and carbon fibre. This is a good weight for a 52 foot catamaran.

The construction also includes a keel shoe, which allows the boat to be beached without damaging the hull. Raising the boards and rudders to enable this, is a simple process.

Putting the Seawind statistics alongside Multihull Central’s other marquee daggerboard cat that it sells, the Outremer, is an interesting exercise. The 1600 enjoys a lighter to length ratio and a large sail area to its displacement as well. Our test boat had been built to survey, so it hit the waters of Moreton Bay at an extra four tons, comparing the on-water experience does not really relate.

Overall the design is a neat package, a plumb stem bow with a flat sheer line ends with a curving transom line down to the sugar scoops. The slick Star Trek-style coachhouse roof carries that imagery through with the solid bimini roof. The black wrap-around windows on the cabin top matches the black slash along the hull for the hull windows.

Our test yacht included teak decking, which really sets off the wide decks well. As with the 1190 Sport the daggerboards are totally enclosed so as not to encroach on the deck. Lift-up inspection hatches are flush with the side deck at the inner diagonal chainplates, where you can check the level of the boards or remove them for proper inspection.

The carbon fibre davits extend out of the aft bridge deck, on our survey vessel the liferaft was perched above. A barbecue is on a swivelling frame on the starboard transom.

The solid bimini includes solar panels and deep channels running around the edge. These channels lead into the support struts to drain any rainwater into the boat’s water tanks: simple, neat idea.

Our test yacht was fitted with a beautiful lithium battery set up underneath the main saloon bench seat. The twin 80 horsepower Yanmars sit in spacious engine rooms just forward of the rudders with sail drives. There is room to hang spares and tools in this space. Cruising speed is a very acceptable 8kn or more.

Anyone can operate + weather protection

Harken winches are used extensively. The big shift in cockpit design for Seawind is the inclusion of a large horizontal electric winch at the midway point of the aft crossbeam, serviced by a bank of jammers. Through a clever use of turning blocks underneath the bridge deck this winch controls the mainsail halyard, the three reefing lines; the self-tacking jib and the topping lift. This achieves three advantages: it simplifies all those controls to one area; it removes running rigging on the decks and it removes the congestion that usually occurs at the base of the mast.

Mainsheet controls are on either side of the same beam with dedicated winches.

The conduit these lines run through under the bridge deck can be seen from the front of the boat. It does reduce the bridge deck clearance to just over 70 centimetres, which is getting a bit tight for a 52 footer, but no wave slap noted.

Daggerboard controls are alongside the steering stations, along with headsail and spinnaker sheet controls and self furler. All winches are more than adequate to handle the loads.

The steering stations are a delight. Following the design priority to keep the captain under cover, Seawind have managed to get the port and starboard seating positions tucked under the bimini, but well enough outboard that watching the telltales on the jib is still easily accomplished. So important for a performance sailor.

View from the steering stations is complete with the open bimini forward and the wraparound windows on the coachhouse. Port side has the twin engine controls and both stations have proper instrumentation set up to suit its owner.

Access to the mainsail and the gooseneck area is easy from the cabin top roof

The mast is well aft on this catamaran due to its high aspect ratio rig. This provides a dual advantage of having plenty of sunning space up forward on the trampoline to negate the need for a sunny back deck. It would be preferable if the bimini roof could have at least a skylight if not an opening hatch above each steering station to view up the mast. But I think this was because this version had the bimini covered in solar panels so a hatch could not be included.

Indoor/outdoor living+ natural ventilation

As mentioned at the top of the article, Seawind’s made its name internationally with the invention of the swing wing doors to blend in the cabin interior with the aft deck space. But the 1600 has controversially dropped this addition to go back to the single sliding door.

It is said Seawind and the designers were wishing to return to a more intimate and cosy atmosphere with this design.

While this may appear counter-intuitive to the concept of indoor/outdoor living, the advantage is the extra seating space that can be included outside. Indeed, the aft deck saloon table seats eight, the same as the indoor. The galley is just on the other side of the bulkhead with a large access window.

Cleverly, the bimini is open across the front so, while the roof may be enclosing, the ventilation is refreshing. There are clears available to totally enclose the back deck if required.

Inside the saloon I was intrigued to see a departure from the large opening front windows the 1190 Sport and the 1260 enjoyed, back to smaller front hatches within the main windows. But the saloon itself is still bright and airy.

The U-shaped galley was fitted with a three burner stove and tons of bench space. There is an upright freezer and a top-access refrigerator. There is another drink’s bar fridge on the aft deck.

The saloon table area is easily accessed and converts into a double berth if required. It will also seat eight for dinner.

The navigation station to starboard is massive with its own swing-out director’s style chair and arguably the best seat in the house for the view.

Our test vessel was fitted with the three cabin version, meaning the starboard hull was the master suite.

Don’t waste space

Down in the hulls is where space minimisation is important on a catamaran.

The starboard master suite consists of the queen sized bed aft and a huge shower head cabin up forward. While the daggerboard casings on the 1190 Sport protrude into the hallway of the hulls, here in the 1600 the casings are on the inboard side and cleverly melded into the dressing area cabinetry. You actually do not notice them at all.

A sliding door closes off the hull for added privacy.

The forward head is a spacious area with plenty of room for two if neccesary and even two in the shower recess! It can house a full domestic laundry washing machine.

The port hull contains another queen berth cabin as well as a cabin with 2 single berths which can be converted to a double and another bathroom, mid hull. This one is a fair bit smaller but still passable.

The saloon has an eight person dining table, drop down television and included surround sound.

Arrival

The Seawind 1600 may be a departure in so many ways from its standard, successful, brand. But, once again, the company management has been careful and selective in how they intend to market this latest model.

For the racing sailor who is looking to move on with his sailing but still craves the interaction between yacht and sailor, the Seawind 1600 will give them what they want while being able to cross oceans in comfort and ease.

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